Writing this in response to the recent Waypoint Radio episode.
I think this may be a potentially contentious viewpoint, so I want to lead off by saying that I am not simply saying this to be a devil’s advocate, and that I’m here to discuss in good faith. I’ve mulled this over for a long time, and pretty strongly believe what I’m saying here, but I’m not immune to changing my mind. I’m also not experienced at trying to formally present arguments, so hopefully I’ve done a good job here, to the standards of this community.
I’m writing this on the topic of 2048 and Threes. I’ve been a longtime Giant Bomb follower (as well as Waypoint), and I’m well versed in the PR blitz that Threes put out re: 2048, as well as Patrick’s write-up and take on it. I am not familiar with 1024 outside of what Patrick wrote about it.
I’ve spent a large chunk of time playing both games, and I’m a bit uncomfortable with how eagerly the “clone” label was applied to 2048, and how demonized it became (I recognize that some of this demonization stemmed from the shitty attitude of the developer). The Threes PR blitz was seemingly taken as gospel, with little critical examination. This may slip uncomfortably close to “devil’s advocate” territory, but I feel there are legitimate flaws in the outcry that the Threes developer made.
This seems largely due in part to the nature of these games - they are conceptually/mechanically very simple, which means that there isn’t as much design space for clearly transformative changes that read at a quick glance or examination.
My opinion on Threes vs. 2048 is similar to examining PUBG vs. Blackout - it largely feels like an adaptation/response to the source game, taking what was fun and streamlining it while removing sources of frustration. Similar? Absolutely. Iterative? Fundamentally. But this alone does not seem worth demonizing it, especially if you believe in the concept that everything is iterative on something else.
As a player of both games, here are the core, fundamental differences that I have observed:
- In Threes, you work with two co-dependent foundational blocks that are mutually exclusive of their type. 2’s cannot join with 2’s, and 1’s with 1’s. There is (seemingly) no system in place to guarantee that you will receive 1’s or 2’s in an order that facilitates this mechanic in a reasoned way. I recall strings of 4 or 5+ 1’s or 2’s in a row that would ultimately end up landlocking a portion of the board.
In 2048, you simply receive 2’s as the foundational block. You can receive multiples of 2, just like you receive multiples of 3 in Threes, but these expanded numbers do not house any sort of exclusivity with their duplicates and simply blend into the rest of the game.
In 2048, a single action slams all tiles to their last physically possible endpoint. This is a profound difference from Threes, where a single action only shifts all tiles by one square in the selected direction. You cannot combine two blocks in Threes without some sort of physical resistance (a wall or landlocked tile). While this is technically true in 2048, the difference in how movement works makes this similarity a moot point. Maneuvers and strategies in 2048 are fundamentally impossible in Threes, and vice versa. The action economy in 2048 is much faster paced, while Threes is more measured.
In 2048, the “Next Tile” preview window is removed. This largely seems like it was done because it’s unnecessary, since the main source of RNG difficulty was removed.
So when is a clone no longer a clone?
Lots of my runs in Threes ended in frustration - the RNG nature of the tiles you were given often led to the sensation of being screwed over with no way to respond or adapt. Difficulty manufactured through bad dice rolls often feels cheap and unearned, leaving me potentially sour on what could feel like a waste of time, and Threes was no exception. That’s not to say that I was a perfect player or anything, but I’m reasonably confident in my capabilities in puzzle games, and it’s pretty difficult to rationally argue your way through a board being clogged up with blocks that simply can’t combine or interact with each other.
2048 largely removed this RNG difficulty element, solely maintaining the randomness of where the block was placed. The end result was an easier game, certainly, but also a more pleasant experience. 2048 at times almost felt more akin to a toy of sorts or an incremental clicker, rather than a puzzle game. It was a low stress way to kill some time, offering an almost ensured opportunity to watch numbers continue to get higher..
So yeah. I haven’t played Donut County vs. the supposed clone in question so I can’t comment on that, but just wanted to explore discussion on this touchstone moment since it was brought back up recently.