Tumblestone has recently been announced as a free Xbox One Games With Gold title for July 2016. With that in mind, we thought it would be a great time to speak to Ty Taylor, the main man at The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, the developers behind the game. So we did, and we chatted about how Tumblestone came about, why it is being gifted as a Games With Gold title and what the future holds!
Please introduce yourself. What is your role at The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and on the latest game to hit Xbox One, Tumblestone?
I’m Ty Taylor: President, game designer, and engineer at QAG and on Tumblestone. Before Tumblestone, I created The Bridge, which released on Xbox 360 in 2013.
So, sell it to us….Why should Xbox gamers check out Tumblestone?
Tumblestone is a complete re-invention of the match-3 genre. Now’days, people hear “match-3” and think of the shovelware Bejeweled clones that litter the app store. But Tumblestone is to Match-3 what Portal was to First-Person Shooters. It completely blows away your expectations for what the game is going to be based on the genre that it happens to belong to, creating a very deep and cerebral puzzle-solving experience.
How did the decision to drop Tumblestone as an Xbox One Games With Gold title come about? Is it something you are completely at ease with?
Something like the GwG promotion was always a marketing plan. The biggest issue that Tumblestone has is a perception issue. “Match-3” is a bad word with the gaming community (that is, until they play Tumblestone). I see people all over the internet saying “why would Microsoft do this?!” with regard to Tumblestone being in GwG. The answer: because they’ve played it. Until you do, it’s easy to be quick to judgement, but once you actually experience Tumblestone, it clicks. It sinks into you. This is something that we see every time we take it to PAX and watch people play it for the first time. And people who play it become advocates. They love it and want their friends to play with them. Having millions of these people on day-1 with GwG is fundamental for Tumblestone because of this.
The characters in Tumblestone are pretty unique. Where did they all come from and how did you come up with the likes of the Sausage King? Who’s your favourite Tumblestone character…and why?
Mario Castaneda, the game’s artist, originally envisioned the game boards at little castles. Accordingly, all of the characters were kings and queens, 6 of each. The Sausage King of Chicago is a riff on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And the storyline is based on these characters and their interactions and adventures. My favorite is Goblin King. Just wait until you hear the joke about the bubblegum.
How many hours of gameplay can single players expect with Tumblestone?
The story mode is about 40 hours of content. And that’s not including the unlimited amount of time that you can spend on the procedurally-generated arcade modes and practice puzzles.
When it comes to arcade puzzles, there’s is a very fine line between enjoyment and frustration. What have you put in place to ensure that those who get really stuck will want to continue to go back to Tumblestone?
For the story mode, Tumblestone features skip tokens, so if you’re stuck on a level and have earned a skip token, you can use it. If you come back to the level afterwards and beat it, you can get that skip token back. But if you’re out of skip tokens and are truly stuck in the single-player, Tumblestone has unlimited arcade content and online multiplayer to play while your brain subconsciously solves the story-mode puzzle you’re stuck on.
How did you choose the achievements? Are there fun ones for us to go and search out or should cheevo gatherers expect the full amount just by completing the game?
It’s a mix. About half of them come from completing the story mode, but with the arcade modes and online multiplayer, Tumblestone includes some skill-based, challenging achievements to earn. I wanted a pretty even ramp-up of difficulty, so it won’t take much to earn a few, but to earn the full set will take some skill.
How many ‘special blocks‘ are included in the game? Which are your favourite? Did you have to bin any during development?
In terms of modifiers (both special blocks and special rules), there are 12, and these can all be mixed together creating over 400 different combinations. The one that I like the most is called “double-shot”, which simply shoots twice every time you press A. It sounds simple, but for a pattern-matching game where you work in threes, suddenly having to work in both twos and threes simultaneously gets fairly complex. There were plenty of ideas that we’ve thrown away during development, as with any game development cycle. My philosophy is to use quality over quantity, so only the best made the final cut.
We’re guessing Tetris played a huge influence in how Tumblestone has come about. Did any other games help inspire?
Tetris certainly did. It was also a combination of many, many games from the 90s era of console puzzles games, like Dr. Mario, Puyo Puyo, etc.
From what we’ve played, Tumblestone in multiplayer is super fast paced. How important was it to get the pacing spot on?
Very important. We’ve put a lot of energy into getting the wins to be very close, using a system called rubberbanding (as someone is in the lead, they get more blocks added to them). It makes the ending of matches all the more climactic.
…and with that in mind, if you had to choose between going with your gut instinct and slamming a block as fast as you can, or sitting back and slowly working your way through things, which works better in the multiplayer aspect?
It’s a tortoise-and-the-hare problem…an equal split between speed and wits. And I mean, very equal. If you go too fast, you’ll make a mistake, but it’s also a race so you can’t go so slow thinking about the puzzles that you’ll fall behind and lose. This delicate balance is something that makes the Tumblestone multiplayer so compelling.
Tumblestone features an Arcade mode that is initially limited. Was the paid content route always something that was going to happen or did it only come about due to the decision to initially release the game for free?
We made the Arcade modes a DLC because Tumblestone was releasing with Games with Gold. We have to make money somehow in order to continue making games! But I don’t think it takes away from the overall experience or lessens the core game. In the full game that Gold users get for free in the first month, there is still an enormous amount of single-player content and unlimited online and local multiplayer.
Tumblestone is most definitely a shift in direction from the excellent The Bridge. Was it always the plan to release something so different as your next Xbox title?
Absolutely. After working on something for so long and being so close to it…it’s time to work on something different. It’s therapeutic as a creator. My next game will probably be nothing like Tumblestone. But by nature I am a puzzle designer, so I’ll likely be making puzzle games forever!
And finally, do you have any other games in the pipeline…are we likely to see something completely different again?
I have hundreds of ideas. I have a Google Doc that I’ve had for years that I write every game idea that has ever popped into my head. I’ll find something in there, but first I have to get Tumblestone out the door (and rest up) before I can even think about what’s next.
As always, huge thanks go out to Ty for giving us a bit of his time in what is quite obviously going to be a massively busy period. Tumblestone releases as a free Xbox Games With Gold title on 16th July 2016…as long as you’ve got that all-important Xbox Live Gold membership in place. Our full review will be with you very soon too. Keep an eye out for it!