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The Top 5 Games on Our Roster - and the Stories They Tell

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By Lisa Brunette

In our work with casual mobile game developers, we like to talk about three main aspects of storytelling: conflict, mystery, and connection. Through these three narrative elements, we've worked to push the genre forward, and that's evident in the top five games on our roster. I'll break each one down for you.

1. Matchington Mansion, Firecraft

When a developer in stealth mode reached out to me in early 2017 to help design a match-3 game, I had no idea what an impact it would have on my career. But today Matchington Mansion is still the top-performing game we've had the privilege to work on.

We pushed innovation on this title in several ways. First, we introduced conflict - something many casual mobile games at that point tended to avoid - by adding to the cast list a conniving casino developer named Rex Houston. Upping the ante is the fact that as a blood relative of the mansion's deceased owner, he arguably has more claim to its inheritance than you do.

There's also a mystery. You're given the mansion by a bestselling author whose books you helped popularize (you're a New York editor). You uncover the author's long-ago forbidden romance as you set to the task of renovating the old, crumbling mansion.

The connection comes in with the character relationships - you meet neighbors, a contractor, a gardener, the delivery boy - and rather than merely introducing new features, these characters engage you with their foibles. They're part of the story. Connection's also there as a visual tie between the match-3 gameplay and the story. The tile icons in the match-3 thematically link to the story, such as pillow tiles while Tiffany is fluffing pillows in the living room. This sounds obvious now, as so many games link them, but it was an innovation at the time.

Fun Fact: 'Matchington Mansion' was originally just a placeholder, internal name for the game, but I argued it would make the perfect game name. Don't you agree?

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2. Lily's Garden, Tactile Entertainment

In early 2018, I flew to Copenhagen to work onsite with the Tactile Entertainment team. I was a huge fan of their Bee Brilliant collapse mechanic games, so the opportunity to work on a narrative sequel was exciting.

With Lily's Garden, the important innovation was to step a bit beyond the "bad guy" antagonist trope and instead focus on a love triangle, with a romantic sit-com storyline. As far as conflict goes, we still offer many:

  • The antagonizing force of the time-limited contract Lily must fulfill in order to inherit her great aunt's home and garden
  • Lily's cousin Larry, who has his grimy mitts all over the place her great aunt wanted her to have
  • The setup of Lily's bad luck streak, which instantly makes her a relatable character

The mysteries aren't trapped in the past, but rather set in the present. Will Lily fall for scrappy neighbor Luke, or come under the sway of her ex? Will she keep Larry out of her inheritance? Will she be able to fix up the garden in time to fulfill her great-aunt's dying wish? Who was this Great-Aunt Mary, anyway?

The connection is first and foremost to the woman whose gift sets the stage for everything else, Lily's great-aunt. Her quirky, warm spirit comes through as Lily restores the home and garden to its former glory. After that, it's friends and love interests... when family doesn't get in the way. Another innovation? The diverse cast, which includes characters of color and a wider array of sexual orientation than you normally see in casual games, especially if you include the viral ads.

Fun Fact: Very little of the content in the famously viral Lily's Garden ads actually appears in the game.

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3. Choices: Stories You Play, Pixelberry Studios

Interactive novels can make a tough go of it, and we've been involved in more than one project that's never quite gained traction. But Pixelberry's Choices is an exception, here at No. 3 on our list for performance.

Veil of Secrets was a huge innovation for Choices as its first book in the mystery genre. So for both conflict and mystery, it pushed the boundaries even within a format that had already proved its success. What I tried to do with this title as remote scriptwriter was deepen the villains, giving them a bit of nuance... if not outright sympathy, then at least an awareness of what shaped them. That was a tough call for WASP-y New England characters, a world I have very little first-hand knowledge of, but luckily, my experience as a lover of the mystery genre came in handy.

All of the Choices books excel at connection, with a wide variety of dating and intimacy moments available to players. It was gratifying to write in that space, for a team that values diversity.

Fun Fact: In the premium scene in Chapter 1, your bestie Kate explains that she and Tanner met when he took cover from the rain in her bakery one night. They spent all night flirting... and eating cupcakes. Serious girl fantasy, right? Or maybe that's just me.

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4. Bingo Bash, GSN

Early in the evolution of casual games, we used to encounter a lot of resistance from designers who feared that more story in a game would mean too many words. Our next top-performer proves that narrative needs scant wordage to steal the show.

