I’m extremely pleased to share today’s interview with Andrew Doll, who worked at Club Penguin since 2012! He was an artist for the game behind a range of recognisable rooms, and he’s kindly taken the time to share the processes and experiences behind making those rooms a reality while also sharing some concept artwork.
Selecting the Ideas
Before any artwork could begin to be created, the Club Penguin team first had to decide which ideas should be implemented. This wasn’t always easy, especially given the quantity of ideas which could sometimes be submitted by the community. As such, there was an established process for ensuring this happened successfully.
When I worked at Club Penguin I was on a team called the “Core” team. This team was responsible for creating all of the content for the monthly parties and any regular Evergreen content updates to the game. Every month the production team would get together for a brainstorm session where we would be given a theme and then come up with a few fun party ideas. At this point the Core team would take one of those ideas and break down a high level story and make a list of rooms, furniture, and clothing items for the party. Once the Core team was given the green light from an executive review panel, it was then up to the various art disciplines to create the content. We would meet up a couple times a week to review progress and offer constructive feedback as a team to make sure that we were creating the most polished experience possible.
Turning the Ideas to Life
Andrew lays out four main stages to creating rooms:
- Brainstorm and concept
- Ink and lines
- Paint and colours
Brainstorm and concept:
Gather references for inspiration/mood board
Create thumbnail sketches to get the ideas flowing
Create a concept based on thumbnails and show it to the team for review.
Featured below are various of those thumbnail sketches. The sketches in the top left appear to show the Airport which was included at the Muppets World Tour in 2014, and the top right show rooms from the Star Wars Takeover during the same year.
In the bottom left, you can see some of the sketches for the exterior of the School building, which replaced the Recycling Plant in 2013. The bottom right shows a concept for the Cookie Shop that was part of the Holiday Party in 2012, but as stated in the image, the final design was considerably different.
Ink and lines:
Just as some context for those who are unaware, Adobe Flash Professional was the tool used for this.
Draw over top of the concept using preset line widths in Adobe Flash Professional.
Paint and colours:
Sample colors from your concept and use the bucket fill tool to fill in your inked room. We would use a slicer line to cut into and separate fill zones to add stepped/cel shading. A slicer line is when you set your line width to the smallest it will go and change the color to a bright, easily identifiable color to remove after it is no longer needed.
In order to give an example from one of the rooms in the sketches above, this was the final result of the Plaza and Airport at the Muppets World Tour (top left sketches).
The final part of the process was adding the interactivity! Continuing the example above of the Airport at the Muppets World Takeover, these included features such as how the carousel on the left of the room would be animated to move baggage, along with a button to change the destination shown on the right.
All of the rooms we created in Club Penguin required ActionScript code to add interactivity. We had a great team of programmers that built a lot of awesome features for those parties as well as adding some functionality to the rooms. Not all, but some of us artists on the Room Art team knew how to program in ActionScript so we would create the code for our own rooms and make sure to get one of the programmers to review it. Creating the art for the rooms was such an awesome experience that I liked to do, but programming and figuring out new ways to add some cool room functionality was one of the things I enjoyed the most.
Separately, Andrew notes that artists would generally work on each piece from concept to ink and paint, although there would occasionally be some collaboration where different people would complete different parts of the process – this wasn’t the norm though.
You can see the whole process demonstrated below in other rooms below too! This one was from the Halloween Party in 2012, and the image includes an anecdote about how it was put together.
One of the rooms also shared by Andrew was the High Speed Getaway Set at the Hollywood Party in 2013. As detailed in the image, this was filled with features and complicated to create due to the high ambitions held. Interestingly though, although this particularly room was received extremely well, there was often nervousness when releasing these sorts of new events!
There was definitely nervousness around how a party or new feature was going to go over with the players. At the same time though, there was also a lot of excitement around how the players would respond. On release day we would always log in with our Penguins and waddle around to see the reactions. It felt rewarding and inspiring when we saw the players waddling around, interacting and role-playing in the party.
I still remember the Hollywood Party in 2013, and it was definitely extremely popular for roleplaying!
Alongside the room process, Andrew also detailed some of the challenges which he experienced in his time at Club Penguin! I should note that some of these are quite technical, but in the example below, it’s effectively being highlighted how the team managed to avoid situations where penguins would look odd around their surroundings because of the different layers.
In the early days when I was working on room art there were a few challenges that I regularly encountered. One of those challenges was figuring out how to build the room in parts that would allow the Penguins to depth sort between the various layers. This was achieved by strategically placing each objects pivot point in a location where if the Penguin was below the pivot point on screen it would appear above that object, but when the Penguin waddled above that pivot point, the Penguin would appear behind that object. It was always a goal to provide the player with a sense of dimension and depth to the rooms so when a room design became a bit more complex with multiple levels, placing these pivots and strategically breaking up the art was challenging.
The example below is also quite technical, but details how the team would deal with ensuring rooms had exciting animations and interactivity without being too heavy, thereby causing problems on slower computers. Also, just to note for context, “caching” effectively refers to storing the data for future usage.
