We had the privilege to interview Scott Balaban, lead designer for the upcoming DS puzzle game, Wordjong. Hit the jump for the interview:
Wiinintendo.net(WN): So Scott, how did you first get into games?
Scott Balaban(SB): I come from a product design background which led me to my first job working as a game and toy designer for Hasbro Interactive. For the years I was there, I was able to design a lot of games based on classic brands such as Star Wars, Disney, Tonka, Nickelodeon and more. It was a great experience that allowed me to work on a variety of projects.
WN: What are some other games you’ve worked on?
SB: Recently, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been working on a lot of mobile titles. Some of my favorites include games based on the last Lord of the Rings and Star Wars movies, as well as a version of The Sims 2 Pet edition. I also recently finished the design for Purse Pals, an interactive toy that has a series of games and activities.
WN: How did you come up with the concept for WordJong?
SB: WordJong was originally created by my colleague Erik Stein back in 2004. His goal was to mix two successful gameplay patterns, wordplay and mahjong solitaire. We were working on a variety of casual puzzle games at the time, and felt this particular concept had lasting appeal. Once we had the core gameplay defined, we began a plan to design and develop it on a variety of platforms, including PC, Online, Mobile, and ultimately Nintendo DS.
WN: Why don’t you give a brief explanation of what WordJong is for our readers?
SB: In a nutshell, WordJong is a mix between Scrabble and Mahjong Solitaire. Players are presented with a stack of letter tiles, and it is their goal to create words with the tiles that are available. As words are formed they are removed from the stack, uncovering new letters that can be used. The goal is to clear the entire puzzle. Elements like score multipliers, letter bonuses, and wild tiles mix it up and add a bit of strategy.
WN: Why did you choose to put this game onto the DS platform?
SB: When the Nintendo DS first came out, we immediately wanted to create a version of WordJong for it. The stylus was the perfect input device for our game, and we had a fun multiplayer mode to take advantage of the WFC. Also, there werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a lot of word games available for the DS, so we wanted to jump on that opportunity.
WN: I’ve encountered the bomb power up and of course the wildcard tile, are there any other powerups I might run into?
SB: Those are the main power-up items in the game. However, there are also Jade tiles which act as score multipliers. The more Jades you can use in a word, the greater your score.
WN: How important was the inclusion of WFC functionality to you and why?
SB: This was one of our top priorities from the start. We had found that in our PC version of the game, players loved the Ã¢â‚¬Å“BattleÃ¢â‚¬Â mode which allow for 2-players to compete on the same board. This of course was a great fit for the NDS WFC. Plus, I needed a way to play WordJong with some long distance friends, and school Ã¢â‚¬Ëœem with my word forming skills.
WN: Are there any other projects you (and your team) are working on now that WordJong is nearly out the door? Are you interested in working on the Wii?
SB: Because we have such a great partnership with our publisher Destineer and developer Magellan Interactive, we have a few more DS games in the works with them. Unfortunately, as is always the case with these things, they are still secret, and we canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t start talking about them yet. We did just recently finish Ã¢â‚¬Å“Fullmetal Alchemist: Trading Card GameÃ¢â‚¬Â also for the Nintendo DS.
As for the Nintendo Wii, we are very interested, and have begun working on concepts and demos that work with the platform. Everyone on the team is a big fan of the Wii, and we are very excited to start working on some Wii Games.
WN: Anything else you’d like the share?
SB: I think our entire team feels that this is the best version of WordJong to date. We are thrilled to have it on the Nintendo DS, and look forward to playing online with people around the world!
WN: Thank you for your time!
SB: My pleasure!