Show HN: I wrote a symmetry game with a daily puzzle

https://www.hidden-mirrors.com

126 points by james_marks on 2024-05-15 | 73 comments
I’ve been working on a puzzle game for a few years as a side project.

The game is based on a small region of tiles in a grid that is mirrored, modified, and mirrored again. It’s based on a novel phenomenon I noticed where, once these mutations happen a few times, the original region can be hard to recognize. You have a feeling there are symmetries in the image, but they are just out of grasp. Going further, if only part of the region is visible, such as mirroring off the edge of the board, it adds to the feeling and it becomes a satisfying puzzle to solve.

I originally published this on the app stores, but after spending some money on marketing, I didn’t have line of sight to something people would pay for. I had built it around a hosted level API to tweak levels between version releases, making it prone to software rot over a few years. SSL certs would expire, credit cards would expire, App Store agreements need to be renewed, etc.. Without a continual drip of effort I wasn’t motivated to put in, it defaulted to broken.

With that software rot in mind, and hoping to make something that would be around for a while for my friends and family to play, I started making a web-only, client-side only version. Still prone to rot, but not nearly as many moving pieces. It’s missing some of the polish of the original and the puzzles aren't hand curated with a graduating difficulty, but it’s playable on many modern devices. The generated puzzles are good ~75% of the time. I’m still working out how to detect the dud puzzles- they are playable, but not fun. I’ve got ideas on what defines a “good” puzzle, but haven’t formalized them into a fitness function yet.

One other note– while there are almost definitely UI bugs (please report!), if it says the puzzle can be solved in X taps & flips, it can. Those numbers are derived from how the puzzle itself renders, so it’s (thankfully) not prone to producing impossible to solve puzzles. Merely ones that may appear so at first-- hence the name.

Today’s puzzle is a good difficulty to start with, a new one generates daily at midnight EST. There's no cookie or tracking, so let me know if you're playing!

Comments

stevage on 2024-05-16

Just some feedback: the training bit of the first few puzzles just confused the hell out of me.

Puzzle one, I see a grid and what looks like a piece. There's a message that says swipe right, so I click-drag right with the mouse, and suddenly I get 3 stars and a congratulation message. What did I even do?

The same thing repeats for about 5 puzzles. Each time I just swipe left or diagonal or whatever, but I'm not actually learning anything about what these gestures do. I don't see anything move, I don't learn anything about the mechanics of the game.

Then I'm on a puzzle that says swipe -> tap -> swipe and...I have no idea what to do.

EDIT Oh. Once I understand the mechanic, all the puzzles feel trivial, because there are so few things you can do at any time. Each swipe/tap is either correct, or instant loss.

james_marks on 2024-05-16

Fair. Maybe some illustrations showing the reflection mechanic before the training levels would help.

tacitusarc on 2024-05-16

The tutorial puzzles were absolutely trivial, but I spent a decent amount of time trying to understand the mechanics of the main puzzle and frequently actions produce unexpected results. I do not understand why sometimes only a piece is mirrored, and then sometimes the whole puzzle is, or why tapping can prevent some pieces from being flipped, etc. I do not know if it is buggy or just confusing.

EDIT: I see. Drawing a line causes a mirroring effect at a line perpendicular to the one drawn, located at the furthest point in the direction of the drawn line.

marcandre on 2024-05-16

Same. Tutorial having only contiguous cases made things quite unclear. I thought the starting point / endpoint where important to define the reflection axis and where it was, but no, only the axis gets defined

robertlagrant on 2024-05-16

Yes - having a slightly more advanced tutorial puzzle, where you have to tap, swipe, tap, swipe, would be helpful.

Took me a few goes, but I did puzzle out today's. Very cool.

untech on 2024-05-15

I’ve definitely enjoyed working out today’s puzzle. Thanks!

However, I am not sure about the daily aspect. I doubt I’ll remember about the puzzle tomorrow, and in any case, I like to do puzzles in larger batches, like for one hour in the evening.

Re: visual design: I think showing the actual line of mirroring would be nice. Also, the numbers of taps and swipes were too small for me to notice, I’ve discovered them quite late.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

Thanks– Good idea re: batches & line of mirroring.

bagels on 2024-05-16

I made it past 5 levels, and I don't really think I understand what is happening. There's some sort of mirror thing that I can't seem to control, and I can click on things, but I get less stars if I click on things.

I pass if I try to mirror right to left, but mirroring in the opposite direction does nothing. I have trouble controlling where the mirror plane is. It seems on the 'Tap' level I should be able to solve this by mirroring left to right, but I can only click on the white square to pass.

james_marks on 2024-05-16

The reflection is always the edge of the filled tiles, like a hinge in the direction of the flip.

