Deep in the jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula lies the forgotten Mayan City of Ix’Boluc. You and your team of archeologists and researchers have been studying the ruins of this city for decades in hopes of finding a sacred artifact. This artifact holds the soul of the Mayan sun god Tonatiuh and is foretold to bring unimaginable power and wealth or destruction and despair. This morning one of the field archeologists reports that they’ve unearthed a strange cube that glows like the sun and hums like thunder. You scramble to assemble your team and solve the numerous puzzles decorating the faces of the cube.
What is the game about?
The Trials of Tonatiuh is a party puzzle game, which means there is a lot of socializing, arguing, thinking, yelling, and fun. It is composed of a cube with several puzzles decorating its faces & a rulebook that contains the keys to solving the puzzles. The key twist is that the puzzle solver is not allowed to view the rulebook with the keys to the answers, nor can the helping team view the artifact. This game is about communication. The hints to the puzzles are purposely convoluted and require a lot of information to be exchanged between the solver and their team, which is where a lot of the difficulty arises.
We were inspired by a video game called Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (KTaNE), where one bomb defuser is aided by several decoders. We love how KTaNE can get really chaotic and stressful which is why we employed similar game elements while still making significant changes that we think make the game significantly better. This is a hardware game so we designed a very tactile experience that takes full advantage of its physicality, including physical rotation and vibration.
The Faces of the Artifact
There are six faces of our artifact, each designed to have a specific function
The Calendar & Face of Tonatiuh
This face contains a replica of the Mayan calendar and an inset neo-pixel display to inform how much time is left to solve the puzzles. The current “date” of the calendar is also used in many puzzle-solving mechanics. Tonatiuh has two LEDs for eyes that display how many times the user has messed up, showing how much longer their incompetence will be tolerated.
In this puzzle, brave explorers must carefully feel how the puzzle responds to their actions. Attentive adventurers will be able to recognize and communicate key symbols to their teammates, who then will guide them through this trial/
The Six Riches of Alhuic
This puzzle has six unknown logogram buttons that must be decoded along with six LEDs. The correct logogram must be selected according to a series of convoluted rules about the state of the LEDs, the current season, and the number of lives left.
Tournament of Buluc Chabtan
This face contains a servo motor to direct an arrow, a button to enter in positions, and accelerometer to detect the orientation of the box. Given a set of instructions in the rulebook, the user must rotate the box in space to the correct orientations to solve this puzzle.
Chac god of Thunder
This face was meant to contain a fourth puzzle were wires had to be plugged into different terminals but because of pin constraints on the ESP 32 we decided to omit it and replace it with a Speaker for sound effects.
Currently unimplemented, this face was meant to contain a secret drawer with a smaller mayan artifact that would pop out when all the puzzles were solved.
During a group brainstorming session, the basic mechanics of each face was laid out Each face was prototyped using a breadboard to facilitate coding interfaces for all the electrical components jammed into the cube At the same time, vector drawings were prepared with the layout of the parts in order to produce the physical cube structure The Specific rules were laid out in the rulebook before higher-level software development to implement the puzzle algorithms began Once the prototyping phase was over most components were soldered onto the protoboard and mounted to the laser-cut acrylic structure Integration of different game and software components Aesthetic considerations like drawings and other designs were added
One aspect of the artifact that we valued highly was its continuity of it: there was nothing stopping the user from halfway finishing a puzzle and moving on before returning. This meant that all of the ways the user interacted with the bomb had to be non-blocking and we couldn’t assume the puzzle would cleanly proceed in a linear manner. This meant we had to explore and implement interrupt-based inputs in order to maintain a robust set of behaviors for the box. We learned a lot in this process about how to handle object-oriented programming with interrupts and effective methods for attaching them.
Another challenge with the artifact is the number of elements being employed. Many exciting features had to be cut purely as a result of the lack of pins available to us on the board. This limitation also forced us to be creative with the individual puzzles in order to minimize pin use without compromising on puzzle quality.
One of our favorite parts of this project is the theme. Our submission last year employed a theme that was added near the end of development, and even that little of a theme ended up being a blast and we felt it added a fair amount to the project. This bout we started with a theme that had an interesting impact on the progression of the project as a whole. The most exciting one was how some puzzles ended up being a top-down design where we started with a deity/figure and worked the mechanics of the trial from that. For example, Quetzalcoatl’s Flight was designed because we wanted to employ the famous ouroboros symbol in a significant way. This design ended up with an exciting combination of theme and mechanics that made both aspects of the module more satisfying.
What we learned
A vital lesson we learned was how to deal with scope. Our project was extremely ambitious, and we spent a lot of time discussing features and details that were not necessary for project completion. This diverted a lot of our resources away from fundamental functionality and tasks, which is what led to our inability to fully complete the project. This area seems to be an ongoing area of improvement for us, and we are happy that we were able to gain experience in a low-stress and fun environment. While we were disappointed that we were unable to execute on our grand design, we are still proud of all the work we put in and what we were able to accomplish.
What's next for Wrath of the Sun
Firstly would be finishing implementing the current puzzles completely and robustly before adding music and sound effects. From there adding a mechanism for the box to open would be great, as well as replacing the speaker face with another puzzle. Rules revisions could be made purely from software, allowing us to make the process more or less complex relatively easily.
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