Lightwood Games is a UK-based indie studio comprised of husband and wife dev-duo Katherine Gordon and Chris Newman. The two have been working together for over five years, finding their niche in the market with word and puzzle games. Last week I traveled over to their humble workplace in Stoke-on-Trent to ask them a few questions about their studio and its upcoming Nintendo projects.
How did Lightwood Games come to be?
Chris: We got together when I needed help with other projects. I was making iPhone apps at the time. Katherine was looking for work because the games company she was working for made her redundant. So I knew she was looking for games work. She was looking at mobile apps as well, so we began working together. When we got downtime between projects, we’d work on games for ourselves. We did a word search game which was based on something I was doing with teaching systems. It was a word search generator to make worksheets for use in class. We started to build a database — a list of words for chemistry, English, whatever the teachers were using. I thought we should make an interactive version of it. Schools would be all over it. However, schools were not quick to adopt it. So we found more success with puzzle game fans.
[Lightwood Games] was mobile games since 2010 and then we were approved for Nintendo about a year ago. We were like: “It’s getting really hard to be found on mobile. The app store’s so massive.” Apple made changes to the store that made it even harder to be found. To start with, when you had a new release, you basically got a week of free visibility so people who were looking for word games could find you. That was your shot of getting noticed, and they took that away. So now the only way you get noticed on the app store is if people already know about you. So we were looking at other routes to get people to find our games, and y’know, we thought this would really suit Nintendo 3DS. It’s mobile, touch-screen, that kind of thing. So we applied thinking we didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance. But apparently the catalogue we made was enough to get us approved for that programme, and that’s how we started getting into making Nintendo games.
Lightwood Games — where did the name originate from?
Chris: Lightwood? It’s a village near Longton which is where I used to live. I didn’t live in Lightwood but I drove past it a lot. We made a “spot the difference” game a few years ago, and I said we need to go take a picture of the Lightwood sign. And [Katherine] was like, “Lightwood’s a place?!” [laughs]
Roughly how many games have you released across all platforms?
Chris: More than a dozen, I think … it’s because we’ve got a strong following with word searches. We’ve been doing a new game every month for the last couple of years. We did this thing just over two years ago — summer 2013, it was. We tried to do a world record attempt, making the world’s largest word search puzzle. It’s got 10,000 words in it, and it’s 300×300 letters. We’ve got a poster that we can’t display, it’s tucked behind the sofa.
“It is as big as the room. We laid it out when it arrived and it was literally the entire floor.”
Katherine: It is as big as the room. We laid it out when it arrived and it was literally the entire floor. We haven’t finished it yet, but many people have because there’s a mobile version!
You’ve already touched on why you ended up developing for Nintendo systems, but what’s your gaming history with the company like?
Katherine: Well, I had a Wii not long after they came out. I liked it for the multiplayer experience more than anything else. I very rarely played on my own; it was about having friends over. We never had 3DSs or anything. Mobile phones took over. I didn’t feel the need for a second gaming device that was mobile, but now my 3DS goes everywhere with me. [laughs]
Word Puzzles by POWGI for Nintendo 3DS — you’re planning to make every amiibo compatible. Are there any plans to expand upon the functionality in future games?
Chris: Nintendo are quite strict on how you use amiibo, so there’s actually a very tight scope for what we’ve got to do here, which is using the user-generated content on the amiibo to make a puzzle. We can’t have that game say “hey, we know this is Mario,” because Mario is a protected property and we’re not licensed to use it. So I guess that would be the next step — to get a licensed tie-in. But I don’t think we’re in any position to do that right now.
But no, we’re taking things one step at a time. We did a 3DS game with StreetPass which was kinda cool to do. Then we did a Wii U game which features Mii faces. Now we’ve gone to amiibo, so we’re working up!
Do you have a release date for Word Puzzles by POWGI?
Chris: I really want it to be out before Christmas, because people who get amiibo for Christmas will be looking for new things they can play with it. It is gonna be tight, but it’s being reviewed at the minute. It’s a whole new experience for us getting an amiibo game reviewed, and I’m expecting it’s gonna have some discussion because I don’t think that Nintendo have approved that many amiibo games yet. Certainly not with independent developers. Shovel Knight’s doing something, and we’ve heard Hive Jump’s got something but they’ve not said what. So I don’t know which amiibo they’re going to support, but that’s the only indie involvement we’ve heard of with amiibo.
Editor’s note: Be sure to check out our recently published article titled “Word Puzzles by POWGI on 3DS to Support All amiibo.”
Moving onto the present, can you tell us a bit about Word Party for Wii U?
Chris: Yes, we’d love to! It’s a word puzzle, mini-game extravaganza. There are 28 different mini-games, and they’re all based on word puzzles in some way. Some of them are classic puzzles like crosswords and word search, anagrams — that kind of thing. Others are things that we made up based on word puzzles, and some are just things that came to us in the middle of the night and sounded like a good idea at the time so we ran with it.
“The idea was to take relaxing word games and make them competitive.”
Like, “Give Ps a Chance”, where all you have to do is select every letter P in the sentence. That’s it. We did a game called “Spelling Bee,” where you have to put the letter B in front of letters. It’s a recognition game of which ones make words. Because the bees are flying around really quick you’ve got to think fast and act fast, so it’s kind of got light-gun elements in selecting on-screen as well as the word puzzles. We did a version of “One Word” which is a word search puzzle with just one word to find, and that’s one of the puzzles which is going to be a POWGI game. In fact, that’s the main game for amiibo. If you tap an amiibo called “Cuddles,” then the word cuddles is hidden in the grid on-screen. So there’s a version of that in Word Party where everyone’s trying to find that same word at the same time. The idea was to take relaxing word games and make them competitive.
What influenced Word Party’s development?
Katherine: We are big fans of party games on the Wii. Word Party was the game we wanted to be able to play but no one had made it. We were trying to find word games on the Wii or Wii U, but they were basically non-existent or really boring.
Chris: One of the things we insisted on with Word Search in particular was that the word searches were pre-generated, so we could check them over, make sure they had lots of interesting hidden words, they overlapped well, and they were densely packed. So we’ve only got 8×8 grids in Word Party, but they’ve got generally 10-12 words, which is pretty insane for something that size. Whereas what a lot of people do, when they’re making word search software, is generate things on the fly. This means it’s different every time, but it takes a lot of processing power to hide things well. So we’re very focused on making sure the puzzle content is well-produced and there’s a challenge hidden in there. Rather than saying everyone else is boring, we’ll take it a step further. [laughs]
What are your thoughts regarding NX, Nintendo’s new platform?
Katherine: It’s hard to say because we’ve only just come to Nintendo as it is. It’s still very much exciting playing with Wii remote controllers and StreetPass.
Chris: The speculation that I’ve heard is that it’s going to be a unified platform. Mobile and console are going to be along the same lines. It might be one device, it might be multiple devices — no one knows. But it’s going to be more of a platform than a console is what people are saying. I don’t know where this has come from — it’s pure speculation. But from a developer’s point of view, that would make it easier to write for both platforms. At the moment, the development experience for Wii U and 3DS are quite separate. If it was possible to take one game to the other it should be quite a simple port. So I think that’s the direction they’re going in. It would be nice to develop once for both.
Amen to that. Thank you Lightwood Games for taking the time out to chat with me.
Word Party releases on the North American and European Wii U eShop today along with a demo version. Additionally, the game launches with a 20 percent discount which ends on 26th November.