Friday, December 16, 2022

Lightning Rounds

Plates Across America® lightening rounds
With the revised version of Plates Across America®, we introduced a new feature we call "Lightning Rounds".  This gives you 5 additional puzzles to solve to get some extra points, but there is a catch: you have a limited time in which to solve each puzzle. The effect of adding a timer changes the dynamics of the game considerably.  The brain is a funny thing: time pressure tends to reduce how well it works.  


Before we released the game to the public, the timed puzzle concept was in consideration for use in the entire game. We experimented with various timer durations and found as they got shorter, the anxiety it produced for players was sometimes overwhelming. Some people would get visibly upset and seriously stressed and this was just playing a demo of a game.

Plates Across America® lightening rounds
We eventually abandoned the timer for the main single-person game, though we retained it for the two-player game. A timer is necessary in multi-player games or else you potentially have one player getting frustrated with the slow play of the opposing player. However, with our latest redesign, we have re-introduced the timed feature for the single-player game, though in this limited way with these Lightