Tucked away in PopCap’s Seattle based offices is a file marked ‘design review’ – an overstuffed dossier filled with illustrations and design documents of games that never quite made it to release.
According to the company’s creative director Jason Kapalka, there was one game that got close, ever so close, to escaping the folder and hitting the market.
“We had a role-playing game where we had this idea of how to approach the RPG genre for a more casual market,” he tells Develop.
“I can’t really go into details about the game, but it got pretty far. It was in beta, and it felt like a turn-based version of Diablo that was very cute.”
PopCap, a pioneer of the casual gaming scene, has made its fortune from best-sellers such a Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants Vs Zombies. But it has done so with a discernable degree of care and caution.
Kapalka says not everything, even if its inherently fun, can make it to market.
“[The Diablo game] was really fun,” he said, “but we had a lot of problems with the game’s complexity spiralling out of control and, in the end, not being as casual as we wanted it to be.
“We look back on it occasionally, every couple of months, because it was really fun.”
PopCap’s ‘design review’ dossier is not, Kapalka insists, a tome of dead ideas, but a book of potential future games. They all just need a fresh look.
“We get to a stage after months and months of development where we think there’s something fun about it – but there’s something missing. Either there’s not enough depth, or we don’t think it’ll be a success, or something. That’s when the game enters design review.
“We’ve got over a dozen games that sort of work, but never made it.“
So, will PopCap ever return to its ‘casual Diablo’ title?
“We do always want to go back to these games, take another look at them and figure out how to fix them,” he says. “These games are never 100 per cent dead.”