About Zack

Here is a relatively recent bio:

Zack Hiwiller is a game designer, educator, and writer living in Orlando, Florida. He is a department chair for the Game Design degree program at Full Sail University and does consultant work for many large and small companies. Previously, in addition to independent projects, he was a designer at Gameloft and Electronic Arts. His writings at hiwiller.com have been reposted by Kotaku, GameSetWatch and others and have reached over two million readers. You’ve probably seen something of his reposted without attribution on sites like 9gag, Buzzfeed, TheChive, and others. Mark Zuckerberg used an image from one of his blog posts in his keynote at the 2011 F8 conference, and while he’d have liked to have been cited, he actually thought it was pretty cool.

Better yet, here’s my LinkedIn page which is generally well-updated.

Players Making Decisions (2015)


A game design textbook that I spent over two years writing in my “spare” time. I’m pretty proud of it! It is published by Pearson / New Riders Group and available at all the usual places you would buy a book like this. If you go to a store and it doesn’t have my book, then it is operating illegally.

Unnamed Giant Monopoly-esque Event (2015) Physical Game


I developed a large custom game for play at a large corporation’s annual sales meeting where the client’s goal was to divvy out large cash prizes to the company’s top salespeople. The game had the look and feel of Monopoly but played wholly differently as the dominant dynamic was to get money into the hands of all the players, not just one. The game board ended up being 40 feet by 40 feet printed on a solid vinyl mat. The property deeds were huge card stock at 3 feet by 3 feet. Players physically had to move around the ballroom to score for their teams, which introduced interesting design problems. It was an original game posing as Monopoly to get non-gamers involved and they certainly were. I witnessed a lot of mucky-muck salespeople having a good time.

Seeds (2015) Analog Game with Unity Web Player Prototype


A microgame for two players. See the Seeds page here.

Swipe Together (2013, unpublished) Mobile


As you may well be aware, pursuant to Federal Code W2F33C.b.(3), every mobile indie studio is required to release a word game at some point. Here was ours. It’s called Swipe Together and the object is to make words in the highlighted areas by rotating the letters in the 5×5 cube using the least number of moves. When you make words, you change the colors of the letter tiles. When all letter tiles have changed colors, you get a ton of additional moves. I worked on the design with Sky Parlor Studios including copious iteration (the original version didn’t have moving scoring areas, changing colors of the tiles and was time-based, yikes!) and playtesting. It doesn’t appear that it is actually going to be released, which is a shame because I think it is incredibly fun. Oh well, it lets me retire as World Swipe Together Champion.

100 Principles of Game Design (2012)


I collaborated on this book project with many other folks. The best 14% of this book is the 14% I contributed, honest.

Sudoku Together (2012) Mobile


Sudoku Together was a free-to-play asynchronous multiplayer puzzle implementation of the classic logic game Sudoku for iOS and Android platforms. In it, you challenge friends to complete the same Sudoku puzzle the fastest while managing power-ups that help you fill your board. I came up with the original concept and worked with the team at Sky Parlor Studios to see it through to release including the playtesting, balance, power design, interface design, analytics analysis and all other odds and ends.

FortuneIt! (2011) Mobile


FortuneIt! is an odd duck. At Sky Parlor Studios, we were looking for quick ideas for a non-game app. We ended up making FortuneIt! which is a crowd-sourced fortune cookie app. Users can create their own fortunes to share with other folks. When users receive cookies, they can upvote or downvote them which gives the original author more “points” in which to open more cookies. It was a fun little app that we never promoted sufficiently pretty much because it doesn’t have a sound business scheme behind it. Oh well.

Fire & Dice (2011) Mobile


Fire & Dice is a unique turn-based strategy game for the iOS and Android platforms. In it, you control one to three fire trucks as they race around Sparksville dealing with the fires that spontaneously combust all over the town. Players roll dice to gain resources like gasoline, water, rescue ladders and additional trucks. I came up with the original concept, including paper prototype. I also developed the design from the original prototype into its final form. The project was completed by the good folks at Sky Parlor Studios in Unity over a half-year period including playtesting and multiple feature upgrades including one that added a F2P monetization option to the game. Fire & Dice was featured on Kotaku as the “Gaming App of the Day”. Stephen Totilo, the editor-in-chief of Kotaku, called it “an odd idea, well executed.”

