Gadling's resident pilot explains what life in the cockpit is like

WoW Insider's preview of PopCap Games' Bejeweled addon

As anyone who's ever stayed up late for a raiding or grinding session will tell you, World of Warcraft is already an addictive game. About the only thing you could do to make it more addictive is have a game company like PopCap Games (they make some of the most popular casual games around, from Bejeweled to Bookworm to Peggle) stick one of their time-wasters in an addon. And so when PopCap came to WoW Insider earlier this week to tell us that they're planning to do just that, our minds understandably exploded.

They sent us a beta version, and for the past few days, we've wasted as much time in Azeroth as in real-life. That's not exactly true -- I've been leveling up my fishing and cooking lately, and the addon has been really helpful with all of the downtime and flight time (even if I do miss catching a cast every once in a while because I'm on a big streak). After the break, read more about just how the free Bejeweled addon (to be released later this week from PopCap) will devastate all of your formerly empty downtime in Azeroth, and check out our gallery to see the beta version of Bejeweled being played on the live realms.

First things first, the addon looks terrific -- it looks extremely professional, it runs fast and clean, and the graphics and sounds are as sparkling as if you were playing the PopCap game on its own (like Blizzard, PopCap has a reputation for polished gameplay). The addon itself was written and created by Moongaze (author of the popular LunarSphere addon -- we'll have an exclusive interview with him later this week), and he's used images and sounds from both PopCap and Blizzard -- when you match the gems in game, you hear the clinks and rings from the PopCap game, but when you go up a mutliplier level, the WoW ding sound plays, so there's a nice mix of both games in the interface. Same thing for the fonts and design -- there are definitely some very WoW-flavored icons and buttons, but the PopCap fonts are there as well. They've done an excellent job of integrating a PopCap game inside the WoW UI.

The addon, however, is completely unofficial -- Blizzard knows about the addon, but Popcap isn't releasing it with them at all. The producer of the app at PopCap told us that this is something they just wanted to do for free for the WoW community. Bejeweled is a pretty old game by now (though not less fun for it), and it's one of PopCap's earliest games, so it's not surprising that it's the one they'd choose to release as an addon (it's certainly been made available everywhere else). But even though there have been games in WoW's interface before -- some addons will let you run poker games or play trivia -- there's never been anything this polished or accessible.

Bejeweled is an easy gem-matching game -- you get a grid of gems on screen, and you match them up to make three, four, or five of a kind. It's mindless, instant gratification fun -- while matching four or five gems will give you some extra powers that spice up gameplay, the basic game is always the same: click one gem, click another to switch with it, and when matched gems disappear, more fall to fill in the spaces. There are two modes built-in to the addon, Classic and Timed -- the first lets you match gems as much as you want, leveling up a multiplier as you go until there are no matches left, and the second lets you match up as many points as possible within a certain time limit.

But the most fun thing about the addon in WoW is how it interacts with the larger game itself. If you leave the addon in the default settings, it'll surprise you -- every time you jump on a flightpoint, the game pops up with a "Go!" and you're thrown into a timed mode, rushing to make as many matches as you can before you land (and you get a nice high score screen after landing). Every trip on the griffon turns into a race to beat your high score. Even while raiding, the game makes the experience better -- I was in Karazhan last night, and upon death during a wipe, Bejeweled popped up on the screen -- as my friends died around me, I matched some gems, and waited for the call to rez or run back.

And the backend of the game is impressive as well -- there are high score boards for your friends and guild lists, and there are even in-addon achievements to earn and compete with. As you play, you can level up your "Bejeweled skill" (it's not a real character skill, but skillups do appear in the chat interface, just like all of your other skills), and as that moves towards 375, new achievements and challenges are unlocked in the game. It's all unofficial, so (unless Blizzard does get involved) we'll never see a real achievement for matching five gems in a row, but as it's done within the addon, it works great.

If there's a problem with the addon, it's almost that it's too much fun -- though the screen automatically disappears on a ready check or combat (and the addon automatically pauses in mid animation whenever you mouse off of it), there were a few times where I wasn't watching WoW while playing Bejeweled and I stumbled into a fight I wasn't ready for. And it's still a time waster -- normally, on long flights, I'll tab out to my browser and do a little work or look up what I'm doing in game, but with the addon installed, that "Go!" convinces me to play instead of work. Just like in real life, all your downtime gets sucked into the game, and you'll pull the window up on a whim, only to look up at your character ten minutes later and forget just which quest you were working on.

The only other gripe I have is that I'd like a volume control for the addon itself -- there is an "enable sounds" checkbox, but while fishing I usually turn the WoW sound up (so I can hear the splash to click on the bobber), and while I wanted some sounds from the game while I played, it was all or nothing. The "Go!" was fairly loud, too -- a quick volume control in the options screen would let everyone set it where they wanted it.

But that's an easy fix, and obviously "too much fun" is a lame complaint -- PopCap and Moongaze have done a terrific job here, and successfully inserted a really addictive game inside what was already an addictive game, actually adding something to the original Bejeweled in the process.

The addon is set for a free release on PopCap's site later in the week, and if you like Bejeweled or gaming in general, there's no reason not to accept this free gift from the best casual gaming company around. Flightpaths will never be the same.

Stay tuned to WoW Insider for more on the Bejeweled addon release (including an exclusive interview with the developers), and click through the gallery above to see the addon in action.

Addons rock, don't they? Find more great addons in our Addon Spotlight column, or hit up the WoW Insider directory for lots more ways to make your UI even better.

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