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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