Indie guy haircuts

It’s been a weird and awesome couple of months. Our expectations for our tiny game were well, fairly tiny. Basically, we hoped it’d do better than Puzzlejuice. It did. By a lot. It’s still hard to address the world’s response with something beyond a wide-eyed daze but essentially we couldn’t be more thrilled. Duh.

But there’s another side of that daze that we wish to talk about. The rip-offs.

With Greg being part of the Ridiculous Fishing team, we’re not shy about calling a clone a clone, and believe us, there’s no shortage of straight-up clones out there, especially on Android. But it’s the not-really-clone sort of games, the rip-offs, that have popped up that have our feelings puzzled. We know how to deal with a clone, and likely, so do you.

First, it started on iOS with a game called 1024 released 21 days after Threes (February 27th). It’s different, but not. The sliding is there, the doubling of cards, the merging, even the art is extremely similar. There are differences. New cards spawn all over the place. Swiping up, down, left or right moves the cards the full distance possible. There are “stones” in the grid that never move. This last feature was likely a choice the developer made based on the fact that the game was too easy. It's not very fun.

Next, came 2048 about ten days later. A game system identical to 1024 with one tweak, it removed the stones. Since, the game has grown in popularity after a posting on Hacker News on March 10th. It’s freely available and open source, allows swipes so it can be played on the phone and has spawned many variants since, including our personal favorite: Numberwang 2048.

It’s all in good fun, at least we’d like to think so, but try as our logical brains might, we still got the same “cloning feeling". Especially when people called Threes, a game we poured over for nearly a year and a half, a clone of 2048. Others rifled off that they thought 2048 was a better game than Threes. That all stung pretty bad. We know Threes is a better game, we spent over a year on it. And obviously, Threes is the reason 2048 exists.

But why is Threes better? It’s better for us, for our goals. 2048 is a broken game. Something we noticed about this kind of system early on (that you'll see hidden in the emails below). We wanted players to be able to play Threes over many months, if not years. We both beat 2048 on our first tries. We’d wager most people that have been able to score a 768 or even a 384 in Threes would be able to do the same using the fabled “corner strategy”. You probably could too! Just try tapping “up” then “right” in alternating order until you can’t move. Then press left. You may not get to a 2048, but you might just see your highest score ever.

When an automated script that alternates pressing up and right and left every hundreth time can beat the game, then well, that's broken. Is Threes a better game? We think so. To this day, only about 6 people in the world have ever seen a 6144 and nobody in the world has yet to “beat” Threes. But that’s what’s better to us as game designers. We worked really hard to create a simple game system with interesting complexity that you can play forever. You know, “simple to learn, impossible to master”. That old chess-nut…

And it all happened so fast. Threes was cloned and beat to a different market within 6 days of release on iOS. 2048 isn’t that clone. But it’s sort of the Commander Keen to Super Mario Bros. situation. Imagine Tetris was released and then less than a month later (instead of years) Dr. Mario was released. Dr. Mario is a pretty great game by the way, so the comparison is a bit weird here. Hopefully you get the sentiment.

This sort of fast turnaround creates a lot of confusion and while it’s exciting and somewhat inevitable, it doesn’t make the aftermath easier to deal with as original creators. Maybe not a lot of people know Alexey Pajitnov made Tetris, but of those that care about that kind of thing, it’s fairly obvious to everyone that Tetris came first. If you’re aware of Dr. Mario, you’re almost certainly aware that Tetris exists.

The branching of all these ideas can happen so fast nowadays that it seems tiny games like Threes are destined to be lost in the underbrush of copycats, me-toos and iterators. This fast, speed-up of technological and creative advances is the lay of the land here. That’s life! That’s how we get to where we’re going. Standing on each others shoulders.

We want to celebrate iteration on our ideas and ideas in general. It’s great. 2048 is a simpler, easier form of Threes that is worth investigation, but piling on top of us right when the majority of Threes players haven’t had time to understand all we’ve done with our game’s system and why we took 14 months to make it, well… that makes us sad.

It’s complicated and hard to express these conflicting feelings but hopefully this is a start. We are so happy with Threes and how it has done and all the response. Seriously. And even writing this feels like we’re whining about some sour grapes that we have no business feeling sour about. Like it’s not ok to feel the way we do some of the time. But we do.

We do believe imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but ideally the imitation happens after we’ve had time to descend slowly from the peak -- not the moment we plant the flag.

It took awhile to climb this mountain, 14 months actually. So to “show our work”, we’re posting around 45,000 words that mark the trail we took. It’s not every text, skype call or even every email in our big 500+ email thread. But it’s the important stuff, and a lot of it was important to getting Threes out in the world.

Asher & Greg

All told, we sent 570 emails in this email thread. The first 100 were sent from 12/2/13 to 6/20/13. Then things start to pick up more up until release. Asher sends out a prototype on 12/2/13 to a number of friends, including Greg. And then it begins.

First Contact

And that’s how it started. Within a day it would seem we were fairly close to the final product. If you look at that last screenshot and compare it to the final version of Threes you can probably make out the changes necessary to get from A to B. Of course, the game itself had arrows and walls at that time so Greg was skirting a lot of the complexity in favor of getting a general look-and-feel quickly.

So what happened over the next 423 days? A lot… We’re not going to post everything, but we’ll go through all the key moments of development through our emails back and forth. For links to certain points, check the list of links with dates below:

“Holes” and Argyle Style

From Greg

alright i hear you. also: holes! cool.

i think that the liquid/molecular shit is just... yea. why even both when abstract is easier to explain anyway. BUT i do pretty strongly believe this game should have one voice/look/feel/brand.

related: for hundreds, about 5 months ago, i wanted to turn it all into blowfish so it'd attract a completely new audience, but as you progressed the graphics would start to glitch indie guy haircuts out, eventually completely revealing the core, original look and feel with red/grayscale. i still think it's awesome, because hardcore players would really get into it and casual players would never see it because they didn't get far enough. and then hardcore would kind of hear about "dude, i know it's blowfish but you gotta play it, it gets really weird and good and hard." i still kinda wish we did that, but it's ya know, ya gotta ship...

anyway, as far as two styles, i also kinda think that's the easy way out a bit? like it's avoiding the problem. everyone plays solitaire and playing cards are abstract, at least their individual design. we can make abstract look accessible.

like, i was just in the shower and then i was like ARGYLE! and then rushed out and made it. don't worry i'm not naked. but seriously, i think a pattern like this could kinda feel warm. it wouldn't have to be argyle. maybe it's fabric. maybe it's something else entirely. i added sort of a card frame for the numbers, maybe that's not necessary.

i am really open to any kind of possibility, but for me i just think that the real challenge is getting this into people's hands and them "getting it" without much exposition. imagine if we didn't need ANY? that's probably impossible, but i just feel like characters bouncing around then combining leaves a lot of holes. like black bears can't combine with each other but they do combine with white bears and but pandas can combine with eachother? why can't i have a group of white bears? a group of black bears? and then combine them both to have a group of pandas as well?

one idea would be sperm + egg = mitosis. then the cell divides as it gets combined with other cells (threes). obv, not marketable. but something out there that kinda makes sense. sperms don't wanna combine. neither would eggs. but cells might? like you multiply the number of divisions. i dunno.

i think just in general we can have a "soft" look without being overly saccarin that also explains the game really well in a more abstract, fundamental way. unless we come up with the perfect visual metaphor that people can instantly relate to. i think it might exist out there, but i haven't found it yet.

New Version with a Hungry Monster

Walls and a New Schedule

From Asher

Blah sorry for the radio silence.

I'm sort of a little overwhelmed at the moment with a bunch of different projects and trying not to be a social shut-in. (Admittedly all of this is self-inflicted.) The current plan is to finish my current Ardunio project before I leave for Europe this week with the family. I'll bring my laptop with me, but I probably won't get much done while I'm there.

I get back around new years and that's when I want to kick Threes production into high gear. Is it crazy to try to be feature-complete by the end of January? We don't have many features! In fact I'm going to list them all right here:

Core Game Tutorial Menu Flow Music SFX Monster Animation Game Rotation (for the iPad/PC) Leaderboards Achievements Twitter Skin Packs IAP (Undos?) Puzzlejuice Cross-Promotion And then we can spend February fixing bugs and adding skins or whatever juice we can think of.

Okay and now feedback stuff:

I totally think we should add some preview hey-this-block-is-going-to-merge-and-this-block-isn't feedback to the swiping. But we shouldn't go through the whole rigamarole of totally merging and spawning the new blocks until they confirm the action. Mainly because the player shouldn't know where the block spawns before they take the action. (And if the player can find out by half-swiping, then the optimal tactic would be to half-swipe in every direction before taking a critical move, which doesn't sound fun)

Super dig the blocks spawning in through those bars. It's way more elegant than sliding from off screen. And I like the idea that the monster can travel through them. I dunno about the walls popping up when you slide in that direction, though. It feels like visual noise that doesn't help much. And people seem to be able grasp the limits of the board. The boundaries are going to be challenged when we have the monster hopping around, of course, but that's why the wrapping is limited to hard mode.

Still going back and forth on whether or not the non-argyle tiles should have numbers on them. It's more visually pure without them, of course, but I sort of like the mathy context that the numbers give. I'll keep thinking about it and it'll be easy to prototype both ways.

Digging how the arrows match the argyle diamonds, but I'm worried about the fact that horizontal arrows and vertical arrows look different. Maybe if they were squished down into perfect diamonds (rotated squares, basically) it would look more unified? I'm a little concerned that the white line might be too subtle? Hmmm

Digging the new Argoyle design. Love the dots in the mouth and the diamonds-as-eye-markings. I can totally picture him jumping out of that tile and being a complete monster.

Have you thought about how it'll look when the monsters eat the tiles? I haven't been able to wrap my head around it yet. Maybe they just turn into crumbs/dust and the monster chomps appropriately.

