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Addictive iOS puzzling comes in 'Threes'


Threes, due out on February 6, is an addictive little iOS puzzler from Ridiculous Fishing artist Greg Wohlwend and former thatgamecompany designer Asher Vollmer, both of whom collaborated on Puzzlejuice back in 2012. It's another tile-based puzzle game, asking players to squish numbers together across a 4-by-4 grid to make larger and larger numbers, each divisible by three. The numbers themselves have personalities and backstories, and even voices, some of which are provided by fellow indie developers.

It's surprisingly adorable, for a game starring numbers.

"Threes is a game anyone can play anywhere," Wohlwend tells Joystiq. "It's the first game I've ever made that didn't rely at least partially on reflexes in some way. It's purely turn-based and rewards a lot of thought between each move. Those aspects will make for a puzzle that'll live in your pocket forever."

Vollmer and Wohlwend have found a sweet spot in mobile gaming, offering customizable challenges for players of all ranges, Vollmer says:

"Just a quick glance at the app store charts will show you how popular puzzle games are .... I kept the idea of how gigantic and diverse the audience is in the forefront of my mind while designing Threes. It can be played for ten seconds or two hours at a time. There's no hidden or memory-based information, which means it can be picked up at any point in the game. The difficulty of the puzzle always keeps up with the skill level of the player. I believe anyone with a critical mind will enjoy the game – it's just a matter of getting it in their pockets."

Wohlwend and Vollmer began working on Threes before the launch of Ridiculous Fishing in March – even a tiny, shuffling-numbers game like this takes a lot of time to design, but eventually Asher cinched it, Wohlwend says. As the art man, Wohlwend shuffled through numerous design styles before finding the final product.

"We had a great deal of trouble finding the right visual style for Threes," he says. "I think I cycled through a dozen completely different ideas. At one point it was going to be about sushi. Other ideas included water, fabric patterns and even atomic models. But in the end, in a way, we ended up where we started, with numbers."

For Vollmer, Threes is an exercise in restraint, something that he learned to embrace at Journey developer thatgamecompany.

"I have so much to thank thatgamecompany for," he says. "It would be hard to sum up all the lessons I learned in my time there, so I'm just going to pick my favorite: Solve problems with elegance. It's really easy and tempting to make a game with a thousand rules that cover a thousand edgecases, but all the most satisfying games are designed with elegance from the bottom up. Threes is my personal attempt at creating a game around that concept."

Vollmer and Wohlwend are mobile gaming pros by now, but that doesn't mean other platforms are out of the question. Wohlwend's goals aren't platform-specific, he says:

"When I dream about making a game I usually curl up into a world that I've imagined with a set of characters or moments. My dream games used to be about a discrete story, but more and more I want to create places where stories happen. The controls are definitely a part of imagining a game in my head, but I'd hope I could figure something out for whatever platform I wanted to take a game like that."

Vollmer is still excited by the mobile frontier, if only to prove that it's a viable platform:

"I'm happy to develop for any platform, but currently I find mobile games the most interesting. They're so fresh and different and unsolved. Also there's a lot of crap out there and my goal right now is to prove that quality and mobile are not mutually exclusive. I don't really have a dream game because I just enjoy solving interesting problems. Currently the next big problem I've been dwelling on is about the question of how to tell a good story on mobile. So there's that."

Wohlwend wants to create places for stories to occur, and Vollmer wants to tell quality tales – we're not the best mathematicians, but that could add up to something beautiful.

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