One of Cocoon’s easiest puzzles was the hardest to design

Cocoon is the puzzle aficionado’s delight. The isometric adventure from Geometric Interactive marries pared-down gameplay with a mind-bending premise where players jump between worlds nestled inside of orbs. Polygon spoke to designer and director Jeppe Carlsen about the making of this world’s curious puzzles. In that conversation, he revealed that for Cocoon, making the hard-to-beat puzzles came easily. Making the easy ones, on the other hand? That was the challenge.

In Cocoon, you control a tiny bug who navigates a dark twisting sci-fi world that blends insectoid organic matter with industrial worlds. The game pretty much presents the player with puzzle after puzzle after puzzle. Carlsen told Polygon that while players might expect complicated, multi-step puzzles to be the biggest challenge for designers, the opposite is often the case.

“Sometimes the puzzles that when you play, feel very elaborate and complex and like, ‘Whoa, how could someone even like design this?’ They’re not necessarily the ones that took a lot of iteration time,” he said to Polygon in a recent video call.

Early on in the game, when players arrive at the industrial world for the first time, there’s a simple puzzle. In it, the player encounters two rotating doors and two switches. In the final version of the game, all you need to do is use the orb on both switches to line up the doors so that there’s a gap you can walk through. The solution is so simple that Carlsen describes it as “barely” being a puzzle, saying that it’s more like an interaction. As it turns out, it was one of the most complicated puzzles to design in the entire game.

“That puzzle has [been] iterated so many times, and it is literally the simplest thing in the world. It’s ridiculous. To begin with, the puzzle had different logic for the rotating doors — a bit similar, but different. So at that time, when you put on the switch, both of the doors rotated, and when you let go, you had to let go so that the doors put a line in the middle. Apparently, people found that extremely difficult. They would play the game for seven minutes or something.”

But Carlsen didn’t want that puzzle to be difficult. He just wanted players to proceed through the world as normal, without running into so much complexity right away. He told Polygon that the puzzle just wasn’t interesting enough to necessitate it being such a challenge for players, so the team revised it.

“This [puzzle] has been through so many iterations of different tactics for the doors and different variations of the same puzzle. It took a very long time. And then I thought I had it, but then I couldn’t develop it, and like just — so many versions of rotating doors. It became almost like a production joke about those rotating doors. They worked out eventually, though.”

It seems like all the door iterations were worth it, as Polygon’s review described the game as being, “impossibly good.” Cocoon is out now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.