The Numberheads Backstory

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Musings

The idea for Numberheads came from my own frustration with playing match-3 games like the amazing Bejeweled and Chuzzle (both of those names are trademarks of Electronic Arts). It wasn’t the gameplay that frustrated me, but the colors drove me nuts!

I have to admit to being a little colorblind, and that little was enough to make me have to work a little harder to play these games. Some other similar games added more colors as levels increase; sometimes so much so that I couldn’t play them. Or I’d get eyestrain.

So the lightbulb went off “why not use numbers!” . I was only going to create a prototype, for fun, and at first I was thinking of matching numbers that are the same, like 1-1-1 and so on. Then I latched on to what turned out to be the two key features of what eventually became Numberheads:

  • Use number sequences to create a match
  • Pieces can move in all 8 directions and not just up-down-left-right

Both of these things turned a simple software project into something quite a bit more complicated. It’s not that hard to create software to match three things that are the same, as you can tell from the huge number of matching games on the App Store and elsewhere. But number sequences are another matter, and it took a long time to get it right. Allowing moves to be in 8 directions made the development of software to find hints a lot more difficult, especially one to find hints in a reasonable time.

I’m sure programmers reading the last paragraph are pulling out the “BS” card here, but if you actually try to create an engine that can check for the user having created a number sequence match when moving two pieces, and do so quickly enough that there’s no perceptible delay before you begin to remove pieces upon success – and on a relative weak compute platform like a mobile device – well, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s even worse when trying to create an engine that can present a hint to a user within a few seconds – there are a lot of permutations when pieces can move in eight directions.

Disregarding software design issues for a while, games also have to be fun, right? I thoroughly loved the first version of Numberheads, but all my beta testers told me it was confusing. That version was a lot different than the one released on the App Store. Rewriting and tuning the second version created something that I found myself addicted to playing; and, more importantly, others felt the same way.

Now that it’s out in the wild, we’ll see what everyone else thinks…

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