Rome wasn’t built in a day—but you might be able to put Mont Saint-Michel back together in an hour or two.
Puzzling Places is officially out today on the Oculus Quest Platform for $14.99 USD. Part jigsaw puzzle, part model builder, Puzzling Places breaks buildings (and railroad cars and dresses and even entire neighborhoods) up into small pieces for you to quietly reassemble. Start from the outside in, or reconstruct a bit of text and work your way out, or match red to red and green to green. Audio brings the scene to life as you build, and when you’re done you can turn the model over in your hands and admire every tiny detail. It’s magical.
Whether you already fell in love with the (free) Puzzling Places - Beta after its App Lab release or you’ve yet to give Puzzling Places a try, don’t miss the official release of one of the most relaxing and satisfying VR games ever. To celebrate, we sat down with the team to talk about how the puzzles are made, picking the places that get puzzled, favorite locations, forthcoming updates, and more.
How did the idea for Puzzling Places come about? Are you a big jigsaw puzzle fan in real life?
Daniel Sproll - Producer & Developer: The initial idea for Puzzling Places was what Bob Ross would call a happy little accident. We’ve been working on photogrammetry based VR experiences since 2016 and one day we had an import error on one of our meshes. For optimization purposes our photogrammetry assets are usually cut into pieces with a common pivot, but somehow for this import all the pieces were jumbled up. Shahriar joked we should just ship it like that and let users puzzle it together - and so the idea for Puzzling Places was born!
Walk me through how a puzzle is created, if you could—everything from how the models are selected to how they’re sliced up is fair game.
Azad Balabanian - Puzzlemaker & Photogrammetry: One of our goals with Puzzling Places is to enable players to interact with unknown and beautiful places from around the world so we spend quite a lot of effort in finding diverse locations that could make for fun puzzles.
Every puzzle is made with a high resolution Photogrammetry 3D scan that was either captured by our scanning team or by one of our scanning partners. Typically, the places are captured using DSLR cameras for terrestrial scanning, drones, planes, and helicopters for aerial scanning, and sometimes LIDAR scanners for more complex locations. Each scan consists of hundreds to thousands of photographs which can generate 3D models with hundreds of millions of polygons with incredible detail.
Once the scanning and model processing is complete, we typically do quite a lot of “cleanup” of the models to fix Photogrammetry artefacts, add details that were not captured in the 3D scan, and create a “final crop” of the model that will give the puzzle the clean, smooth-edged border pieces that people are familiar with.
We then simplify and optimize the high resolution models so that they can run on the Quest and Quest 2 without any performance issues, as well as cut them into puzzle pieces. This step is not trivial by any means so we developed a robust processing pipeline to produce Quest-ready puzzles reliably.
What makes a location a good fit for a Puzzling Places puzzle?
Azad Balabanian: Our focus is on creating puzzles with interesting and strong visual characteristics—meaning intriguing colors, forms, and objects that people are familiar with. Players love puzzles that make good use of VR as a medium, so buildings that include both the interior and exterior are always a fan favorite.
Our best puzzles are made up of different regions with distinct characteristics that create specific areas for the player to assemble, creating a natural flow from one region to the next. Each region also has its own soundscape which starts to play when the region is completed to create a sense of progression throughout each puzzle and bring the place to life.
The beta had a set number of pieces for each puzzle, but in the full release you can choose the number of pieces per level. Is there an “optimum” number of pieces, in your mind? Does it depend on the size of the model?
Azad Balabanian: We recommend newcomers start with a 25-piece puzzle to get started; however, we’ve found that seasoned puzzlers love to play 100 or 200 piece puzzles in one session. With Puzzling Places out of Beta, the 400-piece puzzles are a new challenge for all who are willing to take it on.
Every puzzle in Puzzling Places can now be played as 25, 50, 100, 200 or 400 piece puzzles which gives the player the ability to choose how deeply invested they’d like to be in a specific puzzle. Sometimes, you’ll want to play a multi-day long 400-piece puzzle that will take you a few sessions to complete or perhaps you'll jump in for a brief 50-piece puzzle session to quick puzzle in before a meeting. It’s all up to the player and their context.
What else changed after the initial beta release? Was fan feedback valuable in steering the direction of Puzzling Places before launch?
Shahriar Sharabi - Programmer, Game Designer & Art Director: On the game design side, community feedback helps to ground your development effort in reality. The feedback loop ensures that you focus your energy on things that actually matter, the most pressing stuff, rather than getting sidetracked with things that don't. Also working on a feature in a closed environment for too long makes it hard to judge if the feature is actually any good.
In terms of changes, Puzzling Places is a big step up from the Beta in a number of ways. We put a lot of time and effort into developing the visual style of the game, the accessibility and design, the quality of the puzzles, as well as the technical functionality of the app itself.
What’s your favorite puzzle/location so far?
Shahriar Sharabi: For me it was one of our earliest Patreon puzzles, the Enchanted Tower. It had such a magical vibe.
Pierre-Marie Blind - Audio Designer: It’s hard to pick a single one, but from the launch content, maybe the Hallwyl Upper Vestibule. I played it without the reference pictures the first time, and it was mind blowing when I understood how the scene was organized.
Daniel Sproll: The first time I puzzled Mont Saint-Michel I literally had goosebumps. I was really in awe, constantly thinking what an unreal site this is and how crazy it must have been to build it there.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works? Can we expect more puzzles after launch?
Daniel Sproll: We are already working on some super exciting new puzzle packs that will come out later this year! During our Patreon campaign we saw how much people enjoyed these regular updates, so our goal is to keep this up—we’ll be making puzzles as long as people want to play them!
On the feature side we are hard at work as well. Our first update should be out shortly after launch, adding additional polish and some small new features to keep everything neat and organized. Another feature we are of course particularly excited to look into is co-op multiplayer puzzling. Our first experiments here were super fun - but also showed us that there is still quite a bit of work to do.
Take a break and relax with Puzzling Places, out now on the Quest Platform for $14.99 USD.