Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Part 1: What I've learned from Kye

Recently I've felt a big urge to write about game design. So let me start with a story.

I was a Bolivian kid in the later 90s whose family just acquired a computer. Something my parents did really well was nurture my love for computers. So I would always convince them to buy me a new Magazine about computers. Back then we didn't even have cybercafes so computer magazines, were the way you'd acquire shareware software. The magazines would come with these CD-ROMs full of software selections you could try out.

What I loved the most, were the games. Which were pretty rare. Most of the times the CDs would come with mostly utilities like stuff like icon editors (I actually loved to make icons?). But every once in a while, they would come with shareware games. It's strange how, regardless of how many of those I must have tried over the years, there's only a handful that I actually remember.

One day I found a true jewel. Some guy from the UK made a charity ware game called "Kye", with some really random ideas. You were a green circle, which apparently is supposed to represent the author's dog. There were monsters for some reason. But mostly the soul of this game was puzzles involving blocks. You can play the original 2.0 version for free at

From what I remember, at first I wasn't even able to really beat level 3, but the good news is that there was a level editor. There must have been something about the weird visual style or the simplicity of the level editor that I've made countless of levels. None of them were any good, but in the process I did discover some interesting iterations between the objects. It was also very practical that levels were basically txt files. You could actually "see" the level when editing it with a text editor. I guess the fact that it had 'arcade' elements such a monsters was the main thing that made me want to make levels, it was all about obstacle courses back then.

Kye's gameplay

If I were to make the simplest Kye level that explains what it is about, I would make this:

The goal of Kye is to get all the "diamonds" (those blue things). You get diamonds by moving the player character (green circle) to their cells. You move the player character using the cursor keys (You can also use the mouse if you are a horrible person). But what's interesting here is the yellow squares with a red arrow drawn on them. These arrow blocks will always attempt to move towards the direction indicated by the arrow, and will only stop when something is blocking them. In this case, the diamond in the middle is blocking them. But if you were to grab the two right-most diamonds, a thing would happen:

Now, Kye (the player) can push arrow blocks, but in this case it would only bring more problems:

Kye is trapped. Kye should have started with the left-most diamond and this wouldn't have been a problem.

All of kye involves making this sort of choice. There are many elements in the game that just make this choice more interesting. Some blocks can make the arrow blocks rotate. Other blocks are just normal static blocks that you can use to stop arrow blocks or do other things. There are "black holes" that will just destroy anything that you push onto them or any arrow block that moves towards them. There are "Bouncers" that can push any block, including the arrow blocks. Rounded arrow blocks slide diagonally when they hit another rounded object. Clock blocks will constantly create arrow blocks. And the magnets can allow you to bypass some of these complications, or they can also stick to you in  a way that traps you in a similar way.

But the Coolest thing about Kye, just happens to be the main thing you learn from the solution to level 3, the level that I initially had no idea whatsoever how to fix. And it is that Kye is a real time game. The arrows, the bouncers and the monsters won't wait for your moves, they have a life of their own.

This is what happens when  you attempt to solve Level 3 without thinking:

So you can't really get that top-left diamond because the arrows will block the path. What now?

The trick to solve this (and maybe if you really want to give this game a try, you should give it a try before reading this) is to plan ahead and make sure the bouncers are synchronized correctly. The bouncers will clean up the arrows by themselves.


And this, this is the power of Kye. There's 20x30 cells, which at first may seem like a huge amount of cells for this style of a puzzle game, but the reality is that the level designer will need plenty of room to be able to build of sorts  of machines, combining the various elements. These machines are the real core of Kye's gameplay. That's why it is a real-time and not turn-based. 

 This is ultimately what I've learned from Kye. It's all about the machines. Different gameplay elements can make something bigger than the sum. But it all requires some thought about what the elements will be. If done correctly, levels can take a life of their own.

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