Poundstooth looks bad ass! I love his teeth! Something to keep in mind, though, is that I was hoping we would animate the monster to be alive and have reactions to the player's moves and sort of eye the closest juiciest nest-egg. (Also I'm excited to record some growls for the sound effects.) We can totally support different monsters, but we're going to have to animate them all uniquely and we absolutely shouldn't have a different monster for every skin pack. And then the players can have fun with mix n' matching monsters and argyle types.

Okay I think that's everything. Sorry again that there probably won't be another playable this month D: January's going to be the month of rock, though. You've been killing it all this week, though!

From Greg

haha argoyle socks would be so fucking cool dude. i can have the toe part be the monster head/mouth and then the argyle goes up the calf like a normal sock.

ps. puzzlejuice skin = awesome. also, i still dig the purple/green/white colors from that original mockup, i kinda feel that's what the drop7/puzzle hardcore folks will get into. so between pj (maybe that's a secret unlockable after a certain point) argyle, houndstooth, solid purp/green/white... we can also do plaid, paisley and pin stripes. that's 7 total. 6 mains and 1 secret pj? maybe we give them 3 options (masculine like solid or pin stripe, feminine like paisley, then argyle) and then the other 3 are unlockable through progression through the game, earned or hell, IAPed, secret pj is unlocked in some other secret manner.

ok onto the game game email:

schedule: check, check. looks good. feature complete sounds perfectly reasonable knowing how we work together. i am currently having a lot of fun working on it, so i just work on it because i feel like it. i've got other stuff too. i think 4 projects total right now. RF, lasers, effing hail and threes. i'm gonna pull onto effing hail this week and get that to a point wehre we're hopefully feature complete. but three i kinda end up doing when i can't sleep because i'm thinking about threes or whatever. it's just really fun to work on for me.

merge preview: great idea. yea i think a preview is definitely the way to do it. it'll feel good without giving away the juicy bit of which card is gonna come out and where.

block/barrier spawning: i dunno, i really feel like this is something people don't get. i think if it's attached to the "merge preview" especially if it's tied to distance from pull/touch then they'll get it almost immediately. it's a faded kinda bg element so it's not in your face after you've "gotten" that the barrier comes up, otherwise without something like this hmm... though maybe the slot popping up explains it enough.

arrows: yea i feel like the arrows need an "Idea" that we just haven't come to yet. similar to how the monsters came out. they are different beings in this world and making them an arrow card thing feels weak. i think a more bold shape would help, for sure. but i also just feel like the problem is deeper.

monster animation: i have, and i'm pretty pumped to get that down into a.swf. there's a lot of ways to go. i do think this could (and maybe should?) be the most involved piece of programming/animation/polish we'll do in the game. it should bring people pure joy.

We can totally support different monsters, but we're going to have to animate them all uniquely and we absolutely shouldn't have a different monster for every skin pack. And then the players can have fun with mix n' matching monsters and argyle types.

shouldn't = should here, right? or am I missing something. so you're saying different monsters, but not tied to the pattern types?

ps. regarding "no playable sorries": dude don't worry at all. there's still so much for me to chew on and i know you've got tons going on. don't worry another hair over any of that.

later gator! pppppps. have fun in europe. that rocks.

Hundreds Launches

Over the next couple of weeks, Greg goes off to work on the launch for Hundreds as well as to their respective families for the Holidays.

From Asher - 1/3/12


Congratufrickenlations on the amazing Hundreds launch!! As far as I can tell from lurking on Twitter and the toucharcade forums and your freaking FRONT PAGE APP STORE FEATURE you are in amazing shape and probably don't need to work on Threes any more because you'll be busy rolling around in a satisfied daze for the next few years.

Totally 100% deserved. Loving the game so far but geeze all that amazing polish makes me melt. The seamless screenshots, the 60 fps, the super clear death screen. Also I've been screenshotting the codes when they pop up so hopefully I'll be able to figure those out at some point.

I've been cracking down on making Threes work in futile for the past few days and I'm just about done porting it over. The rest of this email is my plan of attack so DO NOT READ until you want to start working on something unhundreds.


First a clarification about the monster thing: what I was thinking is that if the monsters are different shapes for every pattern (like argoyle and poundstooth are) then they'll all need their own set of animations, which sounds like a lot of work. The possible solutions are

A) We have a single monster shape/template that we use for every pattern

B) Most of the patterns use the same shaped monster, but some will have a special monster (like houndstooth)

C) We have 1-3 monsters that can be mixed+matched with the different patterns

I'm open to any of those.

Okay so Futile is a rough new engine and it shows. It's super clean and efficient and pixel-perfect which is great, but Rix is just one dude. For instance: I spent all last night figuring out how to fix the fact that text didn't center properly. This has slowed down the porting process in an annoying way. It's just about done, though.

In order to focus my energy and make sure I don't dive any further into the add-features-to-an-engine-that-isn't-mine rabbit hole, I've laid out a rough plan of attack. It's tight and going to be tricky, but I think it might actually be doable:

January 3-10: Complete Game Flow + Analytics January 10-17: iOS + Start Art integration January 17-24: Revise Game Design + Tutorial + More art integration January 24-31: Technical stuff (patterns, game center, IAP, twitter,etc)

This week I want to complete the entire game flow, which means getting all of the menus working and out of the way. Without a visual editor, creating menus is a pain in my rear. It'll be easy to modify them, but the setup is such a hassle. On top of that, it'll be nice to have a skeleton of a working game that we fill in with metaphorical muscle and flesh. Also I want to get analytics in there because I'm curious what our playtesters are up to.

Next week I want to get it on phones and drop some art in there. Also I know the core game is not totally done and will feel different once we get it mobile, so I've accounted for time to shift the game design around a bit.

Brief srs bzns interlude: We never wrapped up the exact deal (my bad) so I just want to get it out of the way. If you want to stay hands off like in PJ then that's totally cool. 60/30/10, then?

Finally I've written out the total menu flow. It's about 10 screens all together. Not bad! You'll probably recognize a few of them from Puzzlejuice:

+Splash Screen +Main Menu -Simple Monster / Resume Game -Clever Monster / End Game -Patterns -Scores -More +Confirm End Game -Yea -Nea +More -About -Tutorial -Sound y/n -Music y/n -Puzzlejuice +Game -Core Game -Main Menu Button +New High Score! -Name field -Proceed +Recap -Go Again -Stats (Score+Moves+Biggest bite) -Tweet -Main Menu +Tweet Screen -Tweet Score -Tweet Biggest Bite -Log Out -Back to recap +Patterns -Scrolling Marketplace -Instructions How to Unlock -Apply button -Buy button -Main Menu +Scores -Simple Monster scores -Clever Monster scores -Gamecenter +Puzzlejuice -Goes straight to the App Store, maybe? +About -Working links to our websites -Working links to our twitters

Okay that's the news from Lake Woebegone. Enjoy release week, buddyyyy!

Greg Leaves for NY to Finish Ridiculous Fishing

From Greg 1/10/13

also, did we ever discuss how ballscrazy you meeting johnny in line for coffee because you had hundreds on your phone?! because thats banananannanananannanas and i still cant get over it. we probably discussed in this very thread but the iphone is annoying anyway. yes. that is all

here's a splash, my favorite so far:

however i'm not sure it's Right. other ideas i have for the splash:

an argoyle sitting to the right of a "3" card eyeing it. when the game goes live, he starts to slobber and then you swipe to eat it.

two argoyles, similar to the style of the screenshot linked above. called "The Argoyles" like a family portrait, one mrs. one mr.

two argoyles and one card in the middle. one is the "clever" argoyle. the other is the "simple" argoyle. depending on which way you swipe chooses the clever/smart game mode.

i think those are all kinda... well... clever. especially the last one. however! i'm worried how immediately useable that'll be. i'm kinda big on that now, especially since gasketball and now seeing how hundreds is working. i want people to have 0 friction getting into the game.

so this is me sort of exploring the Big Idea of the ui and how it'll all be setup.

another idea in general that i think would be super cool for transitions:

step 1:

step 2:

step 3:

step 4 - 6: open the mouth into new thing. maybe on step 3 we can afford a bit of a pause for loading times, or some sort of idle animation... yea, anyway...

here's another quick idea for general ui inside the mouth:

this one is incredibly rough, but the general composition isn't horrible. it's a little basic though, ui wise and lacks decent hierarchy. not that exploration wouldn't be fruitful though.

anyway, let me know whatcha think and if you have any wild ideas of your own, lay 'em on me!

From Asher

Ahhh shoot sorry sorry for being quiet so long. It's been kind of hectic. I made a resolution to stop turning down social engagements and that got kind of out hand this week. And then it was hard to just get started on work again. Totally my bad for not at least shooting out a status update.

BUT I'M BACK. And I've just about got the entire game flow working. (With a lot of placeholder menus, of course, but the whole skeleton should be done by tonight.)

Thoughts about things:

1) Good luck in NY! I want RF to exist, so god speed to you fellas. Moving forward into next week, I can definitely take+use the assets you've made already and pop them into the game. Obviously we'll be revising, but I think it's important to replace the current "hole" with an actual monster before I start sending out the game to new testers.

2) WTF Johnny Love. I've mentioned to you that I've watched the 4/4ths trailer one thousand times, right? Meeting Johnny totally kicked me in the pants. I found it hard to express to him how much that thing influenced me. He just sort of nodded and smiled. Also I wasn't actually playing Hundreds at the time! I was reading the Gamasutra article on my phone and he saw a screenshot. I haven't tried hundos on the phone but does it... does it work at all?

More Hundreds stuff: I was explaining to my friend over skype that it was full of cryptography and she got absurdly excited and started scribbling in a notepad trying to figure one out while I held the iPad up to my webcam. Then I accidentally touched the text and it EXPLODED INTO THE DECRYPTION INTERFACE and both of our brains melted. Pure joy.

3) DAT UI.

Ahhh I absolutely love the look/love that the interface is getting!! The vignetting makes it feel warm and cozy (like argyle) so I am totally pro all of that.

The splash screen looks great, but actually hopefully might not be necessary! If this game is as small+sleek as I hope it is, we could theoretically have 1 second loading times! That might just be a wish/prayer, though.

