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Game of Fame: Scribblenauts Unlimited

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For the uninitiated, Scribblenauts is a way-outside-the-box puzzle game series that originated on the Nintendo DS platform and has now made the leap to the Wii U as Scribblenauts Unlimited. If you like creativity, it doesn’t get much more creative than Scribblenauts where nearly anything a player can dream up can become an interactive object in the game that can help solve each level. Truly, there is nothing else like Scribblenauts and the story behind the franchise is just as unique and interesting. Here to give you the inside scoop on how the game was born is Scribblenauts producer Brittany Aubert. 

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There are a number of things that make the latest version of Scribblenauts unique and better than previous versions and other games in the genre. The move to new hardware was the biggest change. Scribblenauts Unlimited is, overall, a much bigger game than anything we’ve previously made, and the DS wouldn’t have been able to handle what we wanted to do. There’s a lot more content, many more objects and an object editor. All our environments are now hand painted and our objects are vector-based. We have tons of awesome shaders and visual effects–all things that allowed us to add more depth and personality to Maxwell and his world.

The first Scribblenauts game was on the DS, which had more technical limitations than consoles. When working on the original we were an incredibly small team (less than 15) but had to create art for every single object in the world. Because of that, you might imagine the importance of an art style that was very simple yet still iconic. These limitations helped guide our art style in a specific direction.

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While translating Scribblenauts to the Wii U we’ve stayed true to these initial principles but we’re now able to branch out a lot more with color and detail. The overall style of objects hasn’t changed since the first game, but we’ve done things like change the art from texture to vector formats, so we don’t lose quality when scaling on massive TVs. We’re now able to add more detail to backgrounds because we can separate the tech between our tile-based collision and our hand drawn backgrounds. It’s made the whole game more beautiful.

As a player, the part of the game I enjoy the most is exploring all the different types of solutions. For instance, in the subway level there is a man next to a puddle of water. He asks you to help him clean it up. You can spawn a mop and clean it up no problem. Or you can think outside the box and apply the adjective ‘thirsty’ to the man and watch him drink the water. Scribblenauts allows itself to be played how you want to play it. If you want to find the quickest way through a puzzle, you can. If you want to see the full breadth of what the game will accept and react to, you can play that way too.

The original design for Scribblenauts Unlimited stayed primarily the same during the course of development. A lot of the features that you see now are things that we always wanted to include but couldn’t because of the limited power of a handheld device. We decided to develop Scribblenauts Unlimited for Wii so that we could include all the features we’d been hoping for since the beginning, but ran into a pretty sizable problem–how were we going to input words without a peripheral device? We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure it out. But luckily for us, Nintendo was just starting to show developers their new console, the WiiU. With help from Nintendo and WB, we moved the game from Wii to Wii U, and the GamePad solved all of our problems with word entry.

Interestingly enough, all of 5TH Cell’s employees appear in the game as spawnable objects and they are all scripted to do crazy stuff. One of the producers makes all developers stressed. One developer makes it rain hamsters. Another creates a robot army that destroys everything except cats. Some even have special interactions with each other. The full details of all the implementations are a secret and worth discovering as there are some pretty funny ones. Try out some names!

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About two weeks before we shipped we needed to buckle down and work some extra hours. In solidarity, we all went to a local barber and got mohawks. All the men on the team shaved mohawks and the ladies got up-do’s so they could participate in spirit without cutting their hair. The barber shop didn’t really know how to respond to 20+ people all walking in at the same time, but the results were awesome.

The Scribblenauts legacy will be to make people think differently about puzzle games. Most puzzle games present you with a problem and a defined solution set. In Scribblenauts, the solution is totally up to you!

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