i picked up the iPhone game Wurdle at the suggestion of TouchArcade, an excellent news site for iPhone game releases. On its surface, Wurdle is a simple game. Heck – beneath its surface, Wurdle is still a simple game – but it has a few tricks up its sleeve that elevate if from an amusing distraction, to a bloody-eyed, stay-up-all-night-and-forget-to-feed-the-cats-and-kids addiction.
Wurdle and its tabletop progenitor, Boggle
In essence, Wurdle is a Boggle clone with some tweakable settings that add enjoyment to an already solid experience. The player uses his finger (or a warm, terminating appendage of his choosing) to link the tiles in the grid, forming words of three or more letters. The timer counts down two minutes, and the points are tallied.
At the end of a round, the player can request a word list displaying all of the possible words that could be found in the puzzle grid. The words the player found – often 1/100th of the total list, at least in my case – are highlighted. The player can score bonus points for finding longer words, so the game keeps track of his high scores and lifetime longest words. Wurdle hooks into an online high scores database, which has disappointly been hacked six ways from Sunday.
Thirty THOUSAND? Scan this list carefully for other evidence of cheater-pantsing
Like Pulling Slots
But it’s the structure of the game that i find really brilliant. After a brief splash/load title screen, you are thrown right into the game. No instructions, no explanation – the timer’s ticking, and you’d better do something. Oh – looky here. Here are some letter blocks. What happens if i touch them … ?
Sure, you could argue that a game that “pays homage” to another, well-known game doesn’t need instructions. But i’m confident that any player who sees this game with fresh eyes, and sees that timer ticking down, will instinctively know what to to. And therein lies the game’s first stroke of brilliance – easy, pick-up-and-playablility.
The next brilliant bit comes in at the endgame screen. You’ve just pecked your way through the grid, finding words here and there, and the two-minute experience was over all too quickly. You pore over the complete word list and are aghast at the seemingly simple words that were RIGHT THERE, staring you in the face the whole time. Drat. Well – that was fun. Nothing to do now, i guess, but hit that little “Done” button in the corner …
OH TEH NOES! The grid’s been reshuffled, and the timer’s started again. It’s a new game! Buh … but i wasn’t consulted. Oh well – no time to think now. i’ve only got 1:54 left on the clock.
And you find more words. And the time runs out. And lo, it was fun. A satisfying experience. Now you are done, so you hit the “Done” button.
SWEET MERCY, it’s starting all over again!
And so on.
By the time you finish playing, you have a Rip Van Winkle beard tickling your toes and your children are all grown. The friends you loved have all passed away, and the radio is filled with the clamourous din of some noise they call “rock and roll.”
Didn’t want the world to change? Never should have played Wurdle, grandpappy!
How We Do Things ‘Round These Here Parts
In my neck of the woods, when you design the endgame screen, you leave space for a large button that says “Play Again.” i hate the “Play Again” button. It has two words on it. It’s bigger than all the other buttons – “Play”, “Quit”, “Help”, “More”, and the now-precious “Done”. It’s hard to reconcile the “Play Again” button with your tidy, tight little four-letter buttons. It’s big and clunky. It’s like that cousin you have who plunks his big rear end down on the couch at the family reunion when there clearly wasn’t enough room.
Worse than that, “Play Again” actually gives players a choice. Do meth addicts have a choice? Do bingo players have a choice? No. No they don’t. They’re addicted. And if you want a GAME to be addicted, you’re going to need stronger stuff than “Play Again.”
“Done” – what are these, these game magicks you wield? The player thinks he is finished, and then you start the game session again – all but forcing him to play again. It is a cruel trick, but a very effective one. You caught me this time, “Done.” But you will not catch me again. i will escape your wiles. i’ll just innocently click you, and …
OH FOR FECK’S SAKE! Two more minutes …
But Wait – There’s More!
It wasn’t until ten or twelve game sessions that i noticed the little “i” button in the corner of the interface, which lead me to a hidden treasure trove of customizable game goodies. Wurdle supports a play-and-pass mode, where up to four players can take turns forming words from the same shuffle. You can also adjust the timer limit, grid size, and minimum word length. And if you’re a Hasbro exec who finds it all too copyright-infringey, you can choose from an assortment of differently- coloured and textured tiles to mix it up a bit. It’s amazing how Wurdle feels like an entirely different game by swapping blue or green for orange.
Cosmetic changes can make all the difference
Fast pick-up-and-play action, a great degree of customizability, and a fiendishly mislabelled button conspire to make Wurdle an exemplar of amazing, economical game design, with that secret, elusive ingredient that i like to call “the Crack Factor”. If you’re designing a lower-priced, polished iPhone game that players will *perceive* as simple, take a cue from Wurdle.
Check out this tigsource forum for the creators’ perspective on their well-deserved rise to the top.