i had never ever seen a word game like Spellirium, in which the Dictionary of fifty thousand-odd words is collectible and exposed to the player, AND collecting those words has some sort of bearing on gameplay – in Spellirium’s case, those words become your currency. To pull that off, the real trick was going to be organizing the UI (user interface) for the Dictionary in an enticing – not overwhelming – way.
Well, Mission Totally Failed during our first attempt, which we outline in the video. Based on that initial UI failure, we made the following critical changes to the Dictionary that you’ll find in the current version of Spellirium:
By default, the Dictionary filters by words you’ve already made. So the first time you open the Dictionary, you see it filled with words that you recognize, because you just finished building them in a challenge.
Instead of only two word states (“got it” and “don’t got it”), there are now four states: unseen, seen, owned, and spent. You can filter the Dictionary using any of those parameters for more or less granularity.
There’s a cheeky % complete counter at the bottom of the current dictionary, which usually says something like “0.0017% complete”. This is almost there to dissuade players from building all fifty thousand words because, come on … get a life.
There are two Cheeves in the game related to collecting words. One of them is called “You’re Almost There”, which rewards you for completing 2% of the Dictionary ;) The other one is for 100% completion, but it implores you NOT to achieve it, offers you no reward, and encourages you to get out and join a community group instead.
Spellirium’s third prototype is nearly identical to the mechanic the game presently uses. But the moment you tell a player not to go somewhere, that’s the first thing a player tries to do. It’s the Garden of Eden all over again. The limits of this prototype became very obvious very quickly.
In the video, i tease a fight i had with a fellow game dev. It’s actually not going to be mentioned in the very next video, but it is upcoming, so watch out for it!
Pokémon has a collectible compendium of creatures. Spellirium has a collectible Dictionary of words. Every original Pokémon teevee show ended with the Pokémon Rap. And what’s better than the Pokémon Rap? Practically everything.
Robby “the Doogs” Duguay is responsible for the bang-on musical homage, while you can thank Jon Remedios for the chorus that’ll stay in your brain far, far longer than you’ll want it to.
When i say that Spellirium is a cross between Loom and Boggle, i ain’t just whistling Dixie. Brian Moriarty’s adventure game masterpiece, which was so classy with its use of a Tchaikovsky soundtrack, remains one of my favourite games of all time.
It turns out, as i reveal in the video, that i didn’t rip off Loom as badly as i’d thought. And Lloyd Alexander, who looks in person every bit like Quentin Blake’s drawing of Roald Dahl’s The BFG (due to his other-worldly schnozz), liberally borrowed from Welsh mythology for his Prydain Chronicles.
One of the biggest gameplay innovations in Spellirium is that beyond including a certain word puzzle mechanic, each challenge and battle is actually a unique and distinct puzzle-within-a-puzzle. By “reading” the player’s actions in the puzzle grid, we end up with a number of data points including word length, colour, quality and direction. There are many more of course, but those are the basics.
The prototype i cover in this video represents our first proof-of-concept for Spellirium, where we actually give this puzzle-within-a-puzzle idea a whirl and see if players find it compelling. Thankfully, the game passed that test – which means we’ve got many more videos about the ensuing five years of game development to share with you!