Adventures in Text
July 23, 2009 – Although we’ve seen a lot of games leading up to the video game blitz that is the fall, none have been quite as impressive as Scribblenauts. This title (which also won our Most Original and Best Handheld of E3 awards) has become one of the most-anticipated games of the year and for good reason: its premise is wildly different than anything we’ve ever seen. The game is best described as a puzzle-platformer, but it has a pretty significant twist. The difference being you can summon anything to help you reach your goals by simply writing it down.
We were able to run through a few of the game’s challenge-based levels, and of course, our first mission was to break it. Call it what you will, but as soon as we heard the game’s “Write Anything” tagline, we were convinced that there HAD to be something we could do to break the game. Before even attempting our mission (which involved cooling our character off) we set about writing anything and everything we could think of to dupe the game. But no matter what we tried, whether it was “killer whale,” “swimming pool,” “flip flops,” “DVD,” “hurricane,” or “beard,” the game spawned whatever we wanted in quick order. It was quite impressive. No matter what we tried, the game could not be stumped.
While we were working hard on trying to baffle the game, we were also able to talk to one of the lead developers. When asked how they went about putting so many words in the game, I was told that several members of the team simply took a dictionary and spent days plugging away at everything they saw on the page.
However, no matter how novel the summon everything tool is, it wouldn’t be very useful if Scribblenauts didn’t have gameplay to back it up. Fortunately, Scribblenauts has plenty going for it in this department as well. The game has three main modes: puzzle, platform, and creation. The puzzle mode is the one that we got the most hands-on time with, and involves answering a query given by the game. The puzzle mode starts off relatively simple with questions that ask you to move objects or alter your landscape, but we have been told that the puzzle levels will get a lot more complex as you play the game.
The platform levels form the game’s story mode and the game’s hero, a kid named Maxwell, on his quest to gather stars throughout the Scribblenauts world. You’ll be presented with numerous obstacles like tall walls, large pools of water, and even moving characters that will prevent you from getting your star. Of course, to get past these things you will need to write something down to help you. We were able to play through the beginning of this story mode and had to get a star from a tree. Naturally, we wrote “ladder” first and simply climbed up the tree to get the star. However, we also were able to summon a trampoline as well as a jetpack to get this same star.
The final mode, create, is the only one we weren’t able to get any time with, but we have been assured that players will be able to use the game’s unique word-summoning tool to create unique levels that can be shared with other users. We weren’t able to ask whether this sharing will be facilitated via online servers or by direct DS download, but either way the creation tool should make for some serious replayability.
Scribblenauts is looking to be one of the biggest little games ever. While its premise of writing anything is simple, the sheer amount of solutions you can come up with to solve a problem in the game is staggering, and not since last year’s LittleBigPlanet have we seen a game that inspires so much creativity. Look for Scribblenauts when it releases this fall!
the Write Stuff
January 30, 2009 – There’s only one way to play Scribblenauts, and that’s the write way. Developed by the independent team that brought you the game Drawn to Life, where players must draw items and characters with the stylus for use in the game, Scribblenauts follows a similar premise, but more refined and ultimately more fun.
Scribblenauts is an incredibly ambitious game that looks too good to be true. Confronted by a series of obstacles and puzzles, you simply “write anything” on the screen with the stylus, and apparently it will appear to assist you with your task. Does this mean you don’t have to collect and carry around selected items in your inventory to help you? If you need a ladder to climb a tree, do you simply write “ladder” on the screen in hopes that one will appear? The answer to these questions is yes. Simply write what you need to solve your problem and it will appear. Now don’t you agree this sounds too good to be true?
If only life were like Scribblenauts! If you’re hungry, just write or type in “pizza” and you’ll be noshing away in no time, and asking for money would be as simple as spelling it correctly. According to developers 5th Cell, in Scribblenauts, you will be able to summon virtually every items that you can think of in the known universe; just write it and it will come.
In order for Scribblenauts to deliver on this amazing premise, there are some ground rules – the most important being that the word used has to be a noun such as hammer, car, guitar, door, ghost, chair, fire, mermaid, TV, jukebox, or BBQ, to name only a few. In each level, of which there are more than 100, you will play as Maxwell, who must locate and collect the starites. For instance, the starite might be up in a tree, and you will have to acquire it to move on. There is more than one way to collect these items, and that’s the beauty of the game. You get to use your imagination. Perhaps a bulldozer will knock the tree over for you, or maybe a football will knock it out of the branches. What if a ghost could scare it out of the tree for you? Maybe you’ll just write the word “ladder” and climb the tree to retrieve the starite. Solutions can be as straightforward or as wacky as your imagination can concoct.
This is not a spelling game, it’s more complex than that. Simply writing down a word will not solve the puzzle for you. When the item appears, it will require you to figure out how to use it to get the desired results. For instance, if you want to use a football to knock the starite from the tree, you will have to pick the football up and throw it. Perhaps you wanted to cut the tree down. You would write the word “axe” and use it in a chopping motion – the control scheme will adapt for each item. In other words, it will be context-sensitive, since there are going to be thousands of different items at your disposal. Some items just won’t work for a particular situation. It’s doubtful that summoning a shark will help you climb or fell a tree. In order to encourage the use of imagination, you won’t be able to use the same item twice. That will keep players from finding a favorite catch-all item that they can default to. Like the numerous items that you can summon, there are virtually limitless ways to solve each puzzle.
The interface will work with the stylus, or you can use a keypad to type your words in if you prefer it to your own handwriting. As long as the word is spelled correctly, it will appear and behave as it does in the real world. So, you won’t be able to throw a car in the air, and you won’t be able to swim with a hamburger. For even more depth, items can be incorporated with other summoned items. You can attach a laser to a shark. You can feed other animals to the shark to keep it from eating you. You can ride an elephant underwater as long as its trunk can act as a breather, but you can’t ride a bear underwater. It all has to make some kind of sense.
Scribblenauts has two distinct gameplay modes, although they are not entirely separate from each other. You can play the main challenge, where you attempt to collect starites from each level and progress to the next, or you can just play around with the items that you summon in a sandbox-style mode. For instance, the developers recommend acquiring a motorcycle and a ramp and have fun doing jumps. You can even summon a cop and a donut and see how they get along.
The developers have also included mini-challenges such as timed levels and the restriction of items. You may only be allowed to use three items in some levels. Complete these challenges and you’ll be rewarded with a form of currency called ollers. This money can be used to purchase things at the store. Although the structure of the game is designed for 2D, the objects will be rendered in 3D. There is little doubt that with all of these objects, and all of the rendering, control, and physics, Scribblenauts is going to amaze the world.