Another challenge that I faced in the early days when I was working on Club Penguin was finding ways to add more animation and interactivity to the rooms while also keeping performance and file size in mind. Every time there was something moving on screen, the Flash Player would redraw that area of the screen. Because Club Penguin was created using vector artwork, the file size was relatively small, but there were thousands, in some cases millions of vector points in the artwork. Redrawing this artwork when something was animated was very costly to performance so we had to come up with some tricks to optimize this for the players out there that didn’t have the newest and fastest PC’s at that time. One optimization method I came up with was using a feature that Flash has called “Cache As Bitmap”. This takes the vector artwork and converts it to a lightweight easy to render raster or pixel version of the art. I built a custom script that took an animation and converted every frame in the sequence to a symbol that would “Cache As Bitmap”. I had every animation frame appear offscreen and create the bitmap cache on the first frame that the player entered the room. I would have each bitmap frame appear on screen in its correct location on the frame when it was needed and then I would move it off for the next bitmap frame. This would just loop as long as the player was in the room. After we found this method to prove quite efficient with boosting performance a few of us Room Artists and some of the Core Programmers worked together on implementing this idea on the Penguins as well. When a player would move around the screen or dance or throw snowballs, they would be redrawn as vector artwork, but once they stopped to type a message, or sit and read the newspaper, they would be cached as a bitmap and would not redraw until they moved again. This really boosted performance when we really needed it.
This ended up being really significant to the team, and resulted in Disney Inventor Awards following a filing for a patent in the USA.
The work we did to optimize the Room Art and the Penguins was a really big win for the team. It gave the game a boost in performance that was really needed at that time. This work was submitted through the Disney Inventor Awards program which recognizes innovation within the company. Our team was rewarded with Disney Inventor Awards and plaques after we filed for a U.S. Patent.
Alongside these developments, Andrew also shared examples of some tools which he created to improve the workflow of the Club Penguin team to create rooms.
One of those tools referenced above is Fusion, which helped with creating colours. An example of where this was used was during Operation Puffle in 2013, which was an event held during the nighttime. Those sort of events required some remarkable lighting, and as stated below, Fusion helped to create these blends.
These rooms below were The Outpost and EPF Rescue HQ at Operation Puffle in 2013.
Club Penguin Island
When Club Penguin closed as part of the transition to Club Penguin Island, the island had to be completely redesigned into a new technology. For example, you can see some of the Mt. Blizzard landscape below, and just how significantly the 3D artstyle varies from the rooms above.
That being said, Andrew still helped bring Club Penguin Island to life, though the transition brought challenges and excitement especially because so much of it was new! His recollection of this is detailed here:
Transitioning from 2D artwork to 3D artwork was both difficult and exciting all at the same time. Translating the goofy and quirky designs from 2D to 3D as well as introducing a new and refreshing visual look to the game was tough, but thankfully we had a lot of very talented people at the studio to help make that transition possible. We ultimately landed on an art style that worked well for readability and was very appealing. There was definitely a lot more that we wished we could have done, but at the time we were quite limited by the minimum spec device that we were supporting which was the second generation iPad. It is quite underpowered and did not have a lot of RAM [memory] available so we had to be quite strategic with how we designed certain parts of that world. Though it was very difficult to limit the amount of creativity and functionality in Club Penguin Island due to low-end device support, we were still happy with how the game transitioned from a 2D to a 3D art style. There were some really fun new things that we were able to do by having a 3D space to waddle around in and the players out there really seemed to enjoy it as well.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Andrew for taking the time to answer my questions, and for sharing some of the fantastic artwork and concepts included in this post. I’ve always been curious about the creative processes behind Club Penguin, and I hope you’ve also been interested by reading about this process! If you’d like to find more about Andrew, you can view his portfolio here.
Thank you very much for reading!
I’d like to start by explaining the future of these kind of interviews: previously, you may recall that I intended to publish one on the first Monday of each month. For several months, this has posed a variety of issues, so I’m going to just publish them whenever I can!
However, I’m extremely delighted to have had the chance to ask a couple of questions to someone who’s been around at Club Penguin since the very beginning as its Director of Community Support. That person is Nathan Sawatzky, although you may also recognise him from his penguin name: Gizmo!
The story behind Nathan’s hiring is frequently told by one of the game’s founders, Lane Merrifield, who has talked in the past about his frustration with the support services that tech companies maintained in 2005. In an attempt to do something different, he tells the story of visiting a company that provided him with daily fantastic service: his local Starbucks. Unfortunately, it might not have been entirely so magical…
Lane is a wonderful story teller, and while the facts may differ a little in my memory, the heart of his telling is true. 😉
If you’re curious, Lane explains the story in the talk below. I suspect that you’ve probably seen it, but the whole talk is worth watching if not; it goes into a lot of detail about how things work, some of which is built by Nathan’s responses later on!
However, the story of Starbucks is still an interesting one in the customer care of Club Penguin! I really like the idea about building an ethic “more like a coffee shop than a call centre”, and even though Club Penguin had support phone-lines, it’s something which a lot of us recognise.
I was working at Starbucks at the time and had developed a strong sense of what good customer care looked like. Without a doubt, I took much of what I learned while at Starbucks and applied it to our support philosophy at Club Penguin. When Lane first showed me Club Penguin (this was before CP launched), I was completely taken by the idea that children could find a place to be creative and engage with children from all over the world.
The challenge presented was how we could do that safely, and with the support ethic of something more like a coffee shop than a call centre. Lane, Lance, and Dave were 100% committed to building something that had every ounce of integrity in it, including the way we would support players and parents.
All this to say, my initial impressions of the game were of deep excitement; but more importantly, my initial impressions of the founders and the sort of company they wanted to build were what really drew me in!
That being said, things changed rapidly from 2005 as the game only grew, and certainly did engage with children all over the world!
Nathan was right to be excited so early on! Club Penguin grew massively and reached millions of players worldwide, which made me wonder about the challenges that were faced in providing support to such a large and diverse audience. And it seems like Club Penguin was constantly catching up with that growth too, with offices opening worldwide!
