We’re Doomed

Spellirium

So we shopped Spellirium around at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle this past week, and the consensus was that the game was good … for them to poop on.

Category Exclusivity

i’ve been billing Spellirium as a “word puzzle/adventure game hybrid”, or “Jim Henson’s Labyrinth meets Boggle.”

Hoggle

Er – that’s “Boggle”, not “Hoggle”.

To the casual games portals and bidnessmen i met at the conference, the phrase “word puzzle game” was tantamount to box office poison of Carrot Top-ical proportions.

Said one acquisitions director for a well-known casual downloadable games portal, “word games don’t do well.” He cited the only three word games he’s ever known that did do well: Scrabble, TextTwist, and “to a far lesser extent”, Bookworm. Apparently Bookworm Adventures, Spellirium’s kissing cousin, didn’t even rate.

Bookworm Adventures

At a reported development cost of over $700k, Bookworm Adventures is the casual downloadable industry’s Ishtar.

i did my research before embarking on this project. i knew that word games don’t sell. i even wrote that fact into our business plan. i was quick – perhaps too quick – to point out to him that there are no other word games quite like Spellirium. i wasn’t just shilling, though – honestly, no other game i know has tried to combine an early-90’s LucasArts-style adventure game with a word puzzle mechanic. All other word games i’ve seen have been just the mechanic, and that can get old quickly. Even Bookworm Adventures, with its worm-on-monster battles and its levelling and inventory systems, didn’t do story. Story is not a blob of text you frantically skip after the title screen, or an explanation of how Character X has to retrieve the Magic Y.

Bubble Bobble

Note: this is not “story”.

i also tried to explain that Spellirium does word puzzling like no other game. We’re really stretching this simple mechanic to its farthest logical limits – you’ll be spelling words to paint pictures, navigate mazes, move objects, balance balls … in many of our modes, spelling words doesn’t even matter. It’s crazy, it’s creative, and i think players are totally gonna dig it.

Spellirium modes

We’ve already produced and playtested over twenty unique variations on our main game mechanic, seen here in prototype phase. One of the goals of Spellirium is to ensure that the puzzling is constantly fresh and surprising.

Idiocracy

The casual games publishers do not dig it. “Anything that involves thinking”, they said, “is a non-starter.” The same acquisitions guy told me that one of our other games was “too cerebral”, and followed up by saying “i don’t wanna say that our audience is dumb, but … ”

And i won’t say that either. i’m sure that the Big Fishes and the iWins and the Gamehouses have more than their fair share of dim bulbs buying games from them. But i think the real challenge for us with Spellirium is finding the right audience. The casual downloadable audience is mostly female, and mostly older, and they play games to escape. Spellirium is not an escape in that clicky-gemmy, findy-object kinda way. It’s escapism in that “i’ve been transported to a fascinating and fun other world where there are characters who are more interesting than anyone i know, and places more vivid than i’ve ever visited” kinda way.

Bejewelled

i actually feel like i have to escape Bejewelled whenever i’ve played. Is this lunch break ever gonna end?

Luna-cy

i was never more dismayed during the conference than when i attended the talk by Luna Cruz from Boomzap, who talked about economizing story in her game Awakening: The Dreamless Castle. Look: i know i’m a wordy writer, and i know the Spellirium script could use trimming as badly as those ladies from the 1970’s skin mags. So it was with great hope that i sat down to hear Luna’s talk.

Awakening

(Awakening: Not to be confused with that movie where Robin Williams gives drugs to all those old people.)

Early on, Luna said “We really needed to find a way to simplify this cut-scene and get the most important information out in as few lines as possible.” i was all ears. But then: “The original cut-scene had six lines of dialogue, which we knew was way too much for our audience, so we worked really hard and gave it a lot of thought, and cut it down to only two.”

You cut it down to – guh. What? How many lines? And you say six lines was too much for your audience to bear? i have to say six lines of dialogue before i can even establish one of my characters’ names. i was going to approach Luna after the talk and ask for her advice, but i began to worry that she’d look at one of our cut-scenes and start vomiting on me uncontrollably.

But let’s compare. Here’s the entire story of Awakening:

*** spoilers ***

A princess who can’t wield magic wakes up in a magic-imbued world and must escape the castle, with the help of a magic mirror and some ornery trolls who were sworn to protect her.

