Finally here it is: the first post and game exploration. I actually wanted to post this three weeks ago, but I was very busy due to the GamesWeekBerlin and our semester project.
In my first analysis I start with a tiny mobile game called “Juicy Clouds”. As I said before, I want to find a way to write in-between an objective view of the topics, a not too detailed, stiff reflection and give some thought impulses. So, here I go!
What is Juicy Cloud?
Juicy Clouds is a mobile and free-to-play game of Swecial in which the player has to connect clouds of the same color. When matched, this connected clouds disappear, some rain (juice) of it’s color is floating down and should be collected in same-colored glasses. The glasses can have different sizes, thus need a different amount of juice drops to be filled. The player wins the game after successfully filling a predetermined amount of glasses – without time pressure, but with a given amount of moves. Here is an example level, where a player connects clouds and the main structure is described:
Game Mechanics – An Inside Look
What the Player Is Able to Do
This type of game is referred to as match3 game or tile-matching game. As the name suggests, in games like this, objects are matched, mostly to disappear and score points. I think, one of the best known tile-matching games is Tetris. But does this game work kind of similar? Let’s have a closer look:
To break down the mechanics of Juicy Clouds, I first will review the main actions the player can do or rather the player triggers off. The only thing the player actively does, is connecting objects (clouds) by touching one and another in a sequence. If the player connects at least three similar objects further actions will automatically be released: So you can say self-controlled actions are rare and many reactions happen by the game itself after the first touch. They go on automatically and can not be affected by the player once the connected objects are released. The player is forced to think about this chain reaction in advance, because one is not able to change them afterwards. This is an important point regarding the progress or regress of the game, as the players’ amount of moves is limited.
So this forward-looking plays (especially in upper levels) a more important role than the player activity itself. To complete a level, small puzzles in form of brainteasers have to be solved – seems like a small addition to this game genre.
Abstract Look At Game Objects
Though the player activities are simple, the reactions of the game objects afterwards are more complex. The following picture shows some of the main components as well as their abilities. There seem to be many mechanics, because of numerous various game objects, GUI elements and so on. You can see different bars and numbers, which count the progress or regress, multiple clouds in different colors and visual styles (shiny, sparkle), obstacles, which prohibit the juice to flow, glasses which collect the juice, and many more. But if you have a look on the game independently of the setting and visual stuff, just a few game mechanics are left, clearly showing the players’ possibilities and objects’ functions: This list might not be complete, but gives an insight of the true core of the game. In generell you can say that most of the objects have different states. For example the clouds can be touched, connected or deleted. Other objects prohibit actions or at least make them difficult to execute. But all this imitates, that lots of things can be done and covers the main mechanics with shiny and cute visuals. Or the other way around: The core of the game was set before and the world around, the setting, was created afterwards, changing nothing to the given structure of the game. This setting, the visuals, give feedback to good/not so good actions to let one not only see the framework of a game, upgrade the game experience and most importantly communicate to the player the way to reach one’s goal (I do not want to say “the right or wrong way”, because of the insights you will get through the next paragraph).
Game Experience and Feedback
We reached the point where I come to the communication with the player. Although one can’t do many things while playing, a special feeling is created with a colorful look and cartoon-like feedback.
Does the player recognize not being able to do anything?
Is the player even bored?
What is the game experience about?
I tried to list the positive and negative experiences. As you can see most of the visuals show positive effects: the progress of the game, smiling and shiny clouds, increasing highscore numbers, filled glasses. Everything is packed in funny playful animations and pictures. Just a few components give the player negative feedback or express that something went not as it should. For example, annoying sad looking, colorless obstacles or warning, yellow blinking, graphical user interface elements. Nothing is really negative and anyway has a funny look.
Beneficial objects can have a rather neutral state, for example the “helpers” (e.g. balloons) add two more moves, when being released, but they also prohibit the clouds to move to a particular location and might complicate moves. In my opinion the player mostly does not recognize this neutral or even sometimes disturbing objects’ state, if they don’t get in his way too much. This is also a proof of the positive game experience which is produced.