You control where it is by choosing which tiles to fill.

zem on 2024-05-16

having that explained with an animation in the beginning would help immensely

james_marks on 2024-05-25

There's a brand-new tutorial, which includes this. Thanks for the nudge.

zem on 2024-05-25

looks much better!

lilyball on 2024-05-15

I think my feedback has already been captured by others, but I'll say it anyway just to help you get a sense of how widespread this feedback is.

I first opened this on my laptop with a trackpad and was confused at how scrolling did not work on the "scroll down" section. I ended up reopening it on my iPhone in order to try it. I see from a comment here that you're using this in order to get rid of the floating address bar. Your solution does not work, because if I tap to bring up the address bar once I'm in the game, there's no way to make it go away again and it covers up the bottom bar. So either you need to just live with the idea that the address bar will be visible, or you need to find another solution. [Edit: trying again, bringing up the address bar reverts it back to the "scroll down" screen. The first time it didn't though, so whatever you're doing here isn't reliable].

I also notice that if I add it to my home screen, the icon just opens it in Safari again. You don't have the metadata set up that allows it to be a PWA. Even without taking advantages of any of the extra capabilities of a PWA, it's still nice to support so that way I can have a home screen icon that opens it as its own thing (and this also gets rid of the bottom bar entirely). Every other daily puzzle I play is either in its own app (like NYT Games) or is a PWA.

The tutorial sequence should have some indication of how far along I am. I was starting to wonder if it was going to go on forever when it finally dropped me in the real game. It also should have a step telling me that I'm done with the tutorial and that I'm about to play the real game. This step would be a good place to point out the bottom bar with the tap/swipe counter because I completely missed that until I came back to read the comments.

The "Copy Stats" button should probably be a "Share" button instead that triggers the share sheet (at least on mobile; I don't know what other daily puzzle games do on desktop, maybe they still use the share action there too?).

Overall it's a fun game though! I can see myself adding this to my daily puzzles.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

This is great– I didn't realize PWAs could launch without the address bar. That changes my whole approach to the layout and can likely solve many of the bugs being described.

lilyball on 2024-05-15

I don't know what the experience is like on Android but on iOS a PWA opens in a completely separate process, without any browser chrome at all. It feels exactly like a native app that renders to a fullscreen webview.

pimlottc on 2024-05-15

Took me a while to figure out how to swipe on desktop, it doesn't work unless you both the start and the end of the swipe lie within the grid. So it's sort of less of a fast "swipe" and more of a "click-and-drag".

aaroninsf on 2024-05-15

Very clean. Great effort to crack the Wordle daily-game space. Has potential.

Suggestion:

- make it very explicit that interactions have a mandatory ordering

- make it very explicit that you cannot un-select pre-selected tiles

- make it very explicit that you cannot select "background" tiles

- differentiate phases, "prep / setup" vs "reflection"

Bonus ideas for v1.1:

- track "interactions" accumulating, and provide a mechanism for replaying them (eg "scrub the timeline back and forth").

- help mode: as you "consider" a swipes and the "compass" is shown, have an assistance mode which indicates provisionally the impact of a swipe in each direction as they are selected (but not executed)

Re: differentiating "phases," AFAICT you must always FIRST do any "selection tapping"; and then you must do ONLY one or more "reflection swipes." This was confounding to my way of thinking. I found myself repeatedly making the "wrong" move because while I saw the solution, I was attempting to execute it in a different order.

Or thought I did; because "tapping to fill" ("that's one way...") is allowed, the fact that it is a degenerate solution is not clearly expressed; nor is the fact that there is (I assume) always an "optimal" solution which always involves "prep" followed by one or more reflections.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

There are many correct sequences and often (not always) more than one solution. The sequence matters only matters when:

- It changes the region that reproduces - If a Tap and a Flip produce the same result, scoring prefers the Flip

If you feel like a sequence is being forced that doesn't fit one of those, I'd be curious to see what it is.

anonu on 2024-05-15

I like it. Took me a good moment to figure out the controls and concept but it's fun. Nice work.

The midnight puzzle feels like Wordle style. I'm not sure that's going to pickup in this case. I would just open up all the puzzles. My 2 cents

james_marks on 2024-05-15

Definitely some Worlde influence!

ejang0 on 2024-05-15

I enjoyed this a lot. Thank you.

Feedback: Desktop with trackpad, I swiped and my pointed ended out of the grid and it doesn't let this swipe occur.

Echoing others: - "the numbers of taps and swipes were too small for me to notice, I’ve discovered them quite late" - "The scroll down section felt odd." - on desktop I couldn't figure out what "swipe" meant for a bit (just click-and-drag)

Thank you again for this gift.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

Glad you're enjoying it, thanks for playing.

