Tag Archives: Alan Hazelden

Hope your alchemy skills are strong enough for Sokobond

This may not surprise anyone, but my strongest classes in high school were English, art, and, uh, study hall. By that logic, my weakest classes were mathematics, science, and gym. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate things about math and science, as they are fundamental to life, but gym can seriously take a hike down a long, uneven road full of potholes, dog droppings, and ankle-biting snakes. Yes, yes…I was the kid in gym class that walked the mile, each and every time. Anyways, Sokobond is all about chemistry, and I dig it.

Hey, have you heard the one about a chemist who was reading a book about helium? He just couldn’t put it down. ::cymbal crash::

Well, Sokobond comes from Draknek, who you might remember was behind another puzzle game I played recently, specifically A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, and is an elegantly designed puzzle game about chemistry. Yup, chemistry. Don’t worry–it doesn’t play like a homework assignment. It’s logical, minimalist, and crafted with love and science, full of fun facts that making completing each level worth it. All in all, Sokobond is a tricky puzzler that tasks players with pushing atoms around a stage to form molecules, and while that might sound simple, just like rolling snowballs to form snowpeople, it is more complicated due to certain rules and restrictions.

Sokobond does not feature a tutorial. and that’s a good thing. It invites you to immediately start experimenting, opening without explanation. sitting on a board of squares are three circles–two of them are red, each with an H displayed in its middle and with a single little orb orbiting it, and one is a blue O with two orbs. One of the Hs bears a dotted rather than solid circle, and you can move it around the board with the cursor keys. If you move a circle next to another and they both have orbs, they’ll bond together and an orb will disappear from each. A few moves later, you’ll have maneuvered each circle into a small cluster and discovered that the object is to remove all the orbs, leaving you with a little structure. Many will have already immediately worked out that the circles represent atoms; the H circles are hydrogen, the O is oxygen, and when you’ve put them all together you’ve made water (H2O).

Sokobond is quite varied, not your standard sliding puzzler that just repeats its one trick over and over, with levels divided into sets themed on different mechanics. For example, the first set introduces you to the concept of bonding; the next brings in a bond cutter, which divides molecules if you move their bonds over it. Further along, there’s a bond doubler, which uses an extra couple of orbs if they’re available on adjacent atoms. There’s also a rotation element, which can change a molecule’s shape if its form allows. In one level, these mechanics will be the main part of the solution, allowing you to manipulate your atoms with greater flexibility; in another, they’ll provide its core challenge, cutting a bond into parts when it looked like you had the whole thing solved. The difficulty naturally ramps up with the more mechanics to deal with, but it is never overwhelming or frustrating.

Evidently, Sokobond came into existence after Alan and Shang Lun met one another at GDC 2012 and realized they’d played and loved each other’s games. On the final evening of the conference, they decided to make “a quick four-hour jam game,” which, a year and a half later, turned into the game I’m talking about in this very blog post. There’s over 100 levels to go through, and the music and sound design by Allison Walker is blissful and soothing.

You don’t need to know much about science to enjoy Sokobond‘s puzzles, but I guarantee you’ll appreciate it a bit more if you know what type of compound you are trying to create from the start. Still, I’ll never be able to buzz on on Jeopardy! and answer anything science-related or about the periodic table confidently, but I can totally slide cells around a small board to make compounds.


It’s completely true that A Good Snowman is Hard to Build

I don’t think I’ve ever actually constructed a full snowman. I’ve made mini versions that were no bigger than a few inches tall on several front stoops, but the real deal just seems like a lot of work, especially once you realize you have to lift those snowballs on top of each other. Our next door neighbors built one last winter in the backward, and we got to watch it slowly melt away, which is always a little depressing. Anyways, snowmen…they are cool, especially if you take the angle that Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame does; however, you won’t find any sickly monstrosities in A Good Snowman is Hard to Build, but every snowman you construct is simply adorable, and there’s even one named Paul.

Right, let’s get to it. For spring is coming. A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is a puzzle videogame created by Alan Hazelden and Benjamin Davis. After searching around on my very own blog here, I see that I’ve played some work by Hazelden in the past, namely a thing called Skipping Stones to Lonely Homes. That’s nice of me. And, in my Twitch Prime list, I have another of his to install and play down the road–Cosmic Express. Anyways, A Good Snowman is Hard to Build was released in 2015 for personal computers and mobile devices, but I only noticed it the other day, again, in my Twitch Prime list, waiting to be installed on my computer. Ultimately, I’m glad I did.

