I want to give a shoutout to the works of Zachtronics games. They are typically puzzle games that operate off the basis of giving you a bunch of tools to work with, and then asking you to make specific outputs. For example, in Opus Magnum, you create alchemical machines that create different outputs from the same few base elements.
The trick to these games is that there are vast numbers of valid solutions. Once you have a grasp of the mechanics you can do a lot. The trick is that these games also typically have a number of measurements to rate performance that speak to real world considerations. For Opus Magnum, this is your machine’s cost, speed, and size. They don’t prevent you from continuing ever, but there’s always a chance to feel smart with these puzzles because there is usually more to optimize. Three solutions with three different goals. Each made me feel great.
For example, here was an example of a first attempt waterproof sealant (because Opus Magnum lets you export gifs, which is great). It’s this odd contraption that gets the job done:
But we can do better. This machine uses a wacky extending arm to function, but maybe we can get it to a place where we don’t need the extending arm:
Success! And cheaper too! I felt really smart about this, but then wondered…how fast can I get the machine if I just throw cash at it:
Huzzah! It finishes its work five times faster than the other two machines! None of this is necessary to do, but you can really get a lot of triumph and mileage out of a single puzzle by opening up the possibility space and then adding a score to it.