Puzzle Box

Puzzle Box
The Jewel in PopCap's Crown

Blaine Kyllo | 14 Dec 2010 13:11
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Such an interest in experimentation is one reason for PopCap's success.

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Kapalka says the design team conducts numerous experiments when working on new versions of Bejeweled, and not all features get implemented. "Generally we found that some of them will add complexity to the game, but not fun," he explains. Boulders that can't be matched, for example, are interesting from a strategic viewpoint, but Kapalka said don't make the game more enjoyable to play.

Technological advances warrant changes, however, and sequels, especially for popular franchises, are essential for companies to keep revenues flowing.

But Bejeweled's popularity is problematic because people don't want it to change. Kapalka admits that upgrading it has been difficult. "It's a game that people obviously like in its basic form," he says. "You want to try and keep updating it ... but at the same time you don't want to wreck it by adding silly things."

PopCap has tried to avoid what he believes happened with that other popular puzzle game. "Tetris would always have these updates," Kapalka explains, "and they'd have some new thing, and the new thing would kind of suck," driving players back to classic mode.

The appearance of Bejeweled Twist in 2008 provided the first evidence that some fans of the franchise wanted the game to stay true to its roots. In Twist, matches are made by rotating groups of gems, not swapping them.

Kapalka says it "turned off a lot of people." The problem was that the rotational mechanic was a "fairly radical change." While some players liked the new dynamic, those who expected to be moving gems left, right, up and down were upset. Some felt that they had been tricked and betrayed.

In the future, says Kapalka, if he finds a game mechanic he likes and wants to implement, he won't be in such a hurry to make it into a Bejeweled title. While he admits that leveraging the familiarity of the franchise is always tempting, sticking the Bejeweled name on just anything only dilutes the brand, and annoys the customers.

"There's been a few casual games that have done that," he explains, citing Diner Dash as an example. "It's got so many variants and sequels. The original game is still good, but there's been so many middling variations that it's maybe lost a little bit of its iconic power."

PopCap recently unveiled Bejeweled 3, the first update to the franchise in two years, and only the fourth sequel. It features graphical and animation updates to bring the game into the high-definition world, and innovations from previous iterations that had already gained fan acceptance.

Bonuses for making matches quickly and the ability to make swaps simultaneously while gems are cascading are features that appeared in Bejeweled Blitz, the Facebook version of the game released in 2008. Lightning mode, in which the objective is to rack up points as time runs out, was inspired by Blitz, which in turn brought it from Twist.

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