This Week’s Exclusive Interview with David Libby on The Logical Journey of Zoombinis

ZMB_MudBallWallTake aim with your paint combinations on the Mud Ball Wall

The Logical Journey of Zoombinis is a classic, beloved and award winning puzzle filled adventure created by TERC and Broderbund in the late 90s. This year, the team has started a Kickstarter to bring back the game with improved graphics, new content and an updated version for tablets and desktops.

As one of my favorite childhood games, you get to create Mr. Potato like versions of Zoombinis and help guide them through a journey of puzzles to reach the promised Zoombiniville. The puzzles get more and more difficult as you successfully arrive at each destination point in your voyage. During each encounter, there are a limited amount of guesses before the game starts dispatching your Zoombinis or before the remaining pack gets separated from the group. This game is not only addicting but also educational (don’t tell the little kiddies). The creators figured out a way to immerse logic and math concepts that children and adults alike find compelling.  This week, we have the opportunity to speak with David Libby, the Director of Technology at TERC about this Logical Journey of Zoombinis rework.

We loved the Logical Journey of Zoombinis but why did the team decide to recreate the game?

Logical Journey and its two sequels sold over a million copies when they released. The original, in particular, still had a strong fan base, was still regarded as one of the best educational games out there, and TERC regularly had fans asking how to get a version for modern platforms, not OS 9 and Windows XP. When the popularity of tablets rose, we realized they were the perfect platform for a re-launch. We’ve been waiting for over a decade for a chance like this to bring it back!

How are math and logic skills snuck into the game?

“Snuck” isn’t really the right word! Scot Osterweil and Chris Hancock, creators of Zoombinis, wrote an article on this subject back in the 1990s. The key to a great educational game is finding what’s naturally fun and interesting in the subject, ideas that are particularly empowering, and ways people challenge themselves. It’s about finding “the game in the math” rather than putting math in a game. So, the logic and the math in many ways are the game, rather than separate from it. I’m happy to say that Scot, now Creative Director of the MIT Education Arcade and of Learning Games Network, and Chris, now CEO of Tertl Studos, are both on board for the revival.

In the original Logical Journey of Zoombinis, players could customize their Zoombinis and give them different hair, eyes, nose and feet characteristics. Will we see any new Zoombini combinations in this update?

For this release, no, although nose colors have been adjusted for certain forms of color blindness. Much of the logic throughout all twelve challenges is dependent on the characteristics and their combinations, and we didn’t want to change any of the core dynamics of the game. Both from an educational point of view – Zoombinis is heavily based on research into how people learn data literacy concepts – and for the long-time fans, we wanted to stay very true to the original.

With the new tablet and desktop version, the designers will be retouching up old scenes from the game. How long does this creative process take?

Our lead developer, FableVision, brought artist Chris Cyr (plaidcats.com) on board for the backgrounds. Chris has talked about a lot of different factors for retouching the old scenes: art, animation, programming, QA, etc. If you’re talking background art only, he estimated it took 18-24 hours per background. I know we had to slow him down as he was working much faster than the developers could keep up with the game logic!

ZMB_AllergicCliffsWill your Zoombinis cross the Allergic Cliffs?

We grew fond of the personalities and voices of many Zoombini characters. Are you getting new soundbites for the game or are you re-hiring/using the same voice actors to play their previous counterparts?

We were very fortunate that the chain of publishers, from Broderbund to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, did a great job of preserving the assets. They were very helpful in passing on a range of original content including all the original digital recordings – which were in great shape and high quality. So, we’ve kept all the original narration, music, sound effects and character voices. The fans made it clear to us: it wouldn’t be the same without them!

Are we going to see a lot of our favorite characters in the new version like the pizza trees that desired the perfect food combinations?

All your favorite characters are back! The Pizza Trolls, Captain Cajun, the Innkeeper, the Stone Guards are all are back with the same look – only higher resolution – and they have the same voices. Pizza toppings have changed to be more distinguishable – no one could really tell what the little round black items from the original were (they were olives). The new toppings are less traditional – pineapple and jalapeno anyone?

We have always wondered what happened to the Zoombinis that do not pass a puzzle like the ones that get sucked into whirlpools in the Bubblewonder Abyss. Where do they really go?

They go back to the previous campground. One of the principles of the game is that Zoombinis are never lost. The heart of the game is solving the puzzles well with limited risk to the Zoombinis and the player; that’s also why there are no time limits in Zoombinis.

How many Zoombinis must travel to Zoombiniville for you to free all the Zoombinis?

