Word Watch is a new game by Smart Box Design that was released today, July 28, 2005. But how did it come about? Jim and I almost a year ago were playing with Scrabble tiles trying to invent a new word game. Ted has expressed an interest in an anagram game and Jim and I thought we could make one that would be in line with Smart Box Design’s philosophy. All our games have several elements of strategy and thinking skills.

Jim lined up some tiles and made a word. Then for fun he mixed up seven letter tiles and challenged me to make a word he was thinking of. I couldn’t. But I did make a shorter word using five of the tiles. I slid the remaining two tiles toward me to move them out of the way. Jim then slid over some more tiles and challenged me again to make a word. I was successful this time. Then at the same time, we both noticed that the word just made could be extended by adding the two tiles I had previously pulled down. The light bulb went off. And the result was Word Watch.

Word Watch is the only anagram game that I know of, where you can still be successfully even if you don’t always know the word. In Word Watch if you can’t make the full length word your longest made word is evaluated and any remaining letters become penalty tiles. Then a new round starts with a new word. If you can solve that word you are rewarded with a bonus round. If you can make a new word with the penalty tiles and the letters of the word you just solved, then the used penalty tiles are removed. All this happens while the Word Watch timer is winding down.

Give Word Watch a try and let me know what you think of it.

The first annual Casual Games Conference was held in Seattle on 7/19 and 7/20. The purpose of the conference is for developers and publishers to share information, which would result in better games and distribution. Some of the topics covered were Creative Plagiarism, Contracts and Royalties, Appealing to the Casual Gamer, and Advergaming. As a developer for Palm and Window Mobile games I attended to learn more about the online and PC download market.

Two of the sessions riveted me, Advergaming and Contracts and Royalties. Advergaming is advertising in games. Advertisers imaginations are boundless when it comes to ways of pushing products. This ranges from overt ads in the games, such as an add for a fast food chain in the background of a virtual racing track to placing a product, like name brand candy, into the scene of a simulation game. One Advergamer talked about making an entire game with the product as the main character, think Nickelodeon. Contracts and Royalties was fun as it was like being at a Star Wars movie. The developers cheered when a publisher presented a favorable revenue sharing scheme and booed when they didn’t. I was very impressed with all the different methods publishers have come up with distributing and selling. The most impressive was charging for game parts. Let’s say you are in a game but you need a special wand to continue, not problem, buy one. I love going to a conference and learning how other people think and clearly these publishers have some unique ideas.

As a Palm and Windows Mobile developer I was acutely aware of the lack of representation. When I approached several companies, such as Microsoft, they did not have a mobile platform representative. I was disappointed. A tie-in with a PDA like a Treo 650 would be fantastic. A user could be playing a head to head game on their Treo 650 against a PC user. Or a player could start a game on their PC, like Bejeweled, stop 1/2 way through, sync to their PDA and continue the game on the bus. Mobile phones were discussed, usually in the context of how expensive and difficult it is to develop across so many models with specific and non-conforming requirements. Of course these problems are minimized on Palms and to a lesser degree on Window Mobile devices.

Overall I enjoyed the energy of the conference and meeting up with old friends but wished for additional coverage for PDAs. I think the publishers are missing an opportunity to show-off their games and the mobile nature of PDAs can be viewed as free advertisement.

I did not learn to read until I was six. This was not from a lack of effort on my part or determination from my teachers or family. I simply did not understand the concept until I was six. Many children learn to read at an earlier age some later. But the one advantage of learning to read at six is the experience is still crystal clear in my mind.

I remember sitting in the dinning room struggling through a book, when suddenly the word I was sounding out made perfect sense, and the next one, and the next one. Over the next 30 minutes the book came alive to me. Reading word by word was quickly replaced by reading an entire sentence. Sure, I was still struggling with words that were difficult to sound out like cough or laughter, but it finally clicked. At that moment, I fell in love with reading.

My love for reading turned to a love of word games. All word games. Crossword puzzles, word searches, spelling bees, and puns. Not everyone loves word games, some even hate them. One of my goals as president of Smart Box Design is to create word games that everyone can love. How am I doing this? By creating word games that players of any age or ability can be successful at. WordPop! is an example of this. You can succeed by either making small or large words, simple or complex, clever or plain. It does not matter. There are plenty of incentives to make harder words and the interface encourages experimentation and exploration. I get many emails from players commenting on words they have discovered by playing WordPop!

Word Watch continues this formula. Word Watch is unique in that players do not have to solve the jumble to keep playing. All other jumble or word scramble games end the second a user can not figure out the target word. Word Watch gives credit for making the best word even if it does not use all the letters. Again, no other jumble game allows this. Of course solving the jumble puzzle results in a higher reward. But players should be rewarded for making the best word they can and the more they play the better their word making ability becomes. The game is fun because as long as the player uses their imagination to create words they will continue to win. Word Watch has 18 levels each one encouraging the user to try harder and harder. It becomes very addictive very quickly.

I encourage you to try word games such as WordPop! and WordWatch. They are fun, relaxing, engaging and just might have you fall in love with word games too.

I am a contributing writer to PDAGround. Once a month Andrew sends out a topic to several developers. Below is this months questions and my responses.

Questions: Will Pocket PC or Palm OS games still be popular given all the latest comptetition. Also it is thought the future of mobile games belongs to Java . What do you think about this situation? Will graphics accelerator help to PDA change these ideas?

Response: I don’t think people purchase PDA’s to play games, they buy a PDA for the organization tools and the fact it can run games is a huge bonus. I don’t see that niche going away. Additionally the Pocket PC is making giants steps in supporting graphics and sound plus the tools for developers keep improving. This is allowing developers to make a traditional desktop game and a mobile version simultaneously. In regards to Java, some developers love it others hate it. Java is positioning itself as the development environment to use as it is supported across such varied hardware, e.g., phones, PCs, and PDAs. However, experience has shown that Java apps need a lot of customization on each hardware type which puts it at a disadvantage. Flash and .net are both being pushed hard by their respective companies to compete with Java and I personally am a big fan of Flash. Flash phones are gaining momentum positioning it very well especially when you consider that over 90% of PCs already have Flash installed.

I’ve been running Smart Box Design for over two years now. Smart Box Design developes and publishes premier games for the mobile market, including Palms and Pocket PCs. I will be posting product reviews and my opinion of the industry.