Folk art, clones, genres, and N-likes for any value of N

Some things I’ve read relevant to the thoughts percolating in my head:

The creator of Threes shows the email discussion behind the design of the game. To show that even though it’s a very simple game, it can still take a lot of thought to arrive at that configuration. But he’s frustrated that people can then imitate that result for a fraction of the effort.

After playing a handful of games with similarities, I posted on TIG asking whether there was a name for this genre and got the answer “Galcon clones.”

There was discussion of what exactly was a Rogue-like and since the imitators were pushing the boundaries of that, people started saying “Rogue-like-likes.”

There are so many Five Nights at Freddy’s fan games now.

Or look at pool and billiards. There’s English billiards, eight ball, nine ball, snooker, so many variants. And I became fascinated by these old engravings of the early billiards and the idea that it was originally a table-top version of a lawn game like croquet.


That summarizes the context for these things. What questions do these lead to?

I’m old enough that I remember when a lot of people called First-Person Shooters “Doom Clones.” So I’m wondering, at what point do the imitators of a game turn into a full-fledged genre?

I myself have made a Threes-like by trying it out in three dimensions. Though I was more influenced by 2048 than Threes. Does that make it a Threes-like-like? The creator of 2048 said he was copying 1024, so 2048 was itself already a Threes-like-like, and mine would be four generations removed from Threes.

If we go back further, Tetris spawned imitators because of its success. Wikipedia of course has a Tile-matching video game article, which attempts to tie together a history of these games. It mentions a contemporary of Tetris called SameGame which could also be an influence on the genre. But this is kind of neat: Columns was a lot like Tetris but introduced match-three instead of filling solid horizontal rows. Later, Tetris Attack come out, using that match-three mechanic, but you no longer control the falling block, you swap adjacent blocks already on the play field. From there, Bejeweled introduces the restriction that you can’t swap any two adjacent blocks, but only allows swaps that result in a new match-three. Plus, instead of the Tetris legacy where you lose when the screen gets filled to the top, in Bejeweled you lose if you have no valid moves.

Things like Tic-Tac-Toe and Connect Four pre-date Tetris, so you could see Columns as influenced by both them and Tetris. And there could be other intermediate games I’m not aware of. But I think it’s a great illustration of a current game being a gradual evolution of games that come before. And is it also a demonstration of going from “making a game like Tetris” to “making a game in this genre.” You might of been able to argue Columns was just ripping off Tetris, but the connection to


Threes was invented in a world where Bejeweled already existed. Where all the various Tetris imitators already existed. Is it also a slight evolution of what came before, or is it enough of an innovation to say something else is going on here?

A Threes game is over when you run out of valid moves, kind of like the Bejeweled standard, but what is a valid move is different. Instead of match three you get match two, but more importantly, instead of scoring as soon as the matching tiles are touching, you only score when you merge them. And after you score, both tiles aren’t removed, rather the two tiles are replaced with one tile, which in turn can be merged with matching tiles.

I’m describing these as three changes, but they are kind of interconnected. Bejeweled that let you match-two would be incredibly easy. Threes that required you get three tiles in a row for a merge would be incredibly difficult.

The SameGame lineage I mentioned also has the extra stage for a match. (The first variant on that I remember playing is this Ferry Halim game.) But the method of choosing a match is very different. Threes-likes will do all matches in the same direction, while SameGame-likes do matches of the same colour that touch.

The progression element feels very important. In Bejeweled you have 7 different colours of tiles to match, but every colour is equal to the others. In Threes, merging a 1 and a 2 makes a 3, merging two 3s makes a 6 and two 6s make a 12, and so on. So the merging mechanic gives all the tile types an order; the higher-numbered tile types are worth more points but are harder to complete. So maybe that’s the biggest change from the Tetris lineage. In Tetris the two progressions were: the score went up if you did well, and the blocks piled higher if you didn’t. Threes creates a progression that naturally gets more difficult without tacking on a speed increase or something like that. None of the whole lineage from Tetris to Bejeweled had that.

