How I made Circles feels intuitive without any text or tutorial

Circles is an abstract and very minimal puzzle game. It doesn’t have any text, tutorial or score system. Instead, it teaches the player by its form and feedback. The result is a game that feels very intuitive and even zen-like. It took a lot of time reducing the noise and focusing on the core, to accomplish this.

Two years ago, Circles started out as a simple prototype. It had the basic mechanics and it seemed very similar to the current game. However, this prototype failed quite badly. Players were confused and didn’t know what they were supposed to do.

By running a lot of playtests I had to figure out how players learn and how they perceive the mechanics. This was a challenge, since the whole game consists of only circles.

Teaching the basic mechanics

The first level teaches the player the basic mechanics. And while this is the easiest level in the game, it was the hardest one to design, because It needed to be crystal clear to prevent any confusion on following levels.
With the following images, I’ll explain how the first level plays out.

The first thing the player sees is a gray pulsating dot.


If the player touches it, red circles pop up around it and a second gray dot appears on the other side.


When the player touches the gray dot on the other side, the red circles start to pulsate and the player can collect them and form a big circle.


After the player collects all the small circles, a line of levels appears at the top of the screen. The big circle explodes and the player is taken to the next level.




Gray is safe

By playing this simple level, the player learns a lot of useful things. They learn that gray circles are safe to touch and when they do so, colored circles pop up, forming a wall around the player. This indicates that the colored circles should be avoided. The second gray dot pops up, in a safer area, so the player knows it’s okay to touch it. When the cursor changes into a big ring and starts to collect nearby circles, the player learns it’s now save to touch the colored circles and they can collect the remaining few.

It was important that the player learned the mechanics in small, concise steps. In every step something new is introduced and they learn how it relates to the rest. The player is not forced to do anything, they figure out everything on their own. This way, the player will gain a clear understanding of the game and it will feel intuitive to play.

Jeroen Wimmers
Jeroen Wimmers
Jeroen Wimmers is indie game developer and founder of Illusive Games. Circles is Illusive’s first game. Previously, Wimmers worked on Westerado: Double Barreled.

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