And here’s just the backstory to Spellirium:

*** no spoilers ***

In the future, a young apprentice journeys with an ill-fated monster to find his missing guardians, using a dangerously magical device to battle enemies and to overcome challenges.

Luna can tell her entire story in the same space that it takes me to write a synopsis of Spellirium. We’re dealing with apples and oranges here. Which suggest to me that the audience, likewise, is like apples and oranges.

Spellirium storyboard

Three panels from a Spellirium cutscene.

What Sort of Gamer Plays Spellirium?

The suggestion was repeated to me by a number of people at the conference, when i asked whether i should just scrap Spellirium and take up pork farming: i need to find the right audience for the game. So what sort of gamer plays Spellirium?

What sort of man reads Playboy?

The pervy sort. Next question.

We tried to answer this question way back before production began by stating the obvious: people who play word games will play Spellirium. So we built a game portal called Word Game World and stocked it with word games leftover from the MochiMedia/Dictionary.com contest they ran last year. Here are the less-than-stellar results:

Word Game World Analytics

Yes – that says “40”, not “40k”.

The trouble is that now we found ourselves with the challenge of generating an audience for TWO properties. It makes more sense to just bring people straight to Spellirium, than to drive them to the game via the scenic route. That, and many of the word games people have made have turned out less-than-scenic, if you get my drift. (Yet another nail in the coffin for the genre – too many people making it look bad)

Beer Covers a Multitude of Sins

i got a hot tip from my fellow Christian game designer pal Grant Shonkwiler (who you’ll remember from our earlier post on the impossibility of Christian gaming). These days, Grant designs games for tabletop bar cabinets (like any good Christian would … i forgot to ask if he got paid in hooch). He designed a word game for his company that was a smash success with the audience, and offered that bar patrons love word games. It reminded me of Norm MacDonald’s old SNL Weekend Update punchline: Germans love David Hasselhoff. You hit the right niche with the right product, and you’re sailing.

Norm Macdonald

So what combination of Knight Riding and Baywatching will Spellirium have to pull off to find its Germany-sized pool of rabid fans? Here are some facts about what i *think* a Spellirium player is like. i think the game will appeal to both sexes, but i’ll use masculine pronouns for simplicity:

  1. He can kick ass at Scrabble. Don’t mess.

    Scrabble

  2. He does crossword puzzles on his way to work. In pen. He may even feel that British cryptics are far superior to American-style.
  3. He watches movies. Among his favourite films are Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Road Warrior, Twelve Monkeys, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Princess Bride, The Last Unicorn, Dragonslayer, and The Goonies.

    movies

    movies

  4. He reads. He likes sci fi and fantasy. He may enjoy Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Lloyd Alexander, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Terry Brooks, and Neil Gaiman.
  5. He plays games. He quite liked Puzzle Quest, Bookworm and Bookworm Adventures, digital versions of Scrabble and Boggle, Wurdle, TextTwist, LucasArts and Sierra On-Line graphic adventure games – possibly even Infocom text adventures or MUDs – as well as Out of This World, Beneath a Steel Sky and the Fallout series.

    games

  6. When he’s playing a game that has story elements, including dialogue or cutscenes or even blobs of text, he does not – does NOT – push the A button to skip. He becomes particularly upset if he accidentally skips story, even if he’s not particularly enjoying that story. If he’s gaming with a dumb jock fratboy friend who blithely skips past all the story sequences saying “let’s just play already, d00d”, he punches that friend in the throat. (Then he gets his ass kicked, because he’s a lover, not a fighter.)

i know, friends. i know. i’ve just described myself. (Or perhaps Jerry Holkins / Tycho Brahe from Penny Arcade – i’m convinced we’re the same person.) i am a little concerned that i have not paid enough attention to the needs and wants of the market, over the needs and wants of the me. i have not designed Spellirium as an ineffectual, casual click-fest with simple puzzles and two-line cutscenes. i thought, perhaps foolishly – perhaps arrogantly – that if i designed a game that i desperately wanted to play, there would be others like me for whom this game would be a breath of fresh air.

Ryan Henson Creighton

If the world was as full of me as i am of myself, i’d be a wealthy, wealthy man.