When I first joined, the support team was essentially Lane, myself, and sometimes Lance. We soon hired Lynn to manage the increasing calls and billing inquiries. Within the first month of me being hired we began hiring PSRs (player support reps) and CSRs (client support reps). Basically, for the following 4 years, we were constantly hiring. For much of that growth, it was necessary to manage the rapidly increasing community size of Club Penguin, but things really became interesting in 2007 when we opened our first global office in Brighton, UK. Shortly after we opened an office in São Paulo, Brazil.
The Brighton office has an interesting story; it’s probably the office which people are most familiar with as a popular YouTuber purchased it after Club Penguin shut that office down as part of tragic budget cuts in 2015.
However, what I never knew before was that the decision to locate the office in Brighton instead of Britain’s capital (London) was interestingly an intentional one aimed at attracting students, with ideas even floated to build support offices on campus! Perhaps that’s one of the many reasons the Club Penguin community was fortunate enough to have team that was genuinely passionate and caring about what they did.
One of the things we learned quickly though was that there was a type of town/culture that worked best for our support philosophy. This was first proven with the launch of our Brighton team. We deliberately choose not to setup our office in London in favour of finding a community of college students who were passionate about the sorts of experience Club Penguin offered. Kelowna is a college town, as was Brighton. When we grew into our other offices, we tried to find the areas where we could attract college students.
We even had some big bold ideas of what support offices built on campus might look like, but sadly, we never tried them out.
In 2005, Club Penguin was still relatively small, but Nathan explains how direction changed in 2009 (bear in mind that this was a year after the Brighton office was opened).
With the new offices and new markets to support, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the sort of culture the support team had. Eventually, in 2009, we decided that we need to stop solving the challenges presented by an ever-growing community with more support reps, and start looking at our processes and tools. For the following few years, our team began to get a little smaller as we became a bit cleverer in how we managed the humongous support and moderation queues.
Safety & State Attorneys
It’s certainly understandable why Club Penguin wanted to become “cleverer” with their support and moderation queues, but there was limited precedent for what the game did in terms of moderation at the time. This inevitably would pose its own challenges, especially in terms of balancing automated moderation and safety with allowing people to have flexible conversations.
It’s widely accepted – even by some on the team at the time – that in Club Penguin’s final two years, the balance was wrong. But maintaining it was important (and done successfully for a long time!) so I asked about the challenges in regards to that.
We had really amazing people working on it. Chris, who was the main architect of most of the early support and moderation tools (now the founder and CEO of Two Hat Security) cared more about the tooling for this than anyone I’ve ever met.
There wasn’t an issue getting development support for our safety tools, it just wasn’t ever a thing anyone needed to convince anyone else to be important. Our priority was safety, and our community bought into that priority. Things have changed though, and with the proliferation of social networks and social features within games, the challenges of finding that balance are far more complex now. At the heart of it though is that marriage between what technology can do best, and what humans can do best!
It would be interesting to consider how Club Penguin would’ve faced scrutiny in the modern world; you may recall a 2009 news report (shown above in case not!) frustrated about the membership aspect, but it seems that social networks attract more scrutiny in general from legislators these days.
The success of Club Penguin’s moderation though is probably conveyed best in this really nice story about the game bringing hope to even law enforcement, which the team often worked closely with.
We were invited to participate in a law enforcement conference in Dallas, Texas. One of the state AGs [Attorney Generals – basically lawyers] had been running a training program for law enforcement agents in how to catch online criminals. After a week of this training, most of the officers and agents were feeling pretty deflated about technology and the internet. It was at this point that the AG would introduce them to Club Penguin as an example of how things could be!
Creative Couch: Ideas to Implementation
In-game content was often influenced by the requests of players (you may remember the phrase “real-time conversation” that was frequently used to describe the dynamics between the team and community) but it’s never entirely been clear what the process was between someone suggesting an idea and it ending up on the island! The process described is interestingly one I’ve never heard before: the Creative Crouch!
We had this process called “The Creative Couch,” which was just one way that support reps could feedback to the game team. Every week, we had a formal opportunity (which was quite informal) for support reps to share the feedback from the community.
The game team paid great respect to the players by seeing the support reps as the voice of the community. This happened in far less formal ways as well. Support reps would frequently just approach the game team (something made possible by the culture Lane [Billybob] instituted at the very beginning) with feedback and/or ideas. And the game team would frequently come and sit with support reps (something modelled by Lance [rsnail] from the very beginning).
Email and phone were probably the most common ways of contacting the team, but if you’ve followed this blog for a long, long time, you’ll be aware that the team responded to written letters too! A lot of responses had a lot of love and care included, and I was curious as to where all the written mail went.
Unfortunately, Nathan wasn’t sure what happened to it – perhaps it’s still in a huge folder somewhere! But he did say there was a lot of it.
Something which I had not previously considered though were the risks of such a support system that Nathan details; pretty much everything was a personal response, with the possible exception of the email on how to clear cache (which a lot of people probably remember!) and some memorised puns (fin-tastic!).
It never occurred to us not to answer every mail that we received. It wasn’t until a few years in that we even realised how different our approach was. Obviously it meant that we needed to have a big team, and we did. It also meant that we needed to prioritise hiring and training more than most orgs need to. This feels obvious, but the importance of this can’t be overstated. We barely used any form responses, and when we did, we refused to write them in such a way that someone could simply click on a form response and then hit send.
