Puzzling Games

by 5/09/2016
Hey everyone! Wow, we've had a pretty crazy week (and we're setting up for one just as crazy). Last week we were just invited to 3 new conventions (in addition to the 2 that we were visiting later this year already), the crappy under-floor in the studio was finally ripped up, and plans were made so that this week we have a meeting lined up to talk about said conventions, Radarkanoid music, showing one of our games at Hamilton's own Fitton Center for Creative Arts, and to work on the studio mural some more and get the new floor put in (after about a month being off schedule on that). This is in addition to the Hamilton Mill (where our studio is located) being flooded, and in unrelated water news, Kristy's laptop being water damaged (pushing Radarkanoid's release off by a few weeks). Aside from than that, though, just wow! I love it when all sorts of stuff like this (well, except the bad stuff, obviously) happens. It always feels like we're accomplishing something.

Though speaking of accomplishing something, I feel that it's finally time to start talking about Collapsus again. Warp factor 3, Mr. Sulu!



Now, this isn't a devlog or an announcement about when the weekly builds are starting up. Those will be coming soon enough, though, don't worry. No, this is about Collapsus, classic puzzle games, and the nature of both modern puzzle games and mobile games in general. Heavy stuff, I know, but don't worry, this is all pretty simple.

So I guess we'll start with something that may seem pretty obvious to some of you, and maybe not so obvious to others of you (and completely understood by anyone who's actually played Collapsus at an event or on a visit to our studio). Collapsus is NOT Candy Crush. That's not to knock Candy Crush (though I will probably be doing just that later in the article). Candy Crush is wildly successful and beloved by millions of players world wide. You look around the gaming landscape and you can see that everyone wants to be Candy Crush, it seems... but that's just it: EVERYONE wants to. Everyone already is. We've reached peak Candy Crush. That's just not us.

Demoing Collapsus at Vector Conference 2016

A bit of quick backstory that some of you might already know. Collapsus actually started out as a prototype very early in Wraith's lifecycle. It was such a small project, it was literally just worked on by me and was intended to be a gift for my mom who loves puzzle games. This was 2006. Six full years before Candy Crush. I was actually trying to make something akin to the widely popular Bejeweled games (which Candy Crush and countless others subsequently aped as well). There was one problem, though...

I'd never even seen Bejeweled being played, let alone played it myself.

Weird, right? Yeah, it was one of the most popular puzzle games ever made, and I'd never taken the time to play it. Also, mind, it wasn't as easy as looking up a video of it on YouTube (a service that had just come into creation the year before). That was pretty much unknown to me. I had screenshots, though, and tons of knowledge on another particular puzzle game... Tetris. I took cues from Tetris' difficulty and aesthetic. It was basically Bejeweled through the lens of Tetris. I even took some ideas from playing with a Rubik's Cube, but that's neither here nor there right now.

It was pretty hard for me to wrap my head around a Bejeweled-style game, to be honest. Block "swapping" never even occurred to me! My big idea was block "breaking". Oh, how do we limit spamming that mechanic? A meter representing a finite number of "breaks", of course! It seemed so natural to me. Heck, even the idea of matching 3 was foreign to me. With my spawning algorithm, breaking mechanic, and block meter, just matching 3 was too easy, so I did 4. I didn't even know this was weird.

2006 Collapsus... It was butt ugly!

As you probably know, though, the game would just sit on my computer for years, while other Wraith projects zoomed by (remind me to make an article about those some time... wow. Some of them were weird). By the time I'd brought it back I'd played Bejeweled, of course, but also several of the games in the Puzzle League series (aka Tetris Attack, or Panel de Pon). The Collapsus you know today has a lot of Puzzle League in its DNA. It wasn't just Puzzle League, however. I'd played a lot of Lumines, Metios, Puzzle Fighter, Puzzle Quest, Hexic, literally hundreds of cool, unique puzzle games that inspired me (inspired all of us, since it was no longer just me working on it by this point). Collapsus wasn't just Bejeweled, or Tetris, or Puzzle League, or anything else... it was Collapsus.

So what does this have to do with Candy Crush? Well, having done quite a few shows in our day (with several more coming up) and even just demoing Collapsus to our friends and family, we've noticed something... weird. Not all of us do this, but I personally have gotten to a point that whenever I show off Collapsus to someone for the first time, I give them three tries to figure out how it's played before I explain it to them. This is because everyone seems to think that they know how to play it right out of the gate; which I guess is something we want, but they're always (and I mean always) wrong. Our UI is set up in a very particular way to make players play the game the way we want them to play it and they still play it like Candy Crush. I know I sound like I'm whining, but trust me, I'm not. That's what tutorials are for... I actually think it's hilarious. Not only that, but realizing that they have no clue how to play and then finding out the right way is a great way to break the ice.

Most of the time, when this happens, people comment on how they enjoy the difficulty of the game, or how it "wasn't what they expected" and how "refreshing" it was. I love hearing things like that. Funnily enough, most people who talk to me mention how sick they are of Candy Crush/Bejeweled-style games. Statistically, you were probably one of these people. A huge chunk of our Twitter followers are people who not only met us at an event, but mentioned how much they enjoyed Collapsus and most of our blog readers come from Twitter. So hi there!

Demoing at OGDE 2015

But if people are so tired of Candy Crush, why do they assume Collapsus will play like it? Well, simply put, it's because it's everywhere and because the model makes money. There are actually pretty compelling psychological reasons for why people love Candy Crush so much (my favorite being the 'Skinner Box' technique, which you can watch an Extra Credits video on here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWtvrPTbQ_c) but needless to say, it's the microtransaction model that makes King so much money that cause other developers to want to clone it. So, take a game that is psychologically compelling to play and a monetization setup that makes it very easy for the common player to spend a little to overcome tougher parts, and of course you have a recipe that everyone's going to want to copy.

Not us, though. To be honest, we'd rather just make a good (and rather challenging) game that promotes thinking rather than mindlessly clicking things and paying us money. We want a game that rewards players for mastering our systems and thinking in ways they haven't before (Mario and Portal anyone?) We want a game that people give us money for because it's a good value for being a fun experience chocked full of content! A simple game that's just hard enough to master that you never want to put it down. Okay, okay... I'll get off my soap box.

So all this to say that we're just trying to make a puzzle game that's the complete opposite of another game that's way more popular than we ever hope to be and often get mistaken for ripping off? Well, yes and no. Sometimes these blog posts are just me rambling! In all seriousness, though, the big reason I bring this up is to reveal a problem: if you haven't played Collapsus, it sure does look like just another match-3, right? Even our trailer (viewable here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJWrLIWNdx8) looks a lot like Candy Crush.

Most people literally can't tell the difference unless they've played it before. This is a huge problem since we're launching a Kickstarter here soon. Like, really huge! That's actually why we're doing the weekly builds. We desperately need people to play Collapsus before they'll fund it. After that, it's not a problem. Nearly everyone who's actually played it has seemingly fallen in love with it. We didn't even think about that until OGDE last year. It's pretty crazy.

Well, hopefully it won't be too long now before we can start those weekly builds (probably pretty soon after Radarkanoid is launched) and the Kickstarter will start filming after the floor and mural are done in the studio. That being said, I hope this post wasn't too long and meandering. It was just something interesting that I had noticed.

Next time: hopefully something shorter ;)