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WordPop New Features Continued

Here are some more features coming to WordPop this fall. All of these features have been suggested by players, either at our bulletin board or direct e-mails to me.

Clear Best Words List – When I first designed WordPop with my team we did not think that clearing the best words was necessary. But an interesting problem arose. Sometimes a player makes a word that is really high scoring but is embarrassing, such as,…hmm, I don’t think I will give you an example but if you get the point. Because the word is embarrassing the player does not want to show their Best Words to anyone. The next version will have a button to clear the Best Word list.

Clear High Score List – Similar to Best Words, I did not think clearing was needed but many players e-mailed me that they wanted to start over or their was a score from a friend or family member they wanted to remove. Players will be able to clear the Easy, Medium, and Hard High Score Lists individually.

New Word List – I have had hundreds of suggested words sent to me. Many of them did not make the cut as our word list does not include acronyms, abbreviations, proper names, or hyphenated words. However, we have added hundred of new words including all the official Scrabble two and three letter words and their plurals, inflections, etc. This new word list will also be added to Word Monaco Solitaire for Windows Mobile too.

Splash Screen – The splash screen appears immediately upon launching the game and serves the purpose of showing something while we check the resolution, load in files etc. A minor feature but important.

Check back often as there are still a lot more features that we are adding to make WordPop even more fun and a great value.

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Laying Tiles

Not as much progress this week as I would have liked, but I did finish a class to handle the letter tiles. This led me to thinking through just how I would handle the game state at runtime and the data structures involved. It seems like a little thing, but later on, it will have a much larger effect. The wrong data structures can cripple me for weeks. The right one makes things go quite smoothly. So, some serious closed-eye thinking was employed in something the user will never see.

I do hope the benefit pays off in performance and stability, however. Now, without further ado: letter tiles!

Game Board with Letters

By the way, don’t be frightened by the letter distribution. I haven’t started using our carefully balanced letter maps, yet. It would have to be some very evil difficulty to give you two Xs, two Zs, and four Qs.

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Development: Supporting Cast is Complete

I’m just now about to start on the fun stuff. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve implemented all of the standard dialogs (by standard, I mean those using Windows widgets and regular windows. The High Scores and Best Words dialogs don’t count). This includes the dialogs for Registration, Support, Purchase Info, About Box, Credits, and Preferences.

I also switched the menus over to the new two menu standard that began with Windows Mobile 5. This aligns the menus with the softkeys for easier use on the device. It does mean that the Stop and Mute buttons will not be on the menu bar. The Stop isn’t as important in WordPop! since we have a stop button above the bonus tile chute. The mute isn’t as important since we’ve started allowing the users to tell our games to obey the system volume settings. As one of our users commented on our previous post, updating to the new menus helps us avoid looking old.

Finally, I have added the baseline navigation between screens from the Start screen to the Game screen. You can click any of the difficulty buttons and enter the game and then select New Game or click the Stop button to return to the Start. Here’s the empty game board ready for some tiles!

Empty Game Board

With the preferences, I was able to verify that I’m persisting the user prefs correctly. Now that I can switch between screens, I can also verify that WordPop! will correctly return the user to a game in progress if there is one.

Oh, and although I don’t have pictures yet, I am also building up screens for Windows Mobile devices with a square resolution (like the Palm Treo 700w). This required some changes to layout, but functionality will all be the same.

Next stop: letter tiles!

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Development: WordPop New Features

In my last post I talked about the process in selecting new features. Over the next few weeks I will go over the features one by one that are being added.

Add Trainee Tips– WordPop has been praised on its ease of use (thanks Mom), however there are several rules that need to be learned. A few trainee tips at the right time can make all the difference in learning how to play. Two examples would be adjacent letters and how to use the bonus tiles. Thus one trainee trip will explain to new players that each letter needs to be adjacent to the next when a word is being created. The second is explaining that a bonus tile can be picked up and placed on the grid when there is an open space. The tip will also offer strategy advice on when to use bonus tile. All of our games have trainee tips except for WordPop (and WordPop was a bit jealous).

The key for making trainee tips work is to keep them to the bare minimum and to display them at the correct time or they become annoying. We know which tips to display from the feedback from players and by watching the player play we know exactly when the right time is to display them.

Add “Reset” tips in “Preferences” – This is a button we add to the preference page under the “Game” menu. This is useful when a player wants to show the game to someone who has never played before. The experienced player can “Reset” the tips so the new player can learn the rules while playing which is a lot more fun.

Add “Show Player Tips” to “Preferences” – This allows existing players to turn off the tips since they usually don’t need them. However, the trainee tips include strategy tips that even the most experienced player might learn from.

Add “Use System Sound” to “Preferences” – We’ve added this feature to Farkle Dice and Word Monaco Solitaire. This setting will default on and will use the sound volume controlled by the master volume control. This has become very important as many Windows Mobile devices are also phones and players are very specific on the volume setting. Plus, sound effects should mute when a call comes in, this setting allows that to happen.

Here is an example of Preferences for Farkle Dice that includes the above features.

Farkle Dice Preferences

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, this first list is not the most sexy of the new features being adding but for new players it will make for a better playing experience. Next time, new features requested by experienced players.

 

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Development: WordPop Menus

Well, it took a little longer than planned, but I have the splash screen, start screen, and the menus all visible in our WordPop overhaul. The screenshot is WordPop running on the new framework in a Windows Mobile 5.0 emulator.

WordPop First Screen

What sidetracked me and took some time to sort out was a subtle change in the way menus are created under the WM5 SDK versus the PocketPC 2003 SDK we were using for all previous titles. Starting in Windows Mobile 5.0, Microsoft was encouraging software to stop using the menu bar that had been so common. Instead, they wanted you to use a two softkey approach. The menu bar is replaced by the softkey bar with only two slots for text items. The user would click on these to reveal a menu or to perform a common command. The advantage was that WM5 devices would have two softkey buttons on the face of the device, so the user could interact with the common command or the menu via device buttons alone (no need for a stylus). They wanted you to do something more like this at the bottom of your screen (this is from the Solitaire game):

Softkey bar

However, this prevented us from providing our two graphic menubar buttons that started a new game and toggled the sound muting. We happen to only have two menus, but this still didn’t fit our needs. So, I opted to override the softkey bar and continue to use the older-style menu bar.

Furthermore, the way menus are described in the resources of the application had changed slightly to accommodate the new softkey bar. That meant changing how I described my menus to fit. All of this was poorly documented because they really want me to use the new look.

It’s all there, now, though. I will continue on by hooking up the standard dialogs WordPop has (About Box, Purchase Info, Preferences, etc.). I would like to hear from you about my decision to stick with the older style. I’m sure Todd would like to hear your thoughts, as well.

It’s always a balance between what we as the developers want to provide, what the customers expect, and what standard UI Microsoft would like for us to conform to. Let us know what you think.