The monster transition is excellent and clean and totally viable. I was thinking though... I notice the drop shadow between the main interface and the lower argyle backdrop. I can't help but wonder what's under there. It might be a sleek way to load the game or other menus if the teal background just slid straight up and revealed all the argyle underneath. We could put the options menu in there and maybe some between game loading-jokes? And then the teal just slides back down when the game is loaded. This MAY look strange if the game loads fast enough, though. Hmmm.

Still trying to wrap my head around how to get sliding into the main menu. I'm super happy we did it with Puzzlejuice. I think it might actually be more clear if we reverse the way you have it set up in that last mockup, where we have an argyle on either side of the monster like so:

The obvious downsides to this approach is that we lose the idea of two monsters who have different amounts of intelligence (I realized the simple monster was like a cockney peasant only as I was editing this mockup) This saddens me because I was growing on the idea of an argoyle family. The upside is that this clearly mimics the mechanics of the game where there's one monster who has a choice of argyles to eat. The downside is that once the monster eats the selected game mode, the OPPOSITE game mode is left behind, which might make it look like that's the one you selected >_<

This is tricky. We should keep thinking about it. I think in Round One of art integration they're just going to be buttons.

Thanks again dude for pumping out all of these kickass ideas! Seeing these definitely reinvigorated my desire to work on the game. Speaking of... OFF I GO.

Excitement Fades and Time Passes

At this point, Greg is just finishing up a huge crunch on Ridiculous Fishing and living with Zach Gage at his New York City apartment. A couple months have passed since the initial 0-60 excitement of the first few prototypes and the game seems to be stagnating. Emails and builds pass slowly as Zach and Greg burn themselves out on 14 hour days to finish Ridiculous Fishing. It won't be until mid February that they talk seriously about things...

Asher is Dissatisfied with Threes

From Asher - 2/17/13

Here's the thing I wrote last night


Okay I've been hinting at this, but I've spent some time thinking about it (and I spent a lot of time yesterday playing the damn thing) so I'll just come out and say it:

Threes, in its current state, is not worth releasing. And by current state, I mean the actual game part. I know there's a lot of menu/UI polish ahead of us, but I don't think any of that will fix the core problem. I've been trying to think of a nice succinct way of putting it, but the problem is worth more than one sentence.

Okay here we go. The game is fun to learn because the rules are new and quirky and interesting. Learning how to manipulate the field is an interesting challenge, but eventually you figure it out.

After that, the game is fun moment-to-moment. Each move is relatively low impact and the game is turn based, which means the player gets to pick how fast they plays based entirely on their current mental state. Because of this, the player is very likely to go into the flow state (that "cleaning your room" feeling), which is legitimately super great.

The problem is that everything interesting about the game ends there. The moment you've A) learned the game and B) played with the game for a while-- there is nothing left to achieve. The game ends, I lose my flow state, and then I have no desire to continue. My personal skill at the game has plateaued, and with nothing driving me to keep playing I see no reason to try to improve my score.

Just writing this has given me some ideas how to fix the game-- but I'm not 100% sure of any of them. I'm going to keep putzing around with the design, but I just wanted to let you know where my head is at right now. Also if you have any ideas please shower me with them :D


I didn't send the email because the contents seemed kind of heavy and I don't trust myself to make such weighty statements so late at night.

I tried implementing one of my ideas last night (namely that the playing field expands every time you get an arrow off the board) but it turned out to be a bigger technical challenge than I could manage at 2AM. Gonna keep trying for it throughout the week.

It was a real blow, and shortly before, Asher flew to Chicago for a weekend where we both poked at things a bit, but we both sort of felt this crushing weight about the reality of the game. We both sort of knew it, Asher moreso than Greg. The excitement and drive wasn't there anymore and something was missing. So after Chicago and this email that was the wake-up call, we decided to table the game indefinitely. It sucked, until a month later when Greg throws a question in the ring...

One Last Effort Before the Hiatus; Stone Prototype

From Asher

Development stufff: Okay okay so I spent all day redoing the game (again) and I ended up with a thing. The game has been temporarily visually downgraded (like the tiles don't actually move anymore) because I wanted to strip away Futile and make the logic much cleaner/reworkable.

(Totally glad to be done with Futile. The game uses more draw calls, but I working with the editor is sooo much better for my workflow than fiddling with text files.)

The game's definitely confusing without the slidey transitions, but fortunately it should be pretty straightforward to add the animations back in when I have a second.

Game design stufff:

Anyway, the game is WEIRD NOW. The arrow keys now only move the monster, not the whole board. He pushes the blocks around like no one's business. The monster will wrap around the board, but blocks will not. The catch is that he's ALWAYS HUNGRY and will eat a 3 if he touches it. But when he does, it spawns THREE blocks to random spots on the board.

The most effective way to fight the rising tide is to merge several 3s together, which is a lot trickier than before because the monster will eat any 3s he touches.

When all the board is filled up, you lose.

Score stufffff:

Your score is the number on the monster. Every time he eats, your score is increased by the block-you-ate squared. Because of this my average score is 300, but my top score is 4,242, from when I ate a 64 block.

Here it is!!!

I have no idea about how to feel about it. I almost didn't talk to anyone today, so my brain is kind of untrustworthy.

okay dead sleeping now.

All of these emails were sent in the same night as Greg played the initial prototype. He’s excitable, but soon after, the excitement fades and they feel that familiar feeling of malaise about the design.

The next day, Ridiculous Fishing is released and we don’t email (though we do text/twitter from time to time) for a whole three months about Threes. Also, during GDC 2013 Asher and Greg hang out a fair bit. At one point, Asher, Greg, Zach Gage, Mike Boxleiter, Max Temkin and other indies have a heart to heart with Asher about his growing desire to go independent full time. A bit later, he makes that tough decision and quits his job at That Game Company. All of these things plus a growing sense of "can this really work?" set in, where we're unsure where things are going with Threes.

Asher Sends A Flurry of Prototypes

Asher Finds Threes

This is the first email that shows the final “doubling” mechanic that makes Threes, Threes and it took about 7 months to reach. But it’s not immediately obvious to either of us, especially Greg. After some texting back and forth, Greg sends an email…

From Greg

yea i mean i think the monster thing in general makes sense because eating is a little cooler than simply merging things, but also, it just feels like a really solid and unique IP. it gets me excited to work on it.

i have to say, and i dunno.

i am not super convinced that merge is better than monster.

i don't want to be a wrench here and stymie your enthusiasm either. please know that i think merge is a really cool game, but i think it's missing... weirdness.

this could be my own shit and this is often a messy business of extrapolating/isolating initial impressions and etc. etc. but i'm going to try to expose how i feel about it. bear with me.

-- # --

Greg's Case for Monster Mode

it has a unique feeling

I think the feeling of monster mode is more visceral and maybe... personal. my focus is on the monster, which is an interesting thing because it's not necessarily advantageous to do so. if an arrow is out there, it can prove beneficial to focus on that, if there's a couple of large numberscore cards to be merged, focus should be there. if the monster is hungry, at a 5, then focus needs to be a 2/1 combos if there are no 3s around. there's the right amount of stuff to take in with this game.

there's also a lot of tension

because your monster can die of hunger, it's a balloon that needs to be popped up into the air all the time. it's not just a "if the board fills, you're dead" type situation. so because of this, you have these narrow-miss sorts of drama that are really rewarding. when i'm at 4 and i manage a 2/1 merge -> eat with the perfect set of moves, man that feels good. and i'm not even that much better off, i'm at a 4 again, but maybe there's a nearby 3 now due to the sliding and I can get back on my feet. that sort of granularity to the win/loss risk/reward makes for cool mini-moments, it even creates possibility for story.

the arrows

these are such a cool addition to the game and it's another case of what i just outlined previously. it allows for a less zero-sum game which means more joy. where the monster's hunger is escape from tragedy, an arrow off the board is overcoming hardship.

the fun comes sooner

i think as i play merge mode, i initially was into it but as i continue, i find myself turning my brain off a bit until i get to around 96/192. that's sort of where i'm at now with my development of play and i think it's mostly a ceiling thing. the game slows down a lot, and it's fairly challenging during that time, then things slow way way down and by then it's a bit too late. with monster, i feel like i can really maneuver, maybe too easily, perhaps should add an element that boosts difficulty in some way either with a module or change in algo. but my main point with merge mode is that its such a zero sum thing, even though i'm working towards the same goal of gaining points, there are less joys, pains and drama in the early parts of the game. in a game like this where you're probably going to play a lot of rounds i think it's kinda important to have more highs and lows without ending that particular thread.

it feels like my fault

i have all the tools to dispose of arrows, merge 3s and other white cards, feed my monster and so on. when i lose in monster mode it's because i took too many risks, got greedy or what-have-you. in merge mode, and this could be my novice ways, but it seems to be i lose due to the system. it overwhelms me, and while i fully know intellectually that it's my fault, it doesn't really feel that way. i have this crowd of diamonds that are dispersed in an unfavorable way (due to my actions, of course) and by then it's too late to do anything about. i feel more helpless and ill-equipped than i do like i made the wrong choices. maybe it's because those choices are back about 20 moves, maybe 10, or maybe it's due to the simple and elegant system. but the feeling is the same nonetheless.

the actual ceiling

is there one in merge mode? given that there's only so many grid spaces, it stands to reason that maybe you'd only be able to grow your biggest card to x amount. maybe that's something crazy high like 1536, but damn. i don't know. perhaps there's a way to isolate your merges so you are only growing one other half of an egg at a time so it perfectly intersects but isn't that also a bit of a problem? there's just something that feels more like it's a rubick's cube. not too solid on this point but interested in discussion.

there's nothing else like it

this isn't my strongest point, because it's somewhat arbitrary, but i do think it's important. not only is there financial incentive for doing this but alongside that we get to do exactly what it was we want to do, explore an unexplored realm that makes sense to itself and only itself, and for some reason that really resonates. being different and weird and a little off-kilter is (one of the reasons) why hundreds did so well, and i think that can be said for a lot indie games these days. hundreds was a really eye-opening experience for me. i did exactly what i wanted with the prototype and threw caution to the wind on EVERYTHING as far as visual design of the iOS version and i was rewarded not only creatively but especially by The Market. that's no metric to design games by (the market) but i think it maaaay be coloring things a bit here, i dunno. what i'm saying is that the boldness and weirdness of an idea is a huge advantage for us, we should meet it with excitement and not trepidation. if that's something that holds even a faint anxiety in your mind, cast it away, it's fear fucking with you.


so that's most of what i am feeling about monster mode. i'm just a guy. i don't know if i know better.