Was i wrong? Like chocolate and peanut butter, is our word puzzle/adventure game hybrid born of two great tastes that taste great together? Or is it born of two disappointments – an overly cerebral genre that repeatedly fails to perform in the marketplace, and an outdated genre that saw its best days twenty years ago? Should we finish Spellirium and bury it as quickly as possible, or should we keep working to realize our vision – the vision of a smart, funny game for well-read, literate players that melds two genres like no other game before it?

Spellirium player

Muffy and I simply *luuuurve* your game, Ryan.

i defer to your judgment and expertise. If Untold Entertainment needs to become a Hidden Object Game developer, please tell me now so that i can go get a lobotomy and get myself fitted at the Vagina Depot.

Word.

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47 thoughts on “We’re Doomed

  1. Fiz

    I share your sentiment about reading through all bits of game story. I even read the in-game books in “Elder Scrolls: Morrowind” that you find laying around or stacked on bookshelves. :-p

    I say, keep at it and don’t let people knock you down. I think this is the kind of game you have to complete before you dazzle most people. I, for one, am really looking forward to playing this, and I’ll definitely help spread it around.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check to see if it’s my turn in a “Words With Friends” game on my iPhone. :-)

    Reply
  2. Ken

    First of all, you’re hilarious and clever, and I love reading your blog. Second of all, Spellirium sounds awesome. My gf and I would definitely play the crap out of it. Keep up the good work and keep doing what you love. Let Zynga make games for the masses of morons. The rest of us will give Spellirium a try :)

    Reply
  3. Mark

    You had better finish some form of the game otherwise you have absolutely nothing to show for your efforts and expenses. One complete project will help bring in more paid work than two incomplete projects.

    Reply
  4. MichaelJW

    No but seriously, the responses you’ve been getting aren’t surprising, based on what you posted yesterday about the attitudes at Casual Connect. If everyone’s keen on data-driven business, and you show them something that’s not like anything that’s ever been done before, but the things that are the most similar have sucked in the past… well, go figure.

    Sounds like if you want to get the attention of those guys, you’ll need to find or generate some more positive data. Can you create a similar game on a much smaller scale and see how that appeals to people? Not a demo, but more of a spiritual predecessor; perhaps free to play on portals, or sold as an Android app.

    I’ve heard of writers creating sales pages and Google Ads campaigns for products that don’t exist, to see how many people click through (and, of course, capturing their email address so they have a decent mailing list if they decide to make the product). Perhaps you could do something similar.

    The most convincing data would come from releasing the game yourself and having a million people buy it, but that seems like a pretty big risk. I do hope you make the game, as I’m basically the guy you described, but not if it means the end of Untold Entertainment!

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      MJW – It’s kind of all-or-nothing with this concept. If we pull out the word game mechanic, it’ll fall flat as a capable, but ultimately uninspired average word puzzle game … exactly the kind of thing the acquisitions guy pictured when he said we were doomed. Our mechanic is pretty vanilla … what makes it far better is the dictionary, the quick list, and the adventure widget that we tack on to the side to sex it up.

      What i AM considering is making the game episodic. The model is very close to an episodic model as it is.

      Reply
      1. MichaelJW

        Oh, I understand that. I wasn’t suggesting you rip out a single component of the game and try to shop that around. Episodic sounds like a good idea — like doing a pilot. But what are the costs like with that? Do you have to create the entire game engine, story concept, character assets, etc. before you’ve even got Episode One?

        Reply
        1. Ryan Henson Creighton

          MJW – It’s engineered in such a way that we can do episodic, but i’d like to be partially ahead of the curve so that at the end of Ep 1, i can say (Veterinarian Hospital-style) “Tune in for Episode 2, when you’ll hear our hero say … ” and then cut to a preview of what’s in the next chapter. i don’t have to have the entire thing built to do that, though.

          Spellirium is built in such a way that we can keep spinning out different widget types and adventures fairly efficiently. The original game was always planned as 3 Acts. Act 3 contains a bit of branching logic that results in one of two different endings. Neither ending is conclusive – both leave you wanting more. So it’s very, very possible for us to pursue an episodic model. Is it possible for us to find an audience with that? Maaaybe … i’ve never seen anyone succeed at it except TellTale games, and i remember attending a GDC panel by either TellTale or HotHead talking about how episodic is a bad model.

