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In Scribblenauts, Your Vocabulary Controls the Game

scribblenauts logoGaming interfaces have seen a renaissance of late thanks to the Nintendo Wii and touch screen controls. But Scribblenauts may be the first game to use your vocabulary as the interface.

Jeremiah Slaczka, the Lead Designer at the title's developer 5th Cell, describes the game as, "An action puzzle game where you can literally write anything to solve the puzzle. You can write ladder and it will appear, or flamethrower and use that." The user handwrites the name of an object and it appears on screen. But words can't do justice to the concept:

The unusual premise for the title came from studying the market for the Nintendo DS, which has grown to include such a wide variety of concepts that appeal to people that usually don't play games. Slaczka said, "We looked at Nintendogs, Brain Age, and Wario Ware. I didn't want to make another puppy simulator, or brain trainer, but I wanted to make something for everyone."

scribblenautsHow did they go about creating the objects? "Five or six people went through the dictionary, encyclopedia, wikipedia. Nothing could be too ridiculous or too niche to not include. Just no copyrights or obscenity." All of the objects, from people and animals to everyday and not-so-everyday things, went into a database. And from there? "We took these words, attached the art and the properties to it. A ladder you can climb. It is made of wood so it is buoyant." And this is how the developer dictated how tens of thousands of things interact with one another. The onus is on the player to imagine what can help in a situation, with few limits.

Of course, some people will always want to know boundaries: over the weekend someone posted a list of what was supposedly the 22,802 objects in the game. "That was leaked by a hacker who does not know anything. It's more than that," Slaczka said. There is something wonderful about discovering what obscurities can be found in the title. Slaczka said the last item he squeezed in was Low Rider. And the inclusions of niche objects such as Rick Astley, Cthulhu, and Molecule fosters that sense of inclusiveness.

Ultimately, the way 5th Cell embraced such open gameplay may be Scribblenauts's biggest innovation, "At the launch event, on line were children and parents, but also guys that were the hardest of the hardcore. You have an imagination? You should play it."

Scribblenauts is out tomorrow, September 15.