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Two Dots, Too Charming

My goal for this post is to break Two Dots down. What are the core mechanics? How do they use the free to play model? What makes it so charming? What can we learn from this game?
Two Dots is an excellent mobile game, from the easily understood gameplay, to the sights and sounds within the game. My goal for this post is to break the game down. What are the core mechanics? How do they use the free to play model? What makes it so charming? What can we learn from this game?

How it works:

·      Basics: Players connect two or more dots of the same color to remove them from the board (Vertical/horizontal only)

o   Typically 4 colors

·      Squares: If players create a box (Connect 4 squares and close the connection) it removes all of the same colored dots from the board

·      Bombs: If players create a larger box, with other color dots inside the box, all of the dots which share the same colors as the connected dots are removed from the board. Any dots inside the box will destroy other dots around them after the connected colored dots are removed.

Every level is based on these mechanics. The beauty of this is they found additional ways to play with these. In each world a new challenge is introduced. In world 1 the players simply need to connect a certain amount of each colored dot. In world 2 we are introduced to anchors, something I’ve seen in match 3s like Frozen Freefall, in which players must get specific “Anchor” dots to the bottom of the board to eliminate them. This keeps the gameplay feeling fresh and interesting. Then, right before the player is bored of the anchor feature, they change it up. In world 3 they introduce the “Ice”. Here, players will have to connect dots behind the ice plates to do damage to them. Three connections behind each ice pane will cause them to shatter. The player will have to clear the board of ice panes to beat these levels. Like I mentioned, every world introduces something new to challenge the player.

The free to play:

We see the common five lives restriction in Two Dots. (A life recharges every 20 minutes or, for 99 cents, the player can recharge them immediately.) There is the Facebook connection, which shows the player where their friends are and what they scored before and after they finish a level. But the two fresh ideas I want to focus on are their take on daily rewards and giving the player an upsell for a power up before the level starts.

Daily rewards:

From my experience, I’ve seen two types of daily rewards fairly commonly. First there is the gem rewards, like in Angry Birds 2, where everyday the player plays they are given a miniscule amount of gems. These add up over time, but players can’t do anything with them for a long time because everything is so expensive. (In Angry Birds 2 this was two or three gems. This didn’t help much when a continue or a power up would cost 60 gems or so.) So I never ended up getting any enjoyment from the gems they gave me. I stopped playing long before I saved up enough.

The other style of daily rewards are the building rewards. (We used this frequently at JumpStart.) A player would gain a reward when they entered the game for the first time that day, and if they entered the game on the following day they would get an even better reward. (This stacked for a week and then would reset.) The idea here is to get the player to return day after day to get better and better rewards. Typically, these were rewards like “20 Gold” or some minor item, which wouldn’t be immediately useful to the player. They would still have to save up the gold or spend real money to get enough to buy something useful. Some of the later rewards were more useful but only in specific situations.

Side note: School of Dragons has always grown at an alarming rate. As such, the talented developers have caught this issue and seem to have adjusted it since. The items now are much more useful to most players, but they still have the issue of not always being useful to all players. This is because the game is so large. It is impossible to predict what everyone would want. The only things useful across the board are gems and gold. But they cannot give out too many of those or they risk breaking the economy. I use School of Dragons only as an example of a different style of daily rewards, the building style. In a smaller game, like Two Dots, this style would be easier to balance and give out rewards everyone would use.

Two Dots gives the player a random power up. Whether that’s extra lives or a boost, the daily reward is always immediately useful. This almost always pushes me to use it. Also I’m more liberal in my use of boosts because I know there is a good chance I will be getting more. So what’s hurting Angry Birds and School of Dragons? The saving up. While logically this seems like it would continue to engage players over a longer period of time because they are saving for something, we live in a world where no one (aside from the wise or elderly) saves. Especially in mobile games. Everything is about instant gratification. (And less than 10-minute play sessions) So while players need to learn to save, they will enjoy the game more if they get that instant usable reward.

