✰ Inspiration ✰
Over the holiday season, I played a pretty cool card game with my family called Scrabble Slam. The game works where you have four cards and everyone takes turns changing letters to make a new word. Super simple, yet brilliantly executed. This experience got me thinking about word games on Alexa, and in particular, how important visuals are when playing a word game that involves specific letters. As such, I started brainstorming ideas for a new and unique word game that could flourish with the new APL capabilities, yet still be voice first. Since I love to bake, I started thinking of words in terms of slices, and thus Word Slice was born.
Aesthetically, I was inspired to create a game that visually emulated my favorite baking magazine, Sift. I think the artwork and photography in that magazine is phenomenal. I’m particularly fond of the clean design, sharp edges, high contrast, and all the powdered sugar!
✰ What it does ✰
Word Slice is fast-paced daily word game that challenges your vocabulary in a positive and challenging way.
Story: Upon opening the Skill, users are greeted by Pierce, the Head Baker of the Word Slice Bakery (Amazon Polly voice - Brian), and he explains that he will slice up three words for you daily. Your job is to come up with as many words that begin with each slice. You are awarded points for each additional letter, with a maximum of 5 points per word. For example, if your slice is HOT, the word “hotel” earns you two points. You won't be deducted points for wrong answers, but you won’t earn any points either. To make the game competitive, you are given only 1 minute per slice. The goal is to beat your daily high score, earn points for extra slices, and simultaneously sharpen you vocab on a daily basis.
If a player returns after 3 slices (on the same day), Pierce will inform the player that the kitchen is closed, and prompt them to return the next day. However, that doesn’t mean the game is over. I’ve added a Bonus Shop, where the Assistant Baker (Amazon Polly voice – Salli) can help prepare more slices in exchange for points. You can purchase 3 extra slices for 100 points, or unlimited slices for 1000 points.
Functionality: This game creatively incorporates the APL pager capabilities, in which users are given hints at the bottom of each word slice. The hints are hidden while playing (as to encourage the player to challenge themselves), however, if a player gets stuck, they can simply swipe left on their device to uncover 3 helpful clues. This keeps the momentum of the game flowing, and gives the player a chance to score some points if they are drawing a blank. I also creatively incorporated the pager into the intro display, as to provide the user with sample intents. This lets the user know that they can say “High Score” or “Bonus Shop” at any point during the game, without explicitly saying so in the greeting.
✰ How I built it ✰
Structurally: Word Slice was first constructed using Node-JS and the ASK-CLI (in it’s barest form); however, since I’m still learning how to code, I switched over to the VoiceFlow platform, which allowed me to quickly add advanced logic, such as persistence, session attributes, local & global variables.
I used The Free Dictionary by Farlex (thefreedictionary.com) to collect the correct answers for each word slice, and stored the data in Google spreadsheets. I purchased some awesome sound effects, which I edited using Garageband, and stored my files (images and audio) on S3. To develop the story of the game, I used Amazon Storywriter to build a quick script detailing how the game would interact with a player.
Aesthetically: I built the APL documents using both Visual Studio Code and the Dev Console’s authoring tool.
The background images are free stock photos, which I edited (color scheme, saturation, filter) through Canva.com. I also tailored the dimensions to properly fit the four primary screen sizes (small, medium, large, Xlarge). I also added transparent shapes and frames to create a rich and vibrant visual display. I created storyboards for each APL document, which really helped me keep the aesthetics succinct with the central theme of the game. And I used scalable text symbols, such as arrows and stars, to help certain text stand out.
✰ Challenges I ran into ✰
While this game is constructed as a voice first game, I noticed that players without a screen could easily forget the letters during a round, since they visually don’t have the slice in front of them. This was certainly a problem. It took some figuring out, but I finally came up with a pretty obvious solution. Users (across any device) can simply ask “what are my letters?” during a round, and the letters will be repeated back to them.
Time was also my biggest challenge. Learning the intricacies of APL (especially for a novice coder) took a great deal of effort. There were many late nights, and several face-palm moments. On one occasion, I didn’t catch a missing “position: Absolute” and felt a little crazy for a few hours. I also had a tough time getting the variables from VF to connect to my APL documents. But through it all I persevered, and now I feel much more confident in my abilities.
✰ Accomplishments that I'm proud of ✰
I’m proud of creating a fully customized APL skill. Every graphic, frame, and text is carefully placed and structured according to my particular vision for the game. I aimed to create a completely unique experience for the user, something that hasn’t been seen before. The game looks and feels elegant across all devices, and I’m really excited about how well the pager clues enhance the overall gameplay.
Overall, I’m proud of myself. This was a huge project to take on as an individual, and I’m really pleased with how everything came together.
✰ What I learned ✰
I learned how to code! This is actually a big deal for me. While the logic behind the skill was constructed through a visual editor, I still learned a lot about the ASK-CLI, Node-JS, and how to code custom APL documents.
I also learned that I love APL. This language is a blank canvas for us developers, and we can be as creative as we like. I can see firsthand how this language can enhance the user experience. For word games, APL brings a new level of excitement, it makes remembering the letters easier, and offers creative solutions to providing hints, tips, and additional information that would otherwise be difficult through voice alone.
✰ What's next for Word Slice ✰
The next step for Word Slice is ISP. I want users to have the option to make one-time purchases for extra and unlimited slices. This way if players run out of points, they can still play the game.
I also plan on adding a feature that keeps track of daily streaks. A player will receive additional points and the ability to unlock bonus content (such as mini games) if they play consecutively. Maybe award players for playing 13 consecutive days and call it “The Bakers Dozen?” Something to think about for sure.
✰ What I'm thankful for ✰
I’m extremely thankful for my fellow developer and friend Stuart Pocklington. He wrote an amazing how-to guide explaining the basics of APL in an approachable and easy-to-follow way. His guide was a tremendous help in turning Word Slice into a reality. So thank you Stuart!
I’m also thankful for the wealth of material found in the resource section of this competition. The webinars were incredibly helpful. And I feel lucky and proud to be a part of this awesome community!