The Free App of the Week this week is Monsters Ate My Condo! - I picked it up, and was immediately impressed with the clever use of design in the game. I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about tension maps again (from my article of last year) because they so clearly explain what makes this game so excellent.
Systems in Monsters Ate My Condo
- Remove colored floors to get matches of like-colored floors.
- Removed floors go either right or left, and are eaten by the giant monster on that side.
- If the removed floor matches the color of the monster, the monster is happy. If it differs, the monster becomes upset.
- Monsters which become too upset get angry and begin destroying random floors.
- If you match a series of floors of the same color as a monster, the monster is replaced with a new monster.
- Matched floors turn into bronze floors. Bronze floors turn silver, then gold, then diamond.
- Discarding a metallic floor does not anger a monster - instead it activates their super power!
- Discarding any floor shifts the tower slightly in that direction - if the tower shifts too far in one direction it topples - ending the game!
- As you earn points, you increase your character level - which increases the maximum number of floors which can exist at any time.
That's a pretty good set of systems. Let's try to group them a bit.
Grouping the Systems
#3,4,5,7 deal with the monsters and how they interact with the player. This is group A.
#1,2,6,9 deal with floor-matching. We'll call that group B.
#8 is about toppling the tower. This is "group" C.
Imagine a game with just B and C - you match floors, discarding whatever you don't want. Your only limit is that you need to keep the tower relatively stable. That would probably be fun by itself - though there isn't much room for variety. There also wouldn't really be any reason to favor one color over another.
Imagine a game with just A and C - you appease the monsters, and try to not topple the tower. That works well on its own, though there isn't much point-scoring opportunity. If you don't have floor colors which match either of your monsters, you don't have any choice other than angering them. It also seems to lack a really strong end-game condition, but that could be addressed.
How about A and B together? This is pretty much identical to the existing game, though it lacks an end condition. There are other ways to lose the game however - they just aren't as visceral. But the first few minutes you play, you don't even know about group C, so there is certainly potential there.
This shows a really strong interplay between systems - none of them completely depend on any other system, though they connect to every other system at least peripherally. This gives a good "spiderweb" - style tension map, as opposed to a "mobile" map where some sub-systems completely hang off of others.
Topple, Match, Feed
Not only are the system groups nicely separated - they compliment one another mechanically as well. "Don't topple the tower" is a long-term limit to play, not something that comes up in moment-to-moment decision making. "Match 3" is an immediate call to action, but doesn't really provide much strategic depth. "Feed the monsters appropriately" is a lovely mid-level strategic consideration. So the system groups are delineated by time and brain-space as well as orthogonal interaction.
This means that learning the game is a fun process - you give players an immediate goal (match 3), then tell them about the strategic color considerations (feeding the monsters), and let them play. Eventually the tower will topple, and the player will realize that they could have been optimizing for that as they handled the other two objectives. That provides an "oh, I get it - now I could do better!" realization, which probably gets them to play the game again immediately. That's pretty much the gold standard in a mobile game.
Design isn't everything, and the game has some very cohesive visuals which helps to sell its identity. The aesthetic isn't much to my liking, actually - but it's so flavorful that I have a hard time faulting the developers.