90 Second Poker - A Game for Grownups?

Tags: games, app, jay, quarry, mobile

Video games and I grew up together. Pong came out the year I was born; the Atari 2600, five years later. By 1982, when Pac Man was released to play at home, I'd become obsessed. 

Doom was the rage in college. As an Apple kid, I had to wait a couple years for Marathon, the first FPS game for Macs. After countless nights beating it, I started digging around the game's files and eventually spent more time designing my own graphics for it than I had playing it (the characters I drew were all girls in bikinis for some embarrassing reason. I didn't really think ahead to the experience of being trapped in a spaceship corridor surrounded by them, killing me. Freud might have a thought or two though).

My point: Video games and I are the same age, but they seem to have stayed in a permanent state of childhood while I've gotten older, busier and more distracted. I still want to play, but most games are targeted at people with the tastes and time of a 12-year-old. Pretending to be a superhero or sword-welding paladin just doesn't excite me like it used to; exploding water heaters and quarterly tax estimates are challenging enough. Plus, embarking on a task that takes 120 hours to complete, as many modern games do, pins my fear-of-commitment to the red. No need to stack yet another thing on the pile of stuff I regret not finishing.

Waiting for an elevator, a commercial, or even another app download — these are the gaps I have available to me to play games these days. And so 90 Second Poker was born.

We love making games for clients, but Quarry gave us an opportunity to try anything, and I immediately wanted a game I could play — and finish! — in just a few minutes.

Why did we make a poker app? We talked about word games, number games, etc., but poker had a couple aspects going for it. First, it's a system of information that's sufficiently complex to provide varied gameplay, but familiar enough to everyone that no learning curve is required. 

Second, as a designer, the history and language of playing cards is exciting and under-exploited. Not only is there a wealth of reference to work with, but so much potential remains in making it digital. Card games were some of the earliest computer games, but it's interesting how little they've been improved by or benefited from the transformation.

Poker games are the last bastion of skeumorphic make-believe. The casino and card sections of the app store seem to be running a competition for cheesiest design from icons that drip more gold than a Sultan's Palace to the ten-gallon-hat cartoons you pretend to play against.

Designing 90 Second Poker, we went through many variations and were definitely tempted by that stuff. Suits, patterns, face cards — it's all cool. Every round of revision brought more darlings to kill. Switching from a 2-color palette to a 4-color felt like the final sacrilege, because you feel such a fealty to those traditional motifs, but having only 90 seconds to play forced us to strip away anything non-essential (I have my eye on that joker next).

The result is a very simple-looking game that can be a great challenge to play. I can't presume to say it's addicting, but scoring has been pretty competitive among the beta testers. We obviously didn't invent casual gaming, nor will our game replace 5-card stud anytime soon, but that was the point. We're proud to have achieved what we set out to make, and excited to share it with everyone. Shout out to Andy Mrotek, Cassie’s husband and rad drummer, who made the drum track! 

Right now it's free if you want to try it, and if you hate it, hey at least you've only lost 90 seconds of your time. The End

During the pee-pee dance.

While your burrito is dying.

As you procrastinate heading up to the office.