The Making of Puzzlejuice
Asher Vollmer fell in love with computers at a young age. He attended a computer camp where he learned to program, and his father, who was a software engineer, helped nurture his new-found passion. In high school, his experiments with Flash animation led to him wanting to create games. During one summer, he attended a class held at the University of Southern California that was aimed at high school students who were interested in creating games.
His programming skill caught the attention of the teacher’s assistant. He ended up assisting the TA with his Master’s thesis project. The resulting effort earned them an invitation to the Independent Games Festival, which was not only a good experience for Vollmer but also essentially opened the door for him to attend the University of Southern California after he graduated high school.
While attending university, Vollmer came up with an idea for a puzzle game that he thought had merit. A combination of popular puzzle and board games, the game was planned to release on mobile as Vollmer saw the platform as the most experimental and unexplored frontier of the industry at the time. Inspired by the in-your-face advertising of children’s toys and games in the 1990s, Vollmer dubbed his mash-up Puzzlejuice.
Looking for some advice on how to design the game’s aesthetics, Vollmer reached out to artist Greg Wohlwend. A graduate of the graphic design program at Iowa State University, Wohlwend had partnered up with a former classmate named Mike Boxleiter and created a number of popular Flash games. The team’s first mobile game, Solipskier, was a big hit. Intrigued by Vollmer’s description of Puzzlejuice, Wohlwend ended up joining the project. Composer Jimmy Hinson soon came in as well, and the trio initially dubbed themselves Collaboratory.
By the time Puzzlejuice released in January of 2012, Collaboratory had become Sirvo. Some doubts had arisen during the development, with the appearance of Spelltower initially causing some concern as it used a similar Boggle-style spelling mechanic. Ultimately, the team decided that Puzzlejuice and Spelltower were different enough to safely co-exist. Another concern was that the game was perhaps a bit too complex for touchscreen controls, but in the end everything worked out.
Puzzlejuice met with a positive reception from both critics and players. It notably received an 8/10 from EDGE magazine, and earned considerable praise across the board. The game’s presentation naturally drew attention, with the simple, clear visual style and the chiptune soundtrack being mentioned by many reviewers. Another point that came up frequently was in how the game’s mixture of elements forced players to use their brains in ways they may not have before. Most agreed that the game was fun and challenging, but perhaps too difficult at times.
After release, the game received one major update amid the usual compatibility updates and bug fixes. In August of 2012, Puzzlejuice 1.5 was released, adding in a new Impossible mode that featured faster-moving blocks and a penalty for creating three-letter words. As many players had gotten used to the game’s unique mix of mechanics somewhat by this point, the new mode was quite welcome. A new power-up was also added to the game in this update, giving players an extra weapon to deploy against this ferocious new gameplay mode.
The members of Sirvo moved on to a variety of other projects after Puzzlejuice’s launch, with a notable reunion in 2014 to create the popular puzzle game Threes!. While the team’s initial effort was maintained for many years after its release, its future was far from certain. In 2020, Puzzlejuice was updated and overhauled for modern devices as it officially joined the GameClub library. Now, a whole new generation of players can taste the unusual and delicious blend that is Puzzlejuice.