Blast from the Past, Creators

In Their Words: OG Creators on their vision for Poptropica — #ThanksKinney et. al.

Hey Poptropicans, let’s throw it back a bit…

In honor of Poptropica’s birthday month and the #ThanksKinney campaign going on, we thought we’d take a look back at past posts and interviews with some OG Poptropica Creators sharing about the process behind the making of Poptropica. In some ways, this is a bit of an open letter for Jeff Kinney and the Poptropica Creators past and present.

Turns out the words of some of these original Pop Creators reveal some interesting ideas worth comparing and contrasting with how the game has been going in the past few years. We’re going be taking a look at our beloved Poptropica from the eyes of earlier masterminds Jeff Kinney, Jess Brallier, James Lema, and Mitch Krpata.

Let’s see what they had to say about how they envisioned Poptropica while they were building it in its earlier years…


Jeff Kinney: no player homes; experiencing different things

In 2014, Poptropica founder Jeff Kinney did a 10-minute interview with the media company BellyFeel, where he discusses some of the thought processes behind Poptropica. Check out the interview below, or read the transcript from BellyFeel, and excerpts below the video.

My first idea for Poptropica was that you would be a person who would live in an apartment and that you could collect things and bring them back to your apartment, and we’ve seen that model in lots of games like Animal Crossing and there are many virtual worlds that follow that model but this was right around the time that kids started to carry around iPods and there was that feeling that a kid carries their content with them. So we took that central mechanic of the game, that your character doesn’t actually have a home. Your character travels and brings everything with them.

That’s very liberating because then you don’t have a geographic challenge. If you had to keep going back to your house or apartment, you would be limited in a way as far as how far you could go. The idea now is that the character just island hops

I think that each island has its own, its own set of rules, its own universe and by not being overly thematic or by not creating one set of rules for the universe, I think it gives our kids a chance to experience all sorts of different things and that’s fun and freeing.

Some of the stories we’ve told, I can’t believe we’ve gotten away with, I think the most exotic story or esoteric story we’ve told is we have an island called Mystery Train where you’re travelling in the late 1800’s on a train from Washington DC to the Chicago Worlds Fair and you meet Nikola Tesla and Gustave Eiffel and all these luminaries from that time, and I kind of held my breath, I didn’t think kids would like it. But it’s one of our most popular islands because I think it’s authentic and rich.

Jeff Kinney

Interestingly, Poptropica did end up making player homes a feature, which another Creator we’ll mention later in this post says was the most requested feature for the game. However, with the arrival of Paradise Island, Poptropica has recently been criticized by fans for trying to be too much like Animal Crossing. Can they go back to their roots?


Jess Brallier: staying around like Disney; not just another game

In 2013, the learning company Future Think filmed a video of then-president of Poptropica, Jess Brallier, talking about his vision for the game, which resurfaced in 2019 thanks to idk and Osmium. Check it out:

When we shared the video here on the PHB last year, we highlighted the following quote right from this publisher’s mouth that still resonates today with players hoping for new islands more than anything else:

“We’re not doing a virtual world to create a social networking opportunity, not to house games, not to host a virtual economy, but to tell stories… the point of Poptropica is to tell kids stories in the literacy of their choosing.

Jess Brallier

This sentiment also echoes an interview the PHB hosted in 2015 with Mr. Brallier with questions asked by our readers. Here are a couple highlights about his dreams for Poptropica:

When asked, “Are there certain things that you think that Poptropica should achieve? What are they?” Mr. Brallier talked about expanding the franchise to different media, comparing it to the Disney empire.

Like Disney, we want to stay around for generations. We like to imagine our grandchildren smiling because of something Poptropica. We’d like to have a best-selling book series, a top ten iOS app, a record-breaking film, a wildly popular TV series, and a much-loved YouTube channel… But most of all, we hope that through our storytelling, art, animation, and programming to inspire a next generation of creators.