Practical Tools for Game Design Students (2011)


After teaching for about six classes at Full Sail, I noticed a wide gap in the literature available for new game design students and the need for a particular skill set. Most game design books were either extremely theoretic touchy-feely “what is a game” type affairs or they were super pragmatic, teaching one instance of one particular tool thoroughly. There is nothing wrong with either of those types of books, but what was missing was something that taught students some of the softer skills needed in game design: how to write a GDD that is actually read, how to use Excel to do really complicated simulation in no time at all, how to present an idea without putting an audience to sleep &c., Seeing the gap, I wrote this book and self-published it. The philosophy would eventually solidify when I wrote Players Making Decisions.

War in the Pacific (2010) / Warplanes (2010) iPad


Gameloft was briefly in the business of creating educational content for the iPad. War in the Pacific is an interactive text based on the book by Richard Overy. I was responsible for designing, pitching and prototyping the interactive portions. Warplanes was an original creation meant to be an interactive reference book for a handful of warplanes ranging from the turn of the 20th century to the near-future including accurate 3d models and comparative views. I created the original design for this app and most of my original copy is still in the app. Having left Gameloft just prior to completion, I am uncredited on both.

Wildlife Park (2010, unpublished) Facebook

Gameloft was creating a portfolio of Facebook games in early 2010 and the New York studio was tasked with creating a game with a “green” theme. I designed and pitched this game that revolved around building a wildlife preserve. I’d compare it today to a less abusive Dragonvale. I worked on systems design, balance and analytics. The project was scrapped very late in the cycle as priorities shifted to other projects.

Unpublished Titles (2007-2008, unpublished)

NCAA Football 2008 would be my last credited published title that I was on from start to finish for four years. After working on finishing Madden en Espanol 08 (below), I was on a number of promising pre-production projects for the Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and finally, a really groundbreaking PC title. In late 2008, the recession hit and anything that wasn’t surefire or protected got axed, along with my job.

Madden en Espanol 08 (2007), Xbox 360, Playstation 3


After NCAA Football, I helped out on the Spanish language port of Madden NFL Football 08. There was a lot of work with regards to getting the original English script, paring it down to the most essential cues that would not feel overly repetitive (for the Spanish-language recording budget was far below the English budget) and managing the translation process. This was a very production oriented season for me, but the design aspects in trying to make a situation interesting with only two lines of original dialogue where the original has eight is very challenging. Fun fact: I speak no Spanish whatsoever.

NCAA Football 08 (2007), Playstation 2, Xbox


This was quite the pleasure to work on. I had been a big fan of the series since the beginning (moreso than Madden) and I was able to work on the Playstation 2 and Xbox versions of the game which were much more complete and stable than the version the “next gen” team was struggling with. We were able to do all of the updates the game needed for the new season, the expected stuff like new uniforms, stadiums, rosters, awards, etc. and still sneak in a few compelling features on an extremely limited budget. One was a feature done in just a few weeks called “Points Pursuit”. It is hardly mentioned in reviews because it just doesn’t line up with what the core demographic is looking for, but it is an alternate scoring Arcade version of the game. On some downs you can get double points. On those downs we cloned the sun object in the environment and strapped it to the ball. It looks like you are throwing a photon torpedo. Why there are no pictures of this anywhere on the Internet, I’ll never know. Good times. Metacritic: 83; not bad for a team of less than a dozen.