We would use form responses only in situations where there was some complex instructions that needed to be accurate. Because of this, we were putting a tremendous amount of the company’s success in the hands of the support reps. Had someone sent out a bad email, or spoken out of turn with a vulnerable player on the phone, the whole thing would have fallen down. So much of our success was based on the trust we built with parents and children. But, that was also what made it really fun. Our support team rooms were made of round or rectangular tables that fostered communication. Reps were encouraged to talk about the emails or calls they were responding to so that each rep benefited from their peers. In my opinion, this is how every company should be doing it.
At its core though, that “real-time conversation” between the community and team really did influence content heavily.
The support system was simply the catalyst of ideas from the community. On my first day, I was sitting beside Lance as a player sent us a message saying, “I would really like a green shirt.” I read the request to Lance and, within an hour, you could get a green shirt for your penguin. This became more complex, and the time between request and release increased, but the heart this flow never changed.
Nathan now works at Supercell, the company behind games such as Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, on Trust & Safety. I was curious if his time at Club Penguin had any influence, but I wasn’t expecting Club Penguin to have provided inspiration for Supercell…
My time at Club Penguin has influenced every part of my professional life (and much of my personal life). My role at Supercell is to ensure our players are safe! The world has changed since my CP days, but there are still vulnerable people who are harmed by disruptive people. At CP, I developed a deep passion to help guide technology towards being a boon for humanity. The very tech that Chris [Priebe] and I worked on back in those days in now the foundation of some of the tech we’re starting to use at Supercell to care for our players.
I even have it on good authority that Club Penguin inspired some of the folks at Supercell to build the kind of games we build. 😉
I’d like to conclude by giving a really massive thank you to Nathan for the time which he spent in answering my questions! I’m always fascinated in hearing new things about how Club Penguin functioned, and his answers really provided an interesting insight!
Thank you very much for reading, waddle on!
During Club Penguin’s prime, several books were published that could be purchased in stores throughout the world, varying from guides to stories. One format of this were the eight Pick Your Path books, where you could dictate the story by turning to certain page numbers to continue your path.
In this month’s interview, I’m extremely fortunate to be able to ask the author of these books, Tracey West, a series of questions about the writing of them!
It’s been over eleven years since the first Pick Your Path story was released, yet in many ways, very little is known about the process in which the books would be written and published!
The first thing I wanted to ask was the process behind their publication, from who was contacted first to the flexibility regarding the plot.
I was hired by Grosset & Dunlap, who had a licensed agreement with Club Penguin to create the books. I had written several pick-your-path style books for other properties.
My sister, Katherine Noll, and I worked on guidebooks for Club Penguin so I was very familiar with the game before I began to write the narrative books. Club Penguin would let my editor at Grosset know what they wanted the theme of the book to be–puffles, for example–and I would work out the plots from there.
If you’ve read some of the books, it’s very clear that there’s a lot of details that most people wouldn’t instinctively be familiar with! The examples that immediately come to mind are depictions of puffle personalities, such as how the black puffle would be shown to have a grumpy personality and catch flames, just like in-game.
Such details seemed to indicate familiarity with the Club Penguin universe, but I wanted to confirm if this was the case, or if there were ever difficulties posed in keeping the content “true” to the game.
Thanks for noticing those details! Yes, before I began writing the guidebooks both my sister and I became very serious players of the game. I was given a member account and if I remember correctly, I would be given coins so that I could keep up with the new items coming out and test them out.
I played a lot of CP and so did my youngest stepson, Zane. So I played the games, completed the quests, went to the parties, decorated my igloo–and all of that really helped when writing the books, because I was immersed in the world.
One of the three Club Penguin guidebooks
Despite that, there was a lot of flexibility and freedom within stories!
I have to say that I am very grateful to Club Penguin for giving me a lot of freedom with the stories. When you write for a license, you have to stay true to the world and the characters and the experiences. Playing the game helped me do that, and Club Penguin let me have fun with these stories that I appreciate.
For those who are unaware how the Pick Your Path style worked, you could read through the book where you’d face an option. Depending on which option you selected, you’d be directed to a new page number to continue your journey.
I must admit, writing in that format always seemed really challenging to me! I was curious on if there were ever difficulties in maintaining this style.
The Pick Your Path style is definitely challenging, because you have to first come up with a plot that is strong enough yet flexible enough to go in many different directions.
When I write in this style, I use poster board and post-it notes to plot out each story and see how it goes. That help me makes sure that the reader is able to explore each storyline equally.
To conclude, I asked if there were any memorable stories or events that occurred whilst writing the book.
Honestly, nothing sticks out. I have great memories of playing the game, and Aunt Arctic was my favorite character. I have a little figurine of her that I look at every day. And I miss my puffles!
My favorite book to write was the Great Puffle Switch, because I loved the idea of a player getting to be a puffle.
I found it really interesting to hear about the Club Penguin books, and I hope you did too! I’d like to give a huge thank you to Tracey for dedicating her time in answering my questions!
Thank you very much for reading, waddle on!
Earlier this month, I shared that I was hoping to publish a very exciting interview soon, and this is it! It’s with somebody who had a whole series of roles at Club Penguin, varying from handling support tickets, to holding a leading role in the first series of Card Jitsu cards, to eventually becoming the Community Manager until his departure in the spring of 2015.
That person is Chris Gliddon, who you may recognise by his penguin name, Polo Field, and he joins me for this month’s interview in which he shares some stories, explains some events, but above all, provides an insight on what it was like to manage the community of a game with millions of players!
Before we begin though, I’d like to insert this little disclaimer from Chris: these are based on his views, and aren’t necessarily a reflection of the team’s.