Folk Games

I find this idea of games with family trees interesting. You see it a lot in folk games as well, where there wasn’t the same tendency to make a game someone’s intellectual property and sell the whole thing as one package.

Bowling includes 10 pin, 5 pin, 9-pin, Duckpin, and Candlepin bowling. (I’ve only played the first two, but I shall now endeavour to try the others.) And there is evidence that ancient Romans and Egyptians played similar games. Plus there are some more distantly-related games like bocce. They’re often regional variations.

And as I said above, I’m fascinated by the early pool/billiards and the idea of it being a sort of “table croquet” in the same sense as “table tennis.” They used clubs instead of cues, which would make the similarity to lawn games like croquet more obvious.

Also, when you look at for example the Nine-ball page on Wikipedia, there are so many slight variants possible with the same equipment by racking different balls or using different rules.

Card games are the same, if you have a deck of cards, there are a lot of different card games you could play with that. If you add a cribbage board, you can play cribbage. ( Technically, the board is only for keeping score, which could be done a number of ways. The predecessor to cribbage was called Noddy and there are references to using “counters” which I like to imagine were themselves a substitute for gambling, but I’m not a historian. )

But video games tend to exist as a whole package. So you don’t see as much of that sort of thing where the same equipment is re-purposed with some rule changes. There are people who will mod video games, but the technical requirements are higher. (You could make an argument for speed runs, but this post is long enough already.) Even board games like Monopoly, though everything you need is sold in one box, people still regularly play variant rules like the lottery on Free Parking.

I can understand why it’s frustrating if you’ve done something significantly innovative like Threes that people come along and imitate it with a fraction of the effort. But from the view of games as folk-games I find it fascinating how quickly Threes got mutated into 2048 and how many people are imitating 2048 without knowing Threes even existed. And is this going to result in a whole new genre of games once the imitators can diversify a little more?

Which is I guess why I was considering the innovations of Threes separately. The more you can consider each on its own rather than adopt the whole package, the more your Threes-like can start diversifying that field.

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So I just realized I hadn’t posted this. Back in November, shortly after Unity and Oculus released the free version of the Oculus SDK, I made a 3D puzzled game called Zed.

It’s a Threes-like in three dimensions. The standard approach to VR dev is to do something more immersive, I wanted to try something a little different. Programming was pretty simple, but it was a good exercise in graphic design for three dimensions.

The requirements were, I wanted something that would be very difficult to display intuitively on a flat screen, but the controls needed to still be simple.

I think there is some potential for games that need to present a large quantity of data but aren’t necessarily immersive. Consider an RTS game. You could have a 3D model of the battlefield, surrounded by a half-dozen display screens of important information. You wouldn’t be able to fit as much onto a computer monitor, and methods of switching screens would not be as intuitive and quick as just turning your head.

Or yes, in puzzle games, there might be new types of puzzles that are only possible when viewing them in three dimensions.

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Spider Who Would Only Eat Candy

I made a game called The Spider Who Would Only Eat Candy

I was playing around with hexagons based on this Gamasutra article and this article by Red Blob.

James Earl Cox III, who said “Make the games you want to see on public access television.” which is pretty close to my design philosophy, also asked if anyone wanted to be his nemesis, and I never had a nemesis before, that’d be cool.

I played a game about an elevator he made, and there was a spider in it, though I got the spider twice in a row so I thought it was more prominent than it really is. So that combined in my head with the hex grid, and so that inspired this game to be about the spider.

I get jumping spiders in my apartment, so the idea of a spider hopping around the board made sense to me. I was sort of thinking of knight’s tours puzzles with chess, but to mix it up, you’d have different jumping patterns according to random cards and you would choose which ones and the order. It was only while I was half-way through making the game that I saw the similarity to RoboRally.

I also added interstitials that told a very basic story, which is the first time I tried something like that.

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Thirteenth game jam

The Coolest Farmer in the World:

Made for the Music Video Game Jam.

It helped that the song has very reliable BPM, I could make a bunch of animation loops that sync up with that beat.

