Word Machine

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wordmachine.jpgzxoIs your loquaciousness of Brobdingnagian proportions? Do morphemes of prodigious extensiveness accelerate your cardiovascular thingamajig? Can you type really fast? If so, why not try Word Machine, a word construction game from Pascal Le Merrer? It took first place in the recent MochiMedia word game design contest for its simple yet addictive gameplay.

For each level, you must enter three valid words or else lose a life. Initially, you will see one letter on the screen — all three words must begin with this letter. Let's suppose that the first letter is M. Your first word could be "mom" or "matinee" or "malapropism", anything goes so longs as it is a valid word and begins with M. After you enter the first word, another letter will appear — let's say U. Now you must enter a word beginning with M and containing U somewhere within it. "Mug" or "mousse" or "mellifluous" all work. Finally a third letter appears: H. Your final word must start with M and contain both U and H, although the positions and order of the two latter letters do not matter. Thus you could enter "mush" or "matchup" or "mouthwash".

After three words, the level ends and you get to do it all over again with new letters and a slightly shorter time limit. Occasionally, you will also get a fourth letter to include with word #3. This letter is optional, but if you manage to include it in your entry (along with the other three letters as usual), you will receive one of three power-ups: extra time, level reset, or even an extra life! Later in the game, use [space] to activate your extra time power-up and [shift] to use the reset power-up and give yourself a fresh set of letters. This comes in handy when you've been dealt XGQ or some other such nonsense. Points are awarded for time and for each letter according to its rarity, so aim for the longest words you can manage and try to throw some Zs and Qs in there if you can. As you progress, the score multiplier increases but the timer shrinks, providing a nice risk vs. reward quandary when typing out long words.

Analysis: Word Machine plays a lot like Clockwords, right down to the steampunk style, which is interesting, since Clockwords was Mochi's runner-up. I guess the judges really knew what they were looking for in a word game! Though both games have a free-form format that encourages lengthy words, Word Machine gets the edge in terms of pacing. After just a handful of levels, you begin to feel the squeeze of the time limit, and if you manage to prolong a game upwards of ten minutes, you're doing pretty well. Comparatively, Clockwords' difficulty ramp seems more like a plateau that just... keeps... going...

On the other hand, Clockwords won't ever leave you out to dry with such combinations as KBQ. I mean really, what can you do with that? Kilobriquette? Kumquatberry? Stanley Kubrique? It's nice to have the lives and the do-overs, but you shouldn't have to need them to advance. Plus, you would think that both games would draw on the same dictionary, given that Dictionary.com co-sponsored the contest, but it seemed like more false negatives came up in Word Machine. In particular, many plurals do not seem to be recognized. I don't remember that happening with Clockwords, but I might just be imagining things.

So yeah, Word Machine could use a couple of tweaks, but overall it's still a solid game for any word-lover. That is to say, Word Machine accomplishes praiseworthy gratification for any discriminating linguaphile.

Play Word Machine


It got boring - granted, I was playing for a long time. I got to level 52 or 58 or 62 or something. One of those. Ridiculous score. Got very repetitive, but hey, I had to finish off those 4 lives...

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viewfrmhere Author Profile Page October 22, 2009 2:11 AM

I really enjoy this game, but the ads in the middle of the game, and so frequently, make me hate it. I don't mind watching an ad at the beginning to help with costs, but to interrupt with ads in the middle is maddening.

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I second the comments above. The ads are maddening, especially when it's the same one over and over... and over... And the game doesn't really progress in difficulty. Maybe there could be more letters added at higher levels...

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Yes, nicely implemented, good increase in difficulty as you progress through the levels. In my opinion, short words aren't penalised enough, and it could do with a few other power-ups or special rounds to break up the monotony.

But, however good the game is, I refuse to play it any longer because of those ads. I have never complained about adverts before on here and I realise that the income they generate allows developers to make more games. But to break up the playing experience like that is unnecessary and, for me, unacceptable.

I don't know how much more money the developer gets from MochiAds for this type of ad compared to the normal one at the start, but I'm not sure it's worth it.

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Ok haven't played it yet but was looking at instruction screen.

Its a word game yeah.....don't hold out much hope if spelling errors in the instruction page

lifes???? surely its lives?

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It was a fun game, and I enjoyed it for what it was. The false negatives, as mentioned in the review, were a bit maddening.

Speaking of negatives, maybe it's just me, but I would expect the letters you have typed to clear when the word isn't recognized. This is the behavior I'm used to seeing in this sort of game, but here the letters remain and you have to delete them before you can continue. If the word isn't recognized at all and you have to start over, this is very annoying. Even if you made a typo, it would probably be easier to retype the word than to delete letters and make the fix.

