Weird Factory: PopCap’s 4th & Battery

By John Walker on April 6th, 2011 at 10:00 am.

It looks like something Dave Eggers would be involved in.

As of yesterday, PopCap are now the proud owners of an experimental game label, called 4th & Battery. Named after the intersection on which their Washington HQ can be found, it’s a place where they plan to put their more raw ideas. Which strikes me as a potentially splendid thing.

It’s a place where they say their designers and developers can be more experimental, test out more strange or esoteric ideas. It’s also somewhere where the studio will release games they’re describing as “more mature”. Perhaps they will use longer words?

“4th & Battery is a pressure valve intended to keep our heads from exploding,” is the rather lovely way it’s put by Ed Allard, Executive Vice President of Studios. (You can tell when a company is rich when it starts having to make job titles that convoluted. He goes on to explain how PopCap is apparently better than God’s dog, before explaining a bit more.

“But our standard game development process is therefore long and involved, and doesn’t really accommodate all of the creativity pumping through our collective veins. 4th & Battery gives us a way to quickly try really strange or marginal ideas, and to give our designers a safe area to hone their chops.”

We’re further warned to “expect weirdness”, with the developer/publisher reveling in the chance to develop games without deadlines or even a planned market. It sounds to me like they finally got rich enough to be able to have the freedoms of an indie developer again. What a strange and circuitous route it is to rediscover that freedom.

And to prove it all the first game has been announced: Unpleasant Horse. Sadly, this peculiar sounding creation asking people to destroy birds and crash-land on nicer-looking horses is currently only planned for iOS. However, 4th & Battery is planned to release games for PC too. (And Facebook, of course, but importantly, distinct from planned PC output.)

There’s a great post about it all on the 4th & B site, in which they celebrate the fun of a sandbox, and explain that a lot of what we’ll see will be the peculiar prototypes that could never find their way to a fully fledged, family friendly, PopCap release. Ideas they love, and want to see live.

So let’s hope for great things.

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13 Comments »

  1. godgoo says:

    so that’s who they used in the Valve logo photo.

  2. JackShandy says:

    Thanks for that unmatched left parenthesis, john. Now I’ll be feeling weird all day.

    • Gnoupi says:

      )

    • faelnor says:

      That’s not a closing parenthesis, that’s a slavic smile ((

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @Gnoupi: Doesn’t help when you know HTML document structure and parsing. It has to be in the same tag, or I’ll still feel weird.

      Then again, I just looked at the Markup validation for this page and… oh my… this is just plain horrible… :/
      It’s not XHTML. It’s not even HTML 4. The code is written in the style of 1997!! Seriously.

      If someone from RPS reads this: I’d love to fix that. For free.
      Otherwise I will have nightmares all week.

  3. faelnor says:

    That studio logo and name remind me of Strong Bad describing “indie films” . They couldn’t have gotten more stereotypical.

  4. Tom OBedlam says:

    Excellent, well done Popcap

  5. matty_gibbon says:

    Seems they’ve already gone all mature (in an immature way) with their Frequently Unasked Questions. The jokers!

  6. Mad Hamish says:

    Cool. It sure would be nice to have the money and the freedom.
    Right, lets see if they’ve got any jobs going.

  7. Jad says:

    “reveling in the chance to develop games without … a planned market”

    See, now that is cool.

    I certainly can see why they would do this, with the different label and all. Popcap is known for a number of things that could stifle creativity or limit the types of games they make. They make games that are 1) extremely polished, 2) very accessible and easy to learn, and 3) “family friendly” or have themes that can be enjoyed by a very casual, mainstream audience. The theme of “zombies” in PvZ is probably the most out-there, grandmother-upsetting thing they’ve done, and the zombies were still pretty tame and cute.

    So doing a more “edgy” label means they can do stuff that would break some of the above rules without tarnishing their brand.

    Anyway, I’ve got an iPod Touch, so I’ll download Unpleasant Horse when it comes out and give it a spin.

    • bob_d says:

      Yeah, personally I think every good-sized game development company should do something like this. Many companies, either because they’re big-budget AAA developers or because of branding issues, can’t take the sorts of risks that develop new ideas and new forms of gameplay. So what they need is a small, “casual” wing to the company that produces wildly experimental projects. Most of the experiments won’t work, which is fine, because they’re so cheap, but when something does work, they can spend some money on it to use it for a larger, more developed game. I think it could be the salvation of more than one AAA developer.

  8. 3lbFlax says:

    Hey! Just around the corner from 3rd & Bird!