"No-one's put it all together just yet": Lair of the Clockwork God's unsolved puzzle

By Luke Albigés,
Lair of the Clockwork God is coming to Xbox One on Friday, and it's a game jam-packed with clever and creative puzzles. One such puzzle, as it turns out, is so fiendish that nobody has been able to crack it in the six months since the game's PC launch, and the related Steam achievement (which is also on the Xbox list) is yet to be unlocked by a single player. Intrigued by this and wanting to find out more about the game itself, we sat down with Size Five Games' Dan Marshall for a quick chat ahead of the game's console launch.

"There's one big puzzle that no one has solved yet, and solving it gets you that final achievement," he explains. "People have been working at it on-and-off since launch, but no-one's put it all together just yet. Hopefully with the console launch, someone will start delving into it a little deeper!" Lair of the Clockwork God also has a few other super-rare achievements on its Steam list (the Xbox list is identical, just with one extra achievement for playing through companion game, Devil's Kiss), so we asked Marshall about those as well. "The 1%ers are pretty tough, but there's nothing in here I'd consider unfair," he says, and I'm inclined to agree — I already unlocked several of them in playing through the game for review. They were somewhat challenging, sure, but not nearly as rough as those crazy low unlock percentages suggest.

You can check out our full interview with Size Five's Dan Marshall below. Here's the console launch trailer for Lair of the Clockwork God too, in case you haven't seen it — it should offer a little context for some of the questions and responses. And yes, the game is as crazy as it looks.

Our Xbox folks might not be familiar with your PC-centric back catalogue, so could you start by giving a brief overview of yourself and your games leading up to Lair of the Clockwork God?

Hello! I'm Dan Marshall. I set up Size Five back in about 2006. I made some point-and-click adventures called Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please!, a saucy sex-ed game called Privates, a steampunk burglary simulator called The Swindle, and a daft anti-football game called Behold the Kickmen. Lair of the Clockwork God is my latest. It's a game where one of the characters is an old-school point-and-click adventurer, and the other one wants to be an indie darling platformer. It's about flipping between the two characters to solve puzzles and progress through a mad story.

How long did the game take to develop, from start to finish?

Hah, well... a long time. We first started talking about the concept back in about 2009, and it's been through a LOT of iterations over the years. Most of that is designing puzzles in pubs, so not exactly what I'd consider 'work' — it's chucking ideas around and Ben [Ward] and I trying to make each other laugh.

There were two canned efforts, and the third time's the charm. I think this iteration probably took three years all-in, which is a hefty old chunk of time.

Did the dual-genre gameplay present any unexpected problems or challenges during development?

Hah, plenty. Getting your head around which character can be where at any specific point was a bit of a nightmare, but nothing too huge. That's one of the benefits of having all our design meetings in a pub over the course of ten years or so — everything was pretty well mapped out.

Did you have to make any significant changes to the game to bring it to console?

Fortunately I'm very clever, so I farmed out all the complicated porting work to Tony Gowland of Ant Workshop. He knows what he's doing, so it's sensible to let a grown-up handle the complicated coding necessary for consoles. I can't talk about much because of spoilers, but there are one or two puzzles in the game that it was tough to get working with the different hardware, and to get past the console certification systems!

Would you like to bring your other games to console? Any you think would be a particularly good fit?

Well, The Swindle's on all formats, and Behold the Kickmen is available on Switch. I don't think any of the others are a particularly good fit, but it'd be really lovely to focus on consoles moving forwards, and do it a little more integrated rather than 'get the Steam version working, then look at porting it,' which has been my business model up to now.

Why do you think so many games struggle with doing comedy that is actually funny?

I think it's because they're either written by committee, or because they're writing to appease an audience. Humour is subjective — you can't please everyone so the best thing to do, I think, is to write for yourself and make the people with a similar sense of humour to you laugh.

I suspect the bigger the company, the worse it is. When I say 'written by committee,' that includes writers for big companies who are second-guessing what the Boss will allow, or what Marketing want out of it, or the Money Men. Being an indie, I have the luxury of just writing and writing and writing and whatever comes out, if it's funny, is what goes in the game.

What are a few of the funniest games you've played, and what made them so good?

By and large, I think the funniest games are the ones that aren't dialogue-based. I mean, obviously Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max: Hit the Road. But I'm a big fan of emergent gameplay leading to funny stuff. For me, that's often in games like GTA (which, oddly, the endless stream of bad puns I don't find funny at all) or in something like Spelunky.

What's your general process for adding achievements to a game?

By and large they're a reflection of the game's content, they're reacting to what's in the game already rather than having extra content added for them. It's a case of looking at the game and working out what ace little extra challenges there are to be had. For example, in one of our levels, there's a train in the background and I idly wondered to myself one day if I could reach the end of the level before it does and MAN wow it was so close it was exhilarating. I lost, but I was sure it was possible. So every time I tested that level, I tried to beat the train. Finally I did it and thought "well, that's an achievement right there!"

Does looking at things like unlock percentages for achievements help inform design decisions on later projects?

No. I'm not the sort of developer who can handle making the same type of game over and over again, so my next project won't be similar in style to Clockwork God. I think designing games around achievements is probably the wrong way round, to be honest. The gameplay always has to come first, that's the key. Where there's neat little challenges that's one thing, but I'm not about to redesign the next game because only 10% of people completed a particular challenge.

We noticed that one of the achievements on Steam seems to have a 0% unlock rate, with several others under 1%. Are these really that difficult, or are people just rubbish?

The 1%ers are pretty tough, but there's nothing in here I'd consider 'unfair.'

There's one big puzzle that no one has solved yet, and solving it gets you that final achievement. People have been working at it on-and-off since launch, but no-one's put it all together just yet, hopefully with the console launch someone will start delving into it a little deeper!

Finally, for anyone who still isn't sold on Lair of the Clockwork God, could you go ahead and sell it to them in five words?

"More than meets the eye!" Wait, to be clear, there's no Transformers in it — that makes it sound like there's Transformers in it. There aren't, I don't own the rights. What I mean is that there's more going on in Clockwork God than I can show off in trailers, but if I told you it would just be a massive spoiler. So, there's more than meets the eye.

Lair of the Clockwork God is out this Friday on Xbox One. Be sure to check back later in the week for our full review...
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.