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Joystiq interview: Scribblenauts' Jeremiah Slaczka


Following Drawn to Life and Lock's Quest, both ambitious DS games with an emphasis on the player's ability to create the in-game world, developer 5TH Cell announced its next, even more ambitious -- downright crazy, honestly -- DS game concept: Scribblenauts. Combining a text adventure and a graphical puzzle game, Scribblenauts allows players to create any object to help them solve environmental puzzles and acquire out-of-reach or hidden "Starite" items -- simply by writing the name of the object.

We spoke to 5TH Cell's Creative Director, Jeremiah Slaczka, about the impossible-sounding game, doing our best not to just list hundreds of objects and ask whether they are all in the game (of course, we did a little of that). In addition to discussion about the game's structure and narrative (or lack thereof), Slaczka sent us three exclusive screens!


First, the concrete details: Do you have a publisher for Scribblenauts yet? A release window?

Yes, we've chosen a publisher. We're in the final stages of talks with them now. Our release window is still slated for this upcoming Fall.

Is the secrecy behind the publisher's identity part of the deal with them, or in some way intended to build anticipation for the game?

It's more of a timing thing -- the publisher has their own time frame when they want to make the announcement.

I can say we're very happy with the publisher we chose. We feel very confident that they're going to do the best for this game out of all the publishers we talked with.

All of the items have a list of attributes that determine their in-game behavior, right? Can you give us some examples of the parameters? What is the difference, for example, between a croissant and a danish, in gameplay?

Yes, that's correct. However, the difference, just like in real life, between a croissant and a Danish is minimal at best. They're both pastries. I suppose a Danish is round and therefore could roll, unlike a croissant. But other than that, you eat them.

"It wasn't very accurate - it's an elephant using its trunk to shoot a bazooka after all."

Have any items turned out to have emergent uses in-game that you didn't expect?

Oh, all the time. Last week someone gave a bazooka to an elephant, who picked it up with its trunk, and then Maxwell threw a rock at the elephant to see what would happen. Of course the elephant got upset and started shooting randomly to defend itself. It wasn't very accurate - it's an elephant using its trunk to shoot a bazooka after all. But after all those explosions Maxwell didn't survive the ordeal. Still it was pretty funny though.

What is the level structure? For example, do you unlock levels one after another, or is there an initial choice? Is everything unlocked like Bangai-O Spirits?

Yes, completing a level will unlock additional levels.. But it's not fully linear; players will be able to pick and choose the new levels they want to play.

How do you limit the player's capabilities when they can summon anything? Or have you somehow designed the game so that having anything you need isn't that much of an advantage?

In some levels we limit the player's capabilities, but for the most part the levels themselves are designed so that using certain objects wouldn't help anyway. Think of it like this: a boat won't help you perform surgery. Just because you could write one, doesn't mean it's helpful in every context.

How do the harder challenges differ from the easier ones? Can you describe a couple of example levels?

We don't want to give anything away too early, but there's a definite ramp up in difficulty as levels progress. As the game progresses levels require multiple steps to solve, and people will need to be more creative to think of a good solution.

Is Scribblenauts as story-oriented as Drawn to Life and Lock's Quest?

No, definitely not. We do love to add deep stories to our games, but it just didn't fit with Scribblenauts. The story is very minimal.

Have you had any trouble making the concept work within the DS's technical limitations?

No, not really. We've actually done pretty well in that aspect. People assume the DS as a handheld, is always limiting, which isn't entirely true. Every title is unique with it's technical challenges, but for Scribblenauts, the DS has been great thus far!

Will there be any way to share your crazy arrangements of stuff, or to show it off? Some kind of online integration?

We can't say anything about online functionality at this time.

Can you give us any hints about future projects?

Well, honestly we're really focused on Scribblenauts and one additional original title we're working on. We want to get these titles right, so everyone in the company is working hard toward that goal. But console development is definitely in our future.

Is the new project also on the DS?

Yes, it is on the DS and again it's an original IP, but then all of 5TH Cell's titles are. So I guess that's not such a great hint.

Your company has made its name on the DS. Do you have any plans for development specifically for the upcoming DSi? What do you think of the system?

I think the DSi is a very interesting platform. We had a chance to check it out, and we have some very unique ideas that utilize the DSi's new functionality in innovative ways, but it's just a matter of making a high level, corporate decision on which platform(s) is best for us. So for now, it's a bit too early to say anything.

Here's the obligatory question: are these five items (basically just five nouns off the top of my head): Library, tailor, nutria, ebelskiver pan, pantsuit, summonable in-game?

I thought nutria was some kind of food, but I looked it up in our list and it's there. Alternatively, it's called a coypu. I mean, honestly we have so many words in the game now, without checking our database, there's no way I'll know what's in there. But everything you said is in the game already. Though ebelskiver pan is a great try!

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