Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Word Wash Design Inspection

This is a look at my design process for Word Wash a word game for the Android platform.  It was a relatively quick process that took about two weeks of nights.  It went through a number of nice game changes that have left me wondering what I did right and wrong for a phone market.  I have broken the format into timing phases, not necessarily when I thought about them, but when they were implemented.

Looking for a quick game to make on Android to get a feel for Andengine I found a game from a previous game framework I have used.  The game Super Bubble Pop Fruit Drop Deluxe Edition (click to play) works by filling bubbles into the screen and getting bonuses for how quick you are, the trick being you only click what is currently being presented in the box.  While his game does get repetitive after only a few minutes, he was mainly trying to prove how fast you could make a game with his engine (less than 8 hours).  He wrote a great blog about his development process seen here  

Game Design
I knew I wanted to use the same bubble mechanic Kevin had used, but apply it to a word game and put letters into the bubbles.  To get the feel right I wanted a quick and dirty template to see if the game was workable. To keep from having to implement a dictionary before I knew it worked, I simply displayed a word (e.g. "BANANA") and the player would have to spell it as fast as possible.  This gave a good feel for the tempo, allowing me to balance the frequency of the letters and speed of the bubbles early on.  I like to define the benefits of each approach, even templates. This approach had the benefit that it was language neutral as far as the game play goes (don't have to know the language words, just match letters), but since this was more like a pattern matching game than a word game I was ready to move on.

Focusing next on how to allow the player to make words.  Letting the player create any word he wanted was very tempting, but it didn't give me much ability for game play growth.  A good backup (which still is tempting as another way to play), but to allow more depth I decided to control the amount of characters.  This would let me control how long the words are and control the difficulty as it was growing.  With this approach I am also able to fill the partially fill the words with letters (e.g. "F--" or "B--T").  This gave me another good way to further control the difficulty and get around the "bell curve" difficulty in words.  By this I mean there are much fewer two and three letter words, but a great amount of four and five letter words, and then that limitation comes back with six letter and bigger words.

Having settled how the core game mechanics worked, I turned to how the game would start and end.  I like to use this approach with quick games when I can, because this can usually be one of the most touchy parts.  I try to avoid time attack because it feels like a cheap cop out, so I decided on a life counter where each wrong word would cause failure.  This had major drawbacks where you could think about the word forever and failure was almost completely based on dexterity of pressing the buttons.  Cornered I realized time would have to at least be part of the solution.  Working both life and time into the solution was the answer, but it felt cluttered and mechanical.  Life had to go because it muddled and unfocused the game, but I wanted to keep that same feeling of an extra negative or positive that it gave.  By giving more time or less time seemed to be the logical answer.

Game Name and Theme
Being an abstract word game I was open to any theme, but wanted it to be light and abstract.  I decided the name was the best way to get theme inline and started that process.  At first bubble seemed a must and I looked for games like "Word Bubble", "Word Pop", and so on, but almost all seemed to be taken and had little to no theme.  I turned to my wife for some advise and she gave me "Word Turd", such a great idea, but leaving the theme for last made me shy away from it (you know you love it).  Finally driving home one day seeing the car wash gave me the idea for "Word Wash".  Allowed me to have a lite theme, yet could still be abstract.

Added my game to a few announcement forums and submitted my game to a review website.  Also tried using Admob a little to do some advertising, but seems to be very ineffective with a new application.  Also this blog is partially for exposure.

Adding other languages, looking at using ScoreLoop ability to challenge people for the most points, and achievements.

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