First thing I should say here is that these are only MY opinions. I do not speak for the rest of the former team or companies, etc.
And of course I could be totally wrong about any of this, so take it with a grain of salt!
Coping with Different Demographics
I’m going to start with something that I suspect a lot of people reading this would rather forget: the Frozen Fever Party of 2016. Lasting six weeks, it was the third and longest Frozen takeover to hit the island.
Although this was just over a year after Chris left the team, I bring this up as it highlighted the difficult question of catering for demographics on the island.
The majority of older players found it to be a nightmare, yet there was that argument then that younger players requested and enjoyed it. And this posed a challenge…
Demographics were an interesting one for many of us to learn about. There was a constant tug of war between wanting to create something that our diehard, aging fans would love vs making accessible content that players of many ages could enjoy.
I can only speak for myself, but my goal was to make a Mario-like experience for players of all ages. And to make those experiences feel rooted in the lore and world of Club Penguin as much as possible.
The difficulty though was actually making that “Mario-like experience” which enticed everyone of all demographics, as Chris highlighted.
It did make it difficult as a team, as we did work hard to bring these experiences to life. There were plenty of girls who didn’t participate in the “Extended Universe” of the Club Penguin community on social media, but who loved experiences like the Frozen Party for example.
As any product ages, you need to find new ways to find an audience. Those ‘takeovers’ brought in new fans to Club Penguin.
So what was the alternative? Well, I was admittedly quite surprised to hear Chris say that the takeovers did go a bit too far into “cheapening” the island, but in retrospect, he would’ve preferred a different approach.
If it was up to me, I would have done much more fan service and deepening of the core CP lore. Then stick all those other brands into a special catalog and not run them as parties.
CP Island did something like this, and that seemed smart to me. It just felt a bit shocking when the whole classic CP Island got taken over by some other brand’s lore.
I get why we did it, but I felt like it cheapened the CP lore when takeovers reskinned all the rooms. Again – just my personal opinion.
A Global Community, a Global Team
Of course, demographics included more than just age. Although Chris mentioned age was the most the challenging one, Club Penguin had six available languages at its peak.
Bringing that content to all areas in the world required a team of translators, but Club Penguin managed to achieve it – with a lot of regular meetings too!
For a long time we had a team of in-house translators who worked really hard to bring the same tone and feel to the other language versions.
I would have regular meetings with all those amazing translators and they did a fantastic job porting that same sense of charming, friendly fun into their own communities. We’re still all friends on social media many years later.
But the global aspect of the game extended to more than just players: people worked on Club Penguin from all over the world, with offices in different timezones.
My second favorite thing about Penguin was collaborating with all these talented people everywhere. It was a bit like magic, really.
The downside for me was that I couldn’t be as random and spontaneous — I would have to warn the global teams if I had some crazy, random idea. And I had some truly crazy ideas, haha.
An example of people across the world collaborating together was the official Club Penguin blog, on which you’d have British bloggers such as Daffodaily5, and then a lot of bloggers in Canada too.
I wondered if this was all ever difficult to co-ordinate.
I really tried to make our social content process as nimble as I could so fans around the real world could get news at roughly the same time. The hard part of that was managing expectations with the teams around the world. At lot of times the global teams had it hard because they had to react and respond to stupid stuff we came up with at the HQ in Canada, which I think was frustrating for many of the global teams. So that was the hardest part.
It was really neat once we introduced more of the global team penguins on social. Then things started to feel a bit more diverse and interesting. For example, I loved watching Simon’s videos from the UK team. It all just worked better when we let people create freely with guidelines and independence.
The Mystery of Happy77
But since Chris was on, I did want to try and answer a mystery: in 2012, Happy77 announced her departure from the team. However, it was revealed a few years later that the person who initially owned Happy77, Holly, who you may recognise from the New Horizons documentary, actually left much earlier.
I was wondering why there was a decision to continue acting as Holly.
We always wanted CP to feel like it was small and humble. Having the original female penguin writing on the blog felt like the right move at the time in 2008 or whenever that happened. I wasn’t involved in that decision.
Personally, I just felt kind of uncomfortable with the concept and wanted to slowly move away from it. I pushed for more of an authentic approach, with the entire team writing or posting as themselves… their own penguin names. It was awesome! The beginning of Mod Mondays, the varied guests on the Spoiler Alert… I thought it was much more interesting to have a big cast of creative people. Because we did actually have a big team of very creative people! It just took some time to lay down a foundation before retiring Happy77.
For those who don’t remember what the Spoiler Alert was, it was a weekly series where some information would be given about future updates, but above all, it just provided a bit of fun; different staff members would come together, often playing mini-games, and having fun.
When I first received Chris’ response, I found it genuinely wonderful to read just random stories of joy within the team, and this was one of them!
When Johnny and I started the documentary, one of the first ‘mistakes’ I wanted to fix was the Happy77 story. We actually got some irreplaceable footage of Holly playing as Happy77 for the first time since she left — it was quite special.
We also captured this hilarious moment where Holly asked who was writing as Happy77 now, only to find out that it was… me and Johnny. We actually got her reaction on camera. How awesome is that? It was pretty funny. We all had a good chuckle. Those are the kind of moments that I would love to have in a documentary for you.
Interaction on Social Media
This was probably another major mystery involving the community. Overnight, the Club Penguin team stopped interacting with people on social media accounts such as Twitter, in a move that frustrated a lot of older players.
Fun fact: Chris even had his account suspended for unfollowing too many people at once that night!
