I said I didn't want to do a Match-3 clone and here I have a Match-3 clone. Sort of. I call it "find" 3 as opposed to "match" 3 as the process of finding is a bit more intense in this version. In fact, this game should give your visual cortex quite a workout.
The board is setup like a Match-3 board, with a lot of square, some of which are special and have slightly darker backgrouns. The darker squares will go to their normal color once you create a match using them. When you have removed all of the darker squares from the board you can continue to the next level.
So far it should sound pretty standard. But the matching procedure is a bit more challenging. Each tile on the board has four properties: color, number, fill and shape. Each property has three possible values, i.e. red, blue and green (and now that I write this up I realize that again I should have considered color-blindness). To make a match among 3 tiles you will need to find 3 tiles that are either the same, or all different, with respect to each property.
Here is an example:
These three have: the same shape, the same color, different fills and different numbers. They are a match. Here's another:
This has different shapes, different colors, different fills and different numbers and is thus also a match.
Matches can be any 3 squares on the board, they don't have to be 3 in a row.
So, your goal then is to find these matches as quickly as possible and in particular to match the squares that are darkened. Once you have cleared each such square you will move on to the next level. If you run out of time you'll start over on level 1. If you beat level 5 then that's it, your score will be saved in the high score and you can try again at level 1.
Ok, go play.
First of all, some of you may notice the matching structure that this game uses is based on as being that of the game Set. Set is a sort of brain-teaser party game that is played with cards. For set you only have 12 cards out on the table, not the 25 of my version, which makes it a bit more difficult. People sit around staring at the cards until someone finds a "set" and shows it to everyone else, taking the cards.
And actually, I did not set out to make a Set match-3 game. I was just interested in the notion of creating a game that had as its challenge a visual pattern-finding task that was more interesting than the standard 3-of-the-same-color that you see in the many Bejeweled clones. The first idea I had was a Chuzzle-style game where instead of creating 3 in a row's, you create poker hands (and I still may prototype that). That idea went through several iterations, some action-oriented and some strategy-oriented and it led to considering colored gems with numbers and then colored gems with shapes and numbers. At first I thought of a game where each square had up to four gems, one of four colors and up to four shapes (for a grand total of 64 possible tiles). The idea was the same as Set: that each property had to be the same or different. I thought it would hopefully be easier than Set (where there are 81 possible tiles) but after testing it on paper I found it to be extremely difficult. With 3 tiles to match you can look at two and know what the third match must be, and there's a decent chance it will be on the board (about 29%). With 4 tiles to match, after picking two you still have 2 tiles to go and have a lower chance that the two you need are on the board. I found it just takes too much "stack depth" to think 4 tiles in and the matches seem less common anyway. So I ended up just going with the Set rule of 4 properties and 3 of each property.
I still think there is other interesting territory to delve into here. Chuzzle with both shapes and colors, matching only for "the same" and not "different" seems like it would be interesting but it also seemed too much like the existing game and I wanted to try something a bit different.
Having determined the core mechanic for the game I still had a lot of decisions to make. How would the player progress for example? At first I was going to just have a level where the tiles stayed exactly the same throughout and the player tried to make as many matches with that set of tiles as possible. They would get points for each match and bonus points for filling in an entire row or column of the board or filling out special "gold squares". In practice I found this a little boring and a little static. So I did the obvious thing of replacing tiles as they are matched. I thought the game needed a better sense of progression though. I had the idea that you might need a certain amount of points to get to the next level but it seemed a bit too arbitrary and so I switched to the timer. Design decisions, of course, which had already been made for similar match games but I could see that they made sense and seemed to be the best way to make the game fun.
I added scoring -- you get level*100 points per match and you get level*50 points for each bar left in the timer bar when you complete a level. I played with the timing a bit. At first the timers were much quicker but after having my fiance playtest a bit I determined that it was too hard for someone who hadn't played as much as I did while developing the thing.
And there you have it, the complete game.
The process of prototyping the game went fairly quickly this time. I'm using classes with my actionscript and that helps a lot to structure the code and put it into an easily readable and debuggable form. If I ever go back to do anything with Crystal Chaos again I think I will have to update the code with what I've learned since. I spent about 2 hours one night making all the pictures for the tiles. Then last Monday I spent an evening coding and had a pretty decent prototype when I was done. A few hours last night were enough to put in score, timers and add some finishing touches to the UI.
Thoughts on the Game
I like the game myself. It's somewhat limited in what it does but so are the other Match-3 games that it emulates. I found the challenge to be engaging and wanted to keep playing to get higher scores although at times it could be frustrating when I just got stuck and couldn't find anything (in part this could be alleviated with a shuffle and/or a hint button). For what it's worth, it is essentially impossible for there to be no matches on the board. The average board has just under 30 total matches. So when you think there can't be any matches left you just aren't finding them.
It is a pretty tough game though and I wonder if it isn't a bit too mentally taxing for a "casual" game. Or maybe it could sell on exactly that point, marketed as a brain exerciser. So, what do you all think? What high score can you get? I think I scored something like a 27,500.
Well it took me a while to get this game out. In part that's because of real life butting in but also I had a prototype on the way to here that didn't end up feeling "done" to me. It plays a bit too easily and maybe doesn't have enough of a straightforward challenge to it. But I want to revisit and maybe put up a playable version either way just because I like some of its ideas. Also, as mentioned above, I have an idea for a Poker-influenced Chuzzle game that I may give a go. We'll see. :)