Great comments and some new bugs on my list.

The "scroll down" is definitely odd, I haven't quite decided how to handle that.

The reason for it is the floating address bar on mobile browsers- the only way I can find to minimize them is an authentic scroll of the page body. window.scroll() methods or anything I try to do that doesn't literally display an overflowing body requiring a scroll, and it won't retract.

To have the address bar full height while I'm trying to play just kills it for me. I've got some great animations from the original version I haven't brought in yet; the scroll down might "reveal" the puzzle with an animation that feels more natural.

wonger_ on 2024-05-15

The fullscreen API might help you rid the address bar. Or as another comment said, implementing as a PWA.

lovegrenoble on 2024-05-15

I like minimalist puzzles, especially addictive ones, like this https://brainteaser.top/knot/

drhodes on 2024-05-16

This knot game is really great, thank you for mentioning it.

james_marks on 2024-05-25

Just pushed some changes based on the feedback from this thread.

- No more "Scroll Down", which fixes a large group of bugs

- All-new interactive training

- Can be saved as a PWA without re-opening in Safari

- Tweaks to the puzzle generator algorithm (better, but still too easy)

Thank you for playing and reporting bugs!

RandomWorker on 2024-05-16

This was really cool. Challenging for sure on the first try I got one star. It challenges your ability to play around with it. I think the tutorial clicked for me when I saw the black shaded areas appear and they were mirror images of the red, then I got the game. With a small tutorial that this is the operation triggered by swiping would be useful. Though I did enjoy the aha moment when I got it.

When do the puzzels get updated? It makes sense to add a time zone. I’m definitely going to take another go tomorrow.

james_marks on 2024-05-16

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wonger_ on 2024-05-15

I like it! The tutorial levels were quick and effective. It's a new game mechanic I haven't seen before. And today's puzzle is a nice intermediate difficulty. Some other thoughts:

- I always wish daily puzzle games like this had an archive of past puzzles.

- The scroll down section felt odd. Maybe an HTML #anchor tag could jump the user to the game screen

- Settings button wasn't working for me. Not a big deal tho

- some extra UX polish always feels nice. Like animations, sound effects. Maybe some color and spacing tweaks. Maybe making the taps/flips numbers more noticeable.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

I... forgot to implement or remove the Settings button, it's literally just a piece of text. Sorry!

There's a nice 3D animation where you can see the region come towards you as it "flips" in the original, I'll look at bringing it back at some point.

Archive of past puzzles is a good idea.

MourYother on 2024-05-15

Mobile Firefox Bug: I cannot swipe down, it scrolls.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

Added to the list, thank you.

tarentel on 2024-05-15

This doesn't appear to be working on Safari desktop either.

james_marks on 2024-05-25

Bugfixes just went out, is this working for you now?

cyode on 2024-05-16

Today’s puzzle took me awhile to get, and I enjoyed the challenge!

I’m curious how much difficulty falls off over time after regular play. I’ve only played one puzzle, but without expanding the rules of the game, I feel like the following approach is all I’d need to solve any other puzzle pretty easily:

1. Build local early to save taps. Two squares touching can be painted with 1 tap and 1 flip. 2. Use taps in the middle of the game to create “pivots” for flips. 3. Big and “obvious” symmetries are solved with flips towards the end, taking advantage of “off the edge” squares getting ignored. 4. Fill “islands” (white squares without a corresponding white square for any axis of symmetry + pivot + valid flip) last with taps.

Did you ever try it with hexagons and 12 flip directions? >:)

james_marks on 2024-05-16

Your strategy is sound, but the steps become non-obvious on harder puzzles.

Today’s and yesterday’s were easy for people that play a lot.

There was one last week that took me a shocking number of tries, I was getting victory texts from friends at 11:50, people who’ve played for years never solved, etc.

yijiahe on 2024-05-16

I think an undo button would help.

It would make experimenting to get the right solution quicker by not having to restart from scratch and take away the pain of having to restart because you accidentally interacted with the game.

carlsverre on 2024-05-15

This was fun to figure out! Nice job!

For today's daily puzzle, there are two solutions that give different rankings but are effectively the same in terms of moves. You can solve it with 3 taps 4 flips or 2 taps 5 filps. It's not clear why one solution is more efficient than the other since the first two taps or the first tap+flip cover the same amount of the board.

Perhaps a scoring system that was based more on how efficiently you cover the board would allow for different solutions to be equally valid?

james_marks on 2024-05-15

The scoring system gives 2 points for taps 1 for flips. Lowest score wins.

Generally, the only time you'd be penalized for an "alternate" solution is when a flip adds a single tile, like you're describing. Any other scenario the flip is the most efficient way to solve the puzzle.

