By Shamus Posted Monday Oct 11, 2010

Filed under: Game Reviews 51 comments

You may remember when I became obsessed with Lumines some months ago. Chime is a kindred to that, full of colorful blocks and hypnotic electronic loops. As I hinted at in my comic, Chime is somewhat more addictive. It’s a more purified dose that stimulates those parts of the brain that are driven to struggle against entropy. Some people wanted to know how the game works before they buy it. So to save you from putting your $5 in peril, here is the deal…

If you ever played carpentry in Puzzle Pirates, then the basic motions will feel familiar to you.


The game is played with eleven possible pieces. Six of them (shown in blue) are symmetric. The other five (red) have left / right variants. The game will hand you pieces at random, and your goal is to place them on the board to form rectangles of 3×3 or larger. The game is timed (I always play nine minute games, although three minute and six minute modes are also available.)

Here is one of the trailers for the game, which gives a nice run-down of how it works:

Link (YouTube)

But I want to talk a bit about the strategy behind these rules:


As soon as you cram some pieces together that form a proper rectangle at least three blocks in width and height, the rectangle begins to color itself in. While this is happening you can continue to add bits around it, and it will expand to make the largest possible rectangle. Eventually it gets colored in all the way and becomes frozen.


There’s a vertical beat line passing over the board, and when it touches a frozen rectangle it removes it from play, opening up that area for more pieces.


But the board underneath the rectangle will now be colored in. Your goal is to color in the entire board. Time is added to the clock when you fill in fresh territory this way. Making more rectangles on an already colored area will not reward you with more time.

Here is where things get crazy. You’ve got this score multiplier that goes up as you make rectangles. The more you make, the higher your multiplier goes. But note the leftover trash that remains after a rectangle has been cleared:


Those fragments are bad. Every time the beat line passes over some fragments they will decay. If you just leave them there, eventually they will be destroyed. If this happens, all fragments are removed from the board and you lose your multiplier. Aw.

Note that if you’re not careful you’ll have fragments hanging on either side of a rectangle. You need to clean up those fragments by incorporating them into another rectangle, which may in turn leave more fragments. In trying to clean up the mess you could just end up spreading it around. Eventually you’ve got too many single bits floating around the board and it becomes impossible to keep up with them all.


These fragments will be scattered around the areas of the board you’ve already covered. Cleaning them up without making things worse means building carefully, deliberately, and usually means wasting time making new rectangles on already-covered areas of the board.

And here is where the strategy comes into it. You can just focus on claiming new territory and ignore the fragments, which means you’ll be losing your multiplier every minute or so. Or you can focus on building clean shapes that don’t create trash, which means you’ll be running up your score while running out the clock. Do you go for coverage and extend your game, or go for points and make every second count?

The multiplier caps at x35, which is a pretty big bonus. Keeping that alive can rack up amazing points, but dooms your game in the long run. In testing, I was never able to get ahead, time-wise. If I slap down pieces as fast as possible and just go for raw territory coverage, I can’t do better than simply holding the clock at bay.

The more of the board you cover, the harder it is to grab more. You can grab your first 25% of the board in the first minute of play, but getting the last 15% (which will likely be in scattered parcels around the board) may take half the game. If you manage to clear the entire board, you get 100,000 points (which is a nice modest bonus) and the board is wiped clean. This is great if you can reach this point, since you’ll be able to grab territory quickly on a clean board.

If you look at the global leaderboards you can see what strategies people are using:


I’ve never had a game where I could score on the leaderboards like this. I usually find scoreboards to be depressing. You’ll have the game of your life, achieve a personal record, and then you see that you’re ranked #12,462 in the world and the guy at the top has some ludicrous number of points, far above anything you would have guessed was even possible. Looking at leaderboards has always been a way to turn victory into defeat and elation into despair. So I do my best to ignore them.

So I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself doing this well. I hold the #1 spot for one song and the #2 spot for a couple of others. But note the coverage numbers in the previous screenshot. The top player nearly cleared the board three times. The number three player was just short of five. Number four cleared the board an amazing five and a half times. Yet I didn’t even clear it once. I played the game fastidiously, keeping the board clean and ignoring coverage. I worked the multiplier up to the maximum and retained it until the end of the game. The other players obviously ignored the multiplier and went for raw coverage. We’re playing with radically different approaches, and it’s not clear that one is definitively superior to the other.


There are six different boards in the game. Each one has it’s own board shape, color scheme, music, and selection of pieces. See, even though there are eleven pieces, each board only offers a subset of that. So each board requires very different play if you’re trying to keep things tidy. No good leaving a nice spot for an L-shape if this board doesn’t have any. Each board is basically it’s own game mode, so you won’t have the Lumines problem of having to endure the occasional unpleasant loop. Pick a song you like, and play that song.