-- # --

one test that i wish we could do is give monster to zach, then erase his brain, then give him merge. maybe we can do this by giving zach monster, and adam merge. then give them the opposite after they've played their respective modes and see what their thoughts are. i dunno.

problem is that zach has preconceived notions from old threes too... so hmmm.

From Asher

I can't possibly deny that "eating" is like a million times better than whatever the hell "merging" is. You're totally right about that.

Also first lemme say thanks for bringing all this up. Obviously super necessary, but also incredibly helpful to nail down all these points.

I feel like the core thing you keep touching on is that merge mode is kind of... soulless. And I can't disagree. In it's current state there are no creatures or special-case powers or events that change the landscape or anything like that. Numbers beget more numbers beget more numbers.

I'm torn because I actually like that it's so clean and pure. It's incredibly gratifying to have a system with such simple rules that you can play over and over again and constantly get better at. It's the reason I've been playing Drop7 for years without stop-- this game feels like it has a similar skill curve and that's incredibly exciting to me.

But of course Drop7 is by no means for everybody. In fact I have never successfully convinced any of my friends to start playing it because it's so... ugly and dry and drab and hardcore. And that's a huge problem. It's not at all what I want for Threes. If we could nail the "foreverplay" of Drop7 while keeping it intensely accessible, we would be absolutely golden.

No question that MergeMode is too hard in its raw form. There's nothing that eases-in the player. Nothing that soothes the pain of dealing with cold hard steel game rules. Definitely a problem. I was going to try to deal with that today, actually, by trying out a slightly different mode with a bigger grid. May or may not work.


But despite it's dryness and growing pains... every time I hand Merge to someone, they get it and they always start the game again immediately after they lose. That's a clear sign to me that they're learning from their mistakes and they see how they can change their strategy and do better. The playing/learning/insight/growing loop is a good indication of foreverplay.

The same can't be said for Monster, unfortunately. I've seen a lot of one-time Monster play throughs where people get really far (because they immediately understand the feed-the-beast strategy) and then have zero interest in playing again after they lose. It's because A) the game lasts too long and they're exhausted and B) there's no clear way to improve or change strategy. Just feed the monster.

Changing field:

MonsterMode has this quirk where the gameplay doesn't change over time. The board could look the same on the 200th turn as it does on the first turn. That's one of the cool things about the mechanic, but also one of the exhausting things. It's basically a war of attrition if nothing ever changes.

The playing field in Merge evolves and changes and sticks around and makes the early-game feel way different than the late-game.

I really really like the evolution of play. I think that's what keeps the game interesting. The lack of evolution is one of the many things that's bugged me about Threes. The board gives off the illusion of changing, but then four smart swipes later and it's totally clear again and it's basically like you're starting over again.


So in MergeMode it's actually super important how you arrange your board early on and keep as much as the board as free for as long as possible in order to make room for the bigger numbers to grow.

BUT I WILL GLADLY ACKNOWLEDGE that "super important" and "fun" are not at all the same thing. This is actually probably the clearest point that shows how different the two modes are.

If there's a way to make super-important (read: strategic) decisions inherently fun then that would solve a lot of problems.

Score Ceiling:

So like I said in MonsterMode it's totally possible to get a late-game board to an early-game state. That means there's no score ceiling, but it also means that once you get good enough your score won't be a function of skill, it will be a function of time and patience.

Here's the thing: that's also true with Puzzlejuice and Ridiculous Fishing. If you were agile enough to master either of those games-- you could get a crazy high score if you just played forever.

The score curve in MergeMode is much much less linear. In fact I bet it looks much more logarithmic. This means that beginners' scores are going to rocket up pretty fast, but masters' scores are going to be pretty close to each other-- hopefully eeking out one another when they figure out a new strategy or have a particularly good run.

RF and PJ were successful and they had a linear scoring model-- but they were also realtime games, where the stress/fun came from pushing your physical limits. Threes doesn't have that element.

Okay sadly I have things to do today D: I have to get lunch and get ready for obligations. I'll finish this email later in the day. But I think these thoughts might be coherent enough to send off and for you to chew over and respond if you have any follow up follow up thoughts.

Next up: summations and solutions

From Greg

Right on. While writing this, I definitely saw the other angle of a lot of my points, specifically in the purity and elegance of the game system. I think the right answer is probably the hard one. Finding a tiny spot where we can have both a fun and inviting metaphor on top of a elegant and largely minimal puzzle game...

So as I type this. I am returning to an idea I had during Hundreds. Clearly there are some parallels here. Both games are very simple and contained, merge mode even more so, and for now, the graphics are both very minimal and utilitarian.

So the idea and you may have heard this:

But basically, hundreds was going to start out with blowfish or something similarly nice metaphor wise and feature pretty saccarin graphics, maybe ala gasketball a bit. Light, fun, playful. You get the gist. So you get going in Hundos and you're maybe at level 15 or something and you notice something out of the corner of your eye. There's a visual abberation, you think it's a bug at first. Then levels continue and you notice it again, but it sticks around this time. The "blowfish" is missing a big piece of itself and it's just a plain circle. This continues and breaks down and eventually towardsthe end you're just left with the raw graphics.

That could work here. as you progress, things break down in some way or mutate.

Maybe not though, i mean this is a contained game so breaking down the graphics in hundreds would sort of have a bit of a narrative arc over the course of the 100 levels. Still, there might be something to this idea that we can play up. maybe we use that "ceiling" idea in order to grant people new things in the game. like you pass 192 and you earn... something. the game changes. i guess that's ala Stickets, but it could be more than just color changes...

I dunno...

I had mike test it with me, i think i'm going to dive back in and take a fresh look at things.

would the game be way too easy if instead of 2s and 1s, it was just a basic thing that had to be combined with itself. that would seal up the anomaly that is 2 + 1 = 3 whereas everything else is x + x = y or (2x).

And not much later, Greg comes around to “merge”

And some name ideas...

And this starts the journey of coming up with an appropriate theme. A huge bottomless pit of things-that-can-be-doubled… But it doesn’t mean that Asher (or us as a whole) are convinced that “MergeMode” or what anyone would call “Threes” today, is the right answer.

From Asher

Ahaha sick dude, that's awesome!! I am, deep in my heart, a space aficionado (hence spacetronaut) so this pleases me on many levels. Though good luck figuring out the icon for "Ultima." I think we could actually stop letting things combine at that point-- and the game would be about maximizing how many Ultimas you could get on the screen. (Though I don't know how many are actually possible... I bet I could figure out some math for how much space you need to build each number)

Hmmm so I'm going to keep poking around with different modes today because-- while I'm kind of in love with MergeMode it can't stand on its own for all of the reasons I went through yesterday.

In fact lemme just recap those reasons:


+ It's too dry and mathy and puzzley

+ It's too easy to hit a skill wall and give up

+ There's no surprises (powerups etc)

Sooo as much as I love space and all space-related pieces of our existence: my main concern is that the science theme doesn't actually help the first point-- that the game is too dry. I think that there's probably a way to do science right/exciting, but it's going to be a long hard fight to do so.

I think a lot of the joy in our game will come from every time you upgrade a tile to a new level you haven't seen before it has to be super exciting/pleasing/surprising.

Okay I'm gonna be totally honest (and probably not surprising) when I say that I still love the idea of the Argoyles. Or at least some kind of animals/monsters. And it's mostly for one very specific feature that I think might help alleviate a lot of our problems: The Bestiary.

Having a list of all the creatures you can collect in the game just sounds incredibly pleasing to me. Also a good way to show off. Also just a fun thing to browse. Also I was thinking if I ever figured out a multiplayer mode that this would be a way to unlock new avatars.

ALSO it will help us/the users keep track of all the possible combinations. The mode I'm going to try to make today is instead of just the two colors A&B being on the board, there will be A&B&C. This will lead to more interesting puzzles AND you can now make creatures of type AB, BC, or AC. At least that's the theory.

Okay thems my thoughts.

A Little Encouragement

From Asher

Okay more and more backtracking.

Ignore all this if you had some wilderness-based revelation about how to make Argoyle evolution idea work and be cohesive.

I've been wracking my brain about how to grow the playspace of the game with the idea of creatures/argoyles in mind. Genetics, food, powerups, arrows...

None of it's working. All of it serves to make the game less fun and more of an interactive burden. And honestly what the game needs right now isn't more complexities-- it needs a ramp-up to ease in new players. That's definitely going to be my focus next week.

On a slightly related note: I'm having a really hard time wrapping my head around what the evolving argoyle looks like and I don't think the problem is going to go away. Figuring out how to make this game about fantasy creatures AND fantasy merge logic seems like it will be nothing but an uphill battle for us.

The space idea has grown on me. I think we should do it.

I was resistant to it at first because It felt really dry and distant and I didn't spend much time imagining the motion of it. But today I was laying on the floor listening to RadioLab. (Have you heard RadioLab? They have the most beautiful sound design. It makes This American Life's music usage seem rote/trite by comparison.) Anyway, I closed my eyes and listened to their sound effects and I can totally picture the satisfying _bong_ of merging your two largest tiles and watching the playing field ripple as the background zooms out to an appropriate level.

Everything will be a little softer/squishier.

We can spend time polishing every tile type and animation. The gentle shake of the protons, the wild randomness of an atom's electron, the rotation of the solar system.

If we have time and feel ambitious, I was thinking we could put in little flavoring... Like when you build a planet there's a small chance that it will launch a tiny rocket that will fly around the playing field (and maybe land on a asteroid. Plant a flag, why not)

This is a much... quieter and more contained game than the one with the bestiary and skin-shop. But I think that's what the game wants to be. It wants to be a little zen.

