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OMGeezers! Zynga East studio launches FrontierVille

by on June 9, 2010

Tshirt There are several ways to scare a bear. Make as much noise as possible, stand tall to present an intimidating figure, or flap your arms frantically and yell, “Hey! Hey!” The first two options may help you avoid a bear attack, but only the latter will reap you goodies like gold coins, bear pelts, and yummy pies in Zynga’s latest game, FrontierVille

Veteran game designer Brian Reynolds and his Zynga East game studio team in Baltimore released the wildly addictive social game on June 9. FrontierVille puts a user on a homestead where the pioneer must carve out a life in the wilderness. Chop down trees and clear land to build a log cabin. Your survival skills are tested by how well you can scare bears and whack snakes that lurk beneath tall grass and rocks on your land. Living alone on your homestead is full of surprises, which is why you’ll need to work with neighbors and send for your family members who are waiting back east.

Reynolds, Zynga's chief game designer, took time from whacking groundhogs and feeding chickens to talk about Zynga's newest social game.

Q: What’s the story premise of FrontierVille?

BR: You arrive with your covered wagon in the pristine wilderness. There are trees, rocks, weeds, flowers, and animals. You need to clear your homestead to build your cabin. Pretty soon the pony express arrives, and you get a letter from your sweetheart back east asking if it’s safe to move out.

Q: There’s a lot of digging, chopping, and harvesting. How is this game different from FarmVille or Treasure Isle?

BR: We liked the idea of building a wilderness adventure where you explore the frontier. That seemed to appeal to a broad range of players.

This is a game where we decided to do a lot of innovation around quality with a living world and making a really open-ended game experience. There are familiar touchstones from Zynga games, but we’ve given a fresh take and added new things like running into wild animals. You have to decide how many trees to cut down because it affects how you reseed your land. And if you neglect your homestead for too long, grass and weeds may start growing back. We've also made the social interactions with your neighbors really interesting and fun – even if you've played a lot of social games we think you'll be be surprised.

Q: FrontierVille introduces a reputation badge for users. Is this a new concept?

BR: It’s never been done in Zynga games before. In FrontierVille, you’re not just going up levels. You’re also increasing your reputation among other players. When you do something helpful, like chop trees or harvest crops for your neighbor, you earn hearts. These hearts accumulate, and you level up in both reputation and experience. There’s advantages in increasing your heart points, which emphasizes social interaction in a fun and interesting way.

Q: You’ve spent nearly two decades in the traditional gaming industry building complex strategy games. Now you’re building simple social games. Has this been a tough adjustment?

BR: The two aren’t as far away as you’d think. Maybe in a strategy game the edges are rougher and grittier and the complexity level is higher. But the design techniques come out of the same idea – a lot of simple parts interacting in a deep way. One thing our team really worked hard on is designing a clean user interface to make it more approachable [than hardcore games].

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