Monday, December 12, 2022

Jumbled Letters - A word game for elearning

Validating the response to a fill-in-the-blanks question in an e-learning assessment is tricky. The first reason is that there can be more than one acceptable spelling to a word, mainly arising from American vs. British spelling. Secondly, if a question has more than one blank to be filled in, then we must let the program know if the order of responses is important or not. Thirdly, some questions may themselves have other correct answers. Finally, this works best with single words and not with phrases. A game like hangman (hangaroo, if you remember) can be a substitute to a typical fill-in-the-blanks question as it overcomes these challenges. This post discusses a game design that can overcome these problems just like hangman does. This is called Jumbled Letters. Play the game here below...

Game Play:
In this game, each question is a clue and phrase pair. Just as in a crossword puzzle, the clue is the question. The answer that the player must find out is the phrase. A game consists of a finite number of such questions. The player is presented with the clue on the top and jumbled letters of a phrase below it. The jumbling of letters is done across the phrase and not within each word. The position of the spaces (between words) are kept in tact so that the player can make better guesses since they now know the word lengths. Since all the letters in the phrase are displayed upfront, the choices are narrowed down.

The challenge in the game is to identify the phrase from the provided letters given the word lengths. To reorder the given letters, the player must first select the letter he or she intends to move. The selected letter is highlighted. Now using the left and right buttons, the letter can be moved. A letter is moved by swapping it with its neighboring letter. A letter may be moved only until it reaches one end of the phrase. Whenever a letter is in its correct position, it is indicated with a dot. A player completes the game if they find answers to all the questions. There are two ways to challenge the player. The first method is to limit the time in which each question must be answered. The second is to limit the number of moves that is allowed.

Timing the game:
The traditional way to show the countdown of time is using a simple timer. However, this can be enhanced by adding a theme to it. For example, if the questions are related to cars, the game could have a top view of a race track and a car. Let's assume that we have decided to give 60 seconds to answer each question. When the clue is shown, the car would start moving on the track and complete a round in 60 seconds. The message shown to the user would be: Complete this puzzle before the car completes one lap on the track.

Counting the moves:
Another way to challenge the player is to limit the number of moves the player takes to complete it. This would differ from one puzzle to another depending on the length of the phrase. The number of steps required to complete it can be roughly found by adding up the distances each letter is from its correct position.

Complexity of the game:
The complexity of the game can be adjusted in several ways. The game can be built into levels that increase in complexity. Here below are 4 ways in which the game can be made easy or complex:

  • Words and word length: A word is easier to solve than a phrase. Again, longer words and phrases are harder to solve. So, a game can start off with single words of 5-10 letters and then go on to short phrases and then long phrases.
  • Harder clues: The clues themselves can be altered to make the puzzle harder to solve. Just like crosswords, a game can have Easy clues in the lower levels and Cryptic clues in the higher levels.
  • Jumbling within words vs whole phrase: As such we do not shuffle the word space positions. To make it easy, we could shuffle only the letters within each word. To make it harder, we shuffle the entire phrase like we did in the sample.
  • Show or Hide the Position indicator: In our build, whenever a letter is in its correct position, we show a dot on it. This makes it easier to solve as the player can remember the correct positions of letters as they solve it. If we hide this information (i.e., if a word is in its correct position or not) the player does not get any help other than the clue and so will need to know the answer. This makes it much harder.
  • Time countdown per phrase length: Instead of having the same timer for every puzzle in the game, each puzzle can have its own set time depending on its length. For example, we could set 5 seconds per letter in the phrase. We could adjust this time depending on the audience profile.

Illustrations / Artwork:
The illustrations, graphic elements and icons used in the game can be customized so the learners can relate to the game. In Jumbled Letters, the background, the box for the clues and the boxes for the letters may be customized. We have not used any theme in the sample game as the puzzles are around idioms. If the game is about Sustainability, we could use a vector image of a forest for the background and use objects in nature for the letters, such as cloud or leaf vectors.

Think about this…
Jumbled letters is not only easy to build, it is also a great game that overcomes the challenges of a typical fill-in-the-blanks exercise. You can add a lot of cool stuff to this game such as picking 10 random questions from a large puzzle bank, so every game looks different. Remember hangaroo? Also, don’t forget to add some nice audio clips for the click events and successes…

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