Anyway current thoughts. Lemme know how this all feels to you.

So with things still sort of vague if we’re going with monster or not, we continue on to find a theme for this little game.

Finding Soul in the Numbers

To the Drawing Board and Back

A little over a month goes by and the thread is quiet. We’re at a bit of a standstill with the game’s theme and it’s not working with testers. They miss the numbers but we’re being stubborn and want to deliver a game with more personality than just numbers.

Greg is fairly frustrated at this point. We’re about 9 months into development and the game’s art has grown more complex, requiring a fair amount of custom animation. But the fact remains that people can’t differentiate between different monsters being less or more powerful than their counterparts.

We're nowhere near the final look of Threes as we all know it today, but we're closer and keep circling back to these monsters or characters on cards. We will eventually head to PAX with this last type of setup in our pockets to show to people. But first we have other bits of the game to consider...

Tutorial Thoughts and UI

About a week goes by, Greg and Asher are at PAX Prime. Zach Gage and Greg show off Ridiculous Fishing at the PAX 10 and Zach makes mention that he feels it’s too confusing without numbers on the cards. And then a brainworm settles into Greg’s head.

We Try to Name it Again

The Rise of Mergesters

Self-referential process post mention in the process post itself! In the end, the Mergesters concept felt artificial on the cards, like they weren't really integrated into their thickness and weight the same way the characters could be. Plus, they just looked a little weird...

Moving Back to Monsters

Putting Together the IGF Build

With the IGF deadline approaching (10/31/13) we begin to implement the art into the game. This starts to get technical and not the kind of technical that could be interesting. It's just sprite-sheets and animations and texture atlases. We'll try to spare you from most of it, while still focusing on the interesting conversations.

From Greg - 10/3/13

do you have a local version with those new artboards? mine still say top (i'm using FINAL)

also, i revised the last handful of monsters: i think these are a huge improvement over the previous versions, now look much more like "animals" or monsters with a personality that's identifiable. the snake should be fun to animate.

across the board, i added black eyes to the "gold" cards, just to make them pop a bit more overall.

i also wanna test out a "1" and "2" on the green and purple. feel free to veto if you think that's a bad idea.

ok, that should do it for editing "FINAL" for now, if you wanna throw in a new ai file with those artboards like you have them, i can merge the two and we can go on our way.

later i'm gonna come at you with an email about how i'm thinking we should setup the animations. (idle and otherwise) as well as a merge mockup (hopefully).

ps. i played last night for about 30m and got my highest score ever. 3,410 with a "384" but damn, i can't believe your 9,385. is that including a 1536??!?! no way. can't be. it was a great experience though, because when i play i just sort of was in this mode or headspace of playing quickly and "feeling it" but last night i was very methodical with all of my choices. my strategy was to first to avoid "checkerboarding" as i call it in my head, where i keep like things contiguous as much as i can, secondary strat was focusing on purp/green stratification. both of those things, and a slower pace made a huge difference. what a game dude. ok cool.

pps. still though, tell me about that 9,385 run. jesus.

ppps. is score just raw numbers adding up at the end? i'm kinda feeling that trend lately, how 868 does it and just generally keeping scores and values at their most atomic. i dunno. a different beast, an arcade/puzzle game like this, but yea. just a thought i'm throwin' out there.

undo sending: hmmm, maybe that would discount the effort and amazement deserved for something like merging a 1536 together. like, that's the same amount of points as having two 768s, unmerged on the board at death time. maybe we already cross this bridge a long time ago. ok. haha. yep.

From Asher

Oooh yesss I love the new monsters! (Also the bunny eyes made me laugh) Happy you didn't change 96 too much, I think he's my favorite :D

If you look at assetsFINAL now you'll see the ideal artboard layout.


So in an ideal scenario: the animations would be done in-editor instead of being frame by frame. It would let us do 60+ frames per second, keep the file size small, and we'd have built-in animation transitions. Also it would make it much much easier to do procedural animation if we ever wanted to move anything besides the pupils.

Mecanim (Unity's animation system) is actually pretty straightforward keyframe-based animation. The tricky part is going to be the masking and how/if Unity can handle what we need to do. Next week is basically gonna be devoted to researching/implementing that.

Is there any tricky or hand-drawn stuff you're doing that you think wouldn't work in Unity?


Think the snake dude can idle with his mouth more closed? Looks like he's blowing kisses or something :p Also I've been getting some "uhhh" responses on the purple/green blocks. We might want to try some quieter colors.


The 9,385 score was a crazy run (though my friend Michael Chu has broken 10k!). I feel like I was meditating. No 1536s, but I got a 768, which adds 4000k points.

It took a while to figure out a good scoring system, but yeah you nailed it: the tiles get worth more than double every time they upgrade so that one 12 is worth more than two 6's and so on.

Game over man

The game over flow definitely needs a lot of work. (In fact it's worse than before... turns out I lost the old endgame counting code =/ Current version was implemented in a rushed 30 minutes.) I think we're gonna need a "game over" screen that's not just the board??


Finally feeling out some sfx! I think when the animations are in we're gonna want some monster grunts, but I'm playing around with some thinky-mergey sounds. Possible soundscape attached. The long tones are for when the player is dragging into a merge (those will fade in and out) and then the sound after that is the "successful merge!" sound.

And so we continue working towards submitting to IGF. We settle on Threes as the name and while we still argue about it later, a lot, but it sticks. The font gets changed. We struggle through finding an animation system that works. We work with a Flash->spritesheet->Unity atlas kind of thing. We switch some focus to thinking about the tagline instead of a name for the game. And start thinking about the website too.

Thinking About the Website

We made the IGF deadline, but you’ll notice it was with a game that doesn’t look a heck of a lot like the final version of Threes. The game functioned and kept people playing and all that but we had a lot of work to do and a lot of thinking left.

Tutorial Ideas

Important Email from Zach Gage

So after that Asher and I talk it over privately...

From Greg


i just feel like getting more colorful/lighter with the color palette makes it so much busier.

there are a lot of reasons for the colors we chose, the freedom that a black bg gives us, how the white cards stand out and individual cards stand alone amongst that black bg. black screen == white paper so our eyes focus on the objects on the blank canvas, but on a lighter background, we focus on the colored block in the background, at least a little bit. gold ranked cards vs. normal 3s color difference in the black bg is subtle yet clear. in a white bg, that's lost amongst a 4th color. the white 3s cards are special in that they're white, the absence of color, so they feel more special and apart from the red/blue color scheme of the 1/2 combination.

when i keep the color count down, and add in a white/light bg, but keep the white, then we get something like this:

so that's about as dark a gray as we can go while keeping the "lightness". also, one side effect of the color changes would be a different icon. i'm pretty damn happy with the icon as it stands, so here's how it'd look with the altered scheme:

i tried a bunch more, where i just changed the colors of the icon and then fed those changes reverse-ways through a mockup and nothing looked better than the white. i tried sort of a reversed scheme as well, something like this: and it just is too much to see the characters at all. and when i make the features of the characters brighter than the face of the card itself, it just looks goofy, so when it comes to 3s as a dark or black card (the highest contrast on a light/white background) we really don't have the same leeway or soft, secondary visibility that we would on a white/lighter colored card.

while admittedly, there are things i like about a lighter color scheme, some faded, less saturated 1s and 2s, functionally for the game, it requires the current color scheme that we have. everything i've done on this game has been an investigation into communicating the slight weirdness of the game system in a natural and pleasant way. it's been tough because the game feels simple and small, but we want to pack as much personality AND functionality into the game as possible and being the arbiter of that has been challenging, if not exhausting at times. some sleep will hopefully help, but i do stand by the current look of the game, the colors, the structure, the characters and everything else.

i feel like i've done the due diligence here, at least colors wise, the main concern. the other points of zach's i feel are more personal taste or how he would design a game. i understand what he's saying about a "casual game" but is that even casual? it's a loaded word filled with crocodile characters and other cartoons. we don't really have those, and do we want them? it's been my experience that if you make a unique thing with as much heart as you can cram in there, people will respond. i'm not saying that threes truly has that, and maybe that's what zach is really getting at, but i don't think that a lighter background is really the right direction.

i think the 3 is a great piece of typography, unique but still extremely clear. it has the right "chunk" to fit within the rest of the game and each number fills the card out very well. the 192+ issue with the typography was somewhat of a concern initially, that's why i experimented with vertical type and also type that was much smaller that accounted for the 3 digit numbers first so the single digits were just the same size as the 3 digits, but that places the clarity deep into the game whereas it's more important to get the clarity off the bat.

the cutesy/geometric issues, i just don't see. i really feel like once animated, the game has a danger of being TOO cutesy and even distracting. i think it's the right amount of charm, it should be a charming game, not a cute game or a monolithic warbeast set in abacusland. besides, with the compromise teeter-tottering we're doing with the numbers being the focus and the characters being secondary, i feel the balance is already there how we envisioned based on zach's feedback and with things animated, the lack of character will be made up for.

i do think a couple of characters could go under the microscope like he mentioned. 96 for sure. it's a bit angry. why should they hug if they're angry? i think 384 and 768 are great. 192 is a bit weird, but maybe with the right snake tongue it can be pulled off. i dunno.

perspective wise, i want to keep pushing forward. i've given it a whole day's thought and it's keeping me from sleeping at the moment because i'm taking his criticism very seriously but as i mull it over with the keyboard here, i remember the thousand decisions made along the way. if there's any word i can use when describing my work on this game it'd be EXHAUSTIVE. we've been around the world and back again, literally. this design is based on the first one i came up with, and i'm happy with how we've evolved that base with all the lessons we've learned getting back to that original mockup.

to step back a bit for a moment.

i may be off base in saying this, but i feel this along with a few other fumbles along the way may be a slight case of sophomore slump paranoia? could be a strong word, but i think when making a game you do your best to listen and shift as you go, but the game's look clicked for me long ago when we found it. it's been at a pretty good and steady pace since and now maybe we're getting a bit wobbly because release is somewhat imminent. if there IS one thing that i feel is missing from the game it's a better, more metaphorical type menu system, something that could convey a hidden world, maybe a dash of sonder or something that would help frame the fiction of the game. that's where my thoughts drift to when i'm mulling over the quality of the game, i'm pretty confident, that once animated and polished, the second-to-second game is going to be an absolute joy to touch. and i know full well the game design, its core, is rock solid. part of me wonders about the points and if we could tighten that up so they're communicated a bit more straightforward, but that's frosting. something for later. anyway, the whole menu/ficiton thing is from the loss of "argoyles" as a guide/fiction and i've been searching for something like it to fill the holes ever since. i mean, the argoyles wasn't right for this game, it has gone through so many iterations, it just doesn't work, but it doesn't mean that that TYPE of thing won't be missed. that was the source of the silhouette "gallery" on the hallway with the wallpaper. sort of like a family of them. i think family could still work, and the stable does a decent job of that, but it doesn't provide any fictional context. every since you mentioned how some folks were confused by the title, i've been thinking on that and how we could maybe shift it to something else, but yea. that's where most of my uncertainty lies with the game.

i think the right direction is finding some kind bookend or tie-in. who are the threes? what are they doing here? what's their history? answer some big questions that we maybe haven't asked yet. that will fill that heart shaped hole that was made when we dropped the exciting idea of "The Argoyles".

