Garden Tails: Relaxing Match And Grow gameplay is born out of urban chaos

New to Apple Arcade this month is Garden Tails: Match and Grow, a serene match-3 puzzle game where building a garden and filling it with cute little animals is the main objective. In an environment filled with adrenaline-driven video games, this new Apple Arcade experience stands out as a quieter and more relaxing alternative.

To find out more about the game and its relaxing roots, we spoke to Sandra Honigman of Dots, game designer and head of Garden Tails, to find out more about where the idea came from and how she tries to keep things light for the player.

Now Playing: Garden Tails – Mobile Gameplay Trailer

We talked about the game’s attempts to overcome some of the negative stereotypes of the match-3 genre, including a lack of monetization and a few mechanics that help the player solve their puzzles. We also go into detail about how living in a big American city gave rise to the idea of ​​a quiet experience.

This interview was conducted remotely via Zoom and edited for clarity.

GameSpot: Match-3 games like Garden Tails can be stressful, especially when the number of moves remaining drops to zero. Was the idea to thematize the game around a serene garden in order to juxtapose this stress? Do you still want the player to feel a bit of that tension?

Sandra Honigman: We don’t need tension there, no. The guiding idea of ​​Garden Tails has always been relaxation and peace, that’s why we have the zen gardens, music, sounds, animals, etc. in the levels. We also don’t monetize from leveling so we’re able to enhance that peaceful experience because there’s no monetization to stress about which is one of the most important things we do other games of this genre.

So, the lack of monetization improves your overall view to make it a relaxing experience. Is it just because people don’t need to have a financial stake in the game?

Yes exactly. We don’t worry about monetization at all. Thanks to the partnership with Apple, we were able to launch it on Apple Arcade and make it a completely one hundred percent free game.

In a medium like video games where explosions and explosions tend to be a focal point, developing a relaxation-centric game is a fascinating idea. Was that always the goal?

Yes, one hundred percent, that has always been our goal. Even before we had our story idea and the animals that become characters, this game was still about sitting down with your phone and playing a very zen game for a while. That’s always been the plan

So, when did the idea of ​​the Zen garden appear? Was that goal designed alongside the relaxation motif, or did the emphasis on being Zen lead you to the idea of ​​the garden?

Our very first idea was gardening, but animals came into play a bit later in development. Once we had them, they shaped the whole personality of the game. Like other match-3 games, making certain matches creates special tiles, which in our case are the animals, and each of them has its own unique property.

When you decided which animals to include, like the rabbit, bee and others, were there any animals you couldn’t include?

We had an idea for these little groundhogs to appear instead of the bunnies, but we couldn’t figure out how to make the groundhogs look good in the puzzle.

The marmots functioned similarly to the rabbit, quickly moving away and taking flower tiles with them, but the pile of dirt the marmot left behind stood out. It was as if the little mound of dirt the groundhog had crawled out of should have been permanent, but they couldn’t be permanent, and that made him a little too busy for what is supposed to be a very quick moment.

There is a negative connotation around the term “match-3” that I’m sure you were aware of during development. We’ve already talked about monetization, but what were the other key obstacles you were looking to avoid in your match-3 game?

We strongly believe at Playdots in making sure that each level’s experience is as user-friendly as possible. With Garden Tails, that means having things that are useful to the player right on the board, as opposed to things that are purely obstacles. There is a balance there; it’s a Zen game, but the player also wants to be challenged, which our previous game Two Dots does well. Lots of people who love this game are here for the challenge unlike this game which is a more relaxing kind of experience.

We wanted to avoid players thinking about every move in Garden Tails. Instead, we want them to go with the flow. For example, the bee power-up you can create by matching five or more flowers is the “exploding” tile trope you’ve seen in other match-3s. In our game, the bee explodes twice, which makes the game a bit friendlier and a bit more useful for you, the player.

We also wanted to make sure the garden experience was as important as the levels themselves, so we intertwined them with each other in a way similar to other games, where you pay a certain amount of a specific currency to progress. Instead of having something very big and wild, however, we focused on gardens, and I think that’s one of our strengths.

I noticed that the rewards you receive are very specific numbers. 230 from one currency then 40 from another. Where do these numbers come from? Were these random choices or did they come from playtesting?

These numbers are actually very important to the rate at which the player unlocks the garden. During the planning phase, we sat down with these large spreadsheets that served as a benchmark for how long we want a player to take to complete the garden, and that benchmark correlates to the number of levels in each garden.

Our first level, for example, is the fastest garden to complete in the game. After one or two levels, you get enough coins to buy a plant for your garden, but for the next one you’ll have to play a few more.

I guess browsing through that excel sheet is the exact opposite of the relaxation you’re trying to bring?

Yes! We will gladly take the stress.

Speaking of the relaxation part, you said earlier that every element of the game, from the animals to the garden to the music, all plays into this theme. What kind of research have you done to tap into that feeling of relaxation or serenity? Did the team listen to relaxation apps, music, ASMR videos, or something else while creating?

It depends a lot on where we are: we’re actually located in New York and we’re very surrounded by the city. When you’re in a big city like this, where do you go to relax? Parks and gardens. As New Yorkers looking for that peaceful experience, we took what we knew were the spaces in which we can relax outdoors and tried to incorporate it into the game. For example, we inspired by the Botanical Gardens, Central Park and other New York parks. Basically, we took the day off and went with the team. We understand what makes people distracted, but we also know what’s in that distraction that can be peaceful.

What are some future plans for the game in the future? Will the updates just provide more gardens and animals, or could there be a move to a different style of “relaxation”, like a Beach Tails or something?

We launched last week, so right now we’re very focused on those first few days after launch, but we have a lot of big plans. We have several content updates coming, including new gardens, new animals, new music, and new stories. We’re also working on new features that expand the gardening experience, but they’re still under development. As for when they will drop, we don’t have a precise timetable yet, but our social networks will have the information available.

Garden Tails: Match and Grow is available now on Apple Arcade.

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