WindWord Development Notes

So I’ve been building games professionally for 24 years now. Do I have a process? Not one, but several. And none of those are how I made WindWord.

It started out as a basic idea for a quick word game, something I could punch out in a few days. You have a word search grid and you can make words by linking letters that are next to each other. Lots of games are like this. But my idea was that you had to start with the center letter. Then when you finished a word, the grid shifted so the last letter of the word became the new center.

Once I built that in a few hours, I couldn’t help notice that it felt like you were traveling around on a map. So I made it a map. To make it look more map-like and to get around the issue of whether diagonal moves were allowed, I switched to a hexagonal map.

It is much easier to have a map that is all water and plop down some random islands than it has to have a land map and come up with mountains and rivers. So I did that. And it struck me right away that finding words in the sea of random letters was a lot like sailing. Sometimes you had to tack. Sometimes you had to go with the wind even if it was in the wrong direction. Sometimes you had to do a lot to travel a little, and sometimes you could shoot across to your destination.

So not only did this establish the main game mechanic, but the name of the game just appeared in my head. And the name made me think of 18th century sailing vessels, pirates and old school trading games like Sea Trader and Taipan. It also helped that I am in the middle of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle series right now, which has a lot of ships and trade.

So I put a port on each island and set up a trading game like Taipan. You could buy and sell six goods in each port, and the prices fluctuated as the days passed by. I added a random chance of pirate raids. This turned out to be a good way to encourage players to look for longer words instead of just using two-letter words to move around. The longer the word, the less chance of a pirate encounter.

Pirate encounters in the old school trading games were usually just tun-based fight-or-run dialogs. But since I was already combing a word game with a trading game, I added card battles. You buy cannon cards at ports and then use the numbers on the cards to put a little strategy into the fights.

I started adding lots of little features. There is a mini-map. You can “pray” for help if you can’t spot any good words in the sea use for moves. Each port has a single piece of a treasure map available for sale. Once you have all the pieces you can get the treasure and “win” the game.

There were a lot of nice and juicy programming challenges for me in this one. It turns out that a sea of random letters won’t contain many words in it. Even using weighted letter choices (more e’s, fewer x’s) only helped so much. I experimented with letter pairs, but encouraging good pairs of letters (“ea”) to appear and discouraging bad pairs (“fp”). At one point I used a genetic algorithm that generated seas with letters based on rules to see how many words appeared. Then it mutated the rules to find better rules.

In the end, the best method was to lay down actual words in random paths throughout the game like building a word search grid. Then fill in any blanks with weighted random letters. This not only placed a lot of words directly, but many words have common parts and these often combined with other parts to form new words.

I also had to play with the trading game economics. It isn’t very complex, though. It just basically starts you off trading the least expensive item until you can afford to get the next one. It helps to find a trade route — a quick way to get from one port to the next and then back. And then repeat that for a while. You know, like real life. But since treasure map pieces and cannons are scare, you do need to branch out eventually and travel around the whole map.

So what about the revenue model? I decided to just make this a paid game with no ads or in-app purchases. This kept my design clean. And anyway, I’d like to build up a collection of these purely-paid apps so I can eventually build more no-revenue apps like Island Golf that exist purely to bring more attention to my entire collection of games.

And the game is doing somewhat well. It is definitely my best launch of a paid app since the early days of the app store. Some days are at zero, but on others I sell a handful.

I’d like to keep working on the game. So I hope to get some decent sales in over the next few weeks. I can add so much more to this game. More items to buy besides cannons and map pieces, more combat strategies, more graphics, certainly. If this game does well I could very well decide to focus on it. I have been hoping for some time that a game will do well so I can focus instead of just moving on to the next game. And this would be a good one for that as I would really enjoy it.

Posted on June 1, 2018 at 3:17 pm by site admin · Permalink
In: General