From Asher

I think we can safely say that you've done your due diligence in the color department. Thanks for spending the time on that... the fact that black screen = white page really helps clarify why it's currently working.

Reading Zach's email was sort of strange for me. It mentions a lot of concerns that I had early on (like the darkness thing), but I'd pushed those concerns aside for the sake of moving forward. Hearing them again definitely shook my foundation.

Of course moving forward was the right decision, but I think there's a chance we were too quick to jump into autopilot "we've made the right decision now let's wrap this thing up" mode. Maybe animations will fix everything, maybe they won't.

I've been playing with the game while I write this and trying to think critically about it and man... I actually kind of really like the design of these little guys... Well most of them.

Okay a theory:

These are great: 3, 6, 12, 384, 768, 1536

These are weak: 24, 48, 96, 192

Brand new players breeze through 3(strong), 6(strong), and 12(strong). In fact they have to in order to complete the tutorial.

First timers usually end their game with a 48(weak) or a 96(weak). From their point of view the monster progression looks like a downward trend. This is only reinforced if/when they manage to create a192(weak). Frustration ensues.

Only the most advanced players see 384(strong), 768(strong).

Regarding 24: He's not bad. Just plain. But in terms of how much attachment I feel to him... it's definitely a downgrade from 12.

Regarding 48: I love him. He's a great character. But when new players are struggling to get their first 24s together, they are "rewarded" with this awkward looking dude. I'd much prefer if players ended their first playthrough on a more positive note. Maybe glasses-man should be 24 instead? Let people breeze past their awkward teen years.

In regards to finding the heart of this thing: As much as I want to pursue games with story+world, I've always been terrible at coming up with that sort of thing. Honestly I let teammates figure it out most of the time :)

But recently I've found myself thinking about the game as an exploration of identity. Like how the phrase "be yourself" is utter bullshit because "yourself" isn't a thing that exists until you create it. We start out as just the sum of our nature+surroundings (1+2) and eventually we coalesce that into a sense of self that we can define and present to others. (3) And then eventually you get enough perspective to self reflect (3+3) and decide how to change.

And the metaphor actually holds up because your constantly learning about new ideas (1s) while dealing with genetics (2s) and also memories of how you dealt with stuff in the past (3s, 6s, 12s...) and really the trick is about how to line them all up and figure out how to grow.

It's a super intellectually-based metaphor with no earthly elements (like argyle), but that's definitely where my head is at.

Anyway... this was definitely a bump in the road, but I think it exposed a lot of questions that needed to be asked.

From Greg


i hear what you're saying about 24, but if you remember, we did the cards like this because they feel like they get progressively bigger and etc. there's kind of a maddening difference between what an individual likes and thinks is "cute" or desirable and a systematic progression of larger, more powerful characters. if zach and amy like the cute guys in the beginning, that's fine, but making them all look cute like that will wash away the feeling of progress with each character. i'm not saying there's no room for revision of 24, 96 and 192, but it's easy to isolate certain concerns and then forget about all the other holes in the dam we've had plugged for awhile now.

i played a bit with some shape stuff: but it also would change everything down the line and doesn't fill in the slot. if we make something in 24 look like it has cheeks and has special outside the card stuff, we need to add that to every other card. but right now i'm not worrying about that.

as far as the dna and genetics stuff, i also think it's the strongest metaphor. it could even be like this: or this: which would cover up my concerns with teaching the 1s and 2s go together, 1s and 1s don't, 2s and 2s don't, but 3s and 3s do, weirdness. i think the problem with the "combs" is the right/left issue, but it's somewhat indicative of two sides of a DNA helix or something. i could push that further...

one cool thing about GC/TA would be that depending on what is combined, they could have slightly different hues (the 3s faces). could get weird when combining two different hues together, maybe they're added or some sort of color calc is done, i dunno.

alright, so just going to keep fiddling with 24, 96 and 192 and see what comes up. keeping in mind the self-reflection, genetics stuff. also, a name could pop out of this as well, so let me know if you have any ideas on that.

for the animations, what needs to be done? sizing things down to half on an individual basis is fairly time consuming. but if we size down the sprite sheet, does that fuck everything up?

Development Plan and Tutorial Stuff

From Asher

Okay if you want to get ahead of schedule then I might have to shuffle some tasks around so that you're supported ASAP. (I imagine you'll be laying out the faces and arting the new tutorial etc etc)

I'm down to talk about a new tutorial ideas. I'm free tomorrow anytime after 11am pst.

Still figuring out the challenge interface. The idea is still fresh, which means it's pretty clunky. But basically challenges show up 1) When a game finishes 2) in the "challenges" menu.

Currently the challengeable records are: your highest score, your highest tile, the most 3s you've gotten on a board, the most 6s you've gotten on a board, the most 12s... etc

I'm not totally satisfied with the current end game flow I've got which is:

Board completes -> Board Counts -> Swipe to see new records -> Swipe to sign -> game over

A bunch of problems with this. "Records" sound lame. I don't like that it adds another step, because I think we're already pushing how long it takes to restart. It'd be nice if we could make it an overlay like in team fortress.

This part should also take care of the task of "Congratulations, you beat that challenge that [username] challenged you at!"

The challenge menu is a list of all the records you're currently qualified for, which is mostly based on what tile you've reached.

Every record should have your current progress on it. If you've been challenged -> it displays your challenger and their progress. Else If you're beating a friend -> it displays their user name+progress and presents the option to challenge Else If you're in last place on your friends list -> it displays the friend who is beating you and their progress. Else If none of your friends are playing -> it should just be your record.

Tapping on the record will open a "Challenge" screen and will list out all your friends applicable to challenge. (Anyone who is <= your current progess.) You can select as many people as you want or cancel out. (GC doesn't have this functionality built in for some reason. We gotta build it ourselves.)

And then some kind of "CHALLENGE HAS BEEN DEALT" screen.

Whew. I think I finally understand why no one's done challenges right. This looks like a bunch of work. But I think it'll be worth it for a lot of reasons :D

From Greg

just a moment here, i'm gonna skip a lot of your email, come back to it. i think for the menu we should still have the sliding/stable thing with all the cards you've earned on the title screen, but that part of the menu should be earned... it can be right on the title screen. dangers there could be finding a 192 on your first try, which is probably gonna be rare, but still could happen.

i think the old way of doing it could work though too. where we have a list of the cards and we give stats and things. might be kinda nice. but then, i'd be itchin' to get these super 200% larger cards animating in an idle way to make them feel more alive.

here's the two mockups:

i do think we could do something with earning the stable though, maybe if you get 192 on your first try you get a certain amount of points that you can spend on unlocking that feature. it's messy and a bad idea, but just brainstorming. hmmm.


ok i gotta run for a sec but on your points...

end game: i agree. i think "board complete" is a superfluous step in the process. i feel like the cards should immediately start flipping and turning dead, counting points once you lose. tetris does it, pj did it too, why not? the counting/flipping thing is slow enough to enjoy and see what's up anyway. then you should see the dead cards, still can analyze the pattern. then you swipe to enter your name and then see your score. can't records come up after the board is flipped and dead, or yea, let's pop it up in the corner as a badge like TF2. here's a quick mockup: we could also do a vertical flag thing: and this stuff would slap on after the dead count up, so an extra little reward, i think it's the most rewarding at that stage anyway.

i think in general we should keep "tiny game" in mind at all times so while it'd be nice to have challenges, let's make them feel sort of tiny, but still rewarding. design things in an invisible way so they're nice little surprises rather than larger chunky menus full of stuff showing it all off.

that said, obv we should have that awesome challenge menu, i think it can feel nice and fun to use but still very powerful.

to this one:

"Else If none of your friends are playing -> it should just be your record."

we should add the recommend the game to a friend or some sort of option that way. iirc i think that's possible...

ok cool, challenges will be super cool, especially now that i can visualize the function of the menu and what that'll mean for the game etc.

ok, let's chat when i get into the office, have to run an errand, i'll be on later this morning and etc.

How the Music is Made

At this point, Jimmy is working closely with Asher, who passes Jimmy this feedback from Greg. Please read Jimmy's post regarding the inner-workings of his process here, and while it doesn't include all the emails, it definitely includes important commentary about his feelings on making the Threes music and stepping outside of his comfort zone.

Here's a quote from his incredible tell-all piece:

"I was very unsettled by how intimidating I suddenly found this project. I was excited at the idea of broadening my musical style, but as I played the game alongside the Waking Life music, I felt like nothing I could write would possibly be as good as the reference material, and that’s a very scary feeling for any composer."

