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Bears are Jerks: The Evolution of Triple Town

Adam Gauntlett | 22 Jun 2012 13:00
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But the game caught on. When it was just a gleam in the designer's eye nobody really knew who the target audience was, so the narrative hadn't been planned with any real coherency. Now it needed polish, particularly since all the data indicated it was perfect for the casual market. That required a different art set and a better story, and when they looked at it they discovered that the game was starting to resemble a colonization tale. The player starts in an untamed wilderness, and transforms it into a bustling community, complete with churches, houses and eventually castles and cathedrals; turn that into the New World, with the player as Pilgrim Father sponsored by the Empire, and the narrative writes itself. In that backstory the randomizers had to be native to the environment, so they became bears, the local fauna that had to be tamed (read: trapped and killed) in order that the settlement could grow.

Edery would like to make games that help people express themselves "in a way that's really powerful."

The best thing about that narrative, as Edery sees it, is that there's room for more change. Right now it's a straight-up colonization story, but what about the future? One of the potential narrative twists could have the colonists revolting against the Empire, perhaps even joining forces with the bears. "Maybe," he said, "the art would change but it would still be a match-3 game on a grid, with a levelling-up mechanic." Everything follows from that one mechanical decision, and the exact nature of the narrative can be twisted however they like.

The other thing Edery's proud of is that Triple Town is a game that's impossible to lose. It does end, but even then the player has a settlement to show for all their hard work, and coin, which can be saved for the next game. This goes to the heart of a concept Edery explores in his book. "Two people, one with fifty badges and one with one hundred badges, are 'a winner and a bigger winner' not 'a loser and a winner.'" (Changing the Game, Chapter 8, "Games for Work, Games at Work"). Edery doesn't see Triple Town as a game that people lose, and in fact he dislikes the whole "you lose!" concept. "I don't know what I gain from that. I don't know what the player gains from that. I don't know what anybody gains from that!" Of course all games have to end eventually, "so Ninjas help make that happen" but just because the story has a conclusion doesn't mean the player has to feel like a loser when Ninjas finally prevail. There will be other New Worlds to conquer, and in the meantime there's coin, awards and the gratitude of Her Majesty.

Edery would like to make games that help people express themselves "in a way that's really powerful," and admires Jane McGonigal, who he feels is on the right path. That's one of the reasons why Spry Fox is experimenting with social games. Triple Town is just the start; Edry wants to "help people build beautiful things, teach them interesting lessons." Focusing on the jerkiness of bears is one way of looking at Triple Town, but as he points out there's more depth in the colonization narrative that meets the eye.

Bears aren't jerks. Looked at mechanically, they're a necessary randomizing element that has the added bonus of being easily converted into points and coin, rewarding the player for clever play; a resource with legs. Looked at from a narrative perspective, they're as much victims as villains. Colonization has always meant bending the local environment to the colonizer's will, but the bears refuse to go quietly. After all they didn't know the Empire was going to turn their meadows into housing developments, in the process making churches out of their bones.
No wonder they're grumpy.

Adam loves Triple Town Bears so much, he's thinking of founding a new religion: The Church of St. Fuzzybutt.

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