Jess Brallier

Since then, Poptropica has achieved that best-selling book series with the four graphic novels and briefly made it to #1 on the iOS App Store in August 2020 (while disparaging competitor Animal Jam in a victory post). Maybe more will lie ahead?

To another question, “What kind of skills do you look for when hiring Poptropica Creators?”, Mr. Brallier answered:

A love for storytelling and a desire to do what nobody else is doing. Many can illustrate or program, but do they do what they do because of a love and appreciation for storytelling. And our success is about doing what others don’t do. We’re not a book publisher, we’re not just another game, we’re not just another world with weird penguins or monsters or dolls running around in it. We seek not to copy, but to be the first to show up with something unexpected.

Jess Brallier

That sounds about right. 🙂


James Lema: we are not Facebook for kids

In 2013, Poptropica’s director of product development, James Lema (aka Director D), wrote on the blog of a kids brand agency called Dubit titled “Five things learned from five years of Poptropica,” which the PHB covered soon after. Another 5+ years later, let’s see how it stacks up…

The five points he gives focus on being different in the following ways: 1) focusing on narrative quests; 2) simplifying the start process; 3) using 2D art; 4) pre-scripted chat; and 5) not trying to be “Facebook for kids.” You can read more in the blog post he wrote here.

Here’s a closer look at point #5, last but certainly not least:

Since the magnificent rise of Facebook, there have been numerous companies that have tried to create a social offering for kids that follows the Facebook model. Poptropica actively decided to not go down that path.

As Poptropica grows, we want to engage kids in ways they have never experienced. From that, we created Poptropica Friends – a 100 percent safe, social experience that allows the user to tell the story about themselves.

Everyday, we ask the user a question (ex. What’s your favourite sport? Have you ever tried sushi? Do you like dogs or cats?). The answer is a visual tile that becomes part of their profile. The more questions the user answers, the more visual their personality becomes. It’s a rich tapestry that tells the personality of the user in a way that has never been done.

James Lema

Players certainly appreciate Poptropica’s intentionally different approach to the social experience, with many reports of features to love about the original Friends profiles (the 2019 reboot left some things to be desired). Let’s bring back pop quizzes (the question tiles mentioned earlier), adding friends by username, Multiverse, and more!


Mitch Krpata: world-building; not a superficial experience

Okay, last one! It’s been a long post, but thanks for sticking with it this far. This last one is plentiful, but offers a lot of insight into the inner workings of Poptropica. Here’s Mitch Krpata (aka Captain Crawfish)!

In 2017, this Poptropica senior story developer did two significant interviews about his work: one directly with the PHB about his job and more, and another with a podcast called The Oddball Show. Among the many insights from the latter, here are a few excerpts worth highlighting about the design of the game experience:

Poptropica is quite inspired by Monkey Island, [with Mitch] considering it a children’s version of the older game. He goes on to describe Poptropica as a game with unique stories and puzzles, making up long-form experiences that require time and effort to experience, which players are willing to put in…

Next, the guys compare Poptropica to The Sims games by Electronic Arts, commenting on the world-building aspect of games and how there’s no age limit for wanting some of that. Mitch notes that Poptropica Worlds is a little like that, where you get to build your own house and avatar. For almost ten years, this was the most requested feature for Poptropica: a way to build their own space, which finally came as houses on Worlds. Such a feature, of having a thing that is one’s own, transcends age and gender…

Mitch talks about how his favorite books and movies as a kid all had an edge of darkness in them, recalling the classic storybook Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. This feels true of Poptropica as well, he says: it looks cartoonish, but it’s not a superficial experience – there is depth there for the kids who are paying attention to it.

From the PHB’s summary of Mitch Krpata’s appearance on The Oddball Show podcast

You can also hear the podcast interview in the video below, or read our summary in this PHB post. It’s lengthy, but quite insightful!


