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I want to include some locked levels in my puzzle app as a lightweight reward system. The levels play relatively quickly (average 1-min/level) and there are 100-200 levels in a pack. I prefer not to enforce a strict sequential ordering of play (I'm worried that a "wall" of 200 locked levels looks somewhat daunting and does not allow any exploration).

I propose (for example) that the player must solve puzzles #1-4 (in any order) to unlock #5, #6-8 (in any order) to unlock #9, #10-13 to unlock #14, and so forth. The locked levels have no dependencies other than you must solve those puzzles immediately preceding it and after the last locked level (e.g. you can unlock level #9 without unlocking level #5).

While I don't expect to convey all the subtleties/rules of unlocking, would the following graphic be "good game design" practice for showing the locked levels? Would one reasonably assume they had to solve #1-4 to unlock #5? (I know that this a subjective question, but game design psychology can be a pretty subjective topic).

enter image description here

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't see why you couldn't give some less subtle hints. Something like this:

color coded example

Seems like an obvious enough encoding. You could remove the keys from the levels that have already been completed. Of course you can tune the prominence of the keys into your desired solution. They could be the same scale as the locks behind the numbers as well. Just some food for thought, I don't think the coherence of the elements in a row alone and the left to right association from the numbering is strong enough alone to convey it without some amount of trial and error by the user.

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I think this is a great idea! Agreed that my original proposal would require some trial and error. If I chose not to use color, do you think that monochromatic keys and locks would still convey enough conceptually to avoid frustrating trial and error? (Again, a very subjective question). –  Dawgless Boyd Aug 3 '13 at 13:19
    
@DawglessBoyd if you're going monochrome I would suggest either some variation in shape that differentiates the key types from each other or a counter on the locks (for example displaying 1/3 if only 1 key of 3 has been unlocked). If a counter is too disruptive you could always make an animation play after finishing a level that moves the key from the level to the corresponding lock and makes a little crack in it. –  PeterT Aug 3 '13 at 13:23

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