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Peggle developer interview

Interview: Casual gaming, hardcore and consoles

John Vechey is one of three co-founders of PopCap games, a developer and distributor of numerous casual cross-platform titles.

Starting with Bejeweled in 2001, their games have been downloaded over 1 billion times and released over multiple platforms.

We caught up with John to ask him about the casual industry, the market and PopCap's upcoming push into console gaming.

Peggle was a break-through title that had cross-over appeal for both the casual and hardcore market. What was the secret to its success?

Well, we're one of the few companies that really goes cross-platform. We actually care a lot about games and try to just make great games, and the secret to that is really just saying, "We're going to just start with the best game possible."

Even though when making games we start with the PC, we're always thinking about how this game would work on other platforms.

For example, the ultimate platform for Bejeweled is a Palm Pilot type device where you've got a stylus. A game like Heavy Weapon works great on the Xbox, but it wasn't that great on the PC, so every game has its favourite platform.

Ultimately our trick is never a trick, but rather making a great game first. Because the nature of our games are a little bit simpler, they lend themselves to a bunch of different platforms.

You can't imagine World of Warcraft on your phone or a DS or anything like that, whereas you can imagine how Peggle would work on a phone and it would be a very similar game to the PC version.

Do you feel constrained by the formula that Popcap has become synonymous with?

Not really. People often ask us if we're going to get into more hardcore games or bigger games and we always say no. And part of the reason is that even though I'm a hardcore game player and I love videogames, I actually find it really gratifying to make games that everyone can play.

It's just somehow artistically and professionally a lot more fun, and the cool thing is that we get to take this simple puzzle game genre, these casual games, and ask how we can put a lot of awesome elements into it.

For us, a lot of the fun comes from pushing the boundaries of what it means to make a simple game and make it really awesome and contain a lot of depth, but always make it so it never has a lot of complexity.

Do you find that Popcap games can reach the level of depth of the more traditional games you'd find on the Xbox 360?

I think we can destroy the depth of most Xbox and console games. It's arrogant to say, but I think that most of the games on the Xbox and PC aimed at hardcore gaming add complexity but they don't actually have depth.

I mean, the deepest game in the world is chess, and the more you play it the more you get out of it and the more you learn about it. There's a lot of games out there that are really complex, but they don't have much depth.

I think that's where hardcore gaming went wrong, when they started confusing complexity for depth. And that's one of the things we try and do with Peggle. We say, okay, what's the core mechanic that's really fun? Then we make it as deep as possible by having these extra characters and these extra power-ups.

It's got this random-based luck element to it, but it's how you manage that luck. It's similar to Poker. Poker isn't necessarily a random game, it's a skill based game that has a lot of depth, even though the basis is that it's a random number generator, and in some ways Peggle is the same.

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