Superman Returns: Fortress of Solitude (2006), Game Boy Advance

fortress3 fortress2

You have a dev team and management team entirely burned out on Superman Returns. It was a total failure in every way. Then you notice you have promised to make a GBA title as well. What do you do? I guess the answer is give the franchise to a young designer and tell him to go nuts. I was in charge of this project that was only myself as the designer with one artist and one programmer and three months of dev time. What can you do Superman in that time? There were strip malls of Big Lots overflowing with forgettable beat-em-up movie tie-in games at the time. And Superman was the worst! He’s nearly invincible and neigh-omnipotent. How are you supposed to do a 2d brawler with him?! Answer is: you just say screw it and make a fun puzzle game instead!

In Superman Returns: Fortress of Solitude, you play as Superman training from the crystalline files sent by his father Jor-El that teaches him how to focus his mind to become the best superhero.This results in solving puzzles very similar to Sudoku that I would years later refine vastly (from the ground up) as an idea that would become Sudoku Together. The second main puzzle was called “Crystallization” that involved making rows and columns of like shaped or colored crystals. I think I ripped the main mechanic off of an old PopCap game and molded it until it worked for my purposes. The third part of the game was a quick (one-minute max) interlude between puzzles that challenged twitch skills using your heat vision and freeze breath against two types of enemies. Like a mini-Ikaruga. They all worked wonderfully together.

I may be the only person on Earth (with the exception of a QA Tester somewhere perhaps) that personally played the game through from beginning to end.It was completely ignored by reviewers and not even included in the normal Superman Returns marketing blitz. I think there was one review listed on it for Metacritic a year after release. I recently dug up a review of it by 1up.com that published in 2010 in a post that reviewed all the terrible Superman games over the years. The review was glowing calling it “addictive and challenging without being frustrating” and “one of the very few Superman titles that is well-made and worth playing”.

I’ll take that.

Superman Returns (2006), Nintendo DS


Where to begin on Superman Returns? I often say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong here. I won’t make excuses, every single link of this chain screwed up and we could (and did) go blue in the face screaming and pointing fingers. Rather than rehash that, let’s focus on the game. Superman Returns is a movie tie-in game for the Nintendo DS. It was designed and produced in-house, but actually developed externally by a group out of Santa Cruz, CA. In it you play a bunch of minigames to take over the city of Metropolis from bad dudes. Remember how “in” minigames were in 2005-2006? You couldn’t read the back of any box without seeing the word minigame. Sigh. One of the things that really worked well was the design of a multiplayer mode. While our corporate people looked for an external partner, we spent our time on designing a “metagame” for the multiplayer collection. We did this in paper prototype form playing and refining it every day without the benefit of actually having to play the minigames that did not exist yet (either we played one iteration of Mario Party or randomly awarded winners). The game as a board game is very compelling. The problem lies in that the minigames are so dreadful that I don’t think there is an instance of two friends both owning this game and both wanting to play multiplayer. I was responsible for many of the terrible minigames, but one I still think is pretty fun. Phone booths are ringing all over the city and your Superman has to find the one with the bomb attached to it. Every time you answer the phone the bad guy will tell you “Warmer” or “Colder” depending on your proximity to the bomb. The Superman who gets to the phone fastest before the time limit defuses the bomb. While this would just be blind guessing solo, you could also follow opponent’s clues, having to balance getting clues yourself with staking out opponents.

Going through the experience of making Superman Returns was one of the foundational experiences in my career. It taught me everything not to do and taught me how the best designs and intentions mean nothing until you can get a working version and the rubber meets the road.

NFL Street 2 (2004), Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube


My professional breakthrough! I was one of Tiburon’s first two design interns. I worked with the NFL Street 2 team doing various internal grunt work, but through my enthusiastic participation in design meetings, I ended up finagling myself into positions where I could write some features. The scoring and labelling system in the multiplayer games? This guy. I’m really proud of my admittedly minor contributions to this game. Crush the Carrier is ridiculously fun and hasn’t really been done in any other game.

Click! (2004), Mixed Platforms

In college, I was part of a multidisciplinary team looking to make a game to get middle-school-aged girls interested in math and science. The game was called Click! and while I graduated before it was fully implemented, I participated in the setup of the objectives of the game and in original research on prototypes with at-risk middle school kids in Pittsburgh.