          The one thing i really like about the idea of delivering Spellirium episodically is that i *think* we can carry over your items, Dictionary collection, Bestiary and Spellbook from chapter to chapter. This is attractive.

          You think people would pay? i know you haven’t even seen the content of Act 1 yet, but what price might the market bear? And do you think that people have wised up to the fact that if they wait long enough, they can buy an entire episodic pack for a dramatically reduced rate? (That’s the same with any game, i guess.)

          Reply
          1. MichaelJW

            What’s the difference between episodic and sequels? Is it all to do with the story not wrapping up?

            I love it when game series let you keep your achievements between different instalments. Ratchet and Clank do this really well when they let you carry some weapons over between different games. I guess Pokémon is the master of this, and you’ve compared your Dictionary to the Pokédex before.

            I honestly have no idea what price the market could bear. I don’t really know what to compare it to. The only indie graphic adventure games that I’ve heard of that are Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen Please; the first is free and the second is about $5. But is it selling?

            Bookworm Adventures, Puzzle Quest, Sam and Max, Monkey Island (Tales and the Special Editions), these all sell for, what, $10 per episode? (On Steam, at least.) But these all have big names behind them.

            I doubt that the reduced price you mentioned is too big of a deal. I’ve never purposely waited for an episodic series to drop in price before buying it; it’s only games that I was on the fence about in the first place that I didn’t bother buying, then grabbed when I got the first email about a sale. (And these were always time-limited, so the developer was in control.) I really like Telltale’s approach of letting you buy one episode on its own, then upgrade to the full series if you like it.

  5. Gabe

    “i don’t wanna say that our audience is dumb, but … ”

    … but that’s exactly what you’re saying. I want Spellirium to succeed, if only to show those guys that assuming your audience is comprised of idiots is a terrible way to go about doing business.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Gabe – Agreed. i hope to be rewarded by thinking outside the box a bit here. Any way you slice it, it’s risky.

      Reply
  6. Facebook Indie Games

    Whatever other commenters say, don’t ignore this issue.

    You’ve got three options that all enable you to be true to yourself:

    – Build a great word puzzle game. Figure out everything that previous attempts have done wrong. Develop a great puzzle game with genuine challenge, real humour, and more story than other casual puzzlers. Keep the characters, backstory, and key plot that you have already. Show Big Fish what casual puzzlers for grown ups SHOULD be like.
    – Build a tribute to the classic LucasArts adventures. Use your own original IP. Create an incredibly compelling story with brilliantly realized characters. Father the next Guybrush Threepwood.
    – Keep going, data be damned. Deliver your dream game that combines both of the above.

    Evaluate them all and make a decision. Sooner the better. Commit to it.

    FBIndie says choices 1 or 2 are better.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      FBIndie – we’ve developed a game on contract that i’m DYING to show the world, but i’m just waiting to get the contract cinched up. We’ve essentially developed a graphic adventure game engine that we can use to spin out any number of LucasArts-style games, and that’s exactly what i plan to do come mid-October. i’m champing at the bit to show you this thing.

      Reply
  7. Bwakathaboom

    Words?! What’re ya, some kinda lefty pinko media elite? I bet Obama loves wurd gayms!

    I can’t offer much advice but I can commiserate. My game based on Neo Geo’s “Money Idol Exchanger” required basic math skills (5 nickels make a quarter) and I was warned by distributors that it would fail horribly because it was too complicated for their audience of moo-moo wearing paste-eaters.

    But, hey, if you discover a new genre and hit it out of the park you can at least look forward to dozens of clones eating up all of your marketshare within 90 days!

    Reply
      1. Bwakathaboom

        Oh yeah! I think I made a total of $5,000 from it, all told. Not including the $12 dollars from Mochi for the Flash port.

