Analysis: Our Cheatin' Hearts

In this design analysis, first published in the May 2009 issue of Game Developer magazine, Maxis designer Soren Johnson (Spore, Civilization IV) addresses the careful balance between smart AI and player perception that the game is cheating.

The designers of Puzzle Quest have a frustrating burden to bear – everyone thinks they are a bunch of dirty cheaters. The game centers on a competitive version of Bejeweled, in which players duel with an AI to create the most "match-3" colored patterns.

The problem comes from how the pieces on the gameboard are created - when, for example, a column of three green orbs is lined up and removed from play, new pieces fall in to take their place. However, sometimes, these three new pieces happen to be of all the same type, which means that a new match is automatically made, and the player scores again.

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