Serenity now: Bejeweled 3's Zen mode treads on 'New Age-y' territory

bejeweled 3 zen modeOne of my favorite things about PopCap's popular match-3 puzzle game is that you can choose to play under high pressure, whether timed or to beat a high score, or -- if you're just in the mood to kick back and relax -- you can play the game on Endless mode, where there's no time limits, you can just swap gems until you fall into some sort of blissed out trance.

PopCap co-founder and Chief Creative Director Jason Kapalka says this has always been a fan favorite, and in the new Bejeweled 3 game, the 'Endless' mode from the previous Bejeweled games has been completely blown out and renamed the 'Zen' mode.

Like the 'Endless mode,' you will be able to play for infinity -- but the Zen mode has some new added a few new experimental features designed to transport you to your happy place. While you play the game, you'll be treated to a spa-like experience with relaxing visuals and music. And a breath modulator. And, if you choose, positive affirmations like 'Don't Worry' and 'Be Happy.' Oh yeah -- they went there.

Kapalka offers us more details on what to expect in Bejeweled's most experimental version of the game yet.

So, tell us more about Bejeweled 3's Zen mode.

The zen mode is gonna be quite interesting. A lot of this stuff that's in there is actually kind of scientific-lite. It actually has things in there that you can actually use to kind of, you know, get into a meditative state. It's got breath modulation stuff...

Breath modulation? How does that work?

Well, you turn it on. And this sort of tracking line moves up and down the screen at the same time you hear kind of, basically, breathing in and out sounds. It actually works pretty well. What it does is then, over time, if you play that, the pace sort of slows down gradually. So you get to ideas that kind of. It definitely works. I mean, as you're listening to the, you know, breathing and watching this line in the background, you kind of think up your own breathing with it. And as that slows down, you know? You tend to, you know, make you also slow down your own breathing.

Wow. That's wild.

Yeah. I mean, it's not exactly, you know? It's not full-on biofeedback-type stuff, where we kind of attach, you know, electrodes to your head or anything like that.

But it is, you know? It actually does, you know, the kind of function that will, you know? If you sit there and do that, it's very likely it will actually kind of slow your breathing down, which will probably cause you to calm down and lose your stress.

Have you guys done any medical testing on that?

Jason: Yeah, kind of. Yeah. We – there's some medical researchers who have been doing a bunch of tests using Bejeweled and custom variants of Bejeweled. They have a version that will actually do a biofeedback. So they have people hooked up to monitors and so on. We can't exactly replicate what they're doing in this version. But, yeah, we have had them come in and talk to us a few times and consult with us.

Is there anything else rather than breath modulation, like colors and sound?

There's some subtle stuff we did in the game where when you're playing in the Zen Mode, a bunch of things like gravity and the rate of how things swap and explosions are all kind of tend to be a little more mellow, basically. But there's also more full-on things. There's fine aural tones, which – you might have heard of these -- you have to wear headphones to listen to them. It's an auditory illusion where they play a frequency in one ear and a different frequency in the other ear. And that kind of tricks your brain into hearing a different frequency, by hearing the two sounds in different ears. And it can be done so that you hear a frequency outside of the regular hearing range.

Now the point of that is that, in theory, you can have it be tones that are outside of the range of hearing but are in the range of different kinds of brain wave pulsations. The theory being it can be useful for meditation by playing frequencies that are in the beta wave or delta wave range that would be associated with deep sleep or dreaming. That's kind of an interesting thing. It's in there in the experimental category. But that is an area that's sort of fringe science. And, you can turn the monitor off as you prefer.

What has the response been like from players?

Different people have different responses to it. Some people listen to it and think it's cool. Other people hear a bunch of irritating tones and noises. So it's something that we thought was fun to try. And some people like it. It does work well for some people in terms of meditative mode. And we also have one more feature in there that is definitely for my mom. We call them mantras. Which are kind of, to some degree, kind of like affirmations. Where it will display positive thoughts on the screen either visibly ___ or if you want, subliminally.

Like what? What kind of affirmations?

Generally positive thinking kind of things. 'Be happy' and 'Don't worry.' At one point we had a quit smoking set in there where it would try and tell you things to quit smoking, but we had to take that out because, bizarrely, even having the mentioning of smoking in there gave us an ESRB rating, where we had tobacco use. So it was just too weird to have a thing where we would come out with a warning about smoking on it.

Yes, that would be odd for a Bejeweled game.

Yeah, so it has these things in it. That's a weird one, obviously, because clearly that's getting into some sort of New Agey territory. Some people don't like it and some people would consider it silly, but, again, my mum likes it, and I know she enjoys that stuff or seeing it, and it does no harm, and it's certainly it's an option you can choose, whether you want on or not. It's part of the whole experience of a zen-type thing, which we always thought was a good idea to embrace the idea that if people are playing it to relax let's kind of throw in everything we can to might possibly help you do that, rather than sort of...

All you need to do is insert yoga instructor you're good to go.

We did change some of the things where you can get music well you can actually play music or various sort of soothing sound effects in the background like running water or waterfalls, stuff like that, too. So, yeah, I mean, we'll see how that goes.

It is odd because it represents how Bejeweled has these two extremes, so you've got, you know, on the one hand, that version, where you could be you know listening to hypnotic tones on your headphones and positive affirmations while you're watching this breathing thing go up and down, and on the other extreme you've got kind of hyper-kinetic, one-minute action games with explosions all over the place with wormholes and lightning bolts, and so forth.

Now, some people may like both of them, and that's been the weird thing with Bejeweled is whenever people try and specify it as a game for one type of person, you know it's a bit not fair to say that. It got stereotyped as being just a game for mums initially, and with things like iPhone and visuals, [Bejeweled ]Blitz and so forth, it takes on a different form for different people.
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