(Also--minor nitpick here--but I don't think the design is "steampunk." Steampunk is very specifically science fiction set in a time period when steam was the primary source of energy. This has that Victorian look, but not the science fiction elements. Maybe we could just call it "Victorian"?)

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when i see games like this, my first reaction is often is it American spelling only. the screenshot for example, as a Brit i'd spell it desensitisation and would presumably be penalised for doing so?

i understand this is an American based site, but it has international readers and it would probably be appreciated if this were considered in games where spelling is important :)

just something to consider for future reviews.

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Repetitive, tiresome and pointless. It's too easy even for me, what with English basically being my third language. I cannot even fathom what native speakers get out of it.

The production values seem to be high, but I'd rather have a fun game which looks like crap then a game that looks great but plays horrible.

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Nice design and fun for a while, but when "summarized" was not accepted as a word, I got disenchanted.

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I'm Word Machine creator. Thank you zxo for this nice post!

I did not use the provided word list, as it contains too much words that were not suitable for my game. That's why it behaves differently of clockwords. I created a new word list, which contains nearly 80,000 words, and included some english and american variants. I tried to find a balance between swf size an dictionary sufficiency, but this was definitely not a easy job.

The game is done so there is always a word containing the 3 letters you are given. I agree, sometimes this is a very uncommon word, but the letters always come from a random word taken in the dictionary. So there must be a word

I will try to improve the game and take in account some of the comments I read here.
First of all, I will immediately remove the interlevel ads, which seems to turn some of you mad :). And correct the typo on "lives". As zxo said it, English in not my mother language, and the game beta tester were french people like me.

I will also see if I can improve the English dictionary to accept more words. But it will result in a bigger game, and it already weights 4MB... I don't know if it's a problem. This is indeed my very first flash game, and also the first game I develop, so many details are new to me.

For those who find the game too easy, it seems you stopped to quickly. The game difficulty increases with the levels: less time, less bonus... Try to put your name on the top of the high score table and you will see what I mean ;)

I am opened to any suggestion to improve the game, or translation offer to create new localized versions.

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my biggest gripe is it takes a LOONG time to reach the higher levels which constitute at least some challenge, and the personally I lost interest a long time before that. It's not really hard to imagine a word starting with one letter and having one or two other letters in it - and English is a foreign language for me.

What's worse, the gameplay feels jerky, what with the constant need to press "next" but ESPECIALLY because of ads. The actual game plays so fast it feels you spend more time clicking "next" and "close ad" then actually playing.

One simple tweak that I think would majorly improve the game - do not stop at only two letters. Perhaps with three or four the game would be more interesting.

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The interlevel ads are already removed.

Concerning the game balancing it is a very tricky thing. There was 4 letters in an early version of the game, and I can assure you it was really too difficult. Before changing anything about this, I will need to get more advices from different players. Maybe you are just too good at it ;)
Another point is that you will get much more points with long words than short one, and more points too with rare letter than with cmmon ones. Maybe you find the game too easy because you do not try to find words which will give you a lot of points?

By the way, you don't need clicking next, just press space

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The design for this game is very clean and stylish, and I like the sound effects, but its biggest problem is that it's repetitive, without any rewards for advancing further other than the score going up and up.

To compare it (inevitably I think) to Clockwords, I think Clockwords is better in almost every way. I honestly can't believe that this beat Clockwords. Clockwords is just as stylish; Clockwords has a story; Clockwords incorporates elements that keep you coming back, like changing the bonus word every day; Clockwords gives you rewards in the form of letters for beating levels; Clockwords has a finite number of levels, which gives one a sense that there is a goal to be reached, yet once one has reached it, one can replay the levels as much as one likes.

I also haven't had the false negative problem with Clockwords. I only played for five minutes on Word Machine, and I got fed up that it rejected words like "teleportation" and even "telepathy" of all things.

To JIG: the first link opens in the same tab, and the second link opens in a new window. Is this intentional? I'm used to the links opening in a new tab.

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joye - first link, second link? What links are you referring to exactly?

We are doing the same thing with our links as we have been doing for years:

  • Image links and the "Play" link following the review use Javascript to open a new window.

  • The first time the title appears in the review is a standard HTML link that opens a new window (or tab if you have it set that way in your browser).

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Four letters is pretty challenging, but I think there are enough people who want it, and are able to meet that challenge. It's something that could be implemented at later levels, perhaps with some added time to lessen the initial difficulty.

Very interesting idea indeed. I will consider implementing this. Moreover the highest score was beaten yesterday, and is incredibly high now (> 1 Billion). I'm starting to wonder if the game is easier in english than in french...