It’s interesting to see how Poptropica has evolved in some ways from some of these original Creators’ imaginations, yet has stayed the same in other ways. What resonated with you? What features do you think Poptropica should keep, bring back, or do away with? Share your thoughts in the comments and on our PHC Discord server!

And #ThanksKinney for making this strange yet wonderful adventure for us all. Happy 13th birthday, Poptropica! 🎈🎉

~Slanted Fish 🐠

Creators, Social Media, Website Updates

#ThanksKinney, for the Poptropica memories

Hey Poptropicans! The Poptropica Creators have been on a roll lately with their social media, bringing us throwbacks, fun facts, and even a splash of magnanimity! Let’s pop in and take a look.

The Poptropica Creators’ Blog and Instagram spotlighted Jeff Kinney — the man who started Poptropica, yet is better known as the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series — and invited fans to “let Mr. Kinney know how much Poptropica means to everyone” by sharing Poptropica memories that they promise they’ll share on social media and even with Mr. Kinney himself! You can create fan art, write letters, make videos, and more with the hashtag #ThanksKinney so the Creators can see.

On Instagram, the PHB (we’re @poptropicahare) asked if Jeff Kinney still gets involved with Poptropica’s development. The Creators liked the comment, but didn’t answer. Guess we’ll take that as a no…?

Other fans have been wondering about the founder’s silence about the game he created as well. In 2018, the PHB published a guest post that touches on Mr. Kinney’s deep investment into Wimpy Kid at the expense of leaving Poptropica behind. Even if he doesn’t come back to Poptropica, we hope his vision for the game can remain.

Still, #ThanksKinney for starting it all! And if you have Poptropica memories or creations to share, the deadline is September 20 (Sunday).


The Creators have been active on Instagram with two new stories featuring fan posts: one an animation of a dancing Binary Bard from @neon.bug, the other a fun fact about Monster Carnival characters from @happyclonetrooper. By the way, for more Poptropica fun facts, check out the trivia section at the end of all our PHB island guides!


Oh, and there’s more from Instagram: in an unusual act of spontaneous generosity, the Creators also reached out to Dimension Bros, the YouTuber duo behind Poptropica Month, to offer them free memberships! Here’s Theo’s first reaction of experiencing the Poptropica heavens open with access to newly unlocked features, including thousands of bonus credits to spend in the stores:

Theo also shared with the PHB that the gifted membership doesn’t expire until December 31, 2022 according to his account settings—which adds up to about 2 years and 4 months! That’s literally impossible for us regular plebs to attain, not counting auto-renewals, since you can only buy up to a year of membership at once.

The screenshot of the holy grail of Poptropica status.

This also seems to be the first time the Creators have ever given out free memberships outside of people winning their (and occasionally the PHB’s) contests. Pretty cool—hey Creators, want to hook us up too? 😉


In other news, as you may have noticed, the PHB website has a new look! Our previous theme from WordPress (which is the blogging platform we use) has been retired, so to keep things running for future updates, we’ve switched over to a new theme called Dara.

It may take a little getting used to, but we’ve tried to find one with similar elements to the previous. This new theme comes with bigger fonts and easy access to the PHB’s socials via the buttons on top, so we hope you’ll come to love it like we do!


And finally, after 8 days of tasks, achievements, and recycled gameplay, the activities on Paradise Island have come to a stop—at least for now. If you’ve made it past the day with the PoptropiCon “festival,” future days simply consist of logging in for daily credit rewards, which you can use to decorate your island, home, pets, or character.

At last, kick back and enjoy the waterfront… and the calming tropical music.

With Poptropica’s birthday month in full swing, there’s plenty going on in the fandom these days! Join in on creating and/or watching Poptropica Month videos, party with Dr. Beev stans next week, make something mask-related for Community Creations, and of course, give a #ThanksKinney for making this all possible. Pop on, Poptropicans. 🎉

~Slanted Fish 🐠

Creators

Artist interview with creator Abigail Grigg, and that friends thingamajig

Hey Poptropicans! Remember Abigail Grigg?

