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Weekly Musings #41 Game Solved
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: June 20th 2005

In working on various PSP titles, I've come to a conclusion. The conclusion is as follows: Sony needs to hunt down some better game designers.

Seriously speaking, Lumines has acquired acclaim and praise from the gaming world, and not necessarily without merit. As games go, it's got definite parallels to other games in its genre. There's Tetris, there's Bejeweled, there's any number of color-matching and shape-matching games that come to mind. This is a game that the gaming community would - and by rights, should - want to find, because when we look back on puzzle games in recent memory we're still reaching back into the 8-bit days if not beforehand.

That being said, Lumines has failed to capture my attention in the way some of these other games have. Tetris, I will still sit down and play. I keep an Afterburner-modded GBA around for the very purpose of playing Tetris and a few other old Game Boy cartridges. Tetris clones are still fairly standard on mobile phones and gaming systems, as well as having been ported over to every conceivable computing device known to mankind. Likewise with Snakes, and various rolling-ball puzzles, and even the occasional Sokoban clone. But all of these games have what Lumines lacks: complexity.

I'm going to compare this to Tetris for now, but the same holds for Dr. Mario and most other puzzle games as well. Where Lumines fails is that it does not manage to hit the player with enough potential options. Simply put, there are too few possible pieces, and with the restriction on cubic forms, there are also too few potential locations to deal with.

Take Tetris. There are in Tetris seven possible pieces: the square, two L-shapes, two Z-shapes, the T-shape, and the straight line. Other games get around this by making the colors matter; Doctor Mario had four colors to work with, even if each pill was only two colors.

By contrast, there are only four possible pieces in Lumines. There is the checkerboard (alternating colors), the half-and-half, the 3-and-1, and the solid square. Of these, only three really matter, because the solid square eliminates itself immediately unless badly placed. Furthermore, though the colors in Lumines matter, there are only two colors at a given time.  Due to this construction, very rarely in the game will a block ever be less than 50% immediately removable. Indeed, that is the secret to playing a long-term game of Lumines: the ability to make nearly every block instantly wipe away 4 or more bricks from the map. The only thing a player ever need fear in Lumines is a continuous string of Checkerboard blocks, which are the most difficult to place in such a way as to get a quick block removal.

In Tetris, a continuous string of any one block - ANY one block - can lead to trouble for the player, with the possible exception of straight-line blocks. Eventually, the player needs the "right" piece, or has to give up a line in hopes of coming back and solving it later. In Lumines, only one block can cause this kind of trouble.

The other problem I've found with Lumines is in the speed of the game. Tetris eventually ends in one of two ways, depending on the coding of the port: either the game speeds up to the point where the control speed is insufficient, or it stops speeding up slightly before that point and a quick player will be able to play almost indefinitely. Lumines falls into the same trap with its blocks, but the frustration is increased because of the screen's dimensions. Where Tetris is taller than it is wide, Lumines is wider than it is tall, and the game falls apart around the time that the blocks fall quicker than they can legitimately be moved to the edges.

Nice try, guys. I'll be interested in seeing what you come up with next.

Got Comments? Send 'em to Michael (at)!
Alternatively, post 'em right here for everyone to see!






Musings #41: Game Solved

Added:  Monday, June 20, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


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