So there’s this thing stuck up a tree. It’s straightforward hero business so far – we’ve been doing this butch tree rescue stuff since Quest for Glory 1. Of course, getting a thing out of a tree in that game meant grinding out your climbing stat for 20 minutes, so you could shimmy up a metre or so of Spielburg’s woodland heritage just to get a bit of cheap costume jewellery. Or, if you were playing as the Magic User, you could cast that super convenient Fetch spell, and save yourself all that exercise nonsense. In a perfect world, anyone playing as a Fighter should have been able to simply kick the stupid thing down, and pull the old lady’s ring out of the dust and dead squirrels while puffing a post-action cigar – and it’s the romantic in me that thinks this is exactly what 5th Cell had in mind when they came up with DS platform puzzler, Scribblenauts.
See, when you have to get a thing out of a tree in this game, you can try anything you like. Sure, you could use a ladder, but wouldn’t it be much cooler to summon a beaver to gnaw the entire tree down instead? I know which one I’d choose when dealing with an insubordinate plot device. The thing is, in Scribblenauts, you’re not just typing something into a text parser that the dictionary resource file is going to reject with a stroppy, “I don’t understand what you’re trying to do.” In Scribblenauts, you write whatever it is you want on the DS’s touchscreen, and the game will bring it into the world for you to play with. Yeah, I thought it sounded wild too.
“The way it works is we’ve started with the qualities rather than the objects,” explains lead designer Max Cox. “We’ve started with categories and sub-categories, like flammable, electrical, heavy, organic, and then we place each object within this framework. That means an object already inherits loads of qualities as soon as it’s put into the system: we don’t have to say fire would burn this wooden ladder or this boat. We simply say fire would burn everything that’s flammable, and anything made of wood will already be marked up in the database as flammable. And when someone slots in a bird, we know from the start that it’s organic and it flies, and it has AI properties and that sort of stuff, right from the word go. We don’t have to go through thousands of objects one by one, assigning properties.” Oh, so all the developers have to do is fill up the game’s object database with absolutely anything and everything players might think of to use? I bet I know what they’re doing this weekend. And next weekend.
All this ingenious innovation aside, the game itself is an otherwise deceptively simple-looking side-scrolling 2D platformer, reportedly cramming in some several hundred levels of play. Bath times will finally include dinosaurs and rocket launchers.