St. Catharines video game developers Rocketship Park recently released their readaptation of the game Word Forward. The original release was created by Rocketship Park co-founder Shane McCafferty, and follows their impressive 2017 debut Block Droppin’ (now known as Block Droppin’ Blitz). We caught up with the other half of Rocketship Park, Jim Squires to talk about their latest release.
Can you explain how Word Forward works?
Word Forward challenges players to clear 25 lettered tiles from a grid by spelling words. Each puzzle can only be completed if a player clear all 25 tiles, which makes every move an incredibly strategic affair. Players have the opportunity to swap a few letters or rely on a few power-ups, but everything serves the same purpose: to position the tiles so that you can use every single one of them without leaving any stragglers behind. It’s a comfortable, slow-paced game that requires careful thinking.
What was it like making it / What goes into making a game (like this)?
Word Forward is actually an older game that we’ve rebuilt from the ground up. Shane (our co-founder, CTO, and Luigi to my Mario), released Word Forward independently in 2014, prior to the creation of Rocketship Park. It was the #1 puzzle game on the App Store at the time and racked up six million plays – but as technology changes, some games get left behind, and that was becoming the case for Word Forward. The game was at risk of being delisted due to changes in the App Store, and we wanted to make sure it could always find a new audience.
On a technical level, that meant rebuilding the game from the ground-up. It’s an experience Shane actually revelled in – we’re using the Unity engine for a different project we’re working on, so rebuilding one of his own projects in Unity gave him the opportunity to think about the engine in a different light.
From a player perspective, we made a few changes to make the experience smoother and more significant. The number of levels was increased to 500, and we rebalanced the game to change it from a free-to-play app to something designed around a single one-time purchase. The game is also playable offline now, making it a fantastic companion for a long flight.
How does it feel to look back at the release? Did you release it with any expectations in mind? Did you meet them?
Without getting too technical, Word Forward was the first game we’ve released that was developed using the Unity engine. This was an important point for us, as it allowed us to develop for multiple platforms simultaneously for the first time. This allowed us to launch on iPhone, Android, iPad, and Apple TV on the same day. Our biggest goal for this launch, even more than getting it in the hands of gamers, was seeing how well we could support a simultaneous launch to different devices. Amazingly, it all went off without a single hiccup.
We were delighted to find that Word Forward quickly found an audience – as we sit here chatting, the game has only been available for five days and it has already exceeded our overall expectations in terms of sales. Putting on my business hat for a minute, we’re going to try and pull out all the stops to keep this momentum going – it’s great that so many people are finding the fun in our pensive little puzzler!
What’s your opinion of the gaming scene in Niagara? Do you see it growing?
We may not get the spotlight like Toronto or Montreal, but Niagara is a significant hub for Canadian game development – and its continued growth is nothing short of staggering. Thanks to a strong flow of emerging talent coming from the GAME program at Brock University and Niagara College, we’re continuing to see fresh faces become a part of the scene. Some students are already seeing notable accomplishments before they even leave school, winning a number of awards at LevelUp, the provincial student games showcase, this year with projects like Bad Manors and Firebreaker. We’ve even heard from some students who are even taking the steps to try and bring their projects to market, and we couldn’t be more excited for them.
And that’s to say nothing of the talent that’s been long-established here. David Evans’ new studio, Falling Squirrel, is breaking new ground in accessibility with their upcoming project for visually-impaired gamers, The Vale. Denis Dyack, founder of Silicon Knights, has recently announced his latest venture, Apocalypse Studios. Niagara-based developers have been behind a slew of incredible releases in recent years: Embers of Mirrim, Auto Age: Standoff, Lost Orbit – the list goes on and on.
Finally, what’s next for Rocketship Park?
Later this summer we’ll be bringing Word Forward to desktops, which is pretty exciting for us – we’ve never tried to port one of our mobile titles to PC and Mac before, but we think this is the perfect game to start with.
We’ve also been quietly working on our first major release that we’re hoping to put in the hands of gamers next year. We’re not giving away too much just yet, but this isn’t the sort of game you might expect from us. Yes, it’s still a puzzle game — I think that’s just in our DNA — but it’s something much bigger in scale. This next game has character and story, and might just tug on your heartstrings from time to time. Hopefully we’ll be able to tell you more soon.