In the original game, you had to get 625 Zoombinis to Zoombiniville to have the game declare your victory; you also had to pass certain paths perfectly to get all 16 buildings built in Zoombiniville. In the new game we may reduce that 625 number a little. A perfect game – getting all the buildings – could be done with 192 Zoombinis I believe, but that’s pretty much impossible at the higher difficulty levels unless you’re very, very lucky!

ZMB_CaptainCajunHitch a ride with Captain Cajun

Can you give us some hints as to what new content and puzzles we can expect?

No new puzzles – it is a pretty strict recreation of the original. Content? Well, we’ll be bringing Easter Eggs back from the original, and there are new places in the animation and artwork where you can catch a few references and jokes – for instance, take a good look at the bees in Fleens. While making our full Kickstarter stretch goal is a reach at this point, whatever funds we do reach will be used to make a better Zoombiniville and add in a few new extras.

What new rewards can people discover in Zoombiniville?

That’s the objective our first stretch goal. It’s quite the stretch at $80K on top of the original $50K, but even if we don’t quite make it we’ll put in into improving some of the rewards in the game, which were a little light in the original. One idea we’ve toyed with is unlocking a sound board with many of the favorite clips and sound effects available at a moment’s notice to amuse (or annoy) parents, friends, and whatever place you order pizza from.

For the Character Creator Pack, can you customize your own Zoombini plushie or will a particular Zoombini be gifted to you?

It’s a particular design. We discussed the idea of a “Mister Potato Head” type Zoombini but the cost was just prohibitive.

Will fans be able to gift a copy of The Logical Journey of Zoombinis for friends and family members?

We have a lot of options on Kickstarter already and didn’t want to complicate things further, so gifting via the Kickstarter campaign isn’t possible. But we’ll be in all the app stores and other places like Steam, so it will be very easy to purchase additional copies this summer for all your friends and family!

ZMB_FleensOh no! The Fleens!

Is the team considering expanding the game into other languages other than English and Spanish?

The original was adapted into French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, and a few other languages. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to all the appropriate clips and it’s also quite a bit of additional work to get them in the game. We’re looking for international partners who could help us with additional languages and marketing in several countries (have to let people know we’re there!), so we’re hopeful we can eventually take over the world!

What is something that isn’t well known about the Logical Journey of Zoombinis?

Bubblewonder Abyss was originally going to be a topiary garden with a similar puzzle theme, but with changing bushes as the obstacles. The backgrounds for the original were done in the style of Grant Wood and were hand painted and then scanned in – two of them (kindly donated by Michelle Bushneff, former art director of Broderbund) are rewards on our Kickstarter. Many puzzles had different names, perhaps just as placeholders for development – Mirror Machine was Smoke and Mirrors and Stone Rise was ElectroHex.

Is there any advice or any tips you would like to give to kids and fans of The Logical Journey of Zoombinis?

If you’re playing the game, particularly at the harder levels, it really helps to keep track of the various combinations you’ve tried and the feedback you get – for Pizza Pass, I create a grid of pizza and sundae toppings and the trolls on paper and check them off as I try different combinations. It’s hard! And don’t even talk to me about the Titanic Tattooed Toads. Also, pay close attention to the narrator, especially at the lower levels, as he’ll give you clues on how to approach the puzzles. At the higher levels, it’s almost impossible not to lose a few Zoombinis as you progress, but as the narrator says: “Yes, Zoombinis were left behind, but the knowledge was gained!”

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? Any shout outs?

A huge thanks obviously to Scot Osterweil and Chris Hancock for creating such a great game. We’ve been highlighting some of our development team, but an incredibly important behind the scenes person is Polly Searles, our producer at FableVision, who looks after development day-to-day. And of course a huge shout-out to the fans who have been faithful for almost 20 years now and who really helped power our Kickstarter campaign and helped keep the memory of the game alive for all these years!

ZMB_ShadeTreeLet your Zoombinis take a break at the Shade Tree

Thank you for your time, TERC and Broderbund and thanks for checking out Gamer Compatible! If you want to know more about The Logical Journey of Zoombinis, you can check out their Kickstarter. They were successfully funded $101,716 through 3,424 backers and the team is very excited to get this project started. The iOS and Android 1.0 versions are planned for the Summer of 2015, and will be available worldwide in English and Spanish. You can also follow the Zoombinis remake on Facebook: @ZoombinisGame, on Twitter: @ZoombinisGame, on Youtube: Zoombinis, or you can check out their website.

If you want to stay updated with our gaming interviews, you can follow us on Twitter: @gamercompatible or on Facebook: @gamercompatible.

Game on! And signing out.


Images provided by TERC.
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