原作者：Tracey Lien 译者：Willow Wu
你在App Store的搜索栏中输入三消能得到超过2200个结果。宝开公司的《宝石迷阵》（Bejeweled）位列搜索结果的第一位，然后后面跟着很多图标相似、名字相似的游戏。有Jewel World——宝石主题的三消游戏，有Jewel Mania——宝石主题的三消游戏，有《糖果传奇》（Candy Crush Saga）——糖果主题的三消游戏，有Candy Blast Mania——糖果主题的三消游戏，有Matching With Friends——三消配对游戏，还有其它2000多种游戏……
“作为一个拥有十多年休闲游戏开发经验的人，我们已经习惯了人的误解，他们认为所有的益智游戏都是差不多的，”King公司的CCO Sebastian Knutsson说，他们的代表作就是《糖果传奇》。“除非你有经常玩，否则你就会觉得它们是一样的。但我知道我们的活跃玩家对游戏中的差别和细微变化非常敏锐。这一切都归结于玩游戏的真实体验，而不仅仅是看看游戏的截图、描述信息什么的。”
Nigel Li是Storm8的艺术总监，他们发行的游戏有Bakery Story、Candy Blast Mania、Jewel Mania、Kingdoms Live等等。这家工作室的目标就是争取做他们产品所在领域的佼佼者，其中就有三消类别。剥离艺术以及音效设计之后，Candy Blast Mania的核心机制就是让玩家不断匹配三个同样的糖果，直至达成关卡目标。这听起来就跟宝开的《宝石迷阵》、King的《糖果传奇》非常相似。但正如Li所说的，是机制之外的这些东西才让游戏有了完全不同的体验。
决定游戏体验好坏的当然还不止于艺术。Li说Storm8的开发者会反复测试他们游戏中的每一个元素，以确保它们不出差错。“就比如Jewel Mania和Fruit Mania，光是宝石或者是水果的消除方式我们就进行了10、20、30次测试，”他说。“我们想找到对的感觉，制作出酷炫的效果，让玩家有种成就感。”
有些三消游戏的特色还不止于音效或者是视觉特效。把《宝石迷阵》和《糖果传奇》放在一起对比，前者是让玩家自由争取高分记录，而后者采用的是关卡进阶方式。《宝石迷阵》中，玩家每局的游戏面板都是随机的。而《糖果传奇》的每个关卡都是指定的，是这几百个关卡中的一环。在Candy Blast Mania中，有些关卡就是boss战，玩家要通过匹配特定的糖果来对敌人造成伤害。像Puzzle Quest这样的游戏就包含了角色扮演元素，而Puzzle and Dragons则融合了三消和地牢元素。所有的这些游戏都是以三消为基础，但是游戏经验丰富的玩家和并不丰富的玩家看到的是两个完全不一样的世界。
The match-3 puzzle game market is a cluttered space.
Typing “match-3″ into the iTunes App Store yields more than 2,200 search results. PopCap’s Bejeweled sits at the top of the list alongside similar-looking titles that share similar names. There’s Jewel World — a match-3 gem game, Jewel Mania — a match-3 gem game, Candy Crush Saga — a match-3 candy game, Candy Blast Mania — a match-3 candy game, Matching With Friends — a match-3 matching game and, well, some 2,000 more.
The market is saturated and frequently faces criticism for its seeming lack of innovation. Match-3 games both new and old are often called “Bejeweled clones” or copycats, and are quickly dismissed for all being the same. And while there is some truth to the criticisms — there are indeed lots of video game clones, and there are puzzle games that exist only to capitalize on the success of others — members of the games industry believe there’s more to a good match-3 game than a similar core mechanic.
“Having developed casual games for more than 10 years, the misconception that all puzzle games are the same is something we’re used to,” said Sebastian Knutsson, the chief creator officer of King, a company best known for Candy Crush Saga. “Unless you play them regularly, you’ll see that they’re the same, but we know our active players are very perceptive to the differences and nuances. It all comes down to the actual exposure of playing them as opposed to just reading about these games.”
According to Knutsson, it’s easy for people to be myopic and make sweeping generalizations about entire game genres and categories when they’re not familiar with them. But to a player who regularly plays match-3 puzzle games, the differences between them are clear, and the differences matter. He told Polygon the copycat and cloning criticisms the company faces tend to come from “outsiders” — people who either haven’t or aren’t interested in playing King’s games, or any match-3 puzzle games. “You can always say that all card Solitaire games are the same, but there’s tons of people who love them, who appreciate the different variations that are out there,” he said. “So I think you either play them and appreciate the difference or uniqueness, or from the outside you just judge them all as the same type of game.”
A similar analogy can be drawn with first-person shooters, according to author, game designer and associate professor at The Royal Danish Academic of Fine Arts — The School of Design, Jesper Juul. Juul says the similarities between popular match-3 games are over-blown, and that genres tend to be similar because that’s how they form to begin with.
“Shooters are obviously very, very similar, and have been going for almost 30 years now,” he said. “But I think what happens is if you’re really into a particular genre, you see all kinds of interesting, important distinctions. So if somebody is a big shooter fan, the distinctions between the Battlefield series and Call of Duty will be really, really important to them. But if you’re not a shooter fan, those games look incredibly similar, and I think that’s what’s happening with match-3 games.”
