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Meet Cliff Johnson, Puzzle Game Designer
March 23, 2022
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Meet Cliff Johnson, Puzzle Game Designer

Author: Synesis One

The games…naturally incorporate a lot of word games but also involve Message Ciphers, Concatenation Abracadabras, Jumbled Hubbubs, Chunky Fifths, Logic Reveals, and Slippery Sliders.

At the heart of Synesis One are words. And the mystery behind the word puzzles being created for Quantum Noesis is Cliff Johnson, who we’re elated to further introduce you to this week.

Background

Cliff Johnson began working in film (as well as making monsters for theme parks) after he attended the University of Southern California’s film school. But one day in 1984 he went into an Apple store and after some playing around, left with a Macintosh computer. And then from there on in he began to start making computer games, including the huge cult hit game The Fool’s Errand.

He describes how it came about:

“I was having a perfectly fine time creating films and animation. Then in late 1984, I bought a Mac, and then a clueless relative bought me Microscope Basic. A year and a half later, I had an award-winning puzzle game. It was Fool’s Errand in more than just title, but somehow it all worked out.”

A Cult Classic

The game was a huge success, involving solving puzzles and cryptic treasure hunt. It unfolds in the style of a story book, involving trippy, tricky puzzles. It still has a following today. It was based on a book he wrote, originally intended as a gift for friends and family. But it then occurred to him that this could unfold just as well on a small screen.

As he explains, it was a natural progression for him:

“Every film and animation I did was a complex production in itself. So it didn’t seem like a big hop, skip, and a jump into the complications of programming. My animation career was mostly avant-garde, for example for the Canadian Film Board and International Tournee of Animation. This allowed my graphic style to evolve into more expressive and abstract forms, allowing me to blend computer elements with traditional techniques.”

The Fool’s Errand won Best Puzzle Game of the Year from GAMES Magazine in 1987 and was declared “Best Retro Game Ever” by British GamesTM magazine. He then went on to direct the *FunHouse* production group for Philips Media, and also consulted and worked with companies including Mattel, Warner Bros. and Disney creating online puzzles and treasure hunts. In 2002, he designed a $100,000 challenge for the book Mysterious Stranger by street magician David Blaine. It was only solved in 2004.

New Opportunities

Cliff has come on board with Synesis One as our puzzle designer, after connecting with Tracy Spaight. He was drawn to the opportunity to create new conundrums and puzzles against the background of AI singularity and NFT word tokens.

And narrative is still likely to inform his work, although it will be more of a collaborative process whilst working with us at Synesis One. He says:

“In The Fool’s Errand3 in Three, and The Fool and his Money, the stories are told in classic form, setting the tone and theme of the mythic adventures. The puzzles complement the story in subtle ways, but are not direct extensions of the story. Except when they are. But with Synesis One, Tracy Spaight heads the writing team for Quantum Noesis. This is a grand international affair.”

The games that he is creating for Synesis One naturally incorporate a lot of word games but also involve Message Ciphers, Concatenation Abracadabras, Jumbled Hubbubs, Chunky Fifths, Logic Reveals and Slippery Sliders.

The Future is Bright

The huge advances of gamification and popularity of online games seems only to be accelerating, with community games as well as single player games continuing to expand. Cliff remarks how, “Puzzles and games use structured rules to create order out of chaos. This seems like a natural progression to aid in teaching, presentation, and marketing. The spoonful of sugar, one might say.”

And as we continue to move forward into this world of gamification- what will this mean for computer games? Cliff is confidently optimistic, “More of them. Many, many more. In every shape, size, and interactivity.”