27 April 2016

I have heard several people say that after playing The Witness they were looking for more great puzzle games. This past week, I played the newly released puzzle game Stephen's Sausage Roll. For those people or anyone who enjoys puzzles and wants a game with a focus on well-written puzzles, this is the game I'd recommend the most.

In this post I'm going to talk about my experience with Stephen's Sausage Roll and what makes the puzzles so good. Puzzle games are best played with little knowledge beforehand, so I'll be avoiding spoilers about puzzle mechanics and other specific aspects of the game. Back in January, I wrote a post detailing what I consider qualities of well-written puzzles, which I'll be referring to throughout the post.


The first time I heard of Stephen's Sausage Roll was in a tweet from Jonathan Blow (unfortunatley I can't find the specific tweet). The game's website was mostly bare and honestly I wasn't sure if a real game was coming out or if it was just a joke website. Other people have said that they had the same confusion. I have now learned that this is just part of Increpare's style.

In any case, I had enjoyed both Braid and The Witness, so when Jonathan Blow is raving about a game on Twitter repeatedly, I was expecting to try whatever thing was released, and just be prepared to disagree about how great it is. The release date happened to coincide with moving, so FearfulFerret got to it first, and tweeted at me about it, so any residual doubt was gone.

The Game

You start out with a view of the main character (whose canonical name is unclear, but many people use the name Stephen). Two signs are in view that you can walk up and read. One says, "Welcome to the Island of Wisdom." The other tells you the controls: arrow keys to move, Z to undo, R to restart. That's what you're working with.

Each of the individual puzzles presents you with one or more sausages with the goal of cooking the sausages and then returning to the starting location. Each sausage is two tiles long, and each tile has a top side and a bottom side, totalling four sections that need to be placed on top of a grill tile exactly once each. Throughout the game, different mechanics on exactly how you can manipulate the sausages are introduced.

From a stylistic viewpoint, Stephen's Sausage Roll is very similar to Snakebird. Both games have intentionally simple graphics and direct the player's focus toward the puzzles themselves. They also both teach the game mechanics through puzzles, rather than by any explicit instructions. This last point has led people to also draw comparisons with The Witness, but The Witness puts significantly more emphasis on exploring the world, and I'd expect for many people, that was a large reason for their enjoyment. On the other hand, I would expect anyone who enjoyed Snakebird to also enjoy Stephen's Sausage Roll.

Stephen's Sausage Roll also offers an impressive amount of content. I won't say exactly how many puzzles there are, but it's more than Snakebird and less than The Witness. On the other hand, many of The Witness's puzzles are meant to be very quick, so while the number of puzzles is very high, that doesn't quite match up with how long the game takes. I reached the end of Stephen's Sausage Roll (which involves completing all the puzzles) after about 16 hours and 45 minutes of gameplay. For comparison, I finished all the levels of Snakebird after about 13 hours, reached the elevator ending of The Witness (with 10 lasers) after a little under 10 hours, and completed the challenge (which involves getting all 11 lasers) after around 18 hours.

That description will have to suffice consider I want to keep this post spoiler-free, so let's talk about the qualities that I mentioned in my January post.

The Must-Haves

Unsurprisingly, all the must-haves are met.

If you have all the information, then you can extract the entire answer.

Stephen's Sausage Roll's puzzles are built on a set of rules that can be roughly described as "sausage physics." Not all the aspects of sausage physics are obvious or intuitive at first, but they can all be deduced through playing the game, and with a good understanding of sausage physics, one could in theory find and verify an answer without interacting with the game itself.

The puzzle is internally consistent.

One of the reasons I consider Stephen's Sausage Roll such a great game is that sausage physics is exactly the same in the first puzzle of the game and in the last puzzle of the game. Nothing about your character changes as you progress through the game. The fact that the physics appear to become more complicated as you solve more puzzles is simply due to the fact that the environment in the early sections prevents those aspects from arising. There are no "gotchas", only an incomplete understanding of sausage physics.

The puzzle is meant to be solved.

Stephen's Sausage Roll puzzles are built in a way that the puzzle itself can give the solver a hint toward the solution without being blatant about it. You might find yourself wondering "Why is that there?" and finding the reason can tell you a great deal about the solution.

The Nice-To-Haves

It is more valuable to think about the information you have than to blindly try things.

Even the smallest puzzles in Stephen's Sausage Roll are seemingly impossible to solve by trying all the possibilities. Some puzzles can become somewhat linear if you pay attention to what situations will become impossible, but there are also many that are about arranging for the right situation to happen, with lots of flexibility in exactly how to do that.

Every step of the solution is motivated.

Unfortunately the first part of the game is the weakest on this front because the levels are composed of a small number of simple parts, and so the solver needs to rely on themselves to come up with reasons for the solution to be one way or another. As the game progresses, more mechanics are introduced and the puzzles start being able to communicate through their construction.

The puzzle steers the solver away from incorrect approaches.

I can't say that Stephen's Sausage Roll does an amazing job at this. I know that I had at least a couple times where I created a problem for myself by moving sausages and then spent time trying to solve the resulting mess when all I had to do was undo back to when the puzzle gave me sausages in the places I wanted. I don't consider this a large fault of the game, since it could be avoided on my end by remembering the starting state better, or by thinking about the puzzle before moving sausages, but it does have the potential to create unfortunate experiences.

Every piece of the puzzle serves a purpose.

On the other hand, the game is excellent at not leading solvers toward incorrect approaches. I didn't notice any red herrings throughout the game, and invariably any questions I had about the level construction were actually relevant to the solution.

All information given to the solver is fair game.

I think it's easier to learn sausage physics by playing the game than by trying to decompile it and examine the code that implements it, but I don't expect that there would be any objection to that. Certainly trying to get exact solutions from the code is going to be worthless because there's no reason for the game to check anything other than the fact that all the sausages have been cooked properly.

The puzzle breaks a rule.

Stephen's Sausage Roll has:

  • Puzzles that look impossible, but aren't because of a previously unintroduced mechanic.
  • Puzzles that look impossible, but aren't despite not having any new mechanics.
  • Puzzles where cooking the sausages is the hard part.
  • Puzzles where cooking the sausages isn't the hard part.

There's even more, but it's hard to give examples while avoiding spoilers.

I went into Stephen's Sausage Roll being cautiously optimistic, and came out with one of the best puzzle experiences I have ever had. As with all good puzzle games, I wish that there were more puzzles to solve, but at the same time I know how difficult it is to write at such a high quality.

So for all of you puzzle people out there, go play Stephen's Sausage Roll!