To the outsider who doesn’t play shooters, when the stories and themes are stripped from the game, it can be hard to differentiate them. Players are moving a reticule around and using one button to aim and another to shoot. This is fairly consistent among most shooters. And while first-person shooters don’t face copycat accusations any more, there was a time when all first-person shooters were known as Doom clones. It wasn’t until players eventually recognized the first-person shooter as a genre and understood the subtle distinctions that separated the games that people started paying more attention to them as interesting, creative and important.
“First-person shooters are also heavily-framed by narrative, and I think that helped to make the distinctions between different first-person shooters feel more substantial,” said game designer and director of the NYU Game Center, Frank Lantz. “People tend to focus a lot on theme and narrative and, by their nature, match-3 games tend to be kind of abstract games. They’re more about the kind of formal logic of what you’re doing and how you’re re-arranging the elements. It doesn’t matter if those elements are themed as gems or cute little critters or bugs or rocks. Maybe that’s what people mean when they say all match-3 games are the same — that the theme, the sort of representational surface is kind of immaterial, and what they’re really saying is under the hood, all these games are the same.”
Nigel Li is an art director at Storm8, a studio that has worked on titles like Bakery Story, Candy Blast Mania, Jewel Mania and Kingdoms Live. The studio aims to have the best game in each category it enters, one of which is the match-3 category. When stripped of its art, sounds and design, the core mechanic of Candy Blast Mania requires players to match three of the same kinds of candy to achieve certain goals. This description alone makes it sound a lot like PopCap’s Bejeweled and King’s Candy Crush Saga. But as Li says, it’s everything else about the game that makes it a completely different experience.
“I think art plays a huge role in casual games,” he said. “In fact, I think it’s a key ingredient to painting the world and the story, and encourages the player to be invested. How does a player feel when they first enter the game? How well are they doing? How do we guide them through the game? We rely on the art as visual rewards. Art is a language we use to communicate with them, and how good that language is has a direct result on how good the game is going to do.”
It’s not just the art, either. Li says developers at Storm8 iterate on every element of their games to make sure they feel right. “For Jewel Mania and Fruit Mania, just the way that you either pop the jewel or pop the fruit has gone through 10, 20, 30 iterations,” he said. “We try to get the feeling right, to make it feel rewarding and very snappy.”
Heather Hazen is the executive producer of Bejeweled at PopCap. She believes there’s more to the game’s success beyond it being one of the first to market and, like Li, she puts it down to attention to detail. “The game looks and appears simple, but it’s the nuances that make it a great experience,” she said. “Gems shouldn’t just drop onto the board; they should fall with an obvious relationship to gravity and land with a satisfying ‘clink.’
“Gems shouldn’t just disappear when they are matched; they should explode in a visual flourish with an exciting effect on the rest of the board. Every detail needs to be consistent with the overall experience.”
Some of the differences between match-3 games are bigger and more obvious than the sound effects and visual flourishes. When comparing Bejeweled and Candy Crush Saga, the former offers a raw system where players try to score as high as possible, while the latter offers distinct level progression. In Bejeweled, players are given a different, randomized board each time. In Candy Crush Saga, players are given a specific, composed level that is part of a series of hundreds of levels. In Candy Blast Mania, levels are punctuated with boss battles where players have to match certain kinds of candy to inflict damage on the enemy. Games like Puzzle Quest tie in a role-playing element, while Puzzle and Dragons merges a match-3 mechanic with a dungeon crawler. All of these titles use match-3 as their base, but to the seasoned and even not-so-seasoned player, they’re worlds apart.
“If the core mechanic is the main ingredient, then the production values are the way that ingredient is prepared and presented to the player,” Lantz said. “And that’s really important.”
There’s a puzzle game by Russian programmer Eugene Alemzhin called Shariki. Developed for DOS in 1994, it is believed to be the first video game to feature the match-3 mechanic. The simple and abstract mechanic of matching three of the same items to clear them from the board hasn’t changed in more than 20 years, but match-3 games have.
“If you look at something like the original Bejeweled, it’s very flat,” Juul said. “A lot has changed over time. The audience’s expectations have changed, and something that felt very new a few years ago just feels different today.”
Hazen says there’s always room for innovation, even if the core mechanic remains the same. PopCap’s own co-founder John Vechey said in a Reddit thread that many games have been inspired by Bejeweled, but even he acknowledged that PopCap’s competitors like King have innovated.
“King may be a competitor, and clearly both [Candy Crush Saga] and Papa Pear are inspired by Bejeweled and Peggle respectively, but they’re not clones,” Vechey said. “Candy Crush has added a lot of great mechanics to the match-3 genre, not just the saga meta-game, but the power-ups, and how they change the game as it goes. Calling Candy Crush a Bejeweled ‘clone’ would be like calling Half-Life a Quake clone.
“They’re a competitor, and right now doing quite well … I must be candid and honest that they’ve done a lot of innovative things around mechanics we originally created (which were inspired by other games), and that’s not cloning.”(source：polygon