One fun thing– because of this edge, you can occasionally "beat" the generator and solve a puzzle with a tap left over.

dave333 on 2024-05-15

Got stuck on the first swipe diagonal example - tried about 25 swipes but not the correct one. Need a hint or even solve button until I get how these work. Then after I went to the daily puzzle I couldn't get back to the training examples.

SamBam on 2024-05-15

I simply can't trigger a downward diagonal swipe on my phone. It starts immediately as a horizontal swipe, and then the downward component scrolls the whole game area downward, while not affecting the swipe angle.

Even if I start with a downward swipe, it treats that as a scroll action, not a swipe action.

This is in the tutorial. FF on Android.

OP, have you considered making each level a non-scrollable page?

james_marks on 2024-05-15

Sorry, that sounds awful. I'd prefer non-scrollable but so far have optimized for causing the address bar to retract. Obviously haven't nailed it yet across all devices.

aradox66 on 2024-05-15

Having this problem also, swipes with a vertical component are simultaneously scrolls, which messes up the angle. FF on android.

james_marks on 2024-05-26

Fixed now?

james_marks on 2024-05-15

Have not tested the FF x android edge, thanks for the heads up.

dave333 on 2024-05-16

Bumping my thread since it got hijacked by the downward swipe vs scroll business.

james_marks on 2024-05-16

That first diagonal flip is a virtually guaranteed stumbling point, I’m open to ideas on a better way to introduce it.

Until then- I’ll add a way to reset the tutorial when I go back for the accidentally-fake Settings link.

dave333 on 2024-05-16

Thank you. Maybe have a solution graphic that user can get by clicking on a solution button or that pops up after X failed swipes.

sinuhe69 on 2024-05-16

It’s fun. But on the iPad, swipe down right is nearly impossible! The web page always scroll down. Why not making a single page where no scrolling is possible? You can always change into other scenes by previous/next buttons.

james_marks on 2024-05-25

We switched to a page-based layout, is this working better now?

bubblebeard on 2024-05-15

Very nice work! I really enjoyed playing it. One little thing I noticed, at one point I wanted to exit the page and doing so on my Iphone was a little tricky, maybe adding an exit btn would help. Really fun game though, great effort!

james_marks on 2024-05-25

This should be fixed, if you want to confirm.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

Exit button to release the UI controls is a good idea. Thanks!

carom on 2024-05-15

On Safari iOS this somewhat trapped me on the game screen. I had to close the tab.

ballenf on 2024-05-15

Is this only for mobile devices? On safari, I can't scroll down to the game and in a chromium browser I can't get a swipe gesture to register. MacOS.

On phone it works perfectly and is very cool! Nice work.

anonu on 2024-05-15

Works on desktop

TheGRS on 2024-05-15

Pretty fun! I would recommend looking up "juice" in gaming and adding some spicier animations just to make it a little more satisfying to play. The idea is pretty fun though!

james_marks on 2024-05-15

New vocab for me, perhaps not surprising :)

munchler on 2024-05-15

Fun game. Here's a small bug report: If you reset the puzzle while a flip is active (but incomplete), the flip UI remains active after the board is cleared. (Desktop user.)

james_marks on 2024-05-15

That's a good one, thank you.

jpeggtulsa on 2024-05-15

How do you do the "Swipe out of bounds" one on desktop?

pimlottc on 2024-05-15

The swipe itself doesn’t need to end out of bounds, it just needs to be in the right direction.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

Click and drag. You have to start and end within the grid, which is probably what's throwing you off (and kinda dumb... on the list to fix).

montebicyclelo on 2024-05-16

The introduction / training could be made clearer with some GIFs / animations showing what to press and the effects.

ThomW on 2024-05-15

Safari in MacOS just shows a screen full of "Scroll down" after the initial "Let's Go" is clicked. :/

LudwigNagasena on 2024-05-15

Yeah, you have to scroll down using your arrow keys. The swipe aid in the game is still bugged though.

james_marks on 2024-05-15

I think it's specifically scroll-wheel on a mouse that doesn't work in Safari, which I can't readily explain.

Adding to the list.

Can you elaborate on the swipe aid being buggy?

LudwigNagasena on 2024-05-16

It’s misplaced and distorted.

james_marks on 2024-05-25

I just pushed an update– is this fixed now?

ibrothergang on 2024-05-16

I don't know how to play it, adding some guidance and hints should make it a bit better.

james_marks on 2024-05-25

There's a whole new tutorial now, curious what you make of it.

acheron on 2024-05-15

This is good. Worked fine in desktop Firefox once I got the hang of it.

closetkantian on 2024-05-15

I liked it, but I found it too easy.

james_marks on 2024-05-26

Give today’s, puzzle #19, a shot.

tonetheman on 2024-05-15

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