Unmatch – The beginning (devlog)

Unmatch Title Screen
Unmatch Title Screen

This is the first entry in a hopefully decent devlog about my new mobile game Unmatch. If you’re unaware, a devlog is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a development log showing my progress regarding any of my current projects. I’m going to use tags to hopefully keep this mess some what organized. We’ll see how that goes. Anywho… let’s start from the beginning:

I was prompted by my mother in law to make a mobile game. She’s an avid fan of puzzle games and match 3 style stuff. So I thought I’d give it a shot. My first iteration was entirely rubbish. I make a basic 2D grid of square sprites, and added a match detection algorithm from the webs. To add an “interesting” feature, I made it so that you had to slide entire rows or columns to make the required matches. Like I said, complete trash. It wasn’t my best work.

Ugly game image
Wow.. saturate much?

After some half hearted support from my family, and general dislike for my own “game”, I took it down to a local game developers meet-up in Madison, WI. The folks who were still awake after my presentation had only one opinion. “DON”T MAKE A MATCH 3 GAME!”  To be fair, they were nice about it. The meeting organizer Aaron San Filippo game me a piece of advice that would later lead to the creation of Unmatch. He said not to make a match 3 game, but instead to think about making something completely opposite of a matching game. In custom fashion with all advice, I took it to mean what I thought he meant (probably not what he actually meant). I was still motivated to create a puzzle game, and brooded on the advice for a couple days. Then it came to me… the complete opposite of matching is un-matching. Thus, the concept was born. I took a few days and modified the slide game to see if the concept was fun.

The first iteration of Unmatch
The first iteration of Unmatch

It was terrible on multiple levels. The first flaw was that it goes completely against the human need to organize things. I was creating chaos from order, which just felt wrong. It was a mental challenge to fight the urge to organize. The second disaster was that it quickly became apparent that simply making a checkerboard pattern would solve every puzzle (see the light blue tiles above). Again I returned to brooding mode. I revisited the game a few days later, and I had revelation of sorts. My mental challenge wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Puzzle games are supposed to be mentally challenging, right? I also realized that I wasn’t creating real chaos, but instead a sorted order to things. Sure it wasn’t pretty sorted order, but it wasn’t a random mess either. To address the checkboarding issue I thought about the core of how the comparison between blocks was made. Each of the four faces pointed toward another block, maybe I should just add more faces? Maybe less? I considered making the game using triangles, but discovered that the checkboarding was still an ultimate solution. I pondered using pentagons for a bit but decided the code to line everything up would melt my brain. Finally I settled on hexagons. The grid of tiles would stay clean, it provided different possibilities, and I thought it looked cooler. So I went to work.

Unmatch Alpha V0.02
Unmatch Alpha V0.02

I made a basic couple of levels to get players used to the idea that they wanted to separate similar tiles rather than combine them. I still think this system could use some work, but only testing will tell. The game finally felt good, provided challenge, and some juicy menu stuff made it look nice too. I felt great about the game, but the insecurities in me needed some validation from those who had crushed my previous game. I took it back to Madison. I was crazy nervous, but at least this time I was proud of what I had. It was very well received (at least I think so). Other game developers started coming up with new and interesting ways of making the game more challenging. I drove home that night with a feeling of pride and validation. The game still had some major bugs though, and I wanted to try out these new challenge ideas. I set to work fixing what bugs I knew of and adding in some of the challenges.

Unmatch Alpha V0.03 - with walls!
Unmatch Alpha V0.03 – with walls!

I continued to work on the game for awhile and eventually discovered that my games core comparison system was flawed. Rather than gut the game and try and rebuild from a cracked foundation I opted to rebuild the entire project. This also gave me a chance to consider the new challenges like split tiles, and walls while building the system. Once the new version was ready, I needed someone new to play it. I kindly requested a twitch streamer and fellow game developer William Chyr to test it. He asked if he could do it on stream, and I agreed. Willy’s community ripped my game apart, finding bugs, requesting features, and re-affirming that the core mechanic was solid and challenging. The feedback from this opportunity was priceless, and should I ever meet Willy in real life I believe I owe him at least a couple beers. To top it all off, Willy uploads his streams to youtube. Now you might be thinking this was a great way to help get the game out there, but I actually used it as a reference for making further changes to the game.

The most difficult level at the time... lol.
The most difficult level at the time… lol.

About this time, I was contacted by a cool guy named Kevin Harris. He was a little more local, and wanted to start a game development meeting in town. I was totally on board and ready to show what I had. I took all that feedback and whatever else I could get from the local group and the Madison developers. I tweaked it here, and there for a couple weeks, and finally got to a stage where the only thing left before an actual public alpha was to make some more levels. I churned out 25 starter levels and uploaded them to my site. I posted in some Facebook groups, and on Twitter to get some more of that sweet, sweet nectar we call feedback. Results slowly came pouring in and most were impressed with the games progress, and it’s challenge. My financial advisor (aka wife) let me drop some money to renew my iOS developers license. I immediately pushed the game onto my iPad and any iOS device I could get my hands on. My wife played it and fell instantly in love with the game. She has been badgering me ever since to add more levels. Since the starting goal was to make a game for my mother in law, I also pushed it onto her iPad. The two of them were talking and texting each other for days about which levels they had issues with, and solutions they found. It was great. While listening to them I could “hear” between the lines about where the difficulty curve and pacing needed adjustments.

Unmatch Alpha Version 0.10
Unmatch Alpha Version 0.10

With a new look, more levels, and a very small fanbase I decided to put analytics into the game. This would further help me to understand where the players were getting stuck and which levels needed adjustment. Now most of this may seem like something to worry about during the polishing phase of development. I however believe that it’s important to understand where players are going to have issues with the challenges I’m presenting and when I introduce them. Understanding how the players think about tile movement and such gives me a clue into what challenges and changes will result in a better play experience. It’s an important part of the game, and I want to get a jump on it as early as possible.

CONCLUSION (finally, right?)

Currently there is a playable demo of the game on my site:
While I continue to improve the game and try out new challenges, I’d like to make these posts more often. Hopefully once a week at least. I will try to make them shorter in the future, but with so much personal excitement about my game I make no guarantees. Currently the game is in Alpha version 0.10, and will be going with me to tonights development/playtesting meeting. I’ll be taking it on the iPad for the first time so we’ll see how the platform changes opinions and feedback.

Thanks for reading and for less verbose game updates you can follow the game on Twitter here.

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