Although the PENTAPUZZLE VR game only took two months from inception to submission of the initial release it has indeed been a very, very long journey. This is the full story of the PENTAPUZZLE VR game…
If you’re more interested in the history of the Pentomino game on which PENTAPUZZLE is based, please visit this page.
To familiarize yourself with the twelve puzzle pieces and related game strategy go here.
To read some fun facts about the Pentomino game on which PENTAPUZZLE is based this is the place to visit.
Once Upon a Time…
On the very last day of 2003 I travelled with my girlfriend and our six month old daughter to New Zealand – relative to our home country Denmark, this is practically on the other side of the planet. Why? We wanted to spend some time together away from work, we considered maybe relocating the family and perhaps was under the influence of a certain newly released trilogy about a fellowship of little adventurous creatures.
Although we were amazed by the beautiful nature and people of New Zealand we never came to realize our idea of moving to the other side of the world. However we brought back a lot of good memories – and a wooden puzzle.
The small puzzle enchanted me straight away. The twelve puzzle pieces were all composed by five squares glued side-to-side – each in it’s own unique way. The 12 puzzle pieces could be neatly arranged in an eight-by-eight square with the addition of a smaller 2-by-2 puzzle piece:
I was amazed to learn that this could be done in no less than 129,168 ways(!) – because finding just one solution was actually pretty hard!
I found myself frequently playing with the game and also did quite a lot of research on the Internet and what litterature I could find. Yes, this was prior to Gmail, Facebook, YouTube and smartphones – can you believe it???
I came to realize that the 12 fascinating puzzle pieces made out nothing less than an entire game system.
Part I: Wooden Puzzle Manufacturing
So, in 2004 I decided I wanted to try to produce and sell this type of wooden puzzle as a spare time project. On my request a litterary friend of mine came up with the name PENTAPUZZLE, which I registered as a trademark in numerous countries. In addition I wrote some software to generate and count solutions for any type of figure and started writing a massive playing guide to accompany the game.
The following pictures are a few examples taken from my 82 page booklet (in Danish):
A wooden prototype in FSC certified hardwood was created and I worked with a number of domestic and Asian manufacturers. I even had a set made out of bulletproof glass which I picked up personally in Guangzhou, China with my family, now upgraded to wife and two children.
Unfortunately it turned out to be very expensive to manufacture the nice quality I wanted, even on a large scale. Slowly the project came to an end and I was left with only a large set of prototypes. At least they made out as nice presents for friends, family and business contacts.
Part II: PENTAPUZZLE For iPhone
By the early tens my family was now a PENTAPUZZLE by itself. PENTAPUZZLE literally means five-puzzle due to every puzzle piece being composed of five squares. Five was now also the number of children running around in our house.
Simultaneously, the mobile gaming industry had taken off big time. This triggered the next stage of my PENTAPUZZLE adventure. Of course, I decided to create PENTAPUZZLE as a mobile game.
The wooden puzzle had been created to be a special and high-end product. I wanted the same for the iPhone game.
The biggest challenge was the GUI, the limited real estate screen sizes and how to interact in 3D with the puzzle pieces. I invented a unique navigation style so you could easily flip and turn the puzzle pieces by intuitive patterns drawn with a single sliding finger.
You can see a few examples of the navigation from the tutorial of the iPhone game below:
Controlling the pieces ended up being very original and fun. And it was not only the controls that were very ambitious. A lot of effort was also put into the musical side of the game.
An Interactive Musical Score
In 1996 I had graduated as bachelor of Musical Science from the University of Copenhagen and music was a big interest of mine. Therefore, the PENTAPUZZLE game should not just feature some random music. It should integrate completely with the game.
Having worked a lot with digital audio processing myself, I came up with the idea that various musical samples should fade in and out depending on game progress. I was able to program this myself on the iPhone but needed skilled musicians to create the actual musical loops and sounds for the game.
I wrote a pitch to a number of artists and got a positive response from UK artist Matthew Herbert, of whom I was and still am a great fan. If you’re not familiar with his music I highly recommend his album Bodily Functions and his production of Roisin Murphy’s Ruby Blue. Even after 15-20 years these albums still receive frequent playtime in our home.
Matthew brought Sam Beste onboard to assist in the production of the musical score for PENTAPUZZLE. Sam is an incredibly talented musician who started touring with Amy Winehouse at the age of 17 and has played with a long string of world class acts. Together Matthew and Sam created some loops that just tied in incredibly well with the relaxing feeling I wanted to develop in the game.
Release and Sink
PENTAPUZZLE for iPhone and iPad was released October 2012. Unfortunately but to no surprise, with more than one thousand applications being submitted to the App Store every day, PENTAPUZZLE slowly sank to the depth of the abyss.
Although I programmed the audio myself, the core game was made by a partner in India and with frequent updates needed for the game to keep up with every increment of the platform, it proved too expensive to keep it alive.
PENTAPUZZLE never made the charts but it did make a few devoted fans. If you’re one of them maybe you still remember it? This is the release video with some gameplay and the music which has now been ported to VR:
Part III: PENTAPUZZLE for Virtual Reality
My life moved on and PENTAPUZZLE for iPhone went to the history books together with the PENTAPUZZLE wooden game. But in December 2020 something new happened.
In spite of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic I met with a few colleagues for a Christmas dinner. This was when I was introduced to the Oculus Quest virtual reality headset and it literally blew my mind! I was sooo amazed with it and the next morning I ordered a couple of headsets to give them a closer look.
During the Christmas holiday it was already sneaking up on me… And when 2021 arrived I knew I had to do it! I needed to create a virtual reality version of PENTAPUZZLE!
I started researching the Virtual Reality game market and technology. I quickly found the game Cubism developed by indie developer Thomas van Bouwel. It’s a very nice polymino game with puzzles in three dimensions, a game type I already encountered as a physical game. Cubism has a great design and also the musical side is very worked through.
The game and its success carried two important points that strengthened my decision to create PENTAPUZZLE for VR:
- Firstly, it meant that people actually wanted to play this type of game in VR
- Secondly, it showed that an indie guy could make it to the Oculus Store (which has very strict curation relative to App Store and Google Play)
On the technological side I found out that Unity and Unreal represented the two obvious IDE options. I decided to go with the first, downloaded the free version of Unity and started watching YouTube tutorials on Quest and Unity programming. There’s a lot of great material out there and I found myself frequently visiting these channels:
It seems there are different approaches to programming the Oculus Quest in Unity. The two most obvious choices seem to be using either the native Oculus Integration package or Unity’s (pre-release) XR Interaction Toolkit. After some testing I went with the latter and started putting stuff together. I already knew C# programming and I was really impressed with how easy it was to start creating stuff in virtual reality.
Luckily I still had all work products from the PENTAPUZZLE iPhone game, so porting the challenges and audio into the first VR demo went pretty smooth. By 3rd of March I uploaded the initial version of PENTAPUZZLE Demo to Oculus App Lab. This is still pending approval from Oculus.
The PENTAPUZZLE Demo was released to SideQuest on 8th of March and is available for download.
I’m looking forward to receiving some useful feedback and will continue to update the game. Hopefully, with the coming improvements and your support, it will earn a spot on the official Oculus Store at some point.
I will update this page as news arrive. Thanks for reading the story of the PENTAPUZZLE VR game!
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