I went to a pretty amazing launch party this week, complete with acrobatic models in silver spacesuits and a mad scientist operating a steam-punk jewel contraption. Of course, it was PopCap's launch party for "Bejeweled Twist," the new version of its wildly successful "Bejeweled" franchise that helped establish the casual-games industry, which is centered in...

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I went to a pretty amazing launch party this week, complete with acrobatic models in silver spacesuits and a mad scientist operating a steam-punk jewel contraption.

Of course, it was PopCap’s launch party for “Bejeweled Twist,” the new version of its wildly successful “Bejeweled” franchise that helped establish the casual-games industry, which is centered in Seattle.

The mad scientist led an opening routine featuring aerial gymnasts performing in Experience Music Project’s SkyChurch auditorium. “Twist” ran on banks of laptops and a big screen where PopCap’s founders John Vechey, Brian Fiete and Jason Kapalka gave a quick retrospective before “launching” the game on the big screen.

Among the anecdotes they shared Monday, eight years after starting the company (and four years after starting “Twist”): At first they hated the name “Bejeweled” because it came out about the same time as the goofy Brendan Fraser remake of “Bedazzled.”

They didn’t have credit cards in the early days because their credit was so bad; they had eviction notices instead, Vechey joked.

Later they built a cash-register widget that would make a “ka-ching” sound every time someone bought one of their games.

Vechey recalled being at home watching a TV show in which someone said, “You can’t just sit at home on your computer making money” when his PC, running with its volume turned up high, made a loud “ka-ching” sound.

“Twist” has huge shoes to fill. “Bejeweled” has been downloaded more than 350 million times and more than 25 million copies of the first two editions were sold since 2001.

But “Twist” is a fun, snappy and polished game that has that addictive quality that just makes you want to keep clicking.

A downloadable version of the $19.99 game is available now on PopCap’s Web site. Distribution through major retailers and online game portals — including WildTangent, Steam, MSN Games and RealArcade — will begin Nov. 18.

Zooming for a view

All sorts of stuff is showing up in video games lately, from Barack Obama ads to Nissan’s new 370Z, which is making its debut appearance in Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed Undercover” on Nov. 18.

EA just announced the deal, saying it’s the first time an automaker has used a game for the world premiere of a hot new model. The 370Z will debut physically at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Nov. 19 and in showrooms in early 2009.

Forecast: mostly cloudy

There’s not much to look forward to in the fourth quarter, judging from the latest venture-capital survey done by the Washington Technology Industry Association.

Highlights, from Wednesday’s release:

• For the first time, venture capitalists told WTIA they expect a decrease in hiring: 75 percent of respondents expect no growth in hiring of Washington state workers for the fourth quarter, with just 13 percent expecting an increase in hiring. This contrasts sharply with projections for Q3, in which 57 percent projected hiring increases and 29 percent expected steady employment levels. Despite the overall hiring slowdown, however, attracting senior-level talent remains a top concern for portfolio companies.

• 76 percent of VCs see national business conditions as one of the top challenges facing their portfolio companies, up significantly from the 43 percent who felt so in Q3.

• A third of respondents expect revenue growth for their portfolio companies to be moderately or substantially lower in Q4 compared with just 14 percent in Q3.

• Respondents predict moderately to substantially lower-deal valuations for early-, mid- and late-stage companies in Q4. The sharpest change is for midstage company valuations. In Q3, just 14 percent of respondents expected midstage-company valuations to go down. In Q4, that number jumps to 88 percent. Similarly, 88 percent of respondents expect smaller valuations for late-stage companies in Q4 compared with 33 percent in Q3.

• While no VCs predicted that new-deal flow would be up in Q3, 38 percent expect a moderate increase in Q4. However, the confidence of VCs regarding the deal flow that will actually close in Q4 fell.

• No exits are expected in Q4.

Helping voters

DemocracyLive.com, an Issaquah startup calling itself “the Facebook for politics,” has launched an online video voter guide and hopes to sell its platform to state and local governments.

The guide, at WaVoterGuide.com, is described as “a voter pamphlet that changes daily with videos and written statements updated directly by candidates.”

It’s received endorsements from leaders of the state Democratic and Republican parties, plus $200,000 in funding from angel investors.

DemocracyLive hopes to use its government contacts to license its voter-information platform to states and counties, according to co-founder Bryan Finney. They’ll pitch to the state Legislature on Nov. 6.

Finney started the company with George Miller IV, son of U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and former Snohomish County Clerk Pam Daniels. They’re getting advice from board member Ralph Munro, former secretary of state.

Maybe they’ll hook up one of these days with Election Trust, a Bellevue company offering e-goverment and vote-management services, and offer the whole package.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley’s blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.