Bejeweled 3 creator tells us why this isn't just another sequel [Exclusive Interview]
PopCap co-founder and Chief Creative Director Jason Kapalka gives Games.com the inside scoop on Bejeweled 3's new features, and confesses that his mother's approval is the ultimate measure of success for this new version of the classic gem-swapping game. Aw, isn't that sweet.
OK, so let's talk about some of Bejeweled 3's new features. There's a Quest mode. Would you say that's one of the big new features for the game?
Yes, that's definitely one of the big ones. We're not trying to make a full-blown role-playing game or anything like that. It's kind of more of a structure for a series of challenges and variances for the game. There's a whole bunch of crazy Bejeweled variances we were playing around with, and we put in the quest mode as a framework to put them in there. So the structure is that we're trying to restore some various artifacts and to do so you have to play these different kinds of Bejeweled variants, that in some cases they are only minor variants on the Bejeweled rules, like you only have 10 moves or something like that to release a jewel.
What are some examples of the Bejeweled 'variants' in the new Quest mode?
There's a balance mode where you have a pendulum that goes back and forth depending on which color of gems you are clearing, if you tilt it too far one way or the other you lose, so you have to decide which gems to match to keep the thing balanced. There's Ice Storm, where you have these rising colors of ice that are going up and you have to knock them by making matches before they get to the top. There's Diamond Mine which is kind of the one where you're digging, and you're clearing dirt by clearing gems and the more you do you dig down further and further and find treasures and so forth. There's Butterflies -- which is a pretty interesting one -- where you have these jeweled butterflies that are moving up from the bottom towards the top where there's a big spider, and you're trying to clear them off the board to freedom or before they get to the top where the spider will eat them.
Are those your favorites in the new game?
Yeah, there's a couple that are actually – the Secret one or those Quest ones. There's some of them that are entertaining once or twice; I wouldn't want to play them repeatedly. There's other ones that are actually pretty compelling, and we've made those into separate game modes. So once you've played for a little bit, you unlock them as a full mode you can play.
Is that what the oh-so mysterious 'secret games' are in Bejeweled 3?
Yeah. The secret games are basically some of the variants of Bejeweled. The more unusual ones that we thought were the really cool ones that you wanted to play over and over again. And so once you've progressed a little way through the game, they're unlocked so you can just go back and play them in sort of a perpetual mode, as you would with the other versions, like Classic skill and so forth.
OK. I also noticed that there's going to be a new badge system in the game.
Yeah. It's not exactly ... it's kind of new. I wish I could say it's super radically awesome cool. We had something like that in the PC version of Bejeweled Blitz. It's sort of an achievement system. The only thing – you get these badges for doing various things, and there's different levels of badges, and there's elite badges for doing really tough things.
How tough are the 'tough' badges?
A really tough badge would be Super Nova Gem, which is a kind of gem that exists in the game but it's one of these we don't even tell people about it because it's nearly impossible to make. You have to get six gems in a row. And it's quite hard to do that. You either need to have an incredibly lucky hall of gems, or you need to engineer an extremely difficult combination of gems so those fall together and make a sixth gem combination. And a Super Nova Gem does a humongous explosion, so that's kind of cool. It's mostly just an achievement to see if you can actually get such a thing.
How many badges are there going to be in the game?
Oh gosh. There's a bunch. There's dozens. I would say there's dozens and dozens.
Bejeweled Blitz came out and we got obsessed with being able to do more than one match at one time. Is that also going to be in the game?
Oh yeah. We kind of used a lot of the Bejeweled Blitz basic physics and mechanics of it. Kind of carried into Bejeweled 3 here. Like Blitz, the visuals and all the special effects and stuff are pretty cranked up. It's full HD displays and accelerated explosions and more tunnels and so on.
Do you think that will go over well with the traditional Bejeweled fan?
I believe so. I think that when we put out Bejeweled 2 in 2004, at the time, for the casual game market, it was actually a bit over the top. I remember people telling us things like, 'Why is your game 1024 by 768? That resolution is way too big. Casual players are never going to need that hi-res." And that may be true -- that may be overkill for some people -- but in some ways it also kind of allows for future-proofing. Down the road another year or two, it will still probably look good, we hope. And of course it can be played at a lower resolution and smaller and you can resize the windows freely and just play on low-end computers, so that is a pretty important part. We are trying to support both casual players and people who have a fancier machine, so they can also enjoy more stuff. Bejeweled 2 is six years old.
