by Ty Roberts
There aren’t too many battles at PopCap really. We all get along pretty well. There’s the occasional NERF gun war where folks from Creative Lab and Customer Support travel up from the 2nd floor to Bejeweled Blitz land on the 8th for a quick assault. There’s also the quiet weekly war that rages between employees on the leaderboards of Bejeweled and Zuma Blitz. There’s even the assault on the senses when someone microwaves or toasts something a bit funky for lunch.
However, the quietest war may also be the most public one. It’s a war where fur flies; where claws come out; and where teeth are bared.
It’s a war of cats… in Bejeweled.
It started with Jason Kapalka, Bejeweled creator and PopCap founder, sneaking his beloved cat “Snackers” into Bejeweled Twist. For those that don’t know, when you see a piece of coal onscreen in Bejeweled Twist you can type in “snackers” and the coal will turn into Snackers’ head.
When it came time to find a new rare gem for Bejeweled Blitz recently, the idea of a floating cat head shooting lasers to a crazy guitar riff was tossed around. This was another opportunity for Snackers to make appearance in the Bejeweled universe.
Snackers became a star overnight. People seemed to love seeing her head drop down from the ether and blasting away gems. The Cat’s Eye rare gem was (and still is) a huge hit and Snackers has become a real favorite. You’ll usually see PopCap employees thanking Snackers in their Cat’s Eye wall posts.
So why fix what isn’t broken?
A few years ago, Heather Hazen, Sr. Product Manager for Bejeweled Blitz, and I collaborated on Bejeweled Twist for the Nintendo DS. We worked hard to really make the game sing on that platform and we made a few changes along the way such as adding a multiplayer mode and rearranging some menu structures. We believe that it’s key to not just “port” games to various platforms but to make certain design decisions to make the game feel as though it feels at home on a given platform. We do our absolute best in these cases and it’s often quite difficult to pull off. We also tend to put personal touches and preferences in the games when we believe it makes sense and when it’s in the best interest of the game. Once in a while, we even put in personal touches when it’s easy and just because… well, we can.
As it turns out, it’s not terribly difficult to sneak one’s cat into a game that already contains a cat.
As part of Bejeweled Twist DS, we opted to “go a different direction” with the cat. We put in Anchovy, Heather’s little white cat. We thought it would be pretty simple and that Jason wouldn’t really find out or he wouldn’t care if he did end up finding out. Eventually he did find out but I’m not sure he told Snackers. And it seems that he wasn’t mad enough to fire us… or at least someone talked him out of it.
Enter Bejeweled Blitz for iPhone. I wanted to take the Cat’s Eye gem in a different direction, which we had to do anyway due to the constraints of the iPhone. So, why not continue the tradition and get Anchovy to step in for Snackers? We couldn’t think of a reason why not either, so Anchovy is back in the latest iPhone update… and she’s better than ever.
Unfortunately, this time Jason found out about our little ploy before we submitted to Apple. He got an early build of the update and when he triggered a Cat’s Eye gem, he was surprised to see a little white cat head with some interesting accoutrements. I believe a fist of rage was shaken in our direction.
Thus, the kitty feud was escalated to all new heights. If you like small white cats that may or may not have upgraded technology and are portable, then you’re on Team Anchovy. If you like a true original with a strong purr, then you can be on Team Snackers. We’ll leave it up to you.
I enjoy my job and would like to stay at PopCap. This is why my Team Snackers T-shirt should be arriving any day now.
Ty Roberts has been at PopCap for 5 years and was most recently the Associate Product Manager for Bejeweled Blitz. He’s also a total dead ringer for Bono.