I think the game is exquisite. Perhaps it’s worth a fiver to you to see if you feel the same.


From The Archives:

51 thoughts on “Chime

  1. krellen says:

    Do the boards have some way of telling you which pieces are available for it, or do you just have to use experience to figure out what the subset for each board is?

    1. krellen says:

      Oh, it’s a Steam game. Darn.

      1. Jarenth says:

        Also, it’s the second one. If you were still interested.

        EDIT: Oh, nevermind, according to the guy below I’m wrong.

        1. krellen says:

          Is he your brother?

          1. Jarenth says:

            I wouldn’t put it past either of them.

  2. Nidokoenig says:

    After you click the song, but before you start, you see a big clump of all that stage’s shapes. You can stare at it and plan as long as you like, and click again when you’re ready to start.

    Shamus, I bought this game entirely because of your coverage. Not sure whether I love you or hate you at this point.

    1. Deoxy says:

      …which is why I WON’T be buying this game. I like Shamus, and I’d like to keep it that way (not to mention that I REALLY don’t have time in my life for an(other) addicting game).

  3. SolkaTruesilver says:

    What I liked while seeing the tutorial is the reactive music present in the game. Does it adapt to the playstyle and pace of the game (depending on wether or not you go after the scrap blocks), or is it simply like scratching a lottery ticket where you simply revel more of the music, note by note?

    1. Nidokoenig says:

      As the beat line passes over the field, each shape or fragment it touches makes a sound, and quads make different sounds when the beat line hits. So if you’re placing lots of blocks in almost quad layouts, you’ll get a lot of extra little sounds each run until you start setting them off, when you’ll get a bunch of big ones.

  4. Zagzag says:

    How long have you been addicted to this now? I think I’ll steer clear!

  5. Joe Cool says:

    Ooo! Pentominoes! I once had a tetris game where you could edit the piece set. I made a pentomino set for it. It was very hard that way.

    But I do have a pentomino-shaped hole in my heart, that can only be filled by fitting pentominoes on a grid. Maybe I should check out this game.

    1. Zukhramm says:

      Pentomino-shaped holes in people’s hearts. Might make an interesting puzzle game.

  6. Rutskarn says:

    Congratulations again on getting on the scoreboard.

    I’ve always wondered if there’s a sort of person who chronically gets the 154*10^75 scores you see on, for example, popular flash games. Like, it can’t just be some normal guy gets a really good run, or even some pretty good guy practices a lot. You’d need to crank in more serious practice and will than I’ve ever put into, say, TF2, just to have a chance at getting one of those. Plus, when you factor in the scoring rate, there has to be the part where you’re willing to sit there for eight hours manipulating six keys.

    So it makes sense that some people just really, really like having the high scores. Possibly that’s their hobby, actually–seeing their username up in lights all over the internet next to a big, screw-off number.

    Let me give that a shot.

    Rutskarn; A Trillion

    Nope. Nothing.

    1. Nidokoenig says:

      Well, for simple games, you can often conclude that someone has just solved it and that high score is the result, which I got a fair bit during my Audiosurf addiction- there are only so many scoring blocks and you can only get so many penalties, or at least that’s how it is for me as a Mono player. Outside of rare instances where missing a scoring block lets you grab a big combo later, a given track can be solved fairly easily, it’s just memorisation and reactions.

      You can’t count out exploits and bots, either, and most games like this have something in them that gives out multipliers. The secret is just to hit that multiplier as often as you can, and part of being on the score is knowing the best ways to do that.

      I’m also fairly sure that most people will have their own genre, like being the king of match 3 games and they’re just applying the same highly polished skills to similar games.

    2. silver says:

      The reason you felt nothing is because right above your score was “Shamus: 10 trillion”.

    3. Deoxy says:

      I've always wondered if there's a sort of person who chronically gets the 154*10^75 scores you see on, for example, popular flash games.

      In most cases, the sort who finds a way to hack the scoreboard function.

      Example: a flash game called SpaceMarine. There’s a little bug in the game… the “level” box allows you to type in it (well, you can add zeros or letters – the letters will cause your score to become NaN), so you simply wait until you are on a level higher than 0, add a zillion zeros after the level number, let that level roll over, and your score goes to 29084372893071203871208974309182374091823 or so.

      You do still have to beat the game to get on the scoreboard, but if you set the level back to zero, the level timer resets to 15 seconds (the enemies take longer than that to reach your base), you get a jillion game bucks, you buy all the best equipment, and you’re good to go (even on hard, you pretty much wipe the enemy in your sleep with the best gear).

      Of course, simply sending fake packets with ridiculous scores is easy for many games, too.

      So, in most cases, it’s just an entry-level hacker board. :-(

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Ok,but what about old arcades?Most of them you couldnt cheat on,and most reseted your score when youve continued with extra quarters,so you had to beat them fair and square.

