This interview was originally published on N-Europe on 27th March 2008.
Snake? Snake?! WORDSNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!
As WiiWare continues to churn out bucket loads of new and interesting IPs, some developers aren’t forgetting that sometimes we all like to settle down to a nice golden oldie. Pixel Magick are working to bring one of their mobile phone titles to WiiWare and the DS in the form of Wordsnake, a game which could be described as a cross between Nokia’s Snake and a Scrabble time-attack.
Armed with an arsenal of questions provided by the N-Europe team, I recently got the chance to talk with David Greenberg from Pixel Magick about their foray into the world of Nintendo development.
N-Europe: Can you give our readers a little insight into the history of Pixel Magick?
David Greenberg: Pixel Magick started whilst I was a student at the University of Abertay, as a team I assembled for the Dare to be Digital Competition. After achieving a 1st class honours degree in games development I decided to take Pixel Magick forward into the real world resulting in the release of the very first Wordsnake game on mobile phones in 2005. Now, we are working with Alten8 to bring Wordsnake to the DS and Wii.
N-E: Now, Wordsnake – what’s it all about?
David: It has been described as dominos with words or a single player Scrabble. Neither description is quite right in my opinion.
Basically, you have random letters which you have to form into words to reach and stay above a target score until a timer runs out. You have special tiles to gain lives and increase/decrease the timer.
You can only play from an existing letter on the board and not through existing words, so your word must begin or end with a letter already on the board, therefore forming snake like structures. Words must be between 3-8 letters long. As the game goes on, words on the board will disappear and you need to create new words to keep the snake alive.
The idea is quite simple, but like many simple ideas it turns out to be really good to play. You end up quite flustered at times as you try to reach or maintain your score till the timer runs out and end up creating all kinds of strategies to survive. The idea did not come from scrabble as many people think. Because we started with mobile phone games it was actually a historical nod to the original Snake game which was the first mobile phone game.
“The idea is quite simple, but like many simple ideas it turns out to be really good to play. You end up quite flustered at times as you try to reach or maintain your score till the timer runs out and end up creating all kinds of strategies to survive. The idea is a historical nod to the original Snake game which was the first mobile phone game.”
N-E: How many different modes will be available in Wordsnake on both the Wii and DS? Any multiplayer?
David: No multiplayer or different modes in this version – there are plans for these in future versions.
N-E: What are the differences between the WiiWare and DS versions of the game? Does the Wii Remote take the place of the stylus, for example?
David: Yes, the Wii Remote is used as a pointer. There are some other small differences such as the DS version being limited to words of 7 letters, but essentially the game remains the same.
N-E: What Wii specific actions will there be in Wordsnake?
David: We had a look at ideas such as writing letters in the air etc. but really they added nothing to the game and were just gimmicky, so they won’t make it to the final version.
Coming from a limited platform like mobile phone games where controls are a real issue, we do think about what is the most instinctive and easy way for the player to actually play the game.
N-E: Will we have the entire Oxford Dictionary at our disposal, or was there a limit on the amount of lingual content that you could include in the game?
David: No, we have created our own dictionary of words between 3-8 letters. It is very large and took a considerable amount of time to compile. I seriously doubt players will find many, if any words that are not included.
N-E: Will Wordsnake contain any online functionality?
David: Not in this version.
N-E: How did Nintendo’s size constraints for WiiWare limit you during development?
David: We are used to developing on mobile phones so WiiWare is not a problem at all for us. The main memory hog is the dictionaries, but we have our own customised compression algorithm to deal with that problem more efficiently than standard methods.
N-E: Will there be additional downloadable content available for either version of Wordsnake after its release, and if so, do you plan to charge for it?
David: No additional downloadable content.
N-E: How did you discover that there was a market for this type of software on the Wii and DS? Were you influenced by similar casual games such as Brain Training?
David: Wordsnake came out on mobile phones before the Brain Training type of games, so it had no influence at all, but obviously such games have helped build the casual console games market and more specifically games that require some thought to play. It was quite clear that Wordsnake fitted very nicely in that market.
N-E: What caused the switchover from a retail release for Wordsnake on the Wii to WiiWare?
David: There was no switchover, a retail release is still on the cards, but obviously WiiWare is suited to casual games so it makes sense to release the game this way.
N-E: Nintendo currently seem reluctant to offer a solution to the issue of the Wii’s limited memory, such as a hard drive. Many consumers (including the N-Europe staff) also have near-full system memories due to Virtual Console games. Do you feel that this is an issue or a threat to the sales of Wordsnake?
David: Hmmm… I’m not sure. I haven’t had this problem myself and I understand you can backup Virtual Console games to SD cards. Piracy is usually the biggest threat to sales for game publishers and developers.
A retail version would obviously solve this for anyone with such problems.
N-E: How easy is WiiWare to develop for?
David: I think it’s fairly common knowledge that Nintendo provides developers with very extensive and detailed documentation for its consoles. So we have never come across an issue that has not been covered somewhere in the documentation.
“The reality is that I don’t get much time to play games anymore, but I actually enjoy programming games more anyway. It’s like a giant puzzle that you have to put together so that all the elements work perfectly together, and then there is the satisfaction of seeing it all finished.”
N-E: Do you have any plans to release more games on Nintendo platforms?
David: Too many ideas, we will probably never manage to get through them all!
N-E: When do you plan to release Wordsnake on WiiWare and the DS, and how many Wii Points will the WiiWare version sell for?
David: To be confirmed.
N-E: Which games are you looking forward to the most in 2008?
David: Wordsnake of course.
The reality is that I don’t get much time to play games anymore, but I actually enjoy programming games more anyway. It’s like a giant puzzle that you have to put together so that all the elements work perfectly together, and then there is the satisfaction of seeing it all finished. That beats the satisfaction of completing the latest FPS any day!
N-E: And finally, what’s another nine-letter word for “complicate”? The word begins o, gap, gap, u, gap, c, gap, gap, gap.
David: Obfuscate, although a more accurate and thorough definition would be to confuse in order to conceal the truth, structure, intended purpose or processes whilst maintaining the intended outcome.
However, I am probably being a little too precise – that’s what you get for spending the best part of a year constructing a dictionary for Wordsnake!
Before anyone asks – no, this word is not in Wordsnake (it’s too long!)