E3 as an unknown and transformed into a must-have game on the back of the buzz
generated by its showing there. Four months later, it's a tentpole Nintendo DS
game that gamers everywhere are familiar with.
It's the third Nintendo DS game from developer 5th
Cell, which built its expertise developing mobile titles but has, more
recently, pursued a strategy of making original DS IP. Where did that idea come
from? And what is the strategy of the 5th Cell, growing its business
on the back of unconventional hits like Scribblenauts?
Here, co-founder Jeremiah Slaczka lays it all out for Gamasutra, including the
company's future plans -- such as Xbox Live Arcade development -- and why he
refused to create the SpongeBob and Wii versions of Drawn to Life.
How did this Scribblenauts idea
come to be? To me, it sounds like the kind of thing that someone would be like,
"Wouldn't it be cool if?" "Yeah, but that's too hard."
Jeremiah Slaczka: The cool thing is after Drawn
to Life, we had a couple more pitches I wanted to do. One was Lock's Quest. And then I had another
idea about writing.
you could write Mad Lib style, where you could write sentences, and they would
come to life in the top screen? I would say, "The dog is walking through
the forest," and the dog would pop down and the forest, and he would walk
through. I thought to myself, "That's a really cool idea."
problem is there's no gameplay. It was crazy -- I actually had a dream. I never
dream of video game ideas. But I had a dream where I was in this Aztec temple,
and you go in this room. In every room, there'd be these weird puzzles. In one
there were three paintings hanging on the wall and you have to make them
straight. And then you get down and open the portal to the next room.
thought, "This is a really cool idea for a game, but it doesn't have a
hook, and there's no replayability." I was kind of working on that and
seeing where that would go, like, maybe that would fit on Wii. Maybe that would
fit on DS. I don't know. Then I though, "Wait. What if we take the writing
idea and slam it with the puzzle idea, and all of the sudden you've got instant
replayability because you could write anything."
talked to Marius, our technical director, and he was like, "Yeah, dude,
this is awesome. Let's do it." And he was really pumped. He was the one
that actually loved the writing. Before that I didn't know where it was going.
It was boring at the moment. It's wasn't a game. It was just an idea.
A lot of
people actually at 5th Cell were like, "This can't be done. And even
halfway through development, people at 5th Cell said, "Dude, it's not
happening." And we just had to say, "Yes, it is. Don't worry. I've
got it, me and Marius. We see the vision. We know exactly where it's
traditional video games, you have level one, and then there are enemies for
level one, and then there are the platforms or whatever there is for level one.
And like you make it, you polish it, then you go on, right? In this, in level
one, you can write anything. So the second the bear doesn't work or the anvil
isn't heavy, people will go, "What the heck? This game sucks. I don't
had to get everything in before level one could actually work, so that was
about 80 percent of the development, just doing that. Then we got about 80
percent, and then we actually showed publishers and stuff. Because before that,
they couldn't really demo it. "Oh, this is a cool idea, but nothing
It seems like there's obviously a huge
top end on the planning side, because you have just like a big box of
everything to draw from immediately. I could imagine it being difficult to see
that actually coming together.
JS: The second it all came together, it was like a light switch. Bang,
everything works. It's like, "Dude, this is now fun."