The Memory Game Challenge
Published 4 years ago
Taking a Tired Game Type and Firing It Up
Three Ring Ranch (TRR) is a small game studio in south-central Alaska, about an hour outside Anchorage. Most of our products are game development tutorials and courses, but each of those courses needs a sample project. In some cases we get enthused with one of the sample projects and turn it into a standalone game. Our new Deep Sea Quest: Rescue the Lost Mermaid was just such a case.
Deep Sea Quest (DSQ) is a memory game that was created with the challenge — can we make a memory game that’s fun to play for more than just a minute? Most memory games look and play exactly the same — a grid of objects you click or tap to uncover what’s beneath and if you match two items, they go away. You continue until all the objects are gone. Yeah.
With DSQ the goal was to build on the foundation that everybody recognizes, but then add features to the game that would take it from “ah, that’s a kid’s game” to something fun and challenging. (To be honest, the mermaid theme makes it look like a kid’s game, but it doesn’t play like one.)

Features of Deep Sea Quest

So how is ours different (better, we think) than the typical memory game? Here are the main features we added to make DSQ stand out:
  1. Every game in a level isn’t the same square grid of objects.
  2. There are four levels with nine games in each. We created games with different shapes to add variety for the player. 
  1. You’re not just matching colored gems, but sea creatures that then animate. If you match two halves of a puffer fish, or a deep sea diver, or an urchin, the two halves magically come together and then the whole creature swims off the screen. The player gets more points for those matches and the extra animation adds excitement to the game.
  2. We juiced it up. While special visual and audio effects don’t technically have anything to do with gameplay, those extras add a layer to the game that just makes it more fun to play. From the bubbles floating up from the bottom, to the flash of light when a sea creature is put back together, to the whole screen shaking when the dynamite blows up, juice is a good thing.
  3. Hidden bundles of dynamite wreak havoc. If you match dynamite with a colored gem, all hidden gems of that same color will explode, keeping you from making the highest score.
  4. Pirate skulls swap things around. Match a skull hidden among the gems with anything else, and the rows or columns those items are in change places. Which means if you knew where some gems were hiding, there’s a good chance you’re now all mixed up.
The idea of “bad things” that could happen with the dynamite and skulls turned the game into something that was not only fun to play, but more challenging than the typical memory game. While the juice in the game is fun, the things that can negatively affect your high score add just  the right amount of tension into the game.

The Story of Jocelyn

While a memory game doesn’t usually have any kind of story — after all, you’re just matching pairs of objects — we discovered that with a little extra work we could enhance DSQ even more.
Toward the end of the development cycle (only about a week before the deadline) we added the story of Jocelyn, the mermaid. Until then the mermaid was just another sea creature you could match, but we decided at least some kind of storyline would help the game. We took her out of the list of sea creatures and created some “cut scenes” that moved the story along. Just that little bit of work makes the game feel like it has more depth and is one more little thing that helps differentiate our memory game from the pack.

And We’re Not Done Yet

While Deep Sea Quest: Rescue the Lost Mermaid has now shipped and is available on iOS, Windows, and Mac, we have plans for a 2.0 version of the game. We added the dynamite and skulls to make it harder, but there were ideas for features that would help you gain a higher score that had to be dropped due to time constraints. For example, what if you match a treasure chest that opens and gives you a wand that allows you to peek under a shell? Or you get a spell that collects all the gems of a certain color?
Our goal was to make a memory game that was fun to play and we hit that goal. But in the future we’re going to take this genre even further and prove there’s a lot of life left in the old memory game.
Jay Jennings
Game Dev Tutorials - Programmer