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New puzzle interface - ideas for improvements

4 comments (Add new comment)
Posted 22nd Sep 2020 at 12:04
gareth Administrator Daily subscriber
I'm hoping to start soon on writing new puzzlemix puzzle players, since the current ones date back to 2005 and so are incredibly old in internet terms, and make it tricky to use the many new web technologies that have been developed in the past 15 years. (I also would like to think this shows how ahead of their time they were 15 years ago, mind...)

In any case, I'm interested in things you would like to see in any new version of the puzzle players. For example, would you like to be able to colour pencilmarks in the number-placement puzzles, or to be able to arbitrarily place symbols on squares? And would you like to always be able to have a problem in a puzzle highlighted, when you click 'check' and it's wrong (such as a disconnected loop in slitherlink, or an incorrect clue in hanjie)?

I have two main reasons to rewrite the player:
1) To support lots of new puzzle types that are too complex to implement to be worth adding currently
2) To form the core of a new app (phone, tablet) version of Puzzlemix

There are also interface considerations, since the player needs to be fundamentally compatible with all the ways it might be played:
* Must be playable on desktop and laptop computers with keyboard and mouse (or other pointer device)
* Must also work on touch screens, without any other input device, such as a computer touch screen or a tablet screen
* Must be able to shrink to a version, even if simplified, that works on phone screens

I would also plan to have support for handwriting interfaces, such as the Apple pencil, and in particular to allow freehand markings, but these wouldn't form part of the core parts of the player so I'm going to ignore that for now.

Here are my own ideas of things I'd like to add:
1) Save and replay solves, with timings
2) Lots of new puzzle types
3) Better touch device support
4) Option to display time while solving
5) 'Start button' and instructions flash screen on first opening (permanently dismissible if desired)
6) Highlight one logic error when checking and incorrect
7) More advanced pencilmark support
8) Ability to highlight certain numbers or symbols in placement puzzles (like sudoku)
9) Option to add extra notation to loop and shading puzzles, to keep track of notes (e.g. to add a small symbol to the corner of a square, as a pencilmark)
10) Mouse shortcuts for symbol entry in placement puzzles, so you can play without a keyboard or touch screen

Conversely I think I'd remove most of the solving aid options that are currently in the player, and have just a few core ones, including a small number that are on by default such as intelligent colouring in the slitherlink player. I feel they clutter the interface, and hide the more important options for new players.

As an aside to the player updates, I also want to add user profiles (which would be entirely optional), so you can better keep track of how you're doing against other solvers, and add a small amount of biographical information if you wanted to.

Posted 22nd Sep 2020 at 12:10
gareth Administrator Daily subscriber
Although I’ve listed “big” things above, I’m really interested in the small details too. So if, for example, there’s something small you’d like to see added or changed then do please let me know.
Posted 22nd Sep 2020 at 16:07
JoergWausW Daily subscriber
I try to do some programming myself when I have some time left, and I'm very slow in it, because I try to keep it as simple as possible and as open as possible. 20 years ago I created a little webpage-database-system that would still work on today's servers...
Your player software, gareth is a good example of well designed functionality. That's why it is surviving in times of change.

Of course it's almost impossible to predict what the future trends and likes will be.
My save guess would be: Create a VR-player with the grid on the one side and some cubes on the other. The player has to actually walk to one side of the virtual room to pick up a number and take it to the grid. Perfect combination of brain and body work...

But back to today's issues:
The best idea seems to be to create an adaptable player (that seems to have been always your choice anyway).
a) The player picks if he wants your suggestions like 4), 5), 6), 8),... also for helping tools. There should be a side bar (or bottom bar for portrait) that should be pretty empty to begin with. The user can decide what helping tool tiles are arranged in what order (and how full and/or distracting it has to be) - by activation.
b) I don't know if touchscreens can do that by now concerning shading puzzles: Three buttons on one side (black, white, empty), hold one and "click" with another finger. If not, you have to toggle - but I think that's what the current player does.
c) I don't know if it is desireable to scale the puzzle up larger than screen size. Then it might be easier to enter pencil marks/allow bigger puzzles.

Maybe this design idea works for placement puzzles on touch devices:
you click one cell you want to edit. An interface-circle pops up and shows two rings with all possible numbers, like a clockwise sorted dart target. You click the inner number and the big number appears, pop up circle closes. If you click the outer number, you select a pencil mark. Pop up stays open, so you can select more or unset. In the center you have a close button and maybe two other buttons "set all", "clear all". Outside of the circle (with some distance) the user can choose to add "add valid", "remove invalid" and other help otions.
First I thought the pop up circle appears above the cell, but then it would make other cells invisible. So the user has to decide where it has to pop up...
That might be called "pick and play"... but this idea probably exists already...

just my 5 "make no" cents...

Thanks for asking our opinion!

Posted 22nd Sep 2020 at 19:05
Last edited by gareth 22nd Sep 2020 at 19:06
gareth Administrator Daily subscriber
Hi JoergWausW,
Thanks for your ideas - that's great! The circle is a nice idea but as you say it has the issue of blocking the grid from view, and of inconsistency when you use it at the outer edges of the puzzle (since it wouldn't be able to centre over the square). However it has the advantage of reducing the amount of UI that is required on a mobile device, so that's a benefit. Probably solving on mobile is always going to be relatively slow, but it could perhaps be an option for speed for certain users. That said, the vast majority of users never change any options...
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