Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I think there are some lessons learned here. First, a couple things I think there are quick fixes for:

"The boss level... was not challenging" vs "I couldn't figure out the octopus". I agree the boss could use some tweaking. Right now the tentacles are just there for decoration, but they could be actual hazards. There's no health meter or way to die, and this was done as a stopgap to deal with the lack of save function, but I kind of like it. I wonder if there's a good way to add a challenge without requiring a lose condition. Perhaps  have a timer that closes drains you've opened after a time. Any other ideas are welcome.

It seems like most people didn't find a need to bother with the core water pressure mechanic, which I understand (although I'm surprised if you managed to beat the puzzle without paying attention to the pressure). I was worried this would happen and I tried hard to force players to watch the pressure level in the tutorial, but I didn't really succeed. There may be a way to salvage it, but ultimately I think this mechanic doesn't work 100%, and I would replace it with something slightly different. I don't have any great ideas, though.

I don't think we really made any mistakes in choosing this mechanic, it just never quite came together despite several iterations. It happens sometimes in PyWeek!

Now, about navigation. This is a very important topic for me. There were mixed responses in how difficult the game was when it came to finding your way. Ranging from "playing the game properly would require lots of notes and graph paper to plot out where you are", to "the game just solved itself". Overall, though, it does seem like a little more help not getting lost would have improved things.

To review, the game has six sections: a tutorial, four challenges that can be completed in any order, and a final boss challenge. They're all connected by a large room in the center of the map. I wonder whether people were having more trouble finding their way through each section, or finding their way between sections (e.g. knowing where to go next). But each section is fairly linear so I tend to suspect the latter. I'm glad I spent time getting the minimap and main map working, because I think they both help keeping track of how the different sections connect, but what more could be done? Two ideas I have are closing off paths to challenges that have been completed, and putting a label on the minimap showing what area you're currently in.

My big question is whether having one large connected world contributed to the disorientation. We could easily have made the game six separate levels that you select from a menu, but I really like making a single seamlessly-connected world whenever I can. It makes the game feel more complete somehow. None of the judges mentioned this aspect negatively or positively, so maybe it's just me. But I'm interested in what I can do to make it work.

What about appearance? One comment references Colossal Cave Adventure with "it's a maze of twisty little passages that all look alike". I'm guessing was meant negatively, so I wonder whether making the different sections have somewhat different appearances, say with different textures, would have helped. My first thought is that limited graphical range shouldn't necessarily be a problem for PyWeek. Nobody gets "lost" playing a game like Dynamite Valley or Deep Breath, even though every level has pretty much the same graphical assets. But maybe making a game where navigation is involved means also committing to more graphics.

I'd be happy to hear any further thoughts people had about this!

Big thanks to mauve for putting this on, and congratulations to the winners and everyone who entered!

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Hey Cosmologicon, thanks for the postmortem. I have some comments on it.

On the boss level: It's interesting that the tentacles were there for decoration, because I thought they were actually hazards so I played as if they were. :) Even if the game doesn't save, you could still have some sort of fight and "restart" that part if the player loses (i.e. just teleport the player to the hub and undo the progress).

On the mechanic/puzzle: I skipped the puzzle, and I'm guessing most people did because once you fail it, there's no way to retry it because the water pressure is not undone (I could be misremembering). I would have liked to see a better way to retry the puzzle if you fail it, or make it impossible to fail.

For the rest of the game, the water pressure mechanic doesn't seem very relevant, except to know why some passages open or close up. I think the way that the water pressure mechanic is explained, i.e. mostly via text at the very start of the game, is a bit hard to digest. In the beginning of the game, you have no idea what a drain looks like and what a "lower room" means. I completely missed the fact that there was a tutorial, because I kept entering arbitrary tubes without thinking much in the beginning and suddenly I was in the main part of the game.

On navigation: For me, the disorientation arose out of a combination of different things: the third person perspective, the fact that all rooms looked the same (no landmarks to orient myself), having some passages be twisty, not always being able to backtrack, and moving up and down (I thought small tubes were just teleports). Each of them individually is not too bad, but all of them together often made me lost. Honestly, I didn't even realize the game was divided into sections (I thought it was mostly linear) until I accidentally visited the puzzle section again after my second section and saw the same message. Keep in mind that I thought little tubes were just arbitrary teleports, and I failed to recognize rooms I had already seen, and you can imagine my confusion. Once I realized how the map was structured, things were clearer.

I think adding landmarks would be most effective, as it not only forces players to recognize a room they've been in but also provide the levels with some needed visual variety. The map helped a lot, yes, but it often overlapped itself and it was hard to read. I agree that closing off completed challenges would be good. Simply adding different colors to the walls of different sections, plus matching colors in the minimap, would help. Maybe it's also worth it to switch to a top-down view in central areas such as the hub. As I mentioned in my feedback, when I got to the top-down level, everything felt so much clearer. The verticality could also use some tweaking; maybe have the fish actually go up or fall without teleporting.

I actually like a lot the fact that it's a single world. I viewed this mainly as an exploration game, and having a single big world really helps with that. There are better things to change to make it easier to navigate.

I hope my experience with the game helps. It's a really cool game with a charming story, and having these issues fixed would make it even better.
That all makes sense, thanks! Hearing your experience certainly helps. I completely agree with most of your suggestions, and would have implemented them during PyWeek, it was just a matter of time. (Given that I keep saying this, I think it's safe to say the game was too ambitious for our constraints.)

The top-down view works for some sections better than others. It's not as great in any section where you're traversing long tunnels, especially ones not aligned to the four cardinal directions. I agree it's pretty intuitive when it works, so I'll see if I can tweak some sections to allow a top-down view. I was a little worried that switching back and forth frequently would confuse players, but now I think that's not a major concern.

I love being able to include 3-d gameplay, but it definitely opens up a lot of new challenges. I don't really know a good way to depict vertically connected rooms on the map/minimap. One thing I realized is that Zelda dungeons always have every room on a certain floor, so by indicating what floor you're on (L1, L2, B1, etc.) you can get a sense of the vertical relation between rooms. They stick to this scheme even for more organic dungeons (e.g. caverns). For this game I just placed rooms at arbitrary z-coordinates, but maybe they should be at discrete levels. I don't think that would completely solve the problem, though.

Your point about the small pipes being mysterious is well made. I think that, at least during the tutorial section, vertical transitions between rooms, both up and down, should be clearer. This can be done by showing rooms you're traveling to before you go there, and by having a less "snappy" camera, so the transition takes longer. Possibly even a very explicit sequence where you zoom out to show both rooms clearly, pan the camera from the first room to the second room, then zoom in on the second room.

I agree the map could be tweaked. One idea I'm considering is not to have every room shown on the world map. Instead make it more of a conceptual map that shows how the different sections fit together, like this. You'll have to use the minimap to get any idea of how one room connects to another, but that should be fine: the world map was not that great for this to begin with. I think this'll be an improvement.

Having landmarks is a great suggestion and I wanted to get some in. It is hard to come up with thematically appropriate objects (so no sculptures or trees) that don't mislead the player into thinking they're mechanically significant (like ladders or grates in the wall would tend to do). During PyWeek I watched a playthrough of the sewer level in Twilight Princess for ideas, but there's not a whole lot in the way of decoration. The best idea I had was support columns, but I worried that players would tend to just ignore those anyway. Still, I think it can be done.