The Making of Threes

I’ve been meaning to curate articles on game design I find inspirational and fascinating on this site for awhile. Now seems like a good time to start.

This week, the creators of the iOS game Threes released a massive collection of emails exchanged during the development process. The post itself contains about 45,000 words, and I read every single one of them. It is such a rare and special treat to be able to peek behind the scenes and be a spectator to the entire design process. One almost feels like a guest in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Asher made this interesting point about the tutorial:

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.

I’ve always been more of a “show don’t tell” believer; there is a distinct sense of wonder and satisfaction in figuring things out on your own. But Asher does make some good points. And for a game like Threes, including a tutorial really lowers the barrier to entry for most players. Having learnt the basics, players are then equipped to explore on their own the intricate possibilities nested within the rules.

I think the honest correspondence between the designers really captures the excitement and frustration of making a game. Reading these emails, one also senses the brief episodes of tension when there were disagreements about certain design decisions; diplomatic tones were used, and compromises made.

I guess I’ve always suspected that game design would be a lot of work, but I was still blown away by the amount of effort that went into making Threes. I have since bought the app, and I am having so much fun with it.