Word Hookup :: My journey creating a word game with my kids — a non techie mom of 3

Neha
Neha
Aug 17 · 6 min read

So this is my first venture in digital space. I am an architect and city planner, and used to teach in graduate school, but have been on a break from my work for the last couple of years. Being a mom of 3 kids, the break from work has been great for me to spend quality time with my kids as they are growing up. However, like all stay at home mothers the urge to do something more productive while I am spending time with kids did keep hitting up on me, and kept tugging me to try new things.

Since becoming a mom, I had always wanted to make fun products for kids. Long time back I had tried my hands at making a crafts kit for kids, which had failed miserably. While teaching kids about the US States and capitals, I came up with a playing cards game for this. Even printed out a dummy set of cards. But this idea never reached its fruition. I could probably fill a blog post with all the other concepts I have worked on for a bit, and then abandoned. On to current times, while playing vocabulary games with my kids I came up with this brilliant idea for a word puzzle. (Ok, maybe brilliant is too self-glorifying, but heck, you gotta believe in your idea!). And as I evolved the game play, I knew this was a winner, and I should not abandon it. The project has evolved into a puzzler that can be enjoyed and can challenge adults and kids alike. After working on it off-n-on for about six months, I have seen it through. My word game “Word Hookup” is now live on the iOS app store [https://apps.apple.com/us/app/word-hookup/id1467012830 ]and finally after 3 weeks on the android store https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wordhookup.android.

Word Hookup is about hooking up letters to make words.Its playable by all ages. So like the billion word puzzle games in the market, this game is also about finding the hidden words on the puzzle board. Yet its sooooo different. This puzzler adds another dimension with a path finding requirement to hookup the letters. This changes everything, because now letters are not next to each other, and the player really has to map the letters mentally to form the words. Why don’t you watch the video below to get an idea:

So aren’t you hooked? If yes, Why don’t you download Word Hookup from the app store and give it a try. Oh and please do leave a review!

The development

I am a non-techie, but thankfully being an architect I am familiar with design process and tools like photoshop, illustrator and had done a tiny-winy bit of html long time back. So I was able to use this knowledge to create some initial mockups of my game and get feedback from friends and family. I bought a iMac pro with a cracked screen for $450 from eBay to get the project done! All the tools used for the project were open source.

My husband is a software dev and was able to advise me on how I should design the navigation flow, buttons etc. He himself is working on an awesome startup of his own “Workybooks” (https://www.workybooks.com) that is about to be launched soon. Being occupied with his startup, he was not in position to program the game for me. I had no money to hire a developer, so my next best bet was my brother in law, who is a senior executive, but always excited to code hobby projects. We used cocos, a javascript based game development framework to develop the game. The primary reasons that we selected cocos were -

  • cross-platform development - same codebase for andorid, ios and web
  • easy to learn — javascript is much easier to learn and understand for a noob like me,
  • familiarity — my husband was already working with it, so he could advise us when needed.

Artwork

My 14 year old daughter is an awesome artist, and she helped create the graphics for the game. We used a lot of art from freepik.com, which has fantastic artwork available for free with attribution. In the game we have a background image for each puzzle board that provides a hint towards the puzzle theme. And there are tons of themes. She did a lot of sketching on iPad using Apple pencil, and the layouts using Gimp. She spent a good part of summer holidays creating these theme images, with a lot of pleading and bribing (including a limited edition pewdypie hoodie) from me.

Level Design and testing

Initially we used printed grids and paper cutouts of alphabets to design the levels. But it started to get cumbersome. My husband then created a small software tool to help us layout the levels, which really sped up the process.

I have 10 year old twins who compiled word lists for me, and did all the testing, finding extra words in the puzzles for earning stars, etc. Thanks heavens for them, for they found so many bugs that I had overlooked. Their cousins also chipped in with words. So all in all, with lot of help from family, Word Hookup is now on the store after about 6 months of work.

The game actually lends itself very well to solving on paper with a pen as well.

My game may or may not be financially rewarding, but the journey of creating the game has been fantastic. The team effort from my family was almost like in family movies, with everyone pitching in and coming together. The kids were excited to be a part of this. I have learnt so many techie things as well, like developer certificates, Xcode, image sizes, resolutions, bugs and more bugs. I am writing this blog to ofcourse promote my game, but also so that it can hopefully inspire some other moms (or even dads) to not keep postponing or abandoning their ideas and implement them. My only advise would be to not do it alone. When you start on a idea it almost seems like you can get it done in a few weeks. But once you embark on the journey, it seems impossible at times to finish. Finishing a product needs a multitude of skills and effort. Even if you want to give up, the thrill of being productive and creating something makes you feel good and upbeat. Find friends, family or someone to work with you on your dream project so that they can complement your skills.

I will update my blog on whether Word Hookup is a success or not, but seeing a project completed and live for the world to see and play with, gives an immense sense of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment.

Update :

Apple has featured Word Hookup in the “New Games We Love” category on the app store home page. This is a huge validation for me. Thanks to everyone who has played the game, and to Apple app store editors for selecting the game for this featuring!

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