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GDC 2011: PopCap,  Bejeweled 's 'Sexy Action Cool' Origins

GDC 2011: PopCap, Bejeweled's 'Sexy Action Cool' Origins

March 3, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

March 3, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, GDC

PopCap's Bejeweled crept up on its tenth anniversary last year, and PopCap is now among the world's most prolific and best-known casual gaming firms. Which makes the company's weird origins all the more surprising -- the company's three co-founders entered the industry as "Sexy Action Cool", makers of a halfhearted strip poker game.

"Certain games have kind of taken on a bit of an iconic status," Kapalka told audiences at the 2011 Game Developers' Conference. "In 2001, when I told people I made a game called Bejeweled, the response was 'so what'. In 2011, when I tell people I designed Bejeweled, the response is 'bull shit you did."

The games sold 50 million units to 500 million players who've accumulated 7 billion hours of play. But it all began in a much more humble way: In 2000, friends Kapalka, John Vechey and Brian Fiete wanted a rewarding, independent career, so they decided to found a game development company.

And they decided to call it "Sexy Action Cool," after an inside joke based on a poster for Antonio Banderas' 'Desperado' film). Their first title was not in fact Bejeweled but Foxy Poker -- a "sexy" strip video poker game.

"We couldn't actually bring ourselves to do any pornography," he reflects jokingly. "It disappointed a lot of the players. If you're going to be sleazy, you really want to do it all the way. If you're going to do a strip poker gamer game you should probably have nudity in it."

Ultimately, Sexy Action Cool got a name change to PopCap -- and a de-sleaze -- was born when the three realized "we didn't feel like the kind of people we wanted to spend our lives doing business with." And as a company name, "Sexy Action Cool" isn't the kind of thing one wants to tell one's mom they do.

So the three switched from halfhearted video poker to the development of a simple match-three puzzler. Kapalka finds all the extensive speculation about the genesis of Bejeweled's core design process amusing. Regularly accused of having ripped off this or that, Kapalka, with his deadpan humor, appears part of a crew that simply didn't think it through to that extent.

Just recently a restaurant waitress suggested that Bejeweled is an imitator of Sega's Columns -- "I hadn't thought of that," he jokes. "It kind of is."

But Diamond Mine, the game that would become Bejeweled (as licensor, Microsoft didn't like the name Diamond Mine), was based on a crude web-based Javascript block game known simply as "Colors Game", with a matching condition the three thought was "kind of cool."

It had no animation, sound or scoring, and the fact that every block was a square shape made the game more difficult to play. Hence those features of Bejeweled so immediately recognizable today, and that continue to drive the deceptively-simple puzzler through continual evolution.

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