So why was this?
Note: COPPA refers to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which imposes several restrictions and requirements on managing data for services and sites targeted at children
You know how last year every YouTuber was complaining about COPPA? I just laughed about it, thinking “welcome to our world ten years+ ago.” It was all about safety of the younger players.
I had to take a very black and white stance on the use of social media, particularly Twitter. Twitter at the time didn’t seem to know what age demo[graphic] they were for, with some of their terms saying 13+ and other places saying 17+. Because some external people would market Club Penguin as being entirely “for kids” (even though I don’t believe that was true), it meant we could really only interact with fans on our own platforms like our blog and the game itself.
The impact of that was frustration within older players: players from 2014 may recall the #SavetheClubPenguin hashtag that was partly motivated by a sense of feeling ignored.
Accusations flew about external intervention from Disney, perpetuated by the occasional reply from a staff member that would immediately be deleted. But in reality, the team did try incredibly hard.
But those weren’t the best platforms for teen communication… they were too restrictive for that audience. That’s one thing I really admire about Roblox — they realized that they needed a ‘graduated’ program that provides the right experience for the right age group.
We did our best but I think it was definitely frustrating for the older members of the community.
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it?
Perhaps one of the most curious things is how things were constantly revisited: the major shift in artwork that many now class as “modern Club Penguin”, the changes in rooms, to name a few.
I asked Chris if in retrospect, would Club Penguin have benefitted from an attitude of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”.
What if it was actually broken? In hindsight, yes, some things should have been left alone. But I don’t think changing rooms was really as big a deal as say the launch of the iPhone or iPad. Though I do suspect we spent too much time rethinking stuff instead of making new experiences.
The example that sprung to mind was the transition from the Stage to the Puffle Berry Mall. Ironically, it was heavily criticised by the older demographic, yet I vividly remember Chris explaining the switch back then as a result of the Stage being the least used room.
The Mall was slightly disappointing in terms of features at the time, but keep in mind that most people voted for a Mall over keeping the Stage. And players could still have their own Stages as igloos, which was actually much more interesting than a room with costumes and a script. And I’m actually biased towards the Stage since I worked on quite a few of those plays!
I thought his answer highlighted something interesting about the attitude and skepticism to change that, in hindsight, was probably overdone by players such as myself. And talking about change…
The Present: Private Servers
If I walked into a candy store, stole all of their candy, then opened my own store with the same name, and then started selling that candy… would that be okay?
There was curious symbolism in the recent Spike Saturday on Club Penguin Rewritten, with seeing Chris Heatherly (former General Manger), who was once so deeply cautious of private servers in 2014, playing a private server.
Of course, circumstances and times have changed, but I wondered if Chris’ views had too.
Taking all the CP assets and putting them up on your own server is the same deal. If it was truly an altruistic thing, these CPPS hosts would not have any ads up, would not make any new content or modifications, and would work with a museum to truly preserve the game. And of course, they would also seek official approval from the rights holder to do so. But that’s not what’s happening with the CPPS operators. Sorry.
The issue with a lack of altruism within current private servers has been a prevalent concern, emphasised by Chris’ remarks.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing CP going and the community still playing together. There are some talented people that play or operate these pirate servers. I get why people want to play the game, and I don’t like the idea that it’s closed down, either.
But at least with a company there is some accountability when things go wrong.
The Present, with Small Bursts of Imagination
You may remember Small Bursts of Imagination, which was something Chris and Johnny were working on – if not, click here for more information.
I just had to ask for an update about that!
Making a documentary or writing a book would be the easy part. Funding it and getting all the permissions needed? That’s the hard stuff.
I have faith that we will get it done one day. It’s just a question of ‘what is the story?’
Along with that, Chris mentioned a book a while ago with Emma (Bambalou) – again, this post has more information! – and I was curious about the progress of that.
On the book front, I do have a first draft of a book telling Lance’s story! It is quite rough right now, and need to spend a lot more time on it, but it’s got a lot of great stuff and learnings for you guys in there. Over 100,000 words to sort out, so it’s still going to take some time.
There are lots of great stories to come from the former Club Penguin team and players!
That does sound genuinely exciting, and I’ll be sure to keep you updated as more is released! I really enjoyed gaining the deeper insight through this interview, and I hope you enjoyed it too. I’d like to give a massive thank you to Chris for dedicating his time to answering my questions.
Without the community that formed around it, Club Penguin wouldn’t have been as special as it was. Many, many products are released around the world, and very few of them will have that same special spark that we had as a Penguin community.
A community that positively engaged with the content, and drove the direction of the product. We were all lucky to be a part of it. I am still so thankful.
Thank you very much for reading, and once again, a huge thank you to Chris!
Roleplaying has always been a prevalent form of entertainment on Club Penguin, from acting in the Stage to the Penguins at Work jobs enabling a variety of fun. However, currently, the main form of roleplay is running establishments. So, I spoke to the person behind it all!
You might recognise his name: Perapin. You’ll frequently find him at the Pizza Parlor serving dishes with great aroma to customers, and he joins me for this week’s interview, with all his vision and wit!
When I met with him to conduct this interview, he was swarmed by penguins! Running an establishment and consistently roleplaying definitely seems like a strenuous job, and isn’t something many penguins consider when they enter the Pizza Parlor.
It’s a busy job but I enjoy it when our employees work as a team to get the job done. We’re constantly being challenged; we have to deal with penguins causing a scene. But our security has gotten better and better, and we’re able to deal with them swiftly to ensure a great atmosphere in the Pizza Parlor.