In late 2017, we were tasked with the seemingly impossible: Write a love story in 27 characters or less per chapter. The tiny tale would appear in a new room within the Bingo Bash app, just in time for Valentine's Day. 'Dear Diary' was, I think, the first of its kind, another innovation in the casual mobile game space. While for a long time narratives were paired only with match-3 decorating games, Bingo Bash: Dear Diary showed story could be hybridized with other types of gameplay. These days, we're seeing narrative meshed with solitaire and other genres as well.

The 'Dear Diary' bingo room had conflict in the form of the obstacles the would-be couple encounters, mystery in the question of whether they'd ever work things out, and connection when they end up together - and married, before you can say, "Bingo!" 

Fun Fact: I turned this '27 characters or less' restriction into a classroom assignment when I taught narrative design at a local university. Dexter Woltman, now Brunette Games writer/designer but then my student, wrote a micro romance story... about a rock. You can see why we hired him.

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5. Sweet Escapes, Redemption Games

Speaking of Dexter's quirky sense of humor, the game in the No. 5 spot on our roster really takes the cake in that regard, and all credit to him for the achievement. Sweet Escapes definitely pushes innovation in the area of casual mobile game comedy. Between the Redemption Games team's hilarious animations and Dexter's laugh-out-loud dialogue, the title has gained a huge fan following. It's even spawned fan fiction.

Sweet Escapes has connection in spades. The game also traffics in interesting conflict, with an inspector who seems to be thwarting our heroes' attempts to win the highly prized Sweetstakes trophy... or is he (mystery)? It's been a year and some months since the game's initial release, and the mystery has only deepened. It now involves a crusty ol' pirate named Snackbeard.

Fun Facts: Yes, Scoops really has held all of those jobs. And no, he doesn't wear the same scarf every day.

What's Ahead?

With all of this past innovation behind us, what do we see in the future? It's a question we don't take lightly here at Brunette Games.

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One of the best HOPAs ever created, by Artogon and Big Fish.

Personally, I have yet to see the dark, edgy content in casual mobile games that was a regular feature of the hundreds of hidden-object puzzle adventure games I worked on at Big Fish back in 2011-2016. Those games had me on the edge of my seat, and the jump scares at least in one case actually made me jump - in the middle of a cubicle pod at work. While those games were at times dark enough to require a warning label even though they were still casual fare, most of what passes for story on mobile today falls squarely in the cheery camp. When there are mysteries, they tend to be a bit 'Scooby Doo' in tone. A notable exception are two titles we consult on for G5 Entertainment - Homicide Squad and the just-released Crime Mysteries. But the rest have all been light and bright.

Does it matter that we're playing on the phone now instead of PC download? I don't think so. While designers often come to us because they want to compete with the top-performing games above, we think the real competition lies elsewhere - on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO... We'd like to work with you to tell stories no one can put down, or scroll past. Ready?

YOU SHOULD ALSO CHECK OUT

Redemption Games' Scoops: From Fan Favorite to Fan Fiction

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Brunette Games GDC Talk on 'Conflict, Mystery, and Connection' Now Available on YouTube

 


Brunette Games GDC Talk on 'Conflict, Mystery, and Connection' Now Available on YouTube

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By Lisa Brunette

As you might remember, I was scheduled to speak at GDC 2020, but then the conference was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I had committed to a local version of the talk here in St. Louis just prior to GDC. This was designed as a way to share knowledge with our developer community, as well as serve as a "live" practice for GDC. At the time that GDC was cancelled, the lockdowns were still limited to the West Coast. So here in the Midwest, the show went on as planned...

Except for one important change. I invited my Brunette Games team members to join me at the podium. I think the show turned out better than it would have been if I'd flown solo! Thanks to the St. Louis Game Development Co-op, which both sponsored the presentation and arranged for a video capture and livestream, I was able to submit the talk to the GDC Vault. And now GDC has also made it available on YouTube. Here it is, called "Conflict, Mystery, and Connection in Casual, Free-to-Play Puzzle Games." Games discussed: Matchington Mansion, Lily's Garden, Sweet Escapes, RollerCoaster Tycoon Story, and Wild Things: Animal Adventures (not Vineyard Valley, so I'm not sure why GDC used it for the video default image.)

It's a pleasure to be a part of GDC even remotely, and we hope to see you all next year!


Redemption Games’ Scoops: From Fan Favorite to Fan Fiction

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By Dexter Woltman

What’s not to love about an adorable penguin who makes ice cream? When Redemption Games’ phenomenal Sweet Escapes first launched, the story centered on a bunny, Joy, doing her best to fix up some sweet shops that have hit hard times. Joy quickly met various friends to help her on her journey, one of whom is Scoops, a sweets-loving penguin.

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Nearly a year of content later, Joy’s world is brimming with colorful characters and a plethora of delicious sweets. Along the way, Scoops grew from a humorous companion character to a sensational fan favorite. He’s played an active part in almost every storyline, and audiences just can’t get enough. Some fans have even gone the extra mile and written fan fiction about him. But what was it that made our lovable penguin friend so popular? Surely, it’s not just his fancy scarf?

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From the very start, Scoops was always a scene-stealer. His obsession with sweets and humorous antics stole the hearts of many. Add Redemption Games’ adorable character design and goofy animations, and the game became an instant fan favorite. But along the way, Scoops’ character started to show a lot of promise beyond cracking jokes. By the time I was involved in writing content for the game, I recognized a lot of potential in our goofy penguin. I didn’t just see him as the comedic relief who likes to make jokes about all the sweets he can eat. I saw him as the heart and soul of Sweet Escapes, and I capitalized on it.

While most characters in Sweet Escapes appear every few regions of content or so, Scoops has had the privilege of maintaining a consistent presence in the game. He’s been there from the start, and, well, he’s still there. So, when it came time for me to write for him, I knew there was more we could do with him. I took a look at his quirks, his many jobs and love of sweets, and I expanded on them. In my eyes, his very specific tastes didn’t just have to translate to sweets. They could apply to all sorts of things. Scarves, occupations, proper lighting—Scoops is ahead of it all. For me, it wasn’t just about dialing up the jokes. It was about making the world his joke. And from that, Scoops' role in the story grew. He's there to contribute conflict, growth, and mystery.

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So now, more than a year later, Scoops is still a highlight of the game. He gets personal story arcs as he searches to find his role in the group. He doesn’t just make jokes. He’s a real character with flaws and skills. Sure, he has a great eye for decor, but he’s also going to make a fit when that painting is two inches too far to the left. And yes, he’s a penguin who holds a great love for the sea, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to swim with it. That alone leaves his various pirating exploits land-locked for the time being. Scoops is remarkably complex, yet very simple all the same. He just wants to be happy. And in the end, isn’t that what we all want?

Over the last year since the game's release, Scoops has grown from comedic relief to comedic sensation. Audiences love him, and so do we here at Brunette Games. It’s been a long journey, but luckily for fans, that journey is far from complete. So, if you haven’t gotten the chance to see our lovable penguin in action, it’s never too late! Download Sweet Escapes on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store now!

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For more information on Redemption Games' Sweet Escapes, visit the official website here!


New Content! Redemption Games' 'Sweet Escapes' Sails to Dessert Island

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By Dexter Woltman

While new releases are always something to be ecstatic about, Brunette Games is just as excited about new content that keeps our favorite titles going for years to come! Redemption Games’ Sweet Escapes is a blossoming tale of charm and puzzles. It follows the bunny Joy and her adorable animal friends as they work to fix up all their favorite sweet shops. Not only does the game have plenty of puzzles and humor, but now it has an all-new map!

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Join Joy and her sweets-loving friends as they cruise to Dessert Island, a new location filled with mystery, character, and most importantly of all, sweets! Do volcanoes and shipwrecks await our loveable friends? Can Joy save the island for all its hamster inhabitants? Find out yourself by playing the update now! Our loveable penguin Scoops can’t wait to sail ahead, and neither should you.

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It’s never too late to hop on this quirky, fun adventure. Don’t just take our word for it; see what the developers themselves have to say about everything that awaits you in their new official update description:

WHAT’S NEW

Come back to Sweet Escapes with this new update!

And we're off! Join Joy and friends as they explore the new land, Dessert Island! Make new friends, build new decorations, and take on delicious new puzzles!

NEW EVENT

Love is in the air! Come celebrate Valentine's Day in Sweet Escapes with exclusive decorations, prizes, and offers!

NEW PUZZLE PIECES

Candy Frogs! Collect Candy Frogs before they hop up up the puzzle board!

Soda Bottles! Collect blocks of matching colors to fill the soda bottle. When it's full, it'll burst and clear everything in its way!

NEW STORIES

New Chapters added every Tuesday!

Bug fixes and sweet game improvements!

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For more information, visit the official website here!