    4. Dys says:

      Flash games?

      Whenever you see a truly insane score for an online game, generally assume someone has hacked the scoreboards.

  7. Tesh says:

    I love Puzzle Pirates Carpentry, though I’ve never broken the Ultimate barrier. (But I’ve been oh, so close…)

    I might just have to pick this up. Thanks!

  8. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Shamus’s Wife: Shamus! What is you score?!

  9. Mike Has Answers says:

    Why didn’t they just call it Pentis Unlimited?

  10. Alastair says:

    Hmmm… Why are they only using eleven of the twelve pentominoes? Poor left out Y pentomino.

  11. Mario l. says:

    I had that feeling with leaderboards, the first time I tried the bonus fights of Batman Arkham Asylum. Once I got very lucky on my button mashing, then I checked the leaderboards only to discover that there were quite few digits from me to the top, like from thousands to trillions…
    I quit playing it that afternoon.

    1. Khizan says:

      See, I can’t understand this kind of thing at all. Frantic button mashing doesn’t give a competitive score, so you just quit playing? Is the game less fun now?

      1. Drexer says:

        I assume dthat he ahd finished the game already. Truth be told, repeated score-based challenges can only keep one interested for a certain while.

        1. Mario l. says:

          Yes, I already completed the game. I did some of the challenges, and studied some video on you tube, but still it was more of a button mashing than a coordinate strategy. It went well, as I got a great multiplier, but it turned out it was not even the first step of giant ladder to the top.
          I didn’t find it fun to repeat the same room 10 or 15 times, I don’t want to think what could it be doing it hundreds or thousands of times.
          And compare my score to the ones of the other players, made me lose all the interest in those challenges.
          As I said, repeating a single room only to get the perfect timing hundreds of times is not my definition of fun.
          So I quit playing it.

          1. Febrifuge says:

            See, this is why I only care about the scores of people on my friends list. It adds something to be ranked #2, try again a few times and become #1, and then say, “suck it, Chris!” knowing that Chris may see the new scores and go, “damn you, Febrifuge!”

  12. Rick says:

    First: I loved Lumines and would play the timed mode to see how many blocks I could get in 1 minute. I thought I was doing pretty well until I thought I’d check out YouTube one day. … It was rediculous how fast people could move blocks. I never achieved that elite status but seeing those videos helped me ~double my scores.

    Second: I find it interesting that they left out one possible pentomino: ‘Y’

    The names of the pentominoes as you have shown are:
    Top row: W, T, I, U and V
    Bottom row(s): F, L, N, P and Z

    1. Shamus says:

      Y is in Chime, but I overlooked it on my list. My bad.

  13. Volatar says:

    Darnit Shamus. I don’t have enough TIME for this! I have Audiosurf and Minecraft already!

  14. Robyrt says:

    Pentominoes are loads of fun; the set I had as a child was more in the “brain teaser” vein. Like: Could you assemble all 12 pentominoes into a rectangular prism? How about a chair? Et cetera.

  15. Atarlost says:

    On that Orbital leader board it looks like ajmiles is playing using a hybrid style. His score is much higher relative to his coverage than anyone else who cleared the board more than once.

    He’s scoring approx 6.3 mill per board. You’re getting a staggering 16 mill per board, but aren’t clearing the whole board. bkberry is getting a little over 2.5 mill per board. biscuit flight is doing 2.1 mill per board. zteur is the only other guy playing your style that made 7 digits and is getting a bit over 13 mill per board.

    Since the top scorer is getting less than half the points per board you and zteur are he’s obviously not going multiplier only, but he’s doing more than double the points per board of the board clearers. He may just be better able to think quickly, but this may also be a sign there’s an optimum strategy in between the two extremes if you can divide your attention.

  16. Jarenth says:

    What’s also interesting, and what you don’t really mention (but the tutorial video does), is that getting enough coverage gets you bonus time. So cover more, play longer. This means that the people playing for high percentages are literally playing for quantity over quality — ignoring a big perma-multiplier in favour of just getting more quads and more time — while you play for quality over quantity.

    It’s yet another strategic dimension to this seemingly simple game.

  17. Dys says:

    Ok, bought it. Played it. Don’t get it.

    I have to assume that this thing happens to be exactly the right shape to fit into your head, because I cannot imagine how it could ever be fun.

    Perhaps it’s because the board makes very little sense to me, I don’t get any feedback from it, the lights and sounds might as well be random for all I know. I imagine the trick is to see the potential combinations of blocks, so you don’t end up leaving a space for a block you don’t have, but it’s not something my brain is able to do, apparently.

    So, which one of us is the freak? Eh…?

