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January 30, 2012 / Ben Chun

Triple Town in GridWorld

If you haven’t yet been through an addiction to Triple Town, I apologize in advance for introducing you to a game that will almost certainly consume many of your hours. I’ve been playing a lot of it lately, and started thinking that the basic game mechanic — matching three or more adjacent items replaces them with one improved item — would be fun to have my AP students implement on GridWorld.

The first thing I found by searching is that someone else beat me to this idea. But instead of trying to replicate part of the game as an academic exercise, 6Waves Lolapps (yes, that’s the name of a business) ripped off the whole thing while they had pre-release access to the game under NDA and started selling it. Spry Fox, the original developer, is now suing them and rightfully so.

That story, as it unfolds, will bring an interesting dimension to the assignment. But even without the drama this project has a number of aspects that make it compelling. First, the gameplay itself is fun and students should have no problem spending time “doing research” on it. Second, there’s a very simple starting point: Set up GridWorld to construct a new object when the user clicks a grid location. Third, there’s almost no limit to how far a student could go: Building a mechanism to have the game decide intelligently what kind of item to offer the player on the next turn (in order to thwart their matching attempt and leave stranded pieces behind) would earn serious extra credit.

I may actually give them a bit of code as a starting point, with it already set up to handle a click by inserting an item in the grid. They they can focus on detecting matches. They can start out with a simple scan of all rows and columns for contiguous groups of three (a good exercise) but it won’t be sufficient. That’s because a single placement might create a connection between as many as eight other adjacent items:

Fortunately, we should be learning about recursion in the next couple of weeks. If I can stop playing the game long enough to work on a framework, I’ll have them do the Triple Town lab in early March — just after sorting algorithms, but before the (3rd annual) Rock-Paper-Scissors Competition. I briefly considered using this new project instead of RPS, but looking back at my reflection on competition and learning after last year made me remember that it’s a pretty important aspect of the class.

While I don’t think Triple Town quite makes it into the epic category of games that actually teach you problem solving, implementing part of it will be great as a project. Hopefully my students will be building their technical skills, their understanding of the creative process, and their sense of ethics so that none of them ever end up ripping off someone else’s work to try to make a buck.

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