Among the new releases in Apple Arcade this month he is Garden Tails: Match and GrowQuiet match-3 puzzle game where the main objective is to build a garden and fill it with cute little animals. In the midst of adrenaline-focused video games, this new Apple Arcade experience stands out as a quieter and more relaxing alternative.
To learn more about the game and its relaxed roots, we spoke to Sandra Honigmann of Dots, game designer and leader at Garden Tails, to get more information on where the idea came from and how she tries to keep things light for the player.
We talked about the game’s attempts to overcome some of the negative stereotypes of the Match-3 genre, including a lack of monetization and some mechanisms that help the player solve their puzzles. We also touch on how living in a major American city gave birth to the idea of a serene experience.
This interview was conducted remotely via Zoom and has been edited for clarity.
GameSpot: Match-3 games like Garden Tails can be stressful, especially when the number of moves remaining is reduced to zero. Was the idea of designing the game around a quiet garden in an effort to put that tension along? Do you still want the player to feel some of that tension?
Sandra Honigmann: We don’t need to get nervous there, no. The guiding idea of Garden Tails has always been relaxation and peace, that’s why we have Zen gardens, music, sounds, animals, etc. in the levels. We also don’t monetize the level loss either, so we’re able to enhance that peaceful experience since there’s no monetization to pressure it, which is one of the biggest things that other games in this genre do.
So the lack of monetization enhances your overall vision to make this a comfortable experience. Is it simply because people do not need a financial stake in the game?
Yes, exactly. We are not worried about monetization at all. Thanks to the partnership with Apple, we were able to launch it on Apple Arcade and make it a completely one hundred percent free game.
In a medium like video games where explosions and bombs tend to be the focal point, developing a game centered around relaxation is a great idea. Was this always the goal?
Yes, one hundred percent, that has always been our goal. Even before we even had the idea of our story and the animals becoming characters, this game has been about sitting with your phone and playing a very Zen game for a while. This was always the plan
So when did the idea of a zen garden come into play? Is this focus designed in tandem with the idea of relaxation, or does the overall focus on being zen lead you to the idea of the garden?
Our first idea was gardening, but the animals came into play a little later in the development process. Once we got them, they made up the whole game character. Like other Match-3 games, making certain matches creates special tiles, which in our case are animals, each with its own unique property.
When you were deciding which animals to include, such as rabbit, bee and others, were there any animals that you couldn’t include?
We had an idea for these little rats to appear instead of rabbits, but we couldn’t figure out how to make a groundhog look good in the puzzle.
The groundhog worked the same way as the hare, rushing away and taking the flower tiles with them, but the pile of dirt the groundhog had left could feel it. I felt that the little dirt pile the groundhog crawled out of should be permanent, but they couldn’t is being Durable, and that made him feel a little busy for a moment that’s supposed to be pretty fast.
There is a negative connotation about the term “Match-3” which I’m sure you were aware of during development. We’ve already talked about monetization, but what are some of the other major hurdles you were looking to avoid in your Match-3 game?
We strongly believe within Playdots in making sure that the experience of each level is as friendly as possible. With Garden Tails, this means that there are things that are useful to the player right inside the board, versus things that are purely obstacles. There is a balance. It’s a Zen game, but the player also wants to take on a challenge, something our previous game Two Dots does well. There are a lot of people who like this game for the challenge, unlike this game which is a more relaxing experience.
We wanted to avoid making players think about every move in Garden Tails. Instead, we want them to go with the flow. For example, the bumblebee power you can create by matching five or more flowers is the metaphor for the “exploding” tiles you’ve seen in other match 3. In our game, the bee explodes twice, which makes the game more friendly and useful for you player.
We also wanted to make sure that the park experience is just as important as the levels themselves, so we make them mesh with each other in a similar way to other games, where you pay a certain amount of a certain currency in order to progress. Instead of having something really big and wild, we focused everything just on gardening, and I think that’s one of our strengths.
I noticed that the rewards you got are very specific numbers. 230 coins and then another 40 coins. Where did these numbers come from? Were they random choices or did they come from a play test?
These numbers are actually very important to the speed at which the player opens the park. During the planning phase, we sat with these big spreadsheets that served as a baseline for how long we want the player to finish in the park, and that baseline correlates with the number of levels in each park.
Our first level, for example, is the fastest park to complete in the game. After one or two levels, you will get enough coin to buy a plant for your garden, but for the next level you will need to play a couple more.
Think browsing that Excel sheet is the exact opposite of the relaxation you’re trying to achieve?
yes! We will gladly handle the stress.
Speaking of the relaxation part, I said earlier that every element of the game, from the animals to the garden to the music, all plays into that theme. What kind of research have you done to harness this sense of relaxation or serenity? Did the team listen to relaxation apps, music, ASMR videos, or something else while creating this?
There is so much to do where we are: we are already in NYC and we are so many surrounded in the city. When you are in a big city like this, where do you go to relax? Parks and gardens. Being New Yorkers looking for that peaceful experience, we took what we knew were spaces where we could relax in the outdoors and tried to bring that into the game. For example, we’d go to the Botanic Gardens, Central Park, and various other parks in New York City as inspiration. Basically, we would take a day off and go there with the team. We understand what causes people to get distracted, but we also know what can be peaceful within that distraction.
What are some future plans for the game in the future? Will the updates make more parks and animals available, or might there be a transition to a different style of “relaxation”, like beach tails or something?
We launched last week, so now we’re very focused on the first few days after launch, but we have a lot of big plans. We have multiple content updates coming, including new parks, new animals, new music, and new stories. We’re also working on new features that expand the gardening experience, but they’re still in development. As for when they will land, we don’t have an exact timing yet, but our social media will have the information available.
Garden Tails: Match and Grow Available now on Apple Arcade.
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