        Reply
  8. Ryan Arndt

    hey man, I would definitely finish it. I would like to play it for one (selfish interest) and I imagine other folks who arent into the hidden object game genre would love something more challenging. I know I would like that. I am the guy you were talking about above. word geekery with a backstory, I dig that. keep it up. tricky with some of the publishers as they do not have that market in mind with their other games, but, that does not mean that market does not exist.

    just about finding the right fit. its like releasing to the AppStore and having people “not get” the game and call it “gay” and delete.

    a quality intelligent game has an audience, i really believe that, I also believe people are smarter than we collectively “allow” them to be. at the very least, i hope they are…

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Ryan – i’ve been delightfully surprised to discover word game fans amongst people you’d think (and demographic profiles would suggest) were dumb-as-stumps. This is turning out to be a high-priced psychology experiment. i hope that when we’re finished, the right players will come out of the woodwork.

      Reply
  9. Iain

    Point and Click adventures are still popular – Samorost, Machinerium, Little Wheel etc. Even Monkey Island 2 is still a top seller. I feel your pain about word games though – it’s obviously something you love, but you’re definitely in a minority these days. I’ll have a go at a cryptic crossword but I never play word games on the computer. I have a question for you – do you actually like computer games? Do any of the following games appeal to you: Mario Galaxy, Gears of War, Fable, Little Big Planet, Grand Theft Auto. If the answer is no for 3 or more, I think maybe you don’t like games, and that’s why you’re so into word games.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Mario Galaxy – first one was fine. Second one is punishingly difficult. My 4-year-old always wants to watch me play it, but i get pretty face-punchingly angry about it, so i don’t last long. i generally don’t like games with time limits. Spellirium has time limits, but the game is very forgiving – you can replay as often as you like, and we provide you with items and gizmos to help you get through if you can’t beat something the first twenty times. i really want players to experience the whole game – don’t want to stop them dead in their tracks and lock them out of all the stuff i worked really hard to develop.

      Gears of War, GTA and Fable – i don’t play M-rated games as a matter of principle. i make a few exceptions (Crackdown … bits of Dead Rising). i don’t like gore, killing of innocents, or lazy profanity-strewn writing, which is generally all that people do to earn those M ratings. i very clearly remember being at E3 the year that journalist was beheaded by the Taliban. It really bummed me out. That day, i went to the show floor, and a producer was telling me all about Fable. He flash-forwarded to a vertical slice late in the game to show me how powerful your character could become, and he was like “Check it out! i can just slice these guys heads right off their shoulders!” It very nearly made me physically ill.

      Little Big Planet is a good idea with lousy controls, despite requiring twitch-timing precision. It’s like trying to build a house of cards while wearing oven mitts and ice skating. Very nice aesthetic tho.

      Most recently, i really enjoyed PixelJunk Shooter, Sword & Poker, Red Remover, Zack & Wiki, Rock Band, Catan, and Ticket to Ride (both on XBLA). i tend to gravitate toward more slow, ponderous games these days because i don’t have any gamer friends, and no one will play with me. So if i’m to have a hope in Hell to convince anyone to play with me, it has to be a game that a non-gamer will enjoy, not one that i’ll enjoy.

      But i do like games. Don’t make me hand over my gamer card just yet. :)

      Reply
  10. Bwakathaboom

    Any chance is Untold Entertainment still working on iPhone / iPad development? Just trying to think of where you can find a self-selecting audience, somewhere where the chaff has already been eliminated.

    Port to the Kindle? :)

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Funny – i was just talking to a little bird about Kindle stuff. Apparently, it’s very very difficult to develop for the device, and the Kindle folks aren’t even 100% on following through on their app store plans. That, and the device is 2-color. We’re still working on iPlatform stuff, but we’re waaaay behind the curve at this point, so much so that i can’t see us catching up at this point.

      Reply
  11. Taz Hasni

    For what it’s worth, games based on heart will always resonate better with the player than games based on trends. I’ve played the various versions of Spelliurum and it IS a fun game that will be appreciated by those that find it. Success or fail, it will be something you can stand behind as a part of your body of work.

    Reply
  12. Alex Schearer

    I’m not sure whether you’ve heard of Customer Development but it has a lot say about your problem. It sounds like you need to “get out of the building” and start talking to your potential customers until you can say with greater certainty who they are.

    In fact, your experiences with Word Games World seems to suggest that online game players are not your target audience. It might be a good idea to pivot and look in a different area. Can you run a survey amongst Big Fish enthusiasts gauging their interest in a game like Spellirum? Or how about asking real Boggle players what they think? I imagine you could use Facebook or possibly Mechanical Turk to reach out to potential customers.