The reason for this: The player should rather be praised and rewarded than punished. Negative pictures are used rarely. Thus the player also doesn’t recognize that his actions are very prohibited. It does not matter. One is pleased with the cute and friendly atmosphere, finding out how to complete a level, enjoying no time pressure and the positive atmosphere. You can say: The easier the game mechanic, the more you can concentrate on important things, solving the puzzles and get the best result in a level.
Review and “Future Glimpse”
In a nutshell: The player rarely interacts with the game, actually with one object type, but the game interacts with the players’ first action, so this move should be consideres very well. It is all about thinking, connecting and collecting – and of course enjoying the peaceful little world.
The game is easy to play and so it is a good casual game, but thanks to it numerous levels it’s also suitable for long play sessions. It is not always needed to give the player many things to do. I think, this game mechanics and its structures are well balanced, it is easy to learn and in its simplicity very fun to play. Sometimes less is more and in this game or maybe game genre, it is important to give the target group something they can handle easily. Everything is maintaining the games’ atmosphere – So is it neccessary to give many functions? Is it good to put pressure into the game? It the game too easy?
To answer the question from the beginning and compare Juicy Clouds with Tetris: the former has many more thing to pay attention to, while you mainly react to the fallen objects in Tetris – more simplicity = more fun?
By the way: I just gave a short insight into the game. Later on, the difficulty is increasing through randomly distributed clouds, new objects and so on. Moreover, this mobile game also combines social gaming components (get free levels via facebook) and free2play actions (after 5 losses you rather have to wait to play again or spend money).
I always thought, that I formerly did not like this game genre. But if you think about it: Did not everybody play games like Tetris or Dr. Mario? But why is this genre today ill-reputed as boring casual game? In my opinion this lies in the history of the genre and the copy-paste-policy many game developers are performing. There exist many clones of this game, they all have tiny differences, but all in all are regular match3 titles.
This leads me to think about additional components one could combine in this genre:
Additional Ideas For This Genre
As said the match3 games differentiate in some points like
- the goal/highscore system and atmosphere
get as many points in a given time or don’t rush the player and let one think about his moves
- helpful or disturbing items
different balancing creates a more positive or negative game experience
- the control of connecting objects
touching in a sequence, changing by clicking two objects, shoot an object to its position
This genre convinces with simplicity. It has a huge addictive potential, because of short play sessions. But what, if one would add new functions to the game? A few examples:
I just knew 2D games in this genre – but what about a 3D tile-matching game?
While researching, I really found a few examples like Ultrabox. Here you have to destroy objects within a cube and you can rotate it to switch position of the objects. But this is also not “really 3D”, because the player stays on “one side” of the cube and does not have to think outside this view.
What would it be like to match more tiles in a game the further you come?
If the number of connected objects increases parallel to the level number you reached, it would get another difficulty. Of course, also the playing field has to scale after a while. The problem is, that this would reach unmanageable sizes and moreover this kind of game would not always support every control. The “change the position of two objects by clicking on them to connect three tiles” would be difficult after a while, because you just can touch one item per move.
My last thought was about adding further actions to the player.
If the player would get another mechanic, except the thinking and matching mechanic, would this destroy the genre? This possibility would just fit to games which are not too fast-paced, so that one can register the possibility and use it for ones benefit. For example the player could set items on his or her own and not wait for randomly appearing helpers. Maybe the use of the self-set items has to be limited.
These are just a few examples of making a change to an existing game genre and playing around with given characteristics. But every change has to be well reconsidered. The easiest way to be on the safe side of players’ taste, is to keep this well balanced form of match3 games… But why not try something new?
I hope, you got a little insight in the type of blog I want to write. If you have any thoughts on my entry or this topic, feel free to give me feedback. Particularly, if you have further ideas to add interesting mechanics to games like this or if I missed anything.
By the way I found an interesting chapter about the history of this kind of games. Some thoughts might be a bit outdated but here and there you can find interesting facts (for example that the Tetris tile-matching system has not yet been copied in this form):
Juul, Jesper. “Swap Adjacent Gems to Make Sets of Three: A History of Matching Tile Games“. Artifact journal. Volume 2, 2007. London: Routledge
Read you soon!