I was curious about the “security guard” concept. As you’re likely aware, the island isn’t immune to people wishing to cause havoc, so Perapin developed a tactic of blocking messages with chat bubbles.
In fact, he invites you to come and try it out, and tells me that it’s an easy way to get involved with the roleplaying business on the island!
Well, we’re always looking for security guards, and we have multiple security guards that have been with us for a long time. They’re willing to show the ropes to new players.
[Working here] requires creativity, empathy, integrity, and you have to know how to be quick at your job. Our pizzas are made fresh. The chefs make the dough [but] we don’t reveal secret formulas, otherwise they wouldn’t be a secret!
The thing which fascinates me about Perapin though is simply how long he’s been running the Pizza Parlor! Being in control of it for years, keeping logs on staff and customers…that does sound like tricky work. But I wondered if things were the same across the years.
Roleplaying definitely evolves over the years. One of the biggest changes I noticed last year was that cars were introduced, so naturally, we had some drive-through shifts.
So, what’s the future of the Pizza Parlor? Perapin told me about his aspirations for expansion, with the ideal vision of the ability to delivery pizzas directly to igloos, which sounds like quite a cool idea; imagine seeing all the wonderful designs whilst delivering pizza!
Several roles have existed throughout the Pizza Parlor’s time, so deliveries are definitely feasible.
I think the Pizza Parlor will stay a dominant force for employment. We’ve created several new jobs such as delivery drivers and car cleaners! We even had a traffic controller job for managing the drive-through queues.
[The future is] one where you can interact on the island and deliver pizzas to igloos. We want to encourage making friends! A delivery game would be great for increasing interaction.
In a humorous ending, I was wondering why Perapin hadn’t considered expanding to other establishments, such as serving customers in the Coffee Shop and the Gift Shop. He gave me a smile, and told me.
We’re not interested in the Coffee Shop. For example, throwing anvils at employees, unloading the beans…we don’t support that.
So, there you have it, the words of the most well-known pizza-manager on the Club Penguin island! I’d like to give a huge thank you to Perapin for answering my questions, and I wish him the best for what’s to come!
Thank you very much for reading, waddle on!
Igloo designing is one of the most creative parts of Club Penguin, and one which contains a thriving community; you can find a huge variety of igloo designs online, and people advertising their own designs in-game.
One of the most talented and well-known designers on the island is Babycrier, who you’ll frequently see on the island advertising his igloo. In this interview, he joins me, along with Llama, who is working alongside him as part of an igloo project, to discuss everything about igloos.
Perhaps the thing you’ll notice is Babycrier’s ability to turn a set of random furniture items and change it into something much greater. Indeed, that is his advice on how to build a perfect igloo.
Making an interesting igloo requires certain furniture that gives the attention and “theme” to your idea. Every furniture can be useful, without a doubt. It can also depend on the visuals that captures the idea that you are working on.
So just how does Babycrier do that? He kindly provided me with a couple of examples on how to transform some seemingly random items into something which can be a significant part of your igloo. Check it out!
It’s the “creativity” that appeals to the visitors and makes them want to visit.
But despite everything about building igloos, you wouldn’t be wrong in noting that it just doesn’t seem like there’s a big demand for igloos. There used to be blogs for igloos featuring designs on the classic game, and loads of different designs!
The memories I have are friends creating their igloos, and a vast igloo community at the town with creative igloos. The Igloo Community back in Club Penguin was huge. It would be great to see everyone build more igloos for the community together.
So if the previous memories of igloo building are still around, and it’s still possible to use furniture to design some beautiful igloos, why has there been such a sharp decline in the igloo community? And more importantly, what can be done to combat it?
Well, in many ways, it’s complicated. However, Babycrier and Llama have come up with ways for the community and the team to help.
I believe the igloo community is full of passion and love and there needed to be a platform for this love to expressed on.
One of the projects which they’re developing is The Drawer, intended to be a site to find igloo designing tips and tools. As a full disclaimer, I’m helping them with this project, however there is genuine hope that it can bring some joy back to the igloo community.
In fact, they invite you to visit your igloo and start designing!
There has been cause for concern a little while now in the igloo community that there has been a decline of interest. I would encourage our community to spread the word of The Drawer, the igloo community still has a lease of life for creativity and to make new friends. I can see The Drawer bringing all igloo-lovers together, resolving division and resparking peoples interest. We are a very kind loving community who open anyone with open-flippers.
Each make a few suggestions on ways the team can improve igloo designing on the game too, something which they’ve expressed interest in doing:
- Introduce the new igloo interface from 2012
- Allow people to “Like” igloos
- Ensure the catalog items are more relevant to ongoing events
- A page of permanent furniture items to kick-start people’s ability to design igloos
- More custom furniture items
I think it’s time we encourage the Rewritten team to do what they’re meant to be doing. It’s not Club Penguin Nostalgia; it’s Club Penguin Rewritten and that they should be introducing new features, not dwelling entirely on the past.
But amid all the potential for change, there is a risk of changing too fast. Perhaps the thing which makes igloo designing so special is the simplicity. I wondered if Club Penguin Island, the mobile game, took that away, which removed the charm of igloos.
Club Penguin Island’s igloo designer was a whole new perspective. But, I’m not really much of a “complicated” igloo maker. The new system introduced glitches. The Classic system was just more simple.
The best way to enlarge the igloo community though is to start designing some igloos! There may not be an ongoing contest, but it can be a lot of fun. And as Llama says…
People getting together, having fun and creating fond memories that will be in our minds for the rest of our lives. We have all had a good experience and favourable igloos we remember, if we made them or one of our friends made them. Igloos are truly a beautiful thing, as we are able to express our creativeness and make others happy.
