Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Finally another game is ready to post. You can find the game here although you will probably want to read the concept section below before trying it just so you know what you're doing.

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.

Design Process
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.

Development Process
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.

Next Up
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. :)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Update + Good Indies

I read through a copy of Essential Actionscript 2.0 by Colin Moock last week and it was very helpful. Doing all of my Flash through classes I'm finding it a lot more manageable. I still have some problems with the dynamic typing but everything feels a lot more structured. This past Monday I did a decent skeleton of my next game idea in a few hours and got to play it a bit. I like the idea but I think it's a bit too easy. So I'm still mulling over that. On the one hand, my goal is just to get games out good or bad. On the other hand, I'm a bit too much of a perfectionist to do that and I also think that I might have to stop and take a bit more time to do design work on this to see what is really there.

In the meanwhile I've also been playing a LOT of indie games -- doing market research and shopping for inspirations. There are, of course, a lot of interesting ideas out there. But there's also a lot of so-so stuff. I guess that's the problem with niche and indie markets: the lower barrier to entry fosters innovation but it also creates a market that is very hard to browse. Game Tunnel is a very good resource for sifting through the stacks. Their Game of the Year awards showcase a lot of great titles. I've also gone through the Reflexive and RealArcade catalogs looking for other interesting titles. I thought I might give a list of games that I thought were particularly fun to play or interesting from a design perspective.

#1 -- Oasis. Just a fantastic game with a very interesting design. Basically the idea is a Civilization-like experience that can be played out in 10 minutes. I'd love to do the same sort of thing with different strategy elements. You play on a random map and spend 85 turns exploring and building up your cities. Then you get attacked by a barbarian horde and if you survive you go on to the next level. Simple as that. The win condition is nice in that it leads to an interesting strategy/build-up game that doesn't require AI -- the barbarians are basically deterministic. There are really only a few things you can do on your turn yet your choices can make a big difference in how well prepared your cities are for attack -- another design feature that I admire and would love to have in my own games. The only problem I've found with this game is that the random maps sometimes seem to be either too easy or too hard. Particularly too hard -- there are just some maps that I can't imagine winning no matter what you did. Especially on the harder difficulty levels you can find that luck is too much of a factor in how well you do.

#2 -- Mexican Motor Mafia. Remember GTA2? Top-down driving fun? Well MMA is channels that experience for a pretty fun if not short experience. I like the style of the game and it the way it combines an upgrade system with a simple but well-executed combat game to drive its story. You buy new cars, get new guns, and go out and do missions which can be anything from saving kids working in a drug factory to a duel with one of the local ganglords. Combat is top-down driving where you can have a gun on your right and/or left sides which can only shoot in that direction. There is even a slight RPG element where you get to increase certain stats after killing bosses (reload time, repair abilities, or your line of sight). I think you could make a fun MMO with something like this. My biggest problem with the game was just that it only lasted a few hours before I was done -- but I think I'll go back and replay on the hard difficulty level at some point.

#3 -- Weird Worlds. This is basically Star Control 2 meets Rogue. A new galaxy is created for every game. You explore the galaxy, meet other alien races, find alien technologies, recruit other ships to join you, and then after 10, 20 or 30 years you retire and get scored based on your accomplishments. It's also highly moddable. I've played through at least a couple of dozen times and I'm still finding new things. Combat is a sort of top-down RTS style game. Overall it's just another simple but very fun game.

#4 -- Mutant Storm. I believe this game made it on to the XBox Live Arcade as well. It's just a fantastic, very polished top-down space shooter. You go through a series of very short levels which are all contained in one screen. You aim with the mouse and move with the keyboard and face a number of interesting baddies and environmental challenges. I think a really good game could be made using this engine and including some RPG or upgrade elements over a campaign.

#5 -- Astral Masters. This was a pleasant surprise for me. It's an obvious want-to-be Magic the Gathering Online. I expected it to be no where near as balanced or interesting as Magic but it actually succeeds quite well. Instead of playing lands you sacrifice cards from your hand to increase your mana pool. You can build a deck with cards from 4 different elements. Mana is generic and the number of elements you use in a deck simply determines how much life and cards you start with (in practice 2-element decks seem to be the norm). There are a lot of combos sprinkled throughout the cards and it is actually quite fun to experiment with them all. The AI is surprisingly good making the campaign style single-player game they have very challenging. I've been fleshing out some ideas about a collectible tile game myself and it was interesting to see some new ideas for the collectible card game genre.

#6 -- Spellagories. I love word games. But I haven't found many computer word games that really grab me. I do really like Yahoo's Text Twist though and I played through several variants on this done by indies. Spellagories was the best. You are given a set of letters and a category. You create words from those letters trying to figure out a word that fits the category. Other larger words earn you points and eventually give you hints about the letters in the puzzle word. The category function and the excitement of figuring out the category word on the first go seemed to add a lot to the game. I've thought about doing some word games but creating a dictionary seems a bit of a burden for what I am doing now.


That's it for now. One thing I haven't found is a really great puzzle game that I like. I've found a LOT of Match-3 style games but I never really found those that interesting. Zuma style games are ok but I still prefer firing up an emulator and playing Puzzle Bobble or Snood. I guess I should give an honorable mention to Runic One the puzzle game which held my interest the longest -- it's a tile laying game. Overall this was a disappointment to me as I consider myself to be a big puzzle game player and I'm interested in creating puzzle style games myself.

If anyone has any recommendations for games of any sort, let me know.