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Twelfth game jam – Santa Claus Is Coming To Get You

New game up on Gamejolt, Santa Claus Is Coming To Get You:

This is the first game I’ve released with one of the standard game controller assets from Unity. I used a standard First-Person controller. I guess it’s the first time that it seemed like the right feel for the game.

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New games – Snowman, turkey, trampoline cop, ruin videogames gator

A few games I made that I haven’t posted here.

Snowman or Astroman? is a snowman assembling game I made for Ludum Dare.

Launch Turkey is a game I made in a little over three hours because I saw a “Turkey and explosions” jam on Gamejolt that had no entries yet.

Gator’s Secrets is a game I made for ruin jam. If you’ve been following discussion of video games online, you know what it’s alluding to. Though I narrowed the focus to something

Trampoline Cop was one of the arcades in Gator’s Secrets, one of only three that wasn’t taken from an episode of Regular Show. There was a PewDiePie jam, so I decided to turn Trampoline Cop into an actual game. I was originally thinking of something like a cross between Mappy and Jump Bug, but when trying it out in 3D started letting elements of Crazy Taxi in. The largest in scope of these games and I might return to it to make the level design a little more finished. Or I might rather make a bunch of little games like Launch Turkey, we’ll see.

Also this means now I’ve done eleven game jams.

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Wiggling Hands

New video by me. I decided to try my hand at one of those whiteboard animation videos.

The inspiration for this was an Elance job posting asking for a whiteboard animation and the pictures needed to be drawn live. I thought, “I don’t think I can draw that fast.”

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More video games

I’ve got two games online that I haven’t listed here yet. Minewalker and Cube Roller they are both similar in general genre, which I’m kind of thinking of as an endless runner puzzle game. You have to keep progressing forward to keep from falling off the end.

Minewalker uses the minesweeper rules so you have to keep progressing through a minefield to stay alive. At one point the player was going to be a chess queen, in reference to the Red Queen that has to keep running to stay in the same place, but maybe that would have been mixing games too much. If I think of a good chess-based puzzle I might return to that.

Cube Roller was originally Dice Roller, but I switched it because not everyone is intimately familiar with the layout of dice and the numerical values didn’t really matter. With a little people cube, everyone will easily remember the hands are on opposite sides and the face is opposite the butt, etc. Whereas people might not all know that the opposite sides of a die always add up to 7.

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Game Jams

So, because there’s a local game jam coming up, which I haven’t signed up for, I got thinking, and I think I’ve done seven game jams.

  1. Room jam. This is the only local one I’ve done.
  2. Ludum Dare 24
  3. Ludum Dare 26 collaborating with Anand Friesen
  4. Ludum Dare 29 collaborating with Anand Friesen again
  5. I did a Game Jolt contest with a party theme. Which is maybe where I start stretching the definition of jam but whatever
  6. I did the Candy Jam on
  7. I also did a Flappy Jam on but by this point I would be surprise if they go more than a week without something
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Procedural generation links

This is just a collection of links I think are interesting for procedurally generated maps in games.

First up, a video presentation of the methods used to randomly generate maps in Sir You Are Being Hunted.

Second is not about randomly generated maps for games specifically, it’s about the visualization of algorithms, but some of those algorithms have results that could be interesting, and being able to see visually how they work really helps imagine how they could be used for this purpose.

Then we’ve got an article on map generation using voronoi polygons.

Then we have one about trying to correct what he calls the “nebraska problem” while developing the game The Witness. He has a follow-up where he shows other patterns and there’s a few other useful ones listed here.

And last this blog sometimes also has interesting things. Again the focus of the blog is on visualizing interesting math, not procedurally generated maps, but some things are good inspiration, like the liquid in a porous material the idea of a Stolum Number or the Cheerios effect a fractal Brownian tree placing dots based on two distance rules, automatically clustering cities, or the tracks of a bicycle.

As they point out in the Sir You Are Being Hunted video, it’s easy for someone new to this to think they can just throw perlin noise on something and that’s good enough, but the most interesting maps have more to it than that.

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