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More on Word Puzzles

Earlier this week (or possibly last week, depending on when this post goes up), Genevieve posted a blog entry about creating a word game for the Sophocles team. As she noted in her post, our group of 4 split into two teams of 2 to work on different concepts. I was in the group that did not contain Genevieve, so I thought perhaps I'd write a bit about the idea that our half of the team came up with.

Our prototype, like that of Genevieve's group, required the player to use words to form a bridge in order to cross a gap. It's not a coincidence that both groups prototyped games involving bridges; the idea of building a bridge out of words or parts of words was discussed in the brainstorming that we did before splitting into two groups. However, as with the dog-and-girl prototyping at the beginning of the semester, the two prototypes managed to be quite different while still adhering to the same basic concepts of words and bridges.

The thought process that resulted in our group's game went something like this: "What is unique about words; what are their defining characteristics? ...Well, words are made up of a limited set of smaller individual components (letters), which can be arranged to form larger entities. But the other group is already exploring that aspect of words... But words also have meanings associated with them and enable people to communicate. Could you make a game that explores words and meaning?"
...and I think that's how we ended up with a game where you have to translate a stream of gibberish from a guy standing on the other side of a ravine and wearing a weird hat (he wears a weird hat because we needed a way to differentiate the player from the crazy gibberish-speaker in sketches of possible game layouts, and giving the crazy guy a crazy hat was an easy way to do that).

Specifically, our team created a game where you (or rather, your avatar) and an NPC are standing on opposite sides of a ravine, and he starts telling you a story, sentence by sentence. However, some of the words he chooses to use are unfamiliar, and you must translate them. For example, he might say, "The other day I was walking down the sidewalk and I found a baby bird that had fallen out of its gleeble." In this case, context would hopefully lead the player to conclude that 'gleeble' means 'nest'. Then the man might say, "The gleeble was at the very top of a tall bloggin," and the player would have to deduce that 'bloggin' means tree.

The man would then continue to tell you his story, and every sentence would contain a higher proportion of nonsense words. The trick is that all but one or two of the nonsense words in each sentence would be ones that you'd encountered in previous sentences. So maybe he'd say, "And then a bloggin furpled on my klonker, so now I have to vob in a swippy in the glopp," and the player would remember from previous sentences that bloggin = tree, klonker = house, vob = live, swippy = hole, and glopp = ground, and so would be able to guess that "furpled" means "fell", and what the man is actually saying is "And then a tree fell on my house, so now I have to live in a hole in the ground."

Then, once the man has finished telling you his story and you've learned all his weird words, objects start to appear in the ravine that separates you and the man, and as you speak the words for those objects, the words appear in the air and form a bridge to the other side.

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