Monday, January 11, 2021

Plates Across America® Redesign and Lessons Learned

Plates Across America puzzle

We've been quiet the last couple months with regards to postings about Plates Across America®. We have been actively working on a major redesign of the game and it turned out to be a fair bit of work, complete with periods of "writer's block". We had lots of ideas for the game, but at times struggled to put them together into a coherent game story.

The initial idea we had for Plates Across America® was to combine solving license plate letter puzzles with the feeling of driving across the USA. Our first version of the game wound up being predominantly about the puzzles and it did not give a player a good sense of traveling. The first version was also too open-ended, requiring the players to determine what their ultimate goal was. The next version of the game seeks to solve these shortcomings.

We've had over a thousand people play the first version of the game. A few dozen found it enjoyable enough to return to play over and over, and a few dozen more more played it a handful of times. This was encouraging, but it also provided a strong signal that something was missing from the game.

Major Routes of Plates Across America Redesign
Major routes planned for new game design.

The general shape of the new game will be to “complete” the game, where completion will be defined by the goal of having “visited” particular places across the country.  A player will progress through “levels”, where each level will have a smaller goal of travel-based achievement. Traveling will still be done by solving the word puzzles, but there will be more emphasis on acquiring a collection of places visited to meet the goals. For example, when you have visited your 10th National Park, you will move to the next level.

We are pretty excited about how much this will improve the game.  Providing a good "travel" experience means we have more work to do than just writing the software. We'll need more data about routes and locations across the country.  We'll be working on curating this data and writing the software in parallel to help speed things up, but we still expect it to take a few months.  Our game continues to be available to play in its first version in case you are interested in seeing the basic premise of the game.

Plates Across America Demo Game