Abigail is a Poptropica artist who’s designed many of the newer things you see on Poptropica, like the monthly new store items and creatures from Reality TV: Wild Safari. She’s also working on the upcoming Zomberry Island content.

Here on the PHB, we recently featured a Pop Portfolio of her work. (Fun fact: She’s also known by her online name, Zukitz!) Now the Creators are joining in by having recently hosted a Q&A with Abigail, which we’re sharing below, with a few grammatical fixes (you can see the original on the Creators’ Blog).

Q: How long have you worked on Poptropica?

A: This month actually marks my first year working for Poptropica. I was hired as an intern last October and then pulled on for fulltime work this earlier this year. It’s been a big year filled with lots of learning and fun opportunities.

Note: This piece is one of Abigail’s personal artworks, unrelated to Poptropica.

Q: Do you have a favorite Poptropican? How about a favorite Island?

A: I have a lot of love for Amelia. I love adventurous female characters, especially when they’re wearing goggles and aviator gear.

I might be biased but I really love Reality TV 2. Not only is my first island to have worked on, but I have a lot of love for animals and the safari aesthetic. I love running around and seeing all the animals and landscapes, and I was extremely excited when I heard about the idea and what it entailed.

Q: What kind of artwork do you make when you’re not working on Poptropica?

A: My personal artwork is a mixed bag of various styles and ideas, it’s a bit of a mess. I’ve got a webcomic called “King and Lionheart” that I’m constantly working on. I also love creating characters and creatures, so I tend to spew all sorts of new designs when the inspiration strikes. I’m also working on my own personal indie game with a team of colleagues. I have tons of ideas that I like to mess around with, and there isn’t enough time in the world for me to tackle it all. (Editor’s note: You can read “King and Lionheart” on its website, which the Creators’ Blog decided not to link to.)

Q: What’s your advice for young artists who’d like to go pro?

A: Experiment and try new stuff! I spent most of my time in art school trying out various disciplines, softwares, mediums, and styles. It’s through trying out different things did I discover my love for storytelling, game development, and illustration. I went to school wanting to become the next Disney animator only to realize that animation wasn’t my passion, and instead found interest in other mediums. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and get messy with new things, it’s the best way to learn what you’re into and what you don’t want to do.

Want to see more of Abigail’s cool Poptropica designs? Check out her Pop Portfolio here on the PHB!


Also on the Creators’ Blog this past week, Blue Tooth made a little guide for the new friends pages. Here you can see the fun features, new or revamped, in the 2019-redesigned version of Poptropica friends. Newer features include likes, stickers, a message board, and photo board. As Blue Tooth explains:

Despite the new shiny stuff, Poptropicans have been commenting on what’s been lacking with friends ever since the major overhaul it received early this year. Any veteran Poptropican looking at Blue Tooth’s guide, replete with its wittily captioned screenshots, can see what’s missing from before:

  • The ability to add friends by username and see all your friends’ profiles listed. Blue Tooth herself mentions that “no one’s liked my page, yet” (sorry to bring it up, BT)—but if she were to share her username, and if we could add friends by username, you could bet the face of Poptropica’s social media would be lined up with likes. Plus, you can only see about 10 of your friends listed at a time, so even if you had her added, you might not ever find her profile!
  • Where did the Photo Booth go? Recently, the Photo Booth disappeared from its spot on Home Island, which is why BT doesn’t have any pics to show us there. Other players who’ve made photos before, and who saved them on their new profiles, should still have them.
  • Some customization is for members only. Those fun “bunny swag” (and other swag) stickers and colorful background wallpaper? Members only. Non-members only get to change a measly little mood icon beside their name. 😦
  • Which islands have been completed by this player? Calling it the “clout meter,” Blue Tooth’s post does show that the island completion stats are still there, but some Poptropicans miss the old display, where one could scroll through a long collection of medallions and see exactly which ones had been won by the player in question.
  • No more Multiverse. While replaced by the Clubhouse, it’s hard to access if you can’t find the friend whose clubhouse you want to visit.