A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is, more or less, a bunch of puzzle rooms with the connected theme of building either one, two, or three snowpeople. You do this by rolling a snowball into a large ball, then rolling another into a medium ball and putting it on top of it, and lastly adhering a small snowball as the being’s head; if you do this correctly, you will construct the named snowman and open up paths to more puzzle areas. Graphics are by Benjamin Davis, and they are adorable, even the little monster you control. The game’s original soundtrack is by Priscilla Snow, and it’s calming and quiet, perfect for the background as you rack your brain for a solution.

Now, I won’t sit here and lie to you and say I solved every possible puzzle on my own, as I did have to look up a few solutions online later on, namely for: Willow; Rob, James, and Matthew; and Zoe and Richard. However, I did do the bulk of them unassisted, and it feels great to see your finished snowman. The trick is figuring out how to roll each ball to the appropriate size, and your limits are often dealing with a small amount of space to do this, as well as only so much snow to get the job done. I eventually learned that you can leave the puzzle are and return to it from a different direction, which helped a lot, as did rolling balls in top of each other and then off each other. There’s quite a bit going on in this rather adorable-looking puzzle game.

It’s pretty short; I finished A Good Snowman is Hard to Build in a few hours, in two different sittings. Evidently, after finishing all the main puzzles, you get access to some sort of alternative universe, which I walked around in for a bit, but couldn’t seem to figure out what to do next. Maybe there are even more puzzles to complete. Oh well, spring is coming, and the snowmen will eventually melt away, leaving no trace behind but a small puddle. Maybe next winter.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #15 – A Good Snowman is Hard to Build

Roll up a snowman
Some are quite tricky, but cool
Cute puzzles and theme

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Hitting reset repeatedly in Skipping Stones to Lonely Homes


Once, when I was younger and spending the early hours of the morning crabbing off a pier overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with my father, I took a walk while the traps soaked, found a small, isolated cut of shore, and started skipping stones. At first, I was rubbish, getting only two skips or ker-plunking the rock on the first toss, but after enough practice and searching for the smoothest, most flat rocks this side of New Jersey, I was hitting bounce streaks of five or more. Which, if you didn’t know, is extremely satisfying. There’s something magical about seeing such a heavy thing dance across the water like it’s flying with the wind before it loses steam and descends into the watery unknown.

Skipping Stones to Lonely Homes is not actually a stone-skipping simulator, though somebody out there should totally make that game. Actually, I think there was one mini-game in Wii Sports Resort that had you side-slicing rocks (or discs?) across a lake or through rings for points, but even with the updated Wii MotionPlus controller it was still tricky, and I had to constantly remind myself to not let go of the controller when performing the throwing motion. Instead, Alan Hazelden‘s on-the-surface simple puzzle game is about a sailor who has washed ashore and needs materials to fix his ship. In order to find these essentials, you’ll need to skip stones (or push rocks as I saw it) across the water to manipulate lily pads and reach other chunks of land. Sounds easy, but let me assure you it is not; I got no further than the fourth screen before my brain hurt.

Skipping Stones to Lonely Homes did not magically appear out of thin air. Hazelden appears to be a rather prolific independent developer, and an earlier game of his called Mirror Isles looks nearly identical to his latest creation. Except there’s a hypnotic looping soundtrack and has you swapping places with a second character via teleporting mirrors to maneuver around the various islands. It seems just as deceptively difficult. The minimalist graphics vibe is fine, as it is really the puzzles that stand out as the things to pay attention to. You can hit “Z” to undo your last step or “R” to reset to the last checkpoint, and I hit these keys a great number of times.

Give it a go. Maybe you’ll get farther then the fourth screen. Perhaps the fifth screen is the last and where all the ship materials are, or maybe it just gets more punishing from there. At the very least, open Skipping Stones to Lonely Homes in your browser and tab away to do whatever it is you actually do during your time in front of the computer, that way you can work, but listen to the soothing, calming tones of ocean waves lapping at sandy shores. I’ve had it going the entire time I wrote this blog post.