Interview: Atomic talks with Scribblenauts developer about revolutionary new game.
Scribblenauts perhaps doesn't lend itself to much insight from name alone; but if you were to guess that it included scribbling you'd be definitely along the right path. Currently in development by 5TH Cell, it's a side-scrolling 2D platformer for the Nintendo DS with a twist - it has more potential scope than any game we've seen yet.
Based around the main character, Maxwell, players scribble in (or select with an on-screen keyboard) any word that describes an object, which will appear in-game. A phenomenal combination of these objects can be used to achieve certain goals, but the only way to really beat the game is to simply let your imagination run free.
Do you ride a gorilla (itself riding a unicycle) while wearing a tophat, invisibility cloak and wielding a shotgun to challenge a T-Rex to a fight? Do you throw a toaster into a pool of water to kill a shark, or simply drop a killer whale in there with it? Do you just blow everything to radioactive hell with an Atom bomb - it's all up to your imagination.
Over 10,000 objects and characters have been coded into the game, and Scribblenauts won many awards at the recent E3 (IGN, GameSpy). As with anything that offers this much freedom there have to be rules, and restrictions, so we had a chat with Brett Caird, the QA Director at 5TH Cell. Read the interview below.
JR: What was the process for deciding the objects that were to be included in the game?
Brett: The goal was to get every imaginable object into the game. We identified that a few restrictions were required in the way of needing to avoid copyright and trademark issues, and wanting to avoid vulgar and provocative objects. But the biggest challenge really was that there are just so many imaginable objects... it wasn't so much a matter of deciding what to include, as trying to ensure we found everything that people would think of. This was a very iterative process of heavily researching all manner of word resources, combined with playtesting feedback.
JR: How was the animation handled, considering the vast amount of possible interactions?
Brett:The cartoon style of graphics lends itself well to this, both in terms of directly reducing the resources required to store and process graphics and animations, but also by expanding what the player will accept as plausible behaviour. I doubt you'll ever see Scribblenauts HD for this reason, as the sort of cartoon realism that its style delivers is integral to the game and a great source of entertainment. Making it ultra realistic would detract from the game even if it were technically possible.
The number of animations for each object had to be kept to a minimum to fit within the limits of the system, and even practical limits of design. Achieving so many plausible looking interactions required making clever use of physics and some programmatic techniques to augment the animations and provide an overall sense of cartoon realism.
JR: When sitting down to create a game for the Nintendo DS, what were the initial constraints that the system's hardware placed upon the scope of the game (if any) and how did that shape the development cycle?
Brett: Once again, the cartoon style ties into this. The earliest concept work on Scribblenauts benefited from the uniqueness of the DS's capabilities - and not just features like touch screen input, but also its restrictions. If you're designing for a high powered system where everyone automatically assumes the game will be done in full 3D, you would dismiss the notion of being able to spawn any imaginable object as being too complex to implement. If anything, the system's restrictions enabled the creation of something more ground breaking than would have happened if the restrictions didn't exist. Necessity is the mother of invention doesn't quite describe it, but it's close.
As it was, we had established the fundamental technical design, feasibility and system limitations before we had nailed down the best way to make a game out of the core concept of writing and spawning objects.