Interview with Zuma’s Revenge Producer Ben Ahroni

As the recent released Zuma’s Revenge on XBLA has a lot of gamers talking, we decided to take the conversation over to the game’s Producer, Ben Ahroni.

[Khris Golder]  Zuma is a classic on PC. Even my Nana loves to play it, and the only other game she plays is Tetris (which speaks volumes about the caliber of Zuma and my Nana’s taste in games). Can we expect anything new in the XBLA version of Zuma’s Revenge?

[Ben Ahroni] You bet! As far as new features go, my personal favorite is the introduction of Spirit Animals. You’ll meet four different ones as you progress through Adventure mode. Each one you meet joins you as a companion on your adventure and gives you additional powers. The animals start at level 1 and you get to power them up too, which everyone around PopCap seemed to be having a lot of fun with during development.

Also, a lot of the systems in the game have been updated to be more in line with what today’s players expect. For example the concept of ‘lives’ has been removed from the game, so if you lose a few times in a row you can just keep on trying the level you want to play instead of losing progress. The scoring system was also overhauled to create better competition on the Xbox LIVE leaderboards, including the introduction of new Score Multiplier balls.

We drastically improved on the controls over the original Zuma. The frog now spins a lot more smoothly and players should have more success getting their shots to go where they want them to go. We’ve added two new game modes: Boss Rush, where you try to defeat each of the game’s bosses in record time, and Weekly Challenge, to allow focused competition between friends while acknowledging the successes of Zuma Blitz on Facebook.

Lastly, we can’t forget about all the things that typically fall on PopCap’s list of how to make a good console adaptation. We made all of the art and levels widescreen (and gorgeously repainted them too!), added achievements (20 this time, totaling 400 Gamerscore!), lots of fun leaderboards for new ways to compete, and also added some in-game Avatar Awards for players to unlock.

[KG] The game is significantly prettier than the first, I can say that! Ben, your Gamertag motto is “Life’s a Beta.” You moved up since being the Associate Producer of Peggle: Dual Shot to producing Zuma’s Revenge. It seems like your Beta’s running pretty smoothly! Any thoughts?

[BA] Haha, wow, I did write that didn’t I. That was *years* ago! Thinking back, that’s really just about always remembering to keep trying new things, being open to making changes, and getting feedback from new audiences. Just like how teams iterate on beta software to keep improving it, keep finding ways to do that with who you are as a person too. Take risks, learn from them, course-correct… all that kind of stuff.

… As far as “my Beta” goes, I really can’t complain.

[KG] You’ve worked on quite a few household-name PopCap games. You have any idea if we’ll see Bookworm make it to XBLA?

[BA] Great question. As I’m sure you know nothing has been announced at this point, but that’d definitely be a fun place for Bookworm to end up. I can say that XBLA tends to draw a pretty worldwide audience and word games are typically tougher challenges as far as localization/translation go. You can imagine balancing the game with dictionaries from a bunch of different languages, and updating the game to handle letters with accents, how frequently each letter should appear, average word lengths and scoring and all that kind of stuff. It’s a tricky problem, but never say never!

[KG] Have any upcoming projects in the works that you’d like to share with your hardcore gamer fans?

[BA] As far as PopCap projects go, stay tuned! If I get to include personal projects too, then I definitely do! My band, Out Like Pluto, is always iterating on our live show (that’s a Beta too!) and we just bought this fancy light rig to make things look a little cooler during performances. I’m learning about programming lights and helping synchronize cool visual effects to the right parts of each song. That’s been fun. If you want to check out the band, you can find more info at www.outlikepluto.com or www.facebook.com/outlikepluto.

[KG] Awesome! We should collaborate with Out Like Pluto on a Hardcore Gamer theme song! We can call it From Platforms to FPS, and it could fit in perfectly with the name of your 2012 album Take Cover. You think you may eventually work your way back to some more adult titles in the future (like PGR, Fable, etc.)?

[BA] Zuma’s Revenge *is* an adult title – even your nana loves to play it!

[KG] Touche!

[BA] Just kidding. I totally know what you mean. It’s definitely possible. PopCap is always evolving and we’re looking at new kinds of games, new genres, and new ways to play with the characters our fans have grown to love. Hey – how’d you pick PGR and Fable as your example(s)? Those were some of the games I worked on when I was at Microsoft! You really did your research. I’m impressed.

[KG] Hardcore Gamer takes our gaming seriously! HA! Speaking of, I have to ask: COD or Battlefield?

[BA] Well, I enjoy that type of thing a lot more when I’m playing with friends. I’ll pop in either if it means getting to play with buddies versus playing alone. Really though, when I’m in the mood to shoot things I can just as easily launch Peggle…

[KG] Peggle: the ultimate shooter! It was definitely a pleasure, Ben, and Hardcore Gamer looks forward to seeing you around here from time to time!

[BA] My pleasure as well! Thanks for taking the time to chat, and I’ll see you on the Zuma’s Revenge leaderboards!

[KG] Says one of the only guys to have completed the gut wrenching Iron Frog mode to date!