February 17th, 2012
I wrote a game for the Kindle! We’ve actually fussed over this game’s big concept, on and off, for over six years, so this really feels like a dream that’s finally come true. After more than a year (of preparing it for the Kindle), we’ve finally released “Throw in the Vowel,” our original new word game, in Amazon’s Kindle Store!
I almost wept the day our graphic designer showed us the beautiful background illustration they’d created for the game, showing shining tall columns, draped with vines, surrounding a detailed tiled floor. We’ve created a beautiful, magical place, where mist glows around virtual columns, and letters hover — hiding in “clue boxes”, highlighted by you, as you nudge your Kindle’s controller. It’s a gentle game of hide-and-seek with words — or as my girlfriend put it, “a love letter to the English language.”
I created this game with an old friend who’s actually had this dream even longer than I have! I first met Jeffrey Prince in 1991, working together at a start-up in Northern California — and even back then, I remember him telling me that he’d always wanted to create a new challenging game to share with the world. Now Jeffrey’s in his sixties, but in 2005 he’d suggested that we finally make this dream come true. I’d mocked up a prototype of the game he’d described, but then we’d kept on fiddling with it. And we spent the next five years cheerfully trying to stump each other with new variations on our puzzles, until eventually we’d created several hundred of them.
But in 2010, Jeffrey resurrected his original 2005 idea, and we realized that this concept was really special. We’ve searched for exotic patterns of vowels — like four O’s in a row, or three U’s — and provided the consonants which will turn them all into words. (But where that match won’t immediately be obvious!) There’s always 10 choices, but can you find the right match among the nine other clue boxes? (Can you “Throw in the Vowel?”) It offers the thrill of creating meaning itself — turning arbitrary patterns into words. In one puzzle, the “clue box” even has five S’s!
For the last year I’ve been telling Jeffrey that he may have invented the world’s next, great word game. “The excitement increases” (as we explain on the game’s page on Amazon) as “a tower of words grows higher.” Each puzzle gets easier as you go along, and there’s an extra-special puzzle at the very end. When we added it, I smiled to myself, wondering if anyone else will love these words just as much as I do…
For each list of 10 words in “Throw in the Vowel”, Jeffrey or I spent nearly an hour considering hundreds of possibilities. And each set required nearly 30 million automated checks against a dictionary, to make sure it was perfectly unique — that there was always only one correct match for every set of letters in each one of our puzzles. It was an intense “labor of love,” and now I feel like I’ve somehow touched the inside of the Kindle Store. And maybe even the Kindle itself, traveling across invisible connections to the screens of hundreds of different Kindles…
Levels are played, scores are kept, highlights move up and down, and players get cheered on with 54 different encouraging comments from Jeffrey and me. (“You rock!” “You’re on fire!” “You found it!” “Keep going…”) I’m excited, and a little proud — and hopeful. (And happy…) But I’m also just amazed, that somehow we’ve crashed through the gate into game-land. We’ve found the secret place where all the words are hiding.
And we’ve joined that family of invisible game-makers who are always out there, somewhere, trying to bring some fun into the world.
Come and play!