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Casual Game Design: PopCap's Jason Kapalka and Bejeweled Twist
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Casual Game Design: PopCap's Jason Kapalka and Bejeweled Twist

January 2, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

I like that you have an actual little vortex graphic that indicates the direction that the piece is going to go.

JK: Well there's a bunch of other little things we put in the game to try to -- especially if you go through the tutorials and stuff -- there's a whole bunch of things to try and suggest that. We tried as much as we could to help give visual cues as to how it plays.

Because, still, for casual players, it takes a while to get your head around the rotating mechanic, so we wanted to make it as easy as possible to get a feel for it and make it as unthreatening as possible in the earlier levels. Later levels, they can get pretty difficult.

It seems really hard to think that way -- to figure out what will be difficult for casual players. Because to me that's very intuitive, but there was an older lady that was standing next to me at the event, who was playing and she had a hard time.

She didn't really get it, and then someone came over and tried to explain it to her, and she said "I don't want you to explain it to me. I want to read it in the game." He said "Okay, we can go back to the tutorial."

JK: Yeah, if they miss the tutorial it would be harder, for sure. So we try to make it so that the tutorial helps you, but at a certain point you want to go and play around with it. Like when my mom plays it, at first she's just spinning things around and doesn't get it, and then, after a while, she starts to get it a bit more.

She's not great at it, but she starts to understand how it's working, and after a while you start seeing more patterns to it, you start following that, so it definitely has a bit more of a learning curve than basic Bejeweled does.

That's one drawback. I think on the upside it also has a lot more depth than regular Bejeweled has. Once you do learn the mechanic of it, there's an awful lot you can do with that. You see some of the guys over there -- they're quite good.

There's a lot of strategy and interesting things you can do with it that were not possible in Bejeweled. So it's a bit of a tradeoff.

Do you think that a game like Hexic is too complicated?

JK: I don't think Hexic is too complicated.

I mean for, say, the demographic you're targeting?

JK: Not necessarily. The only thing I might have questioned with Hexic is the same thing we had with Bookworm, and that is that I think the mechanic is fine, but there's a little something about hexes that turns people off.

Hexes look like, I don't know, I think they give off a vibe of science, of dirty stuff, of war games, and hex paper, something about them just turns people off.

PopCap's Bookworm

Bookworm is an odd one. I don't know if you've played that one, but Bookworm is a word game; it's basically Bejeweled with letters, if you imagine it that way. It started off as a straight grid, and that didn't work.

We ended up with a hexagonal grid and that played really well, but the problem was anybody who looked at a hex grid just was turned off right away. So we ended up doing something where we kept the hex grid but faked it.

So the hexes got turned into squares, like little tiles, but they're offset by 50 percent. And that's just a cosmetic change, but it actually makes the game much more appealing to casual players.

So I think that's the issue with Hexic. It's not necessarily the game is complex; [the issue is] that it looks repellent in some way because of that weird hex thing. There's something about hexes that's not comforting. I think it's the reason.

Imagine Scrabble if it was a hex board. In theory it could still be a good game, but it would turn off a lot of people.

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