Power Up Upsell:

Last week we talked about Angry Birds 2 and the issue players are having with upsells, the primary issue being with the gameplay itself. Two Dots does an excellent job of upselling power ups to players but doesn’t change a whole lot from Angry Bird’s upsell system. The one big difference is where the upsell with a video ad appears. In Angry Birds 2, these video upsells appeared only after the player lost or in the daily reward for a double reward. In Two Dots, it still has the daily reward video ad upsell, but they moved the location of the second video ad upsell. They have it attached to the pre-game screen. When a player watches it, they get a free boost power up. And you know what? I watch it every chance I get. I actually look forward to them. I think why I look forward to it so much (where as I just skip the Angry Birds post failure upsell ad videos) is because I know it will help. I know I will start off stronger and have a better chance to win because of it. Where as in Angry Birds 2, (Since it only pays out one random bird, unfortunately, after I’ve lost) it only feels helpful in very specific situations. And even then it has to give the the bird I need. (Due to the randomness, it doesn’t usually happen)

Side note: So how can Angry Birds 2 learn from this? Add a video upsell for the power ups in the beginning, then they can pay out the player a random power up to use in the level they are about to play. I guarantee this will have almost everyone watching their upsell video ads every chance they get.

The Challenge & Charm:

Two Dots holds the challenge of a basic match 3 game, where players will have to see how removing specific dots will effect the rest of the board. Due to removing the timer, the player has a much more zen experience. This allows players to have the time to really look around and try to figure out the best move.

Let’s take a look at how these puzzles work:

Here we have two anchors which we need to drop out of the bottom of the level. So I ask you, “What is your gut reaction?”

By just glancing at this you might think eliminating the most dots below the anchors as quickly as you can might be the best option, but it’s not. If we do this, it will increase the level’s difficulty, and ruin our chances of beating it. Instead let’s change our thinking.

If we examine our situation, we can see that ideally we need to get these two greens next to each other. This way we can eliminate them both and clear the anchor on the left while lowering the right anchor as well. We need to lower the right green dot by two.

Luckily, if we remove these two purple dots, we can get our greens lined up and win the level. This works out perfectly because if we are thinking a couple moves ahead, we can see the purple above the right green and the purple below the two we will be removing, will line up.

Now our greens are lined up.

While tempting, the player must remember that they are playing the long game. And as such, they should avoid removing these two purples at this moment because it will ruin our chances at beating the level. Remember, it isn’t about moving your anchor to the bottom as quickly as possible, because there is no timer. It is about doing it in the least amount of moves possible.

Our true goal, to ensure our victory, is getting these purples and blues together.

Due to our previous moves, the left green is surrounded by blues, which we can connect upon removing the greens to drop that anchor. The right green is surrounded by purples which we can do the same with to drop the right anchor. Upon doing so, we have ensured our victory of this level.

All we need to do at this point is connect the blues and the purples to drop our last two anchors.

Sweet victory is ours!

I really enjoy this style of thinking ahead. This creates layers of gameplay which makes each level fun and challenging. And with each world’s mechanical twist, strategizing and thinking ahead becomes a necessity. Also, while in Angry Birds 2 it was nearly impossible to think ahead and strategize, here we can see it is very possible. You might ask, “Don’t they both have random levels?” Ah! Not quite! Here are two screen shots from the exact same level played one right after the other. (I started one up, lost, then restarted the level)

We can see some dots are changed. But some stay consistent! The player is able to have a similar opening move every time. And because they will never run out of moves with a certain color, they aren’t forced to hold back, thus the randomness is not as frustrating. Additionally, this style of gameplay gives the player enough variety to make them believe that if they lost they might have been able to do something different. Perhaps they missed something. That thought is incredibly important because it helps players to not feel shoehorned into purchasing what they are upsold if they want to win.

The charm comes from everything else in the game. The world theming matching the mechanics for one:

Anchor mechanic in level? Boom! Ocean World.

Ice mechanic in level? Boom! Mountain peak world.

This extends across the music and the menu animations as well. I think the best way to get the feeling across is this image:

When a player reaches a new world, they are prompted to share their status on social media. This is the image it posts. “Join me in the ocean depths! #TwoDots” is the text that posts with it. It doesn’t feel overbearing or “HEY! WATER MY CROPS!!” “Join me in the ocean depths!” It’s different. It’s not in your face demanding your attention. In fact, It’s subtle, with a beautiful piece of art. Something I might actually want to share. This actually draws my attention on it’s own. It makes it sound like a friend is merely suggesting that we should go on an adventure together.

In order to have an enjoyable puzzle game, players need to have all the pieces available to them. Without all the pieces, they just get frustrated and rightfully so. Last week, we looked into Angry Birds 2, and comparing it to this week’s look at Two Dots, we can see how one arguably is a better puzzle game than the other. This is simply achieved by withholding minimal amounts of data (what dots will fall down next) from the player, thus they get less frustrated.

I have learned a lot via comparing these two games, and I hope you have as well. Thank you for sticking around through the entire post.

I’ll see you guys next week


More posts like this one can be found on Scott's Blog/Portfolio

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