Back to the Tutorial

From Greg - 11/12/13

menu thoughts:

i think we should go with the idea that the top left button will be the "back" and the top right, the "forward".

in the game over, score review you see [retry] [gamecenter] [menu]

so in the intermission we should have [back] be in the top left and [quit threes] be the big glaring and very obvious button.

on the title we have: [tutorial] THREES [more]

in the store we have: [back]

which makes sense for the "back" being in the top left and the big one that's pertinent being on the bottom.

it's all about building that muscle memory with the buttons and keeping their placement in accordance with expectation is important.

tutorial thoughts:

so a couple things here, first off, here's a the big "map". this is important to have so you can see my notes above each slide to stitch the pieces together.

i'll export individual images to a dbox folder as well.

basically, i decided to hold off on the "highest color" card until later in the tutorial because i think it's too weird when it happens naturally like this and so early on.

also, there's a lot of wall/sliding knowledge up in the air on the first slide, but i feel there is a LOT of practice in this 18 step tutorial. it's much smaller than before, doesn't require clippy and feels more modern. we can make it even smaller by cutting out the 2nd (2 + 2!= 4) section, that's pretty reiterative but i don't hink it hurts to give players more chance to work with the system before throwing them into the game.

honestly, i'm pretty psyched about this, it feels like it'll be mostly natural. could be overly optimistic though. :)

ok, cool. that's enough for one email.


asset server sounds awesome! i'll get in on that tomorrow maybe? do you want me to tinker today? i can grab it no problem but i don't have any work on the project itself to do today so i figured i'd just continue with my list i wanted to tackle. i may have a lull and just do it though but may bail if it gives me guff.


next i think i might try an iPad mockup. i still feel murky on the challenge menu/notification subject. i think that's precisely the issue, it feels etherreal, like we don't have a concrete metaphor or idea about how to communicate it all in one place. hmmmm, alright more later, but if you've had any ideas or can more clearly outline anything let me know. :)

Discussion on Scoring

Zach Returns & The Face of Threes

Asher heads out on a roadtrip and we’re feeling really good about the new direction that Zach primed us with for the faces. It allows us to go for a different, lighter color scheme and we’re feeling a lot better about the direction of the game.

Finalizing the Colors and Faces

Finalizing the Colors and Faces

A little while longer, the new tutorial comes through and we talk about it.

From Greg - 11/25/13

ok!!!! so i think i've switched over all the graphics to the new colors, could be mistaken though. that'd be using the classic exported folder though so they won't be animated yet or anything.

the challenge screen is still up in the air. we may need to talk more about that and brainstorm.

i can spend today getting acclimated to the color switches and so on and all that and hopefully switch the graphics around. :)

new tutorial looks like a big improvement! i do still feel like feeding them 1s and no 2s would get across the idea of 2s and 1s not being addable, ala: i think the beginning is probably important for calling out the walls and so on like you have it now. but i still hold to the idea that keeping things linear and not breaking/changing the cards that are on the board (keeping them continuous) is important for new players feeling comfortable and learning best. it's not that much different from what you already have with the new tutorial but i just think giving them the two row 1s and 2s and then throwing them into a screen with 8 or so cards on the board and showing them the swiping slowly, while faster, is ultimately overwhelming. once i make the 24 from those cards on the next step, then getting the 3 6 12 and 24 on the board all of the sudden is also another jarring indie experience.

again, i just think that this: teaches without feeling like a lecture at all. the current tutorial is much better on that note than the old one, but could we at least try this one as a base? it wouldn't require any special screens and all we have to do is change text and throttle the cards that are fed. while the current tutorial is better at teaching the game than the old one, i think the current one you just popped in might make other, more seasoned players (used to puzzle games) check out a bit, whereas my proposed tutorial engages players at the level of play where they don't feel talked down to but investigate the system on their own accord in a safe zone that we create. at least that's the hope. "show, don't tell." that conceit is paramount in a video game, especially one that clearly doesn't involve reading/watching, but doing.

if this "base" doesn't prove adequate, then we could add back some of those steps/parts piecemeal as needed so it wouldn't be a total loss either.

alright! that's my Big Tutorial Speech.

ok, hit me up! i'm going to be trying to hit things hard until i leave for thanksgiving which will come to about wednesday night. hopes are that i can get all the animation mockups done for the game and card faces and get the colors switched over in unity and maybe have a build i can test on family over the holiday?

From Asher

My plan today is to actually spend some time on some polish we're sorely needing (specifically: the loading time of the game. Maybe some better menu transitions?). And then post lunch I want to see if challenges actually still make any sense.

As for the tutorial...

I'm not going to lie: I am super super happy with how the current implementation is working. I haven't tested it on many people yet (3), but one of them never plays games and the other two play games a lot. They all finished the tutorial in < 2 minutes and fully understood the game when they were finished.

Gave the tutorial this morning to one of my gamer friends who had never played Threes. He breezed through the tutorial FAST, but at every teaching moment I saw his eyes light up and he kept saying "ohhhh cool." This tutorial is making people visibly excited for the game, which is something I haven't seen for a long time and something I think we desperately need.

I've written this email over a bunch in the interest of handling this delicately, but here's the gist I've settled on: I strongly believe that "show don't tell" is the wrong approach for teaching. All players learn differently. We want to show AND tell.

There's definitely the crowd who we could hand this game to without instructions and they would figure it out. (In my head I'm calling them the Puzzlescript crowd.)

And then there's people who won't know what to do unless you tell them and give them explicit goals.

And THEN there's the people who will blindly follow directions, but not understand what they're doing and be confused later.

So we want players to do three things: Listen + Do + See. The merge sections of the tutorial have all three of those things. Listen: There are instructions. Do: You have to merge the things together. See: You clearly see the results of your actions.

So that combined with how quick the tutorial is makes me want to table this discussion for a while. I am much more interested in moving forward right now than going backwards. I propose that we sit on this and collect more data and get closer to a finished game.


Okay time to do fun programming stuff.

From Greg

alright, i understand what you're saying re: the tutorial. i'm not upset or anything (definitely know that! :)), but i did want to state my case. i think we both have clear and sound beliefs for good reasons. i know that my route might let certain people slip through the cracks that learn differently for whatever reason, but i also think it catches more of the _right_ kind of people. the people that most likely LOVE the game. i try to make the game i want to play and i think through that the game takes on a personality because of what it isn't or what's cut away. when all angles/bases are covered, it can tend to drown out the signal and (potentially) confuse _all types_ a little more than it would if it was just one elegant way. i.e. Zelda tutorials and "Nintendoization" takes this to the Nth degree. it might be a case of leaving X on the table to take that hard angle, but i definitely feel it's a large part of Hundreds' success. i feel ridiculous fishing's tutorial is maybe "less elegant" but in some ways more of the route that's optimal for Threes. kind of a hybrid. it slides into place alongside the gameplay with definite signposts and "tilt the phone to avoid the fish" etc. in a step-by-step basis that definitely tells folks what to do. That's kinda the direction i was hoping to run with this continuous field of play, adding pieces when appropriate, learning as you go through plain text and player action, sort of a hybrid. anyway, let's not belabor this. plenty of other things to tend to. we are probably at a bit of an impasse here but let's just move on. like i said, the tutorial is much better than before. no hard feelings on my end! :)

re: animations

yea i don't think full sheets make sense, or at least, make sheets of the features like we already have. especially for flipping them so they can look at each other whilst hugging: i.e., i am still wrestling with animations and how to make them work. my current mockup is full of blinking. there's not nearly as much opportunity for animation here with these faces so that becomes more of a challenge. perhaps it's a challenge that shouldn't be taken on anyhow with the new faces... still tinkering.

re: sfx

yea that could be cool! definitely just taking some foley and stuff like that and speeding it up would work pretty well.

re: colors and etc.

mostly right now i'd like to crack into the colors and switching everything over. kinda feel like i have my legs on two wobbly surfboards with a crocodile underneath my crotch. also, did you see this? do you dig that for a "gold rank" card? or should we just stick with the eyes? it's gleaned from the icon and i never got a word from you on it either way.

re: xcode build

getting this again when i build: i forget how to manage it and did a search through gchat and gmail and couldn't find specific directions. i know i need to add some kind of library and also a couple settings in the plist. maybe if i don't figure it out (through search etc.) by tomorrow afternoon we can tackle that so i have a build on my phone pre-turkey.

Asher Kills Undos

Working on the Tutorial Again

We talked on Skype and Greg offered to code some version of the tutorial changes he was thinking about. Over the next week or so we do a lot of technical things, rework animations with the new faces and figure out how to setup the final game.

Eventually, Greg gets the tutorial somewhat pieced together with his horrible coding skills and a lot of help from Asher.

From Greg

ok, i've taken off the "extrude" setting in TPS and added an inner padding of 1. a lot of the numbers were getting cut off and this seems to fix it. the 6 still feels cut off on the right, but it's much much better now. even the facial features are looking pretty pixel perfect with this.

also did some slight, imperceptible tweaks to positioning stuff on the more menu.

and finally, polished up the new tutorial.

i'm hopefully gonna grab someone to test it in the office (kleenex, i've been guarded about who sees it there) and see how it plays but i think you're right about the ending feeling ho-hum and i think maybe a longer more paced buildup to the end could do the trick. i also think the 2s come in too soon. let me kinda explain what i'm thinking:


i think this is too easy to miss. the 3 and 6 go nope (eventually) and then that's it, i think maybe there should be 2 tries to combine them and then bring in the other card on the third. with this, we'll need bottom-text feedback with each try like "try harder!" and maybe a bigger nope graphic, like they're getting more annoyed.


Again, same issue. i think the player needs more time with the 1s pressing up against each other and then just like before with the 3 nopes, we absolve them with a flurry of 2s.


I think we should consider, after giving them 4 2s, adding a "Make a 24" at the top as a new step. then once they do, give them 4s to reteach the 1+1!= 2 therefore 2+2!= 4.

so it'd look like this

090 twins doubling

095 first nope

097 second nope

100 1 will only add with 2

110 make a 24

120 2 will only add with 1 (but instead of giving them 4 1s to clean it all up, give them 4 1s then begin the constant flow of cards, ratcheting things up by a tick or two)

130 make a 48

140 this is threes! (they're already in the steady random flow of getting 1s 2s and 3s and the game is going, we're picking up speed!)

