Origins of an Action Puzzler Superstar: Part 1

So I was flicking cards at my cat one day…

OK. So that’s not exactly true. As a matter of fact, it’s not true at all. But doesn’t it seem like every “I had an idea” story starts with something like that? It sounds cool, and I almost wish that was where it all began with Card Ninja, but it’s just not that simple.

Sadly, it was something much more intentional; I actually sat down one day and analyzed the iPhone in an attempt to get some insight on what makes it unique from most gaming platforms. Of course the touchscreen immediately came to mind as it has most everybody, and from there I started to think about the different touch options of tapping, double-taps, multi-touch, sliding, etc. and about what kind of touch interaction might be both fun and natural for a gamer.

I kept coming back to the sliding motion. Of all of the touch options it feels the most natural to me and it requires zero explanation for the player.

I should clarify what I mean by “natural” as opposed to “intuitive”. To me, if something is intuitive it means that its function is simple to ascertain. For instance, clicking on a desktop folder expands that folder and displays its contents. This is intuitive because it makes the function is easy to understand but it’s not natural because in the real world merely touching a folder does not cause it to open up and reveal the papers inside.

On the other hand, if something is natural it means that it reflects the physics or sensibilities of our own world. For example, in the real world, if you place your finger on a playing card on a table, you can move the card around by slowly dragging it or throw it with a fast flick. A game that simulates this interaction would be BOTH intuitive AND natural.

Hey! Good idea. Somebody should create that game!

I quickly tacked on the notion of matching colors and it did start to resemble a game. I felt like I was onto something so I pitched the basic idea to Jonni and included this modest mocked up image for reference.

Needless to say, he was under-whelmed by the aesthetics of my screen prototype, but intrigued by the gameplay.

From there, we discussed a number of options for game. We started to analyze addictive puzzle games such as Tetris and Bejeweled, hoping to figure out why they are so compelling to play. Two things came to mind:

  1. These games are usually based on a very natural need to organize things. With match 2 and match 3 type games (e.g. Mahjong, Bejeweled) you are organizing virtual objects by symbol or color. With Tetris, you are organizing by shape. This process of putting things in their proper place seems to work as a metaphor for all of the things in your life that are out of control and these games becomes almost therapeutic to play. i.e. If you can’t control your job, bills, kids, etc. at least you can control these little puzzle pieces on a screen!
  2. Because they engage you on a very basic level (therapeutic matching) your animal brain takes over and it never occurs to you to stop playing. Hence, they are addictive.

The final element came from my sensibilities as a player. I’m not a big fan of slow moving puzzle games and thought it would be interesting to create a puzzle game with a frenetic pace.

From there we were able to transform it (with a lot more design work and elbow grease) from light concept into a real game that people actually enjoy playing:

Soon after, ninjas got involved. But that’s a story for another day…

Stay tuned for “Origins of an Action Puzzler Superstar: Part 2“!

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One Response

  1. quite an addicitive flash card game… doesnt beat poker on facebook though

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