I think this is a message everyone should take and be re-encouraged to get back into igloo building, I think it is a positive thing for the community and will help us come back together and heal some of the division over the last few months.
I’d like to give a big thank you to Babycrier and Llama for joining me, and a big thank you to you for reading this second Mountains Monday interview on a slightly more light-hearted topic than before, but still a fun one!
Welcome to the first Mountains Monday post! As it’s the first Monday of the month, this post is going to contain an interview, and the topic is The Ethics of
PrivateServers. You’ll see why that’s crossed out soon!
I’d like to give a big thank you to Lance Priebe, who you may know as rsnail (the creator of Club Penguin), for taking some time to discuss this topic with me. It’s a completely fascinating one, in which we explore everything from the legality to the morality of servers such as Club Penguin Rewritten.
A brief context for those who aren’t aware: even before the official Club Penguin closed, many “private” servers existed. These are unofficial games run by fans, but based on that official game. The example which we’re all familiar with is Club Penguin Rewritten.
rsnail caused some controversy recently when he expressed support for criminally charging private servers. He cited that Disney had been busy merging for Fox, but that a Digital Media Team would inevitably be appointed, after which there would be a crackdown on private servers.
The legal justification for Club Penguin Rewritten, and indeed the one which most private servers confide in, is that these servers are an “educational instance”. This is found on the Play page too, which mentions 17 U.S. Code § 107.
Lance, however, stated that he believes that is not adequate enough for servers to operate, and that private servers are illegal.
Without a license to operate the server, I believe these servers are illegal. Many young developers believe they can use copyrighted material under the “Fair Use Act”. You may want to seek legal counsel and read the law very carefully. Please remember Disney currently owns all the rights to Club Penguin.
I should clarify now that this does not mean you will be in legal trouble for playing a private server, but is in reference to whether the administrators are operating legally.
I believe it is important to have permission to operate and run a world like Club Penguin.
No private server currently has permission from Disney.
This became even more controversial on November 3rd 2019, when the Club Penguin Rewritten team opened up donations, under the questionable pretence of being for running the servers.
One of the four administrators referred to the donations as “dirty scamming money”.
But even the phrase “private server” seems a bit odd. Indeed, this is where the issues stem from.
A private server that helps young developers learn how to create worlds is great. But a server with over 5 million players and promoted on public channels is not very “private”.
The key word in Private servers is “private”. My concern is with servers that are “public”.
It is possible to set up a genuine private (also known as a localhost) server which you can only play on locally using your computer. This is not the case with the servers which we know – we are all able to play on them, and as such, they are hardly very private.
Still relating to law, though not revolving around existence, is the question of morality. Is it right that teenagers and young adults are in control of a game with millions of accounts, primarily those created by minors? There are two concerns:
- Database breaches/actual data (of which there has been at least one already with Club Penguin Rewritten)
- Keeping people safe in-game
My second [concern] is the safety of children online. The team at Club Penguin worked very hard to keep kids safe online. This was and continues to be our highest value. A number of countries including the United States has laws and requirements for operators of websites or online services directed at children under the age of 13. The fines for violating these requirements can be very expensive.
It is worth noting that Club Penguin Rewritten does have a team of moderators, but other servers struggle with maintaining safety in-game, and that’s a problem, particularly when games target themselves as the “rebirth” of Club Penguin.
These have only been echoed by countless Google searches now showing unofficial content before official content, and there is a genuine risk of a damage to the game’s legacy. It’s quite paradoxical considering the intention is to continue it, but is there a better way? Lance encourages urging Disney to bring it back.
I have always appreciated the Club Penguin fans and I love that they want to keep it alive. I want to encourage you to do the right thing. Continue to ask Disney to bring it back and let’s continue to make the internet a safe place for everyone to explore.
However, that can certainly seem implausible too. So where do private servers sit? Is there an educational purpose for them?
Lance once said that he “learned how to make virtual worlds by running a private server”, and I wondered if it was unfair to now be so critical of them.
Nope [it isn’t unfair]. You’re always welcome to create your own private server or prototype for learning. The issue is when you make your game public. Yes, I ran my own UO private server. The total number of players was one. (Me). Then I started creating Club Penguin and making Club Penguin the public server.
I continue to encourage young developers to use what they have learned and begin to create their own worlds.
I asked Lance how he’d like to see servers adapt to the criticisms of them to make them safer and more ethical.
I would like to see creators making their own servers with their own new and original characters and worlds.
Lance has a really interesting (and in a way, first-hand) perspective on this topic, and I’ve been fascinated to hear it. In regards to the initial context for the controversy, I should add that it was caused regarding servers for Box Critters (Lance’s new project).
He confirmed that he intended to shut down “private” servers for his new game.
In my opinion, whilst there are genuine concerns about Club Penguin Rewritten, it remains the safest unofficial server out there and to me, it seems the most realistic way of being able to continue the game’s legacy.
Private servers are not good or bad. They are just tools. It’s what developers decide to do with them. I really look forward to seeing new worlds and characters that inspire another generation.
I hope that you enjoyed this first interview! I’d like to give a massive thank you to rsnail for his time and thoughts, it’s greatly appreciated!
I found this topic to be a fascinating one to start with, and I hope for to be able to discuss a huge variety of things related to in-game and not – and some more light-hearted than this! But I hope you enjoyed this different style of post, thank you for reading!