    Another option worth considering is to flesh out one of your earlier prototypes and ship that independently. Try putting that in front of different customers and measure their response. If no one will try it when it’s free will they really shell out $$$ for the final product? I imagine you could throw together something decent to show off in a test in roughly a month.

    Best of luck figuring out what to do and I look forward to seeing how it turns out, Alex

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Alex – get out of the building? Really? This year, i attended Flash Game Summit and Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, INPlay, TCAF and FlexCamp here in Ontario, Jalloo Festival in Moncton New Brunswick, and Casual Connect in Seattle. i have moderated a panel and attend regular meetings of the IGDA, and i attend our local trade associations meet-ups and Flash User Group meetings. i never miss a meeting of the Toronto Hand Eye Society. i launched that word game portal to fish for customers. i run a newsletter for Spellirium, and have completed five closed online playtests with progressive builds of the game. i’ve plugged this thing on TIGSource, Facebook, and Twitter. I’ve infiltrated Scrabble, Bananagrams and Boggle user groups on social media sites.

      If i hang any farther out the building, i’ll fall to my death. My marketing/conference budget is tapped out at this point. If there are things i could be doing that i haven’t tried, i’m all ears … but please don’t suggest i haven’t tried to find an audience for this game!

      Reply
      1. Alex Schearer

        Ryan, I’m sorry if I offended you. All I have to go by is what you’ve written above which is largely a tale of doubt around who the customer is and whether there’s a market for Spellirium. It sounds like you’ve done a great deal of research on the questions above. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your findings. I am sure things will turn out well.

        Alex

        Reply
        1. Ryan Henson Creighton

          No no no – GAH! i didn’t mean to go off.

          i have an idea of the characteristics of the player, but i don’t have a firm grip on the demographics. The business plan described older female players, because they’re the ones who buy casual downloadable games. We made a case for making it a dark fantasy game, because that genre resonates with women better than high fantasy. (These days, supernatural fantasy is really a hit.) We claimed we would attract male players because we’re adding what i call “man-hooks” – monster battles, male leads, and an adventure story wrapper.

          But when people say “the game’s for kids, right?”, i immediately recoil. No, it’s not for kids. There’s nothing overtly objectionable that would make it inappropriate for a kid to play, IMO – very mild cursing, some dark material … a PG or E10+ rating at best – but i don’t want to say it’s a kid’s game. i don’t want to say it’s a game for adults either. i want to say it’s for fans of dark fantasy novels, riddles, puzzle and word games, but that’s not a definable demographic bucket that people can wrap their minds around, you know?

          i’ve been trying to generate interest in the game well in advance of the completion date, but perhaps that’s a mistake? At the very start, we had no artwork to lure people in, and that’s only starting to change at this late stage. Perhaps i just need to shut my monumental yapper and finish the bloody thing before i try to market it. Thinking out loud here.

          Reply
  13. Joseph Burchett

    Taz Hasni,

    Hm, idunno about, “games based on heart”… That may make the creator feel great but “heart” doesn’t translate to sales, but often trends do. Even in the most common Flash portals word games are kinda niche, you don’t see a lot of them. Ryan is defiantly targeting a particular audience. But then again Puzzle quest has done very well for itself.

    Ryan Henson Creighton,

    Iain does bring up a an interesting question… Do you enjoy those games? Or is it you just deeply love word games? Nothing wrong with that, it’s just based on your passed games coming out you seem to be really into that type of genre, would be interesting to see you create something in a more uh… dare I say “trendy” genre :-P

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Joe – this is the first word game i’ve ever built with Untold. i don’t deeply love word games. The idea for Spellirium came out of playing Puzzle Quest and wishing it wasn’t so repetitive. Then i read Jerry Holkins’s post about Bookworm Adventures, and my mind filled up with all the possibilities of a word puzzle adventure game. i bought Bookworm Adventures sight unseen on Jerry’s advice, and it fell far short of my expectations. But i thought “wouldn’t it be great to build a game as awesome as the game i thought Bookworm Adventures would be??”

