Description:

Add potions to the cauldron to make as many words as possible!  Longer words extend your round time, and extra words give you bonus time for the next round!  Using letter blends awards bonus points!

Click potions to add them and click the cauldron to submit your word.

Dev Notes:

The challenge for this Serious Game was to create an educational word game.  Our big idea to separate it from the other half-dozen games inevitably centered around spelling was to include letter blends, and even go so far as to read the syllables aloud as players interacted with them, to add a phonics aspect as well.  The professor thought that feature would distract too much from the simple spelling gameplay, however, so it was the first thing our team of three cut for scope.  The letter blends themselves remain, though, and award bonus time when they are used.

The core game loop is tight and straightforward: each round, the player is given a target number of words to create from a given set of letters and blends.  Making longer words will award more time to the current round, while exceeding the target number will add time to the next round.  The biggest problem that Spellbound still has is one of readability; there's no direct visual indication of the time being added in either case, and although it's fairly obvious that the potions can be clicked to interact with them, many players do not even realize that they must click the cauldron to submit their word.  The subtle cauldron glow is just too subtle.  Everything is explained in the newly added "how to play" screens, but a better solution would be to add more visual hints in the main game.  Unfortunately, we lost the support of our artist immediately after the project's beta submission, so these issues remain.

As for the code, the other programmer took care of the word validation.  In short, we have two dictionary lists, one of about 64,000 words that holds the entire English language (curated to remove proper nouns, curse words, etc.), and one of significantly less that contains only "elementary grade-level words"...this is meant to be an educational game, after all.  The letters distributed per round are chosen based on the grade-level list, making sure that each set can make at least as many words from that list to meet the round target.  The list of possible words displayed after each round is also made up of only grade-level words.  However, we didn't want to tell players that their words were "wrong" just because they weren't on the smaller list, so we still check every submission against the entire larger dictionary.  It's the best of both worlds.

I handled the design and scene setup and asset implementation again.  Potions contain both their letter data and the ability to clone new instances of themselves to fling into the cauldron.  The Cauldron holds a stack of Potions that have been added to it, which allows both undoing and score calculation (remember that blends award extra time, so the same length word made with less potions is worth more).  One of my biggest challenges was creating the clouds and shifting them over to always keep the word centered above the cauldron.  The easiest solution was to use a state machine with the states RiseFromCauldron (so clouds don't just pop into existence), Bob (the idle state), SlideOver (when a new cloud is added), SlideBack (when an undo happens), and MoveToBook (when the player submits).

Finally, we went through a lot of scene layouts before coming to this one.  We thought about having the potion shelves across the top where the books are now (so that they could pour directly down into the cauldron), or even magically floating all over the screen.  That was a bit too chaotic (and made them hard to click), although the constantly rearranging letters would sometimes make it easier to see more words.  Even with the shelves fixed on the side, we wondered if they should always be filled from top to bottom, always alphabetically, single letters always before blends...  I must have tried a dozen different combinations and variations, and the current one is what I was happiest with: the shelves are filled from the top first, all single letters followed by as many blends as there is room remaining, with the blends always starting on a new shelf.

 

Spellbound is one of the most polished and most fun-to-play games in my portfolio, and overall I really enjoyed working on it.  Oh, and if you're wondering about the strange-looking creature that doubles as a menu button, that's an aardwolf.  We kept seeing the word at the top of our dictionary list, and eventually looked it up, fell in love, and decided to include one in the game as an in-joke!

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