Monday, December 17, 2007

Failed word graph gameplay

I've been thinking about ways to make a game based on the graph of words that differ by one letter. There's the puzzle type that originally got me thinking about this, with two words separated by blanks to fill in. That's not much of a game, though; more of a puzzle.

I had the idea of moving around through the graph, discovering words along the way. My first idea was of a 4X space exploration type of game, where each word would represent a star system, and the adjacencies would represent wormholes (wordholes?) between them.

There are a lot of unknowns about this idea. The main unknown for me is how the graph feels. How do you map it to a plane? Is the connectivity tractable for human brains? There are 2415 connected four-letter words. This seems like rather a lot of stars for a typical space game, and there's not necessarily an easy way to restrict the player to a subset of words, since they've already got all the words in their head.

My second idea was to score the player on the longest chain of adjacent words they can string together without revisiting a word they've already used. This puts an element of Hamiltonian pathfinding into the mix.

To test this gameplay I took my DOS 80x25 text console simulator and threw together a prototype of moving through the graph. Each word you type goes in the center of the screen, and the adjacent words are placed around it. I put question marks for words you haven't typed yet.

“Ware” has the most neighbors (25) so I used it when deciding how to lay out the neighbors.

Words form into groups based on which letter is varying. Four-letter words belong to up to four groups. Since I was dealing with a text grid, I tried splitting the words into the four groups and putting them in clusters next to the current word.

It ought to be possible to represent further graph connections to some extent. I've thought of listing words that are two steps away horizontally, extending out from each of the cyan one-step words in the picture above. I don't think there's space in my 80x25 layout to list all words in every case, though. There is also the issue that two one-step words may both have links to the same two-step word. In this case, would you list the word in both places? In a graphical graph representation you could try to put the words next to each other so they could both point to a single node for the two-step word.

Grouping words like I've done in the picture may give away too much of the graph structure. In particular, listing the words alphabetically as I've done gives away too much. It's not that hard to come up with the missing words.

More problematic, though, is the longest-path gameplay. It turns out to be pretty easy to keep going, and going, and going, so you're likely to succumb to boredom before you complete a scoring run. Also, with me showing only one step ahead in the graph, you don't really see dead-ends coming so there isn't much chance for strategy as you choose words.

Any ideas for gameplay involving the word adjacency graph?

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