      So it’s Puzzle Quest without as much grind and repetition. Short and sweet. But very sweet. And it’s storytelling like LucasArts did it, where the characters are funny and interesting. And it’s got a variety of monsters, just like Pokemon, but they’re more fun to fight. And it has a Pokedex, except the collectible items are the words that make up the entire game dictionary. And it takes place in the future, but it looks like the past. And there are talking creatures, and prophecies, and betrayals, and plot twists, and cliffhangers … i’m getting multiple boners just thinking about it. No idea why these elements aren’t even passingly appealing to people. Perhaps i haven’t done a good enough job conveying what the game is?

      Reply
      1. Joseph Burchett

        Ryan,

        Yeah, I may have just jump the gun on that one, considering I haven’ t even really seen any of it in action yet. I think you have done a pretty good job with explaining it so far… This game could really be the bee’s knees, who knows! But if you can say, I am curious why you chose a word game to mix into an adventure/rpg’ish genre?

        Reply
  14. ChrisO

    Ryan, really, I think you answered yourself to some extent in your last post. Get Jerry Holkins to fall in love with the idea and he can be your kingmaker. If you haven’t already, submit a panel for PAX Prime about the convergence of Puzzle and Quest, and get some people on board. Use spellerium, Puzzle Quest, and Bookworm adventures as your basis. You can probably get someone from PoPCap to show, and I can put you in touch with a variety of folks who worked on various versions of Puzzle Quest if you don’t know em yourself. I think PAX may be the place you find your ideal player (and 20k of them in one place) and honestly, its a fun time.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      ChrisO – you’re a GENIUS!! That is the greatest idea in, like, foreverville. Panel submissions for PAX 2010 are closed, but i just wrote the most retardedly enthusiastic (and/or desperate) submission email, and i’ll will them into accepting that submission with my MIND BRAIN.

      If they put any number of thumbs up for this, i would really appreciate your help sourcing panelists. i know Daniel James, so i could probably get someone from Three Rings. i know someone who worked with the Puzzle Quest team on a game in the same genre, but he didn’t work on Puzzle Quest itself. i made a PopCap connection last week at the show, who said he could put me in touch with one of the two Bookworm Adventures designers. But if one of those guys is, like, your brother-in-law, i’d really love an intro!

      Thanks again. You rule the planet Earth. Please email me … info [the at symbol] untoldentertainment [dot] com.

      Reply
  15. J. McDiddy

    I’m not your audience… BUT…
    I think you’ve missed a key point in the 2 versus 6 lines debate.
    You’ve got WAY more than text to communicate with.
    If this was a book, I agree with your concern…
    but you’ve got images, sound and interactivity on your side.
    Tell it with that first (you’ve got the mad abilities), then use text as a last resort.
    You gave me 6 ways to tell a story, which way said lots of text?
    I know it’s a word game, but the story portion need not be wordy.


    “In the future, a young apprentice journeys with an ill-fated monster to find his missing guardians,
    using a dangerously magical device to battle enemies and to overcome challenges.”

    turns into

    A picture of a young man and monster carrying a device in the foreground,
    with futuristic buildings in the background. Enemies attack… no text necessary yet.
    After the battle…
    Young man: “Do you think I’ll find my parents?”
    Monster: “who cares”
    the game continues…


    Unless you’ve got something REALLY entertaining or essential to say, resist the temptation for more text. Full screen beautiful images of your protagonists silently walking across a moonlit field, or heading towards a raging waterfall, or buying clothing at a futuristic store will do more for your game than most text conversation. The images aren’t random, they combine to tell a story like a wordless graphic novel. They’re on a journey, show me hints of the exciting stuff. The audience can fill in the gaps. If you hold back on text until absolutely necessary, people will want to listen when the characters speak. If Spellirium manages to tell a story as wordless as “Out of this World” (your brought it up), that would be be amazing. Imagine you didn’t have ANY story text until ten minutes into your game. That was the best part of Up.

    Given your concise blogging abilities, and your always entertaining pictures,
    it’s obvious you know when to use (and when not to use) text.
    My ramblings aside, Em is going to absolutely love this game any which way you make it.


