Drei: Puzzling fun with strangers in TabTimes’ Game of the Week

by George Jones

December 7 2013

George is a founding editor of Tabtimes, and now works as Chief Consultant at Hit Detection


Etter Studio’s elegant iPad puzzle game forces you to collaborate with other players to succeed—with surprisingly meaningful results

Last week, I promised a shift in my column format. Here it is—the first of hopefully many Game of the Week columns to come. Each week I’ll focus on a specific game, with an effort to tie that game’s themes, play mechanics, or subject matter to a greater trend in the tablet games space. Have a suggestion for a game to cover? Please leave a note in the comments section below.

It’s hard to believe we’ve already reached the 20-year mark for multiplayer gaming.

The first online multiplayer experience I had occurred in 1993 with a small vector-based action game named NetWars, which Novell bundled into version DR-DOS 7.0. The game was a simple yet fun technology demo for NetWare. (If you remember this game, then, like me, #old #pcnerd.)

The first wave of online multiplayer games followed shortly afterwards. Doom was a big deal in this regard. The real turning point was the wave of Internet-based multiplayer games—of which Quake was the major breakthrough—which allowed us to test our mettle against random strangers.

Most multiplayer console games force you to join a multiplayer lobby of some sort and then launch the game. Arranging a game in this fashion can sometimes take a few minutes or more. However, the notion of waiting two to three minutes to play a game on an iPad or Android device just isn’t practical. This is why I’m happy to see a new wave of games that handles the match-making and multiplayer components in completely invisible fashion.

(To see how the gaming industry adapts to the growth of the tablet market, sign up for the free Tablet Game Business monthly newsletter)

I’m also happy to see more and more games that focus on collaborating with instead of conquering your play partners.

Drei by Etter

Drei is an iPad game developed by Etter Studio in Zurich, Switzerland. It has been available for a little over a month now, and in that time has garnered high praise from a number of media outlets. The game is available for iPad on iTunes, but you can play a PC demo using the Unity engine.

The game, which has a unique minimalist design aesthetic, challenges you with solving a number of object-based puzzles. The goal of each is to use the objects on the screen to reach the pulsating white pinhole in a hard-to-reach location. Do that, and you pass the level.

At various moments, other players—you have no idea who they are, or even where they live—are placed directly into your game. From here, you and your collaborator(s) begin to work together to achieve the common goal of moving and placing objects in the right sequence in order to pass the level.

In some situations, collaboration is required to move on. In other circumstances, you’ll find yourself learning or teaching each other how to win.

Interacting with the other players in your game can be accomplished in two ways. You can move your character around in an attempt to convey emotion, or you can use some of the words that become available as you play—Hello, Drop, Bye, Yay, Slowly, and more—to cheer each other on or attempt to provide instruction.

Every now and then, you’ll find yourself frustrated by another person’s actions when they run counter to your own. Overcoming these situations is actually one of the most powerful play mechanics in the game. The sense of satisfaction you’ll feel when you and a complete stranger figure out some of the tougher puzzles is a rare experience in today’s gaming scene.

Cooperative elements in gaming range from overt—KILL THE ENEMY!!—to more subtle designs and aspirations. Not surprisingly, subtle is difficult enough to pull off that very few game designers attempt to do so.

This is changing. Last year, Thatgamecompany released Journey, a moving independent game for the PlayStation 3 that used similar gameplay themes of cooperating with anonymous strangers to create a powerful sense of wonder and emotion.

This summer, developer On5 released Indie Pixel for iOS, which gives you control of a single pixel on a screen, and forces you to collaborate with other players to recreate a variety of shapes. Just like the other games, interactions between players are limited.

Because of its cooperative elements—which reflect the developer’s attempt to demonstrate how interconnected the world is—Drei is a surprisingly powerful, if subtle testament to how working toward a common goal can be a bonding experience, even without words or facial expressions.

Every time I play, a surprisingly memorable exchange occurs. That’s more than you can say about most multiplayer games.

Other tablet games I’m playing

1. QuizUp: Okay, yes, this is an iPhone game and not an iPad game. But holy cow is it addicting.

2. Noi Story: Cute, fun object puzzle game, with a feel-good story.

3. Clumsy Ninja: One of the most popular games on the planet right now. Challenges you with transforming your very own ninja via rag-doll controls and a series of environmental challenges.

4. Assassin’s Creed: Pirates: An interesting distillation of one of the core components of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed IV—naval battles. Remarkably fun.

5. Double Dragon: I kid you not—the classic coin-op game is now playable on your iPad, and for only $0.99!

(For tablet gaming news and reviews, sign up for the free Tablet Games weekly newsletter and follow @TabTimesGames)

George is a founding editor of Tabtimes, and now works as Chief Consultant at Hit Detection
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