Mt. Lebanon grad Chad Cable helps develop Disney's 'Where's My Water?'
An alligator named Swampy is the game's main character.
Mt. Lebanon grad Chad Cable, back left, is one of the designers of the Disney Mobile game "Where's My Water." the rest of the development team are, back row, second from left, Michael Casalino, Joe Vance and Jason Pecho; and front row, Tim FitzRandolph, Vincent Perea and Valerie Shavers.
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When Chad Cable was a toddler, his older brother, Clay, liked to mess with him by unplugging the controller from their video game console.
"From the moment he saw his older brother playing, he would sit and want to play, too," said their mother, Kim.
If the best revenge is living well, then mission accomplished.
Mr. Cable, 23, can play as often as he likes these days -- he's a designer with Disney Mobile in Los Angeles. Right off the bat, he helped develop one of the hottest mobile games on the market, the 99-cent "Where's My Water?"
"This feels completely unreal. To think I've only been out of school for a year and a half, and already I have the dream job," said Mr. Cable, a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School and Syracuse University.
Disney has had success with video games on other platforms, but the mobile market -- think smart phones and tablets -- was largely untapped. Mr. Cable was one of six academic interns at Disney Interactive during his senior year in college, where he was completing a double major in computer science and computer art.
One of the designers he worked for was developing a new physics puzzler: Players must figure out how to get water flowing through the underground sewers to Swampy, an alligator who enjoys taking showers.
"Where's My Water?" is currently the best-selling paid game app on Apple's iPad, and iPhone, as well as on the Android Market lists. A major update was released Thursday, which features another gator in "Cranky's Story." It's a 99-cent paid, in-app update that adds more than 40 new levels of play, although the shorter first part of the update can be tried for free.
From the start, "Where's My Water?" was a hit, knocking "Angry Birds" off its perch and being named app of the year by several mobile gaming sites.
The game appears deceptively simple: Players touch and swipe their fingers across the phone or tablet surface to create channels of water that run down into Swampy's bathtub. He's a happy camper when it works, but failure is not easily tolerated.
Getting water, steam, algae and toxic gunk to flow and grow in a natural way was a big challenge for the designers. Players collect tokens in the form of bath toys (think pink rubber duckies) for bonuses.
It's an addictive challenge. The levels are short enough (even in later rounds when the player has to anticipate which Rube Goldberg scheme of events will get the water safely to Swampy) that "Where's My Water?" can be picked up, quickly played, then picked up again an hour later.
Mrs. Cable bought an iPad just to play the game.
"What a weird experience: She came out to California and I watched her play for two hours. I thought, 'I'm watching my mom play a game that I designed,' " Mr. Cable said.
"He's had to help me on a couple of levels," she said.
He is the youngest member of a fairly young crew, some of whom already have their master's degrees in the computer arts. They informally call themselves the "Creature Feep" team. It's a play on the term "feature creep," which refers to the ruination of a product due to excessive adding on of bells and whistles.
They don't have T-shirts for it, but a recent development more than makes up for that. Disney's consumer products branch recently brought out game merchandise.
"Swampy T-shirts!" he said. "Everyone in the office went down to the [Disney] store and we bought it out."
Disney has big plans for the franchise, which is the first hit based on an original character. Games based on animated films such as "A Bug's Life" came out years ago for the original Sony PlayStation.
"There's talk about a Disney online original animated series on YouTube, but we're also starting to think about what's next for Swampy [as a game sequel]," Mr. Cable said.
As the original game was nearing release, the Creature Feep worked practically round the clock.
"I was starting to think about Swampy all the time," he said, laughing. "We thought we'd be sick of the theme song, but we're still humming it."
Two years ago, Mr. Cable figured he'd be working at waiter jobs before he "started making the right kind of professional connections."
Instead, "Where's my water?" isn't a patron's request, it's a vocation.
First Published February 1, 2012 12:00 am