    Somewhat related post from Dave Gilbert (who makes LucasArts style games):
    http://nygamedev.blogspot.com/2010/06/game-talk.html

    Reply
  16. Tami

    You already know my feelings on Spellirium; I am one of those who owns Bookworm titles – Bookworm Adventures included. I know how you must be feeling right now, because it’s the same way I feel about my own project. If you give up on Spellirium, I think that you will end up with regrets; yes it’s a big commitment to see it through with no guarantees, but then you will also wonder what would have happened if you’d published. While I’m mainly a console gamer and not so much a PC gamer (perhaps that will change in our new house – our office right now is cramped, horridly hot whenever the temperature squeaks over 15 degrees, and just not a generally nice play to spend more time in than necessary). That said, if Spellirium’s resolution works nicely on my netbook, then all of the aforementioned problems don’t apply.

    I fit right into your “ideal player” description (except for the “he” descriptor) and I do play console games that generally have a lot of depth – but I also play the run & gun games because there are days when nothing relieves the work pressure like blowing stuff up.

    You know that I’m already disappointed that Interrupting Cow Trivia is on the back burner – don’t rinse and repeat with Spellirium. I am not a fan of hidden object games, and there are very few match three games that I truly spend much time on – except the three that I am totally addicted to – and guess what, they were all made in Canada – and aren’t Big Fish or iWin or PopCap titles. They are all from indie studios. I support indie work whenever I can, providing the work doesn’t belong out in the manure bin, and Spellirium is work worth supporting. You will find the right path to take with your game, and in the end I think that if you see it through and get everything lined up properly – a working, engaging game with the right marketing you will succeed with it. Oh, and episodic content is a grand idea.

    Reply
  17. Bill thinksmartgames

    Well, brother. I’m in bed with the people who make fun educational games that sometimes make money and sometimes don’t.

    I dunno. If I can help in some way – please, lemme know. My link goes to the blog that I write for the people who pay me and make the games. They have another game coming out that’s pure learning but also pure fun.

    I have a feeling I’d not be much help – but I’m pulling for another good word game. There aren’t enough of them; we devotees of BookWorm are still wondering why there hasn’t been a Mac port of BookWorm Adventures.

    Reply
  18. Jeremy

    I’ve been following this blog since your GDC casual/social gaming recap and just wanted to say thanks for all the entertaining and thought-provoking posts.

    Regarding this latest post, I guess I’m not clear on what your aim was at the conference. Were you shopping for a publisher/portal to pick up the marketing and distribution for your game, or just trying to solicit opinions about the market for your game?

    It seems to me that the balance of power in casual web gaming right now is (or should be) skewed completely toward the developers. Hosting has been completely commoditized (and virtualized) with a ton of CDNs and virtual computing solutions to choose from. There are any number of payment providers out there ready to integrate with. And I’m not sure there’s any marketing campaign right now that can compete with the power of your customers talking about your game to their friends on Facebook. So what does a publisher/portal really bring to the table for a game like yours?

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Hi, Jeremy. Thanks for your encouragement.

      i didn’t go to Casual Connect with a rock-solid agenda of “get a publisher or die”. i wanted to feel out distribution partners – to solicit opinions, as you say, to help me figure out where to put my efforts in distributing this game. i know, of course, that i can throw it up on free Flash portals, but i would really, really like to break even on the dev costs, so i was talking to the download portals to figure out whether or not i could play in that space. The feeling i came away with is that, seller’s market notwithstanding, i wasn’t “in the game” enough to play in their clubhouse.

      This limits me to direct sales on the site, free Flash portals, and *possibly* Direct2Drive and Steam, but Steam is not returning my calls or emails. So i have to figure out how to maximize profits without the help of those portals. But first – build a fun game. :)

      Reply
  19. Peter

    A non-cerebral gut-jerk reaction:

    I realized a moment ago that I was reading through an ENTIRE blog and responses and recognized two things:
    1. Ryan is much more intelligent than I am.
    2. He makes me laugh.

    Put this all together now:

    I read everything because it made me laugh and I was convinced that exposure to this level of intelligence was good for me.

    I submit that if the same kind of wit and “wordy writing” goes into your games Ryan – you will have an adoring market – one that is intelligent enough to know why it likes your games and comes back for more again and again.

    “If you build it – they will come”

    Reply
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