Another (Water)World

I’m just playing Another World at the moment. It turns out I lost my old password. I found another one but it’s quite early in the game. It is at a quite memorable, yet infuriating puzzle. Actually, it would have been one of my favorite puzzles in the game if I didn’t get stuck at it every time.

Water Puzzle

This might have been a mistake.

You find yourself in a cave. You need to jump across a couple of gaps in the floor to get to a spot right underneath a huge water basin. You need to shoot at the wall at this spot to destroy the ceiling and to let the water into the cave. With the water gushing in behind you, you need to quickly run back through the cave and climb out before you drown. It’s a spectacular sequence. For some reason I always enjoy puzzles that involve water. I remember enjoying a similar puzzle in Zelda: A Link to the Past where you need to open a floodgate at one place to empty a lake at another. And yes, I even enjoyed the Water Dungeon in Ocarina of Time. I’m that hardcore.

But this is actually a prime example of a badly designed puzzle. After that difficult sequence you get into a series of screens with a lot of challenging battles. If you die there, you get reset in the cave every time. It takes hours to finally get trough the cave and through all the battles without dying. If you do so, the reward is .. nothing. You get stuck and it’s not really clear why.

The solution is (and you WANT to read this spoiler) to jump down in one of the gaps before you let the water in. Most of them will kill you but there is one where you survive. There is yet another tunnel there with a door at the end. If you open that final door, backtrack and THEN let the water in, it will flood another chamber and prevent you from gettung stuck later after the fights. If you do that, you will also get a more advantageous save point, should you die during the fights. It turns out the save point was so punishing because the game always set me back to a time before I made my initial mistake.

The puzzle is bad because.

  • It requires players to do something that has been punished before without telegraphing that things are different now.

  • A mistake is not immediately obvious and irreversible

  • Players need to overcome other difficult challenges before they can notice they made a mistake at the beginning. It renders their eventual success useless.

  • It’s generally difficult to create the connection between action and consequence. If you find the door at the end of the tunnel, it’s not clear why you would need to open it. If you get stuck after the fights, it’s still not clear what your mistake was.

  • Finally, it’s a puzzle that is designed to lead players astray. Players can only do the right thing if they fail big time at least once.

Actually, this reminds me of some of the puzzles in Braid. But even Braid wasn’t that cryptic and punishing. Of course, this is an old game. Games were difficult and much less forgiving back then. I wonder. It seems like Éric Chahi, the game designer of Another World is now back and working on a new, very different game called From Dust. I’m curious to see if his design philosophy has also changed. And here is where I find myself being torn. Looking at Another World’s beautiful, silent storytelling, I almost wish it has not.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

7 responses to “Another (Water)World”

  1. Igor Hardy

    I think a dose of sadism was a permanent part of design philosophy in the 80s and early 90s. Games were expensive and the choice of good ones much smaller, so players wanted each game to last, as well as to feel proud once they managed to beat it.

    I’m sure Chahi’s design philosophy has changed a lot since then, just as it is clear to me that we – the players – give up so much easily now. Nevertheless, personally I still feel more compelled to finally finish the second half of Another World and to go back to some classics I missed than to play From Dust.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      I would love to see some actual statistics if people REALLY give up easier nowadays. And even if they do – why? Is this a function of a more hedonistic mentality that takes success for granted? Is this a result of a more critical approach to unforgiving computer technology? Or is this simply a survival strategy in a world flooded with media which all compete for precious leisure time?

      Finally, From Dust vs. Another Word – Maybe the two don’t exclude each other. Let’s wait and see…

  2. Digital Tools

    That From Dust looks interesting. It somehow reminds me on Boulderdash (no, really). There was at first the game-engine, that simulated “the world” in a somehow physical way. After that came one level after another.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Are you sure that’s how BoulderDash came to be? Do you have any sources?

      1. 020200

        Ah yes. I found the interview again: or “deeplink” on this frame-driven site:

        “I started playing with basic elements of dirt, rocks, and jewels and within a couple of days had built the basic “physics engine” of what was to become Boulder Dash. I realized that using a random number generator you could generate random caves, and that by controlling the density of rocks and jewels you could get some interesting game play. (…)”

        1. Krystian Majewski

          That’s an AWESOME interview. Thanks a lot! ^_^

  3. Digital Tools

    *subscribe comments*


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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