150 make the highest number you can

160 throw in "next" part (bottom text = "see what's coming next, above!")

170 add in menu buttons (good luck! it's gotta end sometime = bottom text)

180 piecemeal hint #1 (try and keep the 1s and 2s together)

190 piecemeal hint #final (it's all over when the board fills up, so keep adding!)

so basically, same thing, just more drawn out and more of a "here have the next piece of the puzzle" kind of thing. let me know if i'm rambling more than making sense, totally possible.

Asking Friends for their Voices

Upsetting Texts from Adam Saltsman

Then Adam emails us directly and we eventually pipe in Zach for possible ideas.

From Adam to Greg & Asher

hey amigos!! the new build is a fucking like FTL jump beyond any previous build. i love it very much. the UI is amazing.


i have one single solitary concern/gripe/whatever, which i talked to greg about a bit tonight, and which i think maybe we can chat about more tomorrow, but it concerns the ol "corner strategy". i wanted to jot down my thoughts tonight so i could A) sleep on it better and B) we would have some stuff to pick apart tomorrow:

1A - corner strategy is a kind of inherent issue witht he core mechanic of folding/subduction/whatever it might be called. so long as that is how the basic gameplay works, pushing into a corner will ALWAYS be advantageous, its just the maths

1B - it's not JUST the folding that makes the corner play so powerful. the Next window, combined with the knowledge that the new tile will appear from the side you pulled away from, makes it kind of indisputably dominant

1C - corner strat MIGHT be infinite, but even if it isn't, it is undesirable for a wide variety of probably obvious reasons

1D - this old prototype of mine actually has some kind of similar issues there's something you might call the "PEZ Effect" that lets you work very locally on the puzzle board instead of thinking globally... i can go into that in more detail if you want! 2 - high

spawns are not an adequate solution to degenerate corner strat, since the player can just scoot one space out of the corner and place a high spawn conveniently before returning to the previous game state. arrow tiles are not an adequate solution either. they essentially function the same way as the high spawns, which does not address the core problem of folding/prescience

3 - obviously you don't want to introduce anything more than necessary, the core ingredients are so perfect and minimal

i think the best most fundamental way to combat corner strategy's existence is to add something like the triple-word score from scrabble. I don't know how that would manifest in this game, but i think the game needs a reason for players to make a counter-intuitive play in the long-term development of a winning strategy... concrete medium-term goals that require multiple steps to achieve and are a departure from or otehrwise directly affect the business as usual of the game loop and can propel the player forward in the rankings...

e.g. in scrabble you can make a shorter word in a weirder spot than is strictly optimal in the short term, in order to begin working toward a later triple word score, while spending some useful vowels but saving your big scoring consonants... that's SO powerful. i think a lot of games i admire right now basically work this way - desktop dungeons, 868 hack, etc. Tetris'ing in Tetris is another good example. Not necessary, risky, but scores big points... in drop7 you can deliberately build mountains of garbage in order to boost the chances of a strong chain, even tho you risk wiping out on the top of the screen if it doesn't work out...

i've no idea if this is helpful or not, if not i wholeheartedly apologize... i feel like my advice is boiling down to "hrmmm add moar risk/reward plz" which is dumb of me i think is what i'm feeling. hopefully by tomorrow i'll have more concrete suggestions!

talk to you guys soon,


From Zach to Asher & Greg & Adam

reading adams notes I’m no longer sure fixing a bag would totally fix it. greg: a bag is a way to do random, vs. true random. Like. if we’re rolling a die, thats a random number 1-6 every time. a bag is if i have 1-6 tiles in a bag, and every time you pick one you remove it and we only fill the bag with a new 1-6 when it is empty.

I like adam’s idea about only adding a new tile if your pieces move. I still haven’tdone the corner strategy so I don’t entirely understand it, but if this would provide friction it might actually be pretty nice. It feels like the adding tiles when you don’t move is already a bit weird in the game since it’s an unconventional strategy that actually has huge importance to surviving full boards. On the other hand, it might totally make everything else devolve into a lot more randomness.

As for the other suggestions, the more I think about this, the more I realize that if the corner strat is infinite, than a carrot will not work to fix it. All it would do is sort of hide the corner strat a little bit, but no carrot is going to be as good as an infinite strategy.

Here are a few sticks that essentially sequence break your game and prevent the corner strategy:

- the aforementioned rock that can only be combined with another rock to remove it

- a monster that disappears after it is fed 4 numbers, any 4 numbers, and gives you 1000pts. (this could only show up after you have at least a 384 block, would not need to be tutorialized, and would become a weird thing of lore like the yeti in ski free)

- a block that changes to a random number every time it is moved (but not every time the board moves, so if it doesn’t move, it doesn’t change)

- tiles that are hidden (like in drop7) until a match is made next to them

Asher puts together a new build that doesn’t show the number on the white card coming in and also disallows swiping in a new card if there are no available cards that can move.

And the discussion continues into some avenues we ended up not exploring, but thanks to Adam breaking the game we were able to patch it really quickly. Later we’d go back on our decision a tad bit and add the “+” to the next card to give player’s a tad more info in mitigating those potentially problematic high cards.

Now, less than two months from release and even sooner until we eventually submit our final build to Apple, we have a lot of polishing and promotional stuff to do. The website design isn't completely finished but we're happy with where it's heading. Though we're not sure what to do for screenshots of our very still, very turn-based and unilaterally colored game, we think hope to settle that next. There are a lot of questions and worries remaining, but after we hurdled this huge design flaw with the help from Zach and Adam especially, a lot of the battles had been fought, some multiple times by now.

One last big battle was still brewing though. The very serious business of... hugging.

Hug Battle

Trailers and Battery Conservation

A couple weeks go by, both Greg and Asher are away on vacation visiting either for the holidays.

From Asher - 12/30/13

WHEW okay caught up on email. Tiny deers are unfortunately in the Argentina part of Patagonia, not the Chilean part. Had to befriend some giant llamas instead.

I peeked into tinyfaces.swf and damn these are looking good.

I'm gonna start working for real on January 1st!

My first order of business is going to be the merge animations. 1+2 merge first because I have some idea how to handle them and it'll look goood. Still wobbly feeling on the hugging, but we can talk that out later.

But yeah dude after you finish up the animations and we figure out a final mergelook, I think you can go on low-alert for a little while. I imagine I'm going to have to spend a week on hooking up challenges, and then a week on bugs+polish.

I guess the main question floating in the air is the trailer/marketing?? I was thinking about Rami's comment and our original IGF trailer and I really really like the idea of selling Threes as a part-of-life. Threes is not an immersive digital world to get lost in, it's a tiny game you carry with you and play on the train or while you're waiting for a friend or about to go to bed.

I sort of like the idea of a trailer that's similar to our original IGF one, but maybe cutting between a few different locations. I like the visual of low-lit/low-contrast modern world and then this bright little game is poking out of people's hands.

And okay here's a controversial statement that I might disagree with later re: leading with the gif... I'm starting to think that it's not a priority of the marketing to teach the game. I know we want to avoid the problem of asking people to buy a game before they know what it is, but I think what the game is and how it works are two different things.

The game is a 1) small 2) ever-challenging 3) card-sliding game 4) with numbers in it. We've been hammering on 1+2, but I think 3+4 complete the picture of what the game actually is and feels like.

I think the gif still has a place on the webpage and something to be handed around, but I think a trailer will be more effective at straight-up exciting people.

Does that wall of text make sense?

From Greg

Yea i saw that tweet as well, and i have a lot of feelings about it. i was up last night stress-thinking on it...

we're never gonna KNOW if we made the right choices. the longer we draw things out, the more time we have to second and third guess things. Rami has thought about THREES marketing for much less time than we have. It's not a bad idea, we've had it ourselves. Showing the game played in all manner of spaces and how it fits into your life. Initially, I thought about how this would go and it all seemed so universal. basically, the takeaway would be "you can play this anywhere." it's a truism for every single thing you do on your phone. it's more of a phone trailer than a game trailer. then i went a bit further...

1) do something where two phones (white and black) combine (use stop motion) to make a gold phone with a 3 on the screen. (feels empty and where do we go from that?)

2) simulate threes in the real world in different environments with different hands playing it from the same perspective: straight on. (could be cool)

3) paper craft something

4) tiny faces, show off the theme, sparse on the gameplay itself...

with 1) and 2) i don't like live action for this. it feels too big, too real and it doesn't jive with the site. 3) would be the same, doesn't jive. 4) could, but what are we really communicating with it? "hey! here's a cute game!" who cares about that?


i just think the.gif is so smart and fitting. i think the product of this conversation should be WHAT the.gif is rather than doing a different trailer. the latter feels like a fear-based reaction while making a.gif is a confident and bold move that clicks with us. i think the content of the gif is the problem, not the gif itself...

so here's my proposal...

gif, same size (roughly), scale and colors as we have currently.

explains threes in an incomplete and upbeat way

explores threes being played in different environments through simple/snappy transitions

while the game is continuous and the phone stays in the exact same position, also hands change. (right, left, different colors, masc/fem)

cycle through different environments/hands faster and faster settling in on some crescendo

that breaks with THREES or something... (this is fuzzier and should be riffed on further)

note: if i do the environments simple enough we could have a lot of them and i could make them so they go ahead into the future so it feels like they're playing for decades from now etc...

ohhh! "a tiny puzzle you can LOVE forever"??? whadya think? then we can use that infinity heart in more confidence perhaps. not sure, maybe it's too presumptuous.

Final Statement

And that's it. Over the next couple weeks we iron out bugs, implement GameCenter, Achievements, Challenges and other miscellaneous things like that. You know, the easy parts that take up the majority of cloner's time...

If you read this whole thing. Thank you. Wow. If you scrolled down here and skimmed it or just wanted to see if there was a prize at the end, well, you're here. It's about the journey, man.

Hopefully this post points to what we're getting at when we say that making these tiny games is littered with hard and painful times that are full of uncertainty and self-doubt. You never know if something is really going to work. It's not easy. But cloning or ripping off a design in a week, that's a bit different isn't it?

Asher & Greg


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