Interactive Media & Games Division (IMGD) graduate Asher Vollmer ’12 has achieved one of the most difficult things a young game designer can accomplish — creating games with a distinct voice.
From the student project Semi-Automatic to his first breakout success, Puzzlejuice (which peaked at No. 11 on the iTunes App Store), to his newest game Threes!, which recently topped the App Store, Vollmer has shown a clear progression and growth as an artist.
“Back when I was a student, I didn’t really know what kind of games I wanted to make,” he said. “Semi-Automatic was a very awkward step between experimental and mainstream games that ultimately pleased neither audience. Puzzlejuice was more of a step in the direction that I’m on now. It taught me how people use their mobile devices.
“Threes! is the culmination of understanding how people play and spend their time,” he explained. “The game is built around that instead of making them play a certain way. I’ve learned so much from each step.”
Tracy Fullerton, chair of IMGD at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, said: “Threes! is a great example of how a very small team with a strong game design concept and excellent execution can really make a splash in the mobile space. Asher Vollmer and the Threes! team are a real success story in this space.”
Threes! is a tiny puzzle game in which players continuously create number combinations, pushing the progress of the game forward until they run out of moves. The game has no time constraints, allowing the player to take his or her time to make combinations. Vollmer is the game designer, Greg Wohlwend is the artist and Jimmy Hinson is the musician.
Threes! was recognized with an honorable mention for Innovative Game Design (IGF) earlier this year.
“A lot of the judges at IGF were playing the game for a very long time, so we knew we were on to something,” Vollmer said. “And it was an early version from before we got the chance to really polish it and add all the features. We knew we had something.”
Vollmer started his career with thatgamecompany, but he decided to go independent last April.
“It was a scary decision to go alone,” he said. “Eventually my mom just said, ‘You’re miserable with a job. You should go alone.’ I did and it’s worked out.”
Vollmer used the lessons from IMGD in Threes! and credits the “Game Development Workshop” course with molding his approach to gameplay design.
“They taught us about the balance between luck and skill,” Vollmer said. “One of the most interesting parts of designing a game is managing luck. I go back to that every day.”