This could turn into another Pop Petition post, so let’s end it here for now. Blue Tooth assures us that “Friending and the Profile WILL be coming to mobile in the near future,” and that, if you have ideas for what else you’d like to see on the profile page, you should leave a comment on the blog.

Anyway, that’s all for this post! Leave your thoughts, questions, and suggestions in the comments, enter your Poptropica Halloween costume into our contest if you haven’t yet, and we’ll see you next time.

Stay friendly, Poptropicans! ✌️

Creators

Artist interview with creator Jonathan Trimble, and reason to tremble?

Hey Poptropicans! Heard of Jonathan Trimble?

Jonathan is a Poptropica artist who’s designed tons of cool stuff you may have seen in the game. We featured a Pop Portfolio of his work on the PHB last year, which you should definitely check out!

Anyway, this week on the Creators’ Blog, in addition to a new obnoxiously-placed Poptropica/ad video that now plays on the bottom corner of the screen with no option to be removed, we’re treated to a special post: an artist interview with Jonathan Trimble! It’s short and sweet, so we’ve shared it below, but you can also view the original on the Creators’ Blog. Here it is:

Meet Jonathan, one of our awesome artists busy with designing new characters and worlds in Poptropica! We call him JT around HQ. He took some time to do a few Q’s and A’s just for you!

Q: What was your favorite thing to work on in Poptropica?

A: Designing and animating the monkeys on Monkey Wrench Island!

Q: Who’s your favorite Poptropican? Favorite Island?

A: My favorite Poptropican is Amelia on Home Island because she’s so helpful. My favorite Island is a classic! Skullduggery! I miss it so.

Q: What kind of artwork do you make when you’re not working on Poptropica?

A: I like taking photos and drawing fantastic lands, making ceramic sculptures and designing logos– I can’t ever seem to make up my mind.

Q: What’s your advice for young artists who’d like to go pro?

A: Draw every day and never stop. Good days or bad, make sure you draw something, anything! The practice will pay off more than you could ever know!


In other news, the fall update on Home Island that came last week to mobile is now on the online version, too, so enjoy the orange leaves! 🍂

Last week, Blue Tooth also hit us with a Flashback Friday featuring the spooky horrors of running away from zombies on Zomberry Island. The post adds, somewhat ominously, “if you haven’t had the chance to experience the purple plague, you might be able to get a taste soon…!”

Since Blue Tooth also brings up Halloween coming up next month in the blog post about fall, and Zomberry has a clear creepy theme going, perhaps the Creators are planning a spine-tingling, bone-trembling surprise for us coming up? We’ll have to wait and see… 👀👻

Stay alive, Poptropicans.

Clubhouse of the Week, Creators, Pets

Accessorize your pet and your clubhouse!

Hello, everyone! It’s Lucky Joker here with some cool news for you all today.

Firstly, the Pet Barn’s got some cute new accessories for your little companions! You can now buy: a pink afro (members only), a grey beard, a blue bow,(members only) and big brown eyes — which are really adorable, by the way.

To commemorate the new pet stuff, Pop Creator Blue Tooth posted this drawing of Pop pets Dorf and Pepper with the beard and bowtie:

“Did you know that bunnies loaf just like cats? Here’s Dorf and his best friend Pepper modeling some of the new items available in the pet barn.”

Now moving on to the more exciting stuff! Blue Tooth has announced that every other week (the Fridays in between “Look of the Week“) the Creators will be recognizing and featuring a Poptropican’s clubhouse on Twitter, Instagram, and the Creators’ Blog, so get customizing, folks!

Will your clubhouse make “Clubhouse of the Week“?

Thank you all for reading, and I’ll talk to you guys soon. Pop on!

-Lucky Joker🍀