A History of Matching Tile Games
Si il y a un type de jeu que tout le monde connait, çe sont les jeux qui sont basé sur le placement de blocs géométriques. De Tetris à Bejeweld, de Puyo Pop Fever à DrMario. Ce sont des jeux principalement mécaniques, des cas d'écoles en terme de gameplay, au même titre que les jeux de cartes par exemple.
Jesper Jull revient sur l'histoire de ces jeux qui ne disparaitront pas de sitôt ^_^
My interest here is in how matching tile games have developed during the past 21 years, in how new design and innovation has happened, and in the relation between game design and player experiences. The history of a game genre is also a mapping of the issues that face game developers as well as players.
Matching tile games are today mostly sold via the distribution channel of casual, downloadable games, a channel that puts conflicting pressures on game developers: Innovate enough to differentiate, but make the game sufficiently like other games that players find it easy to pick up and play1.
When developers claim that their game is the original game that inspired other games (rather than the other way around), they are also writing their version of game history. When player picks up a game, they are also using their conception of video game history to understand the new game.
Video game history is everywhere, in the development of games, in the selling of games, in the consumption of games.
At the time of writing (2006), matching tile games are most immediately associated with the game form or distribution channel known as downloadable, casual games. While there is no commonly accepted definition of casual games, we can point to a few commonly named characteristics.
- Demographics : Compared to traditional video games, casual games are more oriented towards women and towards audiences over 35. (IGDA 2005, p.11)
- Distribution : Casual games are primarily downloaded by users, generally at download sizes under 10MB.
- Hardware : By convention, casual games target low-end and old machines. At the time of writing, new casual games still support Windows 98.
- Economic model : Casual games are primarily downloadable of a try-before-you-by model, where the player can typically play the full game for 60 minutes, after which the player must pay to continue playing.
- Allow short playing sessions : Most casual games can be played in very short sessions; it takes a very short time to start a game, and it is often easy to interrupt a playing session. This does notmean that players in actuality always play short sessions: In a survey on the Trymedia web site, 66% of players reported that their typical play session lasts more than an hour (Macrovision 2006). The key is that casual games allow short play sessions, hence making it easier for players to commit to playing a game.
- Auto-save : Most casual games tend to auto-save, even if the player closes the game window, so a player can easily put down and resume a game at a later time. Auto-save presumably makes it easier for players to play the games in many situations where more traditional gaming would not be possible - in the workplace, for example.
- Mouse control : Casual games are almost exclusively controlled by mouse. Though little hard data exists, anecdotal evidence indicates that casual gamers find it very hard to control a game using the keyboard.
- Very simple rules : Steve Meretzky says that it should be possible to state the rules of a casual game in three sentences. (Barwood & Falstein 2006, #107)
- Moderate innovation : It must be very easy to learn to play casual games. This tends to mean that casual games are near clones of an existing game with new graphics, or that innovation happens in small incremental steps.
- Multiple levels of success: Most casual games generally reward the player for completing a subtask in more challenging ways. In matching tile games, there are typically rewards for making combos (several matches at the same time) and for matching more tiles than is needed.
- Much positive feedback : Casual games tend to be designed to provide players with the experience of success very early on. (Barwood & Falstein 2006, #107)
- Little negative feedback: Casual games are often very easy compared to other game types, and avoid punishing the player for mistakes.
Can we write the history of a game genre? Some anthropological work has been done on game history: Stewart Culin's 1894 article on Mancala, the National Game of Africa (Culin 1894) discusses the spread of Mancala games geographically and historically, noting differences in rules and materials used to play. Writing the history of matching tiles games is slightly different in that the time span is much shorter (20 years rather than thousands of years), developed mostly commercially and generally attributable to individuals (as opposed to the folk game of Mancala).
Matching tile games are arguably a less clearly delimited field than Mancala games, and where the development of Mancala is an integral part of the way the game is distributed, by passing on between people who innovate or misremember the rules of the game, video games are software products that can be distributed globally without being changed, but only used differently.
It is not uncommon to see mostly journalistic histories of video game genres such as real-time strategy games (Geryk 2001), but my objective here is to look a bit more closely at how history is made and used, to focus on the interplay between different developer and player perspectives on a specific genre. I have limited myself to looking at matching tile games as:
Video games where the player manipulates tiles in order to make them disappear according to a matching criterion.
This delineation is artificial, but necessary to limit the scope of this paper. In addition, it is not possible to include all matching tile games in this space, so the focus is on games that have provided some type of innovation, as well as on some popular games, even those who provided little innovation.
The goal has been to trace the genre's development during the past twenty years, and to use developer and player perspectives to focus on how innovations have been introduced and been picked up by other games.
[ Jesper Jull ]