    Damn, it’s me, isn’t it… -.-

    1. krellen says:

      Not everyone scores high on spacial relations and/or enjoys exercising the skill. How do you feel about Tetris? If you don’t think Tetris is one of the best games ever, that would explain why this wouldn’t appeal either.

  18. thebigJ_A says:

    I’m like you. When I was a kid, and everyone was playing Tetris on their Gameboys, I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.

    I thinks it has to do with the type of intelligence you have. People with good spatial awareness are the sort that are good at these kinds of games. Me, I’m pretty good with book smarts (history, etc.) but when it comes to things like this, no way. It’s not, as you say, something my brain is able to do.

    Shamus, this entire post was just a way to go “Hey check out my score on the leaderboard!” to as many people as possible, wasn’t it? Clever.

  19. Andrew B says:

    What I think this post says is “give the person in charge of balancing Chime’s scoring system a massive bonus”. I doubt it’s co-incidence that two totally different styles can result in such similar high scores (or if it is, it’s a very lucky one). Someone has, at some point, sat down and worked out how much time to award versus how much of a bonus multiplier to add. I mean, just one more multiplier would bump Shamus to unreachable victory while an extra few seconds per coverage would give victory to his opponents. That’s a real class bit of design.

  20. Dys says:

    There are a couple of people on the board with 2500% coverage exactly.

    I call shenanigans on that.

  21. Dude says:

    I always end up playing Brazil. That track is so addictive. Especially the parts when you get the flute to play.

  22. Valar says:

    Thanks for the advice. While I knew about the multiplier, I never put that much focus into keeping it, and I always overlooked the extra time.

    Suddenly my score is alot higher.

    Although I still prefer going for coverage, I’m now starting every level by seeing how long I can kep my multiplier going.

    1. Jarenth says:

      I’ve also tried this, but I just can’t seem to keep it up. I always get distracted by the open space on the other side of the level — there’s just so much possibility there! — and before I know it, there’s five different bits and bobs on the brink of destruction.

      And when they eventually fail and dissappear, I’m actually relieved: finally, all that junk is gone, now I can focus on filling out the board again!

      It’s a beautiful cycle that, sadly, doesn’t get me anywhere on the leaderboards.

  23. Zaxares says:

    A fascinating game, both in concept and execution, but I can already tell from looking at it that it’s the kind of game that would give me fits (of rage, not health-issue ones). Sooo, I’ll be staying away from it.

  24. Inscrutibob says:

    Shamus is directly responsible for my purchase as well. Along with the cramping of my right hand. My biggest (only?) complaint is the occasional double-jump of a piece that sometimes happens. I need to move the piece one space; I click (once, I believe) then hit the spacebar, then see that the piece jumped two spaces aaaaaarrrrrrgggghhh!

  25. Jjkaybomb says:

    Wow, it’s only five dollars? o.o
    And it looks fun. I think it’s worth a buy on a rainy day. Once Minecraft stops being addicting…

    1. Jarenth says:

      So, never, basically.

  26. Kelly says:

    I somewhat wish it were possible to great your own custom games based on your music collection like in Audiosurf or Beat Hazard, but I guess that would be incredibly hard to program.

    As it stands, the game is horribly addictive anyway.

    1. Nidokoenig says:

      Yeah, the problem becomes isolating bits of the music to play for the little. I suppose you could always cheat and mute Chime, but then you lose the feedback part. Hmm… I have an idea. I’ve recently been playing Jam With the Band, the European release of Daigasso Band Brothers. It’s a rhythm game that basically synthesises the music on the fly rather than playing a recording, meaning it can hold a lot more tracks than usual, 50 as standard, 50 track download limit, and space for 100 custom tracks you can write yourself in the in-game editor. I could see a Chime-alike where you give it the main tune and a set of additional sounds to use being quite popular.

  27. Zukhramm says:

    I’m actually surprised how high I am able to place too. I’ve gotten to the top 200, whichs is considering my usual place onthese leaderboards, really good.

  28. Dude says:

    Um, Shamus, I easily scored 18,470,800 points on Brazil now that I’ve checked. With 165% coverage. I think those scoreboards might be a bit off.

    1. John Lopez says:

      On the xbox version the scores are *much* *much* higher. I presume they tweaked things on the PC version as coverages are up to 2500% (or 25 clears) on the xbox version.

      Either that or the boards were hacked on the xbox.

      1. Dude says:

        I played on PC, of course. The only good thing about consoles is that they force developers to work with specific hardware and thus have freed us PC users from the godawful nine month hardware upgrade cycle.

        Honestly, you can rack up a pretty high score without worrying about coverage by filling up the same 12×12 block or so. But if you’re playing this game to rack up a score instead of the music, you’re doing it wrong, mate!

        I wonder if they plan on releasing more levels/songs sometime soon.

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