Another way to add some difficulty might be to require the 3 letters to be used in order.

Since I was a teenager, I've been playing a similar game during long car trips by using 3-letter combinations from license plates (Here in the US, a common numbering pattern is ABC-123). The biggest difference was that I challenged myself to find the shortest word that contained all three letters in order -- ABaCus would beat lABCoat, for example. I wonder if an alternate scoring mode that rewarded shorter words would add some more depth...

Not yet convinced. But I will think about it.

I have one final question for you. You said that all the combinations exist in a word somewhere. Since you can't enter the same word twice in a round, there should ideally be three words for every 3-letter combo. For example, I had this happen to me: QGM. Q was easy, but for QG I entered "quagmire". Thus, when QGM came around, I was stuck, or at least I couldn't think of any other QGM words. So my question is, is there a system in place to prevent 3-letter combos from coming up when the only word or words that would fit them have already been entered?

I'm afraid this is not the case. I'm aware of this problem, but I'm not sure there is a way to do this with sufficient performances to be included in the game. If the checking requires several seconds between each letter, the pacing off the game will seriously slow down. I thought it was acceptable as the risk is quite low. But I will consider it again.

Sorry for the long comment, but I like the game a lot!

You don't have to be sorry, it's a real pleasure to see there are people interested in playing the game and helping to improve it! By the way a quoting system in the comment could be nice ;)

@Joye: I was the first to be surprised when winning the contest. I never thought it was possible. Although Word Machine has some nice sides too. By example, I believe it was the only game of the contest which may be played in two languages.

Last point: a new version including a much more complete english dictionary will come very soon (certainly tomorrow).

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so addicting!

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ZXO - AH that will be it then [blushes with shame]

Pascal- a Hug of apology

I have now played and think you've done a brill job

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@Jay: The link I refer to is the link within "If so, why not try Word Machine, a word construction game from Pascal Le Merrer?" Clicking upon "Word Machine" opens within the same tab--neither a new tab, nor a new window. I.e., bye bye JIG.

If you can't replicate it, I'm using Firefox 3.5.3 on Mac 10.6.

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Oh! *that* link! Fixed.

It was missing a target="_blank" attribute, which tells the browser to open in a new window/tab.

As a rule, all external links get that attribute, internal site links do not. Thanks for pointing it out. You were right.

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i'm in the high scores :D

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Katherine October 25, 2009 1:04 AM

On the first level, three of the words I tried to input weren't accepted, so I ragequit. I think it's great that this game accepts the English spelling though, unlike Clockwords.

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I agree, the English dictionary is incomplete.

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A new version is coming, with:
- a much more complete english dictionary, containing american, english and canadian variants of the words;
- four letters instead of three to be included, in the higher levels;
- a malus when using the same word several time in a game; i.e. if you use "international" every time you should provide a first word stating with "I", you will get full points and bonus only the first time; and the more you will propose this word, the less points it will give you.

I'm also working about a way to check if there is a solution, whatever are the required letters AND the words you proposed.

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Hi Pascal,

I LOVE your game and while away a lot of time playing it. Thank you for such a great game!

My only gripe would be how hard it is for using the letter 'x'. I find that the game accepts very, very few words beginning with this letter, so I invariably lose a life after using xylophone and xenon. I realise you're adding more words already, but please definitely up the accepted words for x. It's really frustrating to do so well and lose a life every time this letter pops up. ;)

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Just a few words to tell you that a new version is available. It includes many improvements, and most of the criticism expressed herewere taken into account.
- new english dictionary, much more complete, as said above;
- 4 letters to be included in level 20 and above; this implies to propose 4 words.
- remaining time does not provides bonus time anymore;
- on the contrary long words are much more valued;
- using the same word several times in a game provides full points only the first time;
- Adobe platform distribution system is included; it allows you to copy the game very easily on many sites (blogs, social networks, and so on...)


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sarahandjennie Author Profile Page August 29, 2010 2:26 PM

Hi Pascal,

Firstly- we love the game and are adddicted- often topping the leaderboard (or almost-whoever Joe is, he is amazing!)

A couple of things that would really improve gameplay are-

1.Fair chances of red bonuses in the early stages not random ones. Eg sometimes you play to level 30 with no red bonuses which makes getting to level 60 virtually impossible! There don't have to be many, as that's part of the challenge but it would be less frustrating if you always had the same chance to get the max 5 lives before lvl 20.

2. Perhaps a couple of random bonuses (purples and greens) once you get past lvl 30 as a reward.

3. a way to contact other people on the leaderboard? so we can ask our competitor Joe what his tactic is?!

thanks so much- brilliant fun for wordsmiths and especially impressive in your second language!

Jennie and sarah

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