A Match-3 Game I Don’t Hate

The opening of Apple’s iPhone App store is a depressing demonstration of how much imagination the assembled developers don’t have. There are lots of re-implementations of old standards like Tetris. There are a gazillion to-do list applications, and a gazillion-plus-one Sudoku collections, which will I guess be handy if the world’s magazine stands and airport bookstores succumb to Dalek invasion. There are half-assed social networking things which will let you broadcast mindnumbing trivia about your day to everyone you know, but only if you get your fifty closest friends to use the same system. There’s even a little application to make it look as though your phone is a glass of beer, and it tilts when you tip it. Ha ha ha. I mean, I suppose if I were a developer for the iPhone I’d probably write some dumb prank applications for it too, but I’d like to think I would then have the sense not to market them. It’s a little sad how high a proportion of the offerings fall into that category.

However. There are also a small handful of items that make me think, the way the Wii did, that I’m encountering a genuinely new set of game possibilities.

The accelerometer is the big selling point here. One of the best demonstrations I’ve found so far — not of the accelerometer’s subtlest behavior, but of its ability to transform game mechanics — is the freeware module “Aurora Feint”. Aurora Feint offers some fantasy-RPG trappings around a series of quests that you can accomplish by playing a Match-3 game.

That doesn’t sound like a description of anything I want to play, ever. Blocks enter from the bottom of the screen, and you swap them to make combinations of three. Blocks fall back down when there’s nothing beneath them. If a stack reaches the top edge of the screen, you lose. So far, so uninventive. But “down” is negotiable! Turn the screen and the blocks fall in a different direction. Slam layers together. Tip blocks into one another to form combinations.

What’s amazing is how intuitive this becomes after a little while — enough that you start thinking of new ways to interact with it, and they turn out to work. On one mode of the game, you’re not just trying to match any blocks; you’re specifically trying to maximize your combinations of certain colors, and you have a limited amount of time in which to do it. The hard part here is that you don’t always get enough components on the screen in the time available. But if you shake the phone a few times, you can rattle a few extra rows onto the screen before they were due to show up — providing more building materials. This isn’t a technique that the game explains: it’s just there, a natural and discoverable piece of the game-physics at work.

“Aurora Feint” is not a perfect piece of design, especially when it comes to the RPG aspects. With enough match-3, you are supposed to level up and gain new abilities, mostly to do with controlling the clock and making more powerful combinations (at least as far as I’ve discovered so far). But the tutorial is a little opaque, and though I’ve now supposedly constructed several magical tools to help me in my quest for match-3 dominance, I don’t see how to use them.

Still, it’s a nifty object lesson. Miserably weary, overused game mechanic + new platform capabilities = interesting again.

The only game my last phone could play was Snake.

6 thoughts on “A Match-3 Game I Don’t Hate

  1. You don’t need to shake the phone to get new rows. You can just drag up with two fingers.
    The game explains this at some point, but I haven’t seen any way to get these game tips to reappear once you’ve seen them once.

  2. You don’t need to shake the phone to get new rows. You can just drag up with two fingers.

    I’m pretty sure I haven’t actually seen that tip.

    I did get the tip that I could turn the phone for new effects, but long after I’d already worked that out for myself…

  3. On the subject of the small toy apps that are marketed like the beer app. I think they are marketed mostly as proof of concept for the iphone platform, in the beer app’s case, to show off the tilt sensitivity. I don’t think anyone is believing anyone would actually like or use the beer app, social networking app etc, but it gets consumers and developers thinking of the possibilities. I think apple is trying to get the ball rolling thats all.

  4. Whoa, if I had to pick a platform that was giving people new control systems, I would have never thought of the iPhone. That’s really interesting to hear that people are incorporating those features into little games.

    Whenever I think of a future where I make a game with moving graphics, I think of making something for the Apache Controls push/pull spinner. The spinner is a dial, like was used in Tempest, but you can also manipulate it around the z-axis as well by pushing and, er pulling. The game idea is that you play a rotating pizza and need to allow the good ingredients on (spinning) and knock away the bad ones by violently moving the spinner up and down to shake them off.

    At this point I realize that it might be easier to render the earth, as it’s a nice blue sphere, so the game morphs into shaking off invading aliens. Since the install base for that spinner is probably like 25 guys in their mid-thirties, the whole project is on infinite design cycle. But yes, new ways of interacting with game controls is very interesting and something I definitely want to write to in the future.

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