Creators, Social Media

Pop Creator Jess Brallier spills on “storytelling, games, and Poptropica”

Hey Poptropicans, we’re getting right to the heart of Poptropica with OG Poptropica CEO/publisher Jess Brallier! We’ve shared his vision for Pop and even interviewed him here on the PHB before, but there’s more…

Jess recently shared a personal blog post titled “Storytelling, games, and Poptropica,” discussing how it all began with our favorite virtual world—and it’s well worth the read. (Thanks to Brave Tomato, former PHB staffer, for bringing it to our attention!)

The post starts off affirming the success of Poptropica co-creator Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Jess ponders further potential…

What I really wanted (as I always did) was to publish stories for kids.  What was different this time, was that those kids were now intensely engaged in games.

Hmm.  There’s gotta be a gaming literacy with which to tell stories.

…considering that print, film, and theater all have their ways to tell stories. Jess goes on to share how, throughout his career, people didn’t take seriously his ideas for using gaming to tell stories to kids. That is, until he began collaborating with Jeff Kinney to create Poptropica.

Jess captions this photo: “Top row, second one in, is actually me. Makes sense, the old guy, with a worried look on his face, “How am I going to sell this up to ownership?””

The characters in the stories would be avatars.  The user would be the story’s protagonist.  So this avatar had to be human-like.  Able to fashionably dress in any historical or imagined time or place (just like stories!).  They would move—jump, slide, flip.  And express—facial emotions.  Just like humans.  This would not be a virtual world of cute little animals moving stiffly around getting rewards of bananas and apples. The art and design would be second to none.

Jess Brallier

Jess even quotes from an old PHB post, though without naming us. The commentary from “one critic,” about the scene of bubbles in Realms, comes from our post Pop 5: Most Beautiful Scenes in Poptropica, by Happy Lobster. Jess writes, “Good stuff! Our fans “got it.””

The PHB described this scene: “Based on Yggdrasil from Norse mythology, the tree containing all worlds, this scene may seem simple, but really, it is quite captivating. The minimal sky background, the way the colossal tree’s branches twist, and the shining bubbles containing enigmatic pinpricks of light all add up to its enthralling aesthetic.”

Jess continues his story of how Poptropica got started by describing the scramble to find room in the budget for two positions, a front-end and a back-end developer. They eventually track down Pearson’s CEO, Marjorie Scardino, who gives them ten minutes of her valuable time—and the green light to hire the people they need.

That wraps up Jess’s post, which you can read in full on his blog! The PHB reached out on Twitter to ask if he’d be sharing his thoughts on where Poptropica is at today, and he wrote back that he would. Considering how much the game has changed since his days as CEO, we’re definitely keen to hear what he has to say. Stay tuned with us!

The cool thing about all of this, which we thought about from day one, is if we did it right, we’d also be developing a next generation of storytellers, artists, and designers. Cool!

Jess Brallier