In puzzle tracks, player is given up to 8 different track tiles in different quantities (such as: 3 normal road tiles, 2 curves (2×2), 1 jump ramp etc.), and a partial track with start, finish, some checkpoints and other preplaced tiles, obstacles and decorations; the terrain of the track is also preset.
Player’s goal is to use the tiles given to complete the track so that he can then drive it from start to finish in shortest time possible.
If you want to create a puzzle track, you usually first build a track that requires some skill to finish, then remove some of the tiles that you placed in it and remember what you removed and how many of each tile type you removed; then, you set the needed amount for these tile types, and you are good.
However, there are different styles of puzzle tracks, so let’s describe them and talk about what makes them “puzzling”…
In this style of puzzle track, it is quite obvious what needs to be placed where – such as when you see that the checkpoints are placed in a zig-zag pattern and you have 45 normal road tiles, which means you must build a simple road between the CPs. The only trick here is to optimize the added tiles placement: will you build an L shaped road, or will you build a zig-zag road, which will allow you to drive diagonically between the CPs? Will you shift the curve tiles closer towards the earlier CP, or further from it?
Similarly, you may be provided with a couple of boosters, and you have to find the best spacing between them, so that the car gets the greatest boost; unfortunately, this may also mean that by the time your car is gaining the maximum boost, someone who placed one of the boosters closer to the start may not have the peak speed, but he got that speed earlier, and may surprisingly get to the finish sooner.
In this style, minor changes result in minor time improvements (less than a second).
Unusual tile placement
In this style, players, who are used to the most common sequences of tiles from standard tracks, are deceived by the preset tiles and environment and they overlook a possible placement. Typical example would be a jump over a water channel: If the road leading to this jump is straight, players often don’t see that they might actually jump diagonically across the channel and thus avoid an area that would be costly (considering how long it takes to pass through it). Or you may provide the player with a tile that is most often used for one purpose, but in fact if he lets the car smash into the tile or bounce off of it, he may get to otherwise inaccessible area and save some time.
In this style, you provide the player with tiles that, although they seem they should be used, are totally useless for the fastest solution. Once the player becomes convinced that the tile HAS TO GO SOMEWHERE, he becomes his own worst enemy and will torture himself with endless attempts to optimize something that in fact wasn’t meant to be present at all.
Changing the car into an airplane
Considering the Trackmania cars are indestructible, there is no real reason to treat them like cars. Why on Earth should you think that you are supposed to drive through a CP? Do you see the ugly red engine killer behind that CP? Hm… I know! What about building an uphill ramp towards the CP, so that the car flies through the CP and above the engine killer, thus keeping the engine running?
The key in building this type of track is to not make the trick obvious. Just as in the previous style – if you allow the player to become convinced that he simply has to go through the CP and get his engine killed, especially if you convince him that he will need that ramp elsewhere, you will have the benefit of dreaming about players who, while sweating, finally manage to get the SILVER time on the track, only to learn that they are actually supposed to cut additional 10 seconds to get GOLD. Trust me, that look on their faces when they learn such thing is priceless.
Oh, and just so you can check if you’ve learnt something from this article – try this track!
Do you know about some other tricks that make a great puzzle track? Please share them in the comments below!