What's your definition of success for a game like Bejeweled 3?
Honestly, Bejeweled 3 was, in some ways, a game we made for my Mom. And my Mom is a big Bejeweled fan, but, you know what, she doesn't use Facebook, she doesn't want to use Facebook, she doesn't want to play Bejeweled Blitz. So she's been looking at Bejeweled where, so, she's been playing stuff on, you know, 2004 kinds of things. So, you know, [Bejeweled 3] was a game that we kind of made for people like her, who kind of like Bejeweled, but have been kind of left a bit high and dry for awhile, as far as getting something new.
So if your mom likes Bejeweled 3, then you'll consider it successful?
Well, yeah, it's actually not a bad way of looking at it. [Laughs]
How many additions in the game are based on things that fans requested?
There is definitely a number of things in there that are a result of what people liked or didn't like in earlier versions. So for example, we've got one in there called Lightning Mode, which is influenced by Bejeweled Blitz. It's not exactly Bejeweled, because we didn't want to just duplicate that. It's sort of a very fast-paced, time-based kind of game. It is different from Blitz in a couple ways, in that you, it can last longer than a minute. You can kind of collect these time gems that will extend your game. And it's kind of got a sort of a stage thing, where you go up in rounds, and each round is worth more points, and so forth. So, that was definitely influenced by Blitz, because we figured that, you know, the players who are playing Bejeweled Blitz, of which, there are quite a few now.
Does Bejeweled 3 have any kind of social media integration that, you know, if you get a high score, can you put it on Twitter, or anything like that?
To be honest, right now, no. But it'll probably get stuff like that in the future. We're trying to figure out how to kind of do these things in a way that, kind of makes sense. And it didn't seem to make sense, Bejeweled 3 is kind of, more of a, single player game.
Now, that doesn't mean that, in fact, it's quite likely that, aspects of Bejeweled 3 will start to resurface, in other parts of. So, might, you start seeing some of those kinds of variant games, you know, as part of, you know, iPhone Bejeweled, or Bejeweled Blitz. And that seems quite possible.
You know, one thing I didn't really see in the trailer, were remnants of Bejeweled Twist. Is there any reason for that?
There are some places you'll see Bejeweled Twist resurfacing, but not in [Bejeweled 3]. There are some games coming out the next couple months, where, I will, I don't know if I, I'd probably better not announce anything.
I would say that Twist is not dead. There will be more twisting. There will be more twisting coming, but our feeling was that Twist was a little bit more of a hard-core mechanic. [Yeah] And so we're going to try to move that into a product where those kinds of players are more likely to enjoy it.
Downloadable casual games have been taking a hit and a lot of people have blamed that on social gaming. Do you think this will affect how Bejeweled 3 is received?
It's definitely a factor. Yeah, I mean download space is, it's getting a lot tougher. I wouldn't say it's necessarily going downhill, but it's certainly flattening.
On the other hand, it's kind of a complex equation. Last year was our best year for retail. We're doing very well with boxes in retail stores. That's not exactly the sexy new social game story. There are a lot of people out there who are still buying their games in places like Wal-Mart, and so you know, we've been doing pretty good there.
Now it's not something that is a news story, but – and it's true that in general PC retail sales, especially for AAA games are not looking too good. But it has been doing pretty well for us. Downloadable are also, it's definitely a sign of it's changing. And I would say, in the future – as you can see from the kinds of products we're doing now, we're trying to – I wouldn't say move away from it, -- but I would say branch out from it.
When you look at some of our other games, what we find, the good thing about the PC is that it's a pretty good spot for testing things out and seeing how they work, and developing for that in a way that helps the other platforms. So, Plants vs. Zombies, if we started doing a count of where it's been played, probably by now you'd see that a lot more people have played it on iPhone or iPad or Xbox or something like that than have played it online. But would it have existed on those platforms if it hadn't been on PC first? Probably not. We provided a good spot for that game to come out. It was a pretty high risk game and it was a good spot to develop something where you weren't worried about a lot of the crazy technological issues, platform issues and so forth. And then going from there to these other platforms was actually relatively easy, comparatively. And when we went to iPhone, people were already quite aware of Plants vs. Zombies from PC, and so forth. And so that kind of helped get it out there.
Bejeweled 3 Interview: Part II: Take a closer look at the game's new experimental 'Zen' mode, complete with positive affirmations and breath modulator.
Image courtesy of GameSauce