Puzzle Box

Puzzle Box
The Jewel in PopCap's Crown

Blaine Kyllo | 14 Dec 2010 13:11
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Also derived from Twist is Bejeweled 3's Zen mode. It is included because PopCap learned that many people played Bejeweled in order to relax, a revelation that surprised Kapalka.

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"A lot of people playing it weren't playing it like a regular game, and the part they didn't like was losing," he explains. "They didn't care if it was a game or not." Kapalka decided to accept and embrace that fact.

The version of Zen in Bejeweled 3 allows players to make adjustments to a number of features designed to assist relaxation. The game music can be replaced with ambient sounds, positive affirmations can be displayed on the screen and headphone users can have different frequencies played in each ear. There's also breathing feedback, audio and visual cues to modulate and regulate a player's breathing.

It won't be for everyone, Kapalka admits, but those who do like it will find it interesting. And, hopefully, relaxing.

Bejeweled 3 also includes a few new mini-games, including one that harkens back to Bejewled's roots.. "When we were testing," says Kapalka, "we found that a lot of the testers ended up spending half their time playing the Diamond Mine mode once they'd unlocked it."

PopCap is much different than it was 10 years ago. Now headquartered in a Seattle office, not an apartment, the company has development studios in Chicago, Dublin, San Francisco, Seoul, Shangai and Vancouver. It's had success with other casual games including Peggle, digital pachinko, and Plants vs. Zombies, tower defense for the masses.

What hasn't changed is the formula for success: distilling a game down to a particular mechanic. Plants vs. Zombies, for example, was PopCap's "attempt to take a hardcore genre and make it more approachable," says Kapalka. "I believe that if I can enjoy a game, then in theory a lot of other people should also be able to enjoy that game."

The designers at PopCap, he adds, try to identify and remove any barriers that might keep people from playing, like the five-hour tutorials that are part of some of the complicated strategy games Kapalka likes to play in his spare time.

"If you can make it easier and more pleasant to get into the game, then it opens up to a lot more people," he says, suggesting that it's possible that PopCap will someday release a casual version of one of those games at some point. "We haven't necessarily succeeded yet."

"A lot of our experiments lead to defunct projects," Kapalka admits. "But we have a big library of experiments that didn't go anywhere and every once in a while we go back to them. Some of them are just going to be dead." But one of them, perhaps, is another diamond just waiting to be discovered.

Blaine Kyllo writes on video games, technology and pop culture. He lives in Vancouver.

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