PAX East : Word Fighter Is Like Beat’em Up Boggle

PAX East : Word Fighter Is Like Beat’em Up Boggle

On Friday of PAX East weekend a few of us at AppAddict.net had the opportunity to meet with Gian Cruz, half of the team that makes up Feel Every Yummy, the DC-area development studio responsible for what could be one of this Summer’s stand-out titles on the iOS (and Android) platform, Word Fighter. We had a great discussion about the origins of the studio and their first app, Bongo Blitz, which launched about a year ago.

Feel Every Yummy was founded by two friends, Gian Cruz and Kris Zabala. Gian was a web designer by trade, and left his job at AOL so that he could try his hand at making games for the iPhone. Kris had never written a line of Objective C before. When they started the company, he taught himself everything he knows with regards to iOS programming and after some lessons learned from their first foray into app development, it was onto an alpha build of Word Fighter.

Word Fighter is a word-battling game that mixes rules from popular word games like Boggle, Scrabble and Bookworm Adventures. Cruz has described it as “Street Fighter meets Words With Friends” and that is a rather appropriate tagline. We had a chance to check out the head to head (on a single iPad) game mode for ourselves. On the screen we both had the same 5×5 grid of letters (each of which have different point values, ala Scrabble). Using your finger you must draw a path between adjacent tiles to form words. If you successfully create a word then this is an attack on the other player and you see their power meter decrease. You cannot reuse the same word over again in the same round and only valid words inflict damage. You are basically trying to defeat the other player before they defeat you. Whether you chose a “the more words the better” approach or attempt to build more powerful words is completely up to you. To aid you in your attacks, each player has periodic access to their three special power ups (more about these in a bit). The first player to win 2 rounds is declared the winner. The gameplay was a word finding frenzy, fast and frenetic and it revealed some of the work that the development team still needs to do to better draw your attention to certain aspects of the playing area. Despite these minor issues, we all really had a blast playing the game!

For development reasons, Cruz and Zabala decided NOT to make Word Fighter a single player game and instead focus on an engaging and varied multiplayer experience. The game features two different play modes, a turn-based asynchronous mode (think Words With Friends) and the previously mentioned real-time best of 3 rounds head to head word finding battle royale! Each mode has slightly different rule sets and at launch, will offer both local (wifi/Bluetooth) and online (OpenFeint) support allowing for cross-platform games. While we didn’t actually see the asynchronous mode in action, we are told that it will have a timer mechanism to force turns within 60 seconds of app launch and that words used by one player cannot be re-used by the other. When coupled with the special moves (we’re coming to these…I promise) it makes for some nice strategical play opportunities.

Word Fighter will initially launch with six characters to choose from. The build that we played had 2 characters, Neil and J.D. (named after two of the developers’ favorite authors, Neil Gaiman and J.D. Salinger). Each character has their own set of special abilities. Think of these like the special set of moves of a character in a game like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, but with just a single button tap to pull off. Based on those sets of special moves, players can decide which character best fits their play style. New special moves are currently being thought up and work is being done on balancing the powers. Current special moves in the alpha build we played included 2x and 3x damage multipliers, shuffle tiles, and my personal favorite, one that forced your opponent to spell all their words backwards for 10 seconds. The power ups re-generate over time and Cruz said that they are considering implementing some sort of rubber band algorithm to help out less skilled players.

As with any alpha build, certain aspects are not necessarily carved in stone yet and subject to change. While the graphics used in the beta build looked grreat, some of the stage/background assets taken from other games as placeholders to give you a feel for the game. Not knowing how much I’m allowed to giveaway, I will be decidedly cryptic when I say that we got a sneak peek at some alternative artwork that takes the game in a bit of a new direction and got even MORE excited about this property and future expansions…who knew EAP was such a badass!

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the sweet sweet sounds of Whitaker Blackall’s soundtrack, which unfortunately was (at times) a bit difficult to hear over the steady noise of show goers, but still sounded spot on. In case the name doesn’t jog your memory, he’s also been responsible for at least some of the music in both Tilt to Live and Super Stick Golf and is definitely one of my personal favorite composers on the iOS scene today.

Feel Every Yummy plans on releasing the game sometime this Summer and in the meantime, Cruz is making the convention circuit trying to get as much real-world play testing feedback as he can while they’re still early into development. So make sure you seek him out and get a chance to experience Word Fighter for yourself. I’m certain you’ll have a as much of a blast playing it as we did.

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