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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 3 of 5 Next

How much trial and error stuff do you have to do to figure out what casual players are actually going to be able to grab on to?

JK: Well, we do a lot. There's definitely a great deal of testing -- like we mentioned the mom test, where you show it to your mom, but frankly you can do that with anybody.

You can go grab somebody down the hall, somebody from accounting, somebody who doesn't play games, and say "Okay, try this out" and watch how they do it. See what frustrates them, and then try it again later on when you make some changes. We do quite a bit of that.

And at the same time, that only works to some extent. We're still making games that we like to play. At a certain point, you have to just trust yourself that if you like playing it, that other people like playing it.

So you have these testers to find out if you've made some wrong assumptions, if things are not working quite the way you want -- but ultimately, it's really hard to make a game that you don't like and put any passion into it. So I like the game, I enjoy playing it. Hopefully if I like it, other people will enjoy playing it too.

I wonder whether testers or players in an older demographic might be too nice about it, and say that they like it even if they don't, just because they like that you made a nice game.

JK: Of course people will do that stuff. Your mom's not going to criticize it. But you're not looking for that; if you're showing the game to your mom, you don't look to see if she likes it; you look to see if she can understand how to play it, or if she continues to play it when you're not watching, things like that. Certainly we don't just ask for an opinion.

I did actually notice that. I'm here with a friend that actually hasn't played that Puzzle Fighter game that I had played, and it actually did take him a little longer to pick up the mechanic. Having played that game a lot, I understood it right away.

JK: It can take a little time to pick out; that was my main concern with this. We wanted to make sure that for people who take a fair time to pick it up, it's still not too threatening. If you start a game like that where you're still learning, and it's kicking your ass while you're learning it -- that's kind of harsh.

So we tried to make sure that the tutorial and the first bunch of levels are very forgiving, so that you don't feel like you don't want to learn it anymore.

We tried our best to make it easy to get into, so once someone has spent a bit of time with it and does learn it, there's a very good chance they'll dig it. It's how we get over that little initial thing. That is somewhat serious -- you do have to consider that.

How do you know when you have when you have too many mechanics? Because you've got the mines there, you've got the rocks, and the locks.

JK: We took out a number of things. We were pretty considerate; there were a lot of extra things that have been taken out. There used to be ice gems that you could make by forming an X.

When you formed an X of gems, they'd turn into the ice gem. And when you used the ice gem, it would freeze time for a few turns, and all that stuff. It was kind of cute -- but again, along with a bunch of other things it's like "Alright, how much stuff do we need?"

We took out a lot. We tried to keep it down to a reasonable level. There were lots more special power gems that we took out, and so we kept it to the basic fire and lightning.

There are a couple advanced gems you can get, but by the time you get to fruit gems, for example, you've been playing for quite a while and you have to know what you're doing.

There are one or two scary things you see on very high levels, like level 14 or something like that, but again, the theory is by the time someone's good enough to get to that level, they're not going to be intimidated by that.

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