Tap Away – A simple experiment in game design

Try it first:  tapawaygame.com

Tap Away

My high score so far: 288,716.

Early last summer I was at the eye doctor’s, and I was taking one of those tests where you have to look into a machine and click a button every time you see a flash on the screen.  I’m pretty sure it checks your peripheral vision, but I can’t be too sure because every time I’ve taken the test I just end up worrying if I’m catching all the blurry flashes.  While I was taking the test, the thought crossed my mind that there should be a little scorekeeping bar at the top of the screen.

A few weeks later I was on a cross-country flight, taking Ever to visit his grandparents.  When I am on a plane, walking through the aisle, I will admit to looking over everyone’s shoulder at their electronic devices.  I am always curious to see what devices people are using, and what they are doing with their airplane time.  I always want to catch someone programming, but it’s never anything more interesting than a business spreadsheet.  I saw a woman playing a game with dots arranged in a pattern, and I got an idea for how to turn the peripheral vision test into a game.

Tap Away places colored dots on the screen, slowly at first and faster as the game progresses.  Dots are green when they first appear, but if you don’t tap them soon enough they turn yellow and then red.  If too many dots accumulate on the screen at once, the game is over.  The game gets faster as you tap more dots away, but the dots are also worth more as the game progresses.  If you  get through enough rounds, the dots also start getting smaller.  There is no end goal; everyone loses.  It’s just a question of how long you can survive.

Tap Away - early version

An early version of the game.

The game is fun on a touch screen.  I wrote the earliest version of the game while visiting my in-laws this past summer, which meant I got to test it out on my 16-year old sister in law and her 18-year-old brother.  When they both played it a few times in a row and laughed as it got faster, I knew there was something interesting about the game.

This is not a particularly serious project, but it was fun to get a working prototype set up, and start to play with the game parameters.  Since I was not out to make an app, I thought it might be interesting to give everyone the chance to play with the parameters, and try to make an interesting combination.  I found that a good version of this game involves identifying the proper balance between a number of factors:

  • The game needs to progress slowly enough that everyone taps away a small number of dots, even when you’ve never played the game before.
  • The game needs to progress quickly enough that most people are finished with a game in about three minutes or less.
  • The game needs to have a high number of rounds, because it’s fun to see two dots thrown at you at a time, then three dots, then four dots, and so forth.  But there is a limit to this, after which a new kind of challenge should be presented.
  • Tapping smaller dots, with less time between dots is a fun extension, and lets you see quickly that there is no “winning” this game.

I’m sure it’s buggy, and there are many ways to improve the game.  I will watch to see if anyone plays it, and develop it further if it’s appropriate.  Have fun, and if you give it a try, post your high score in the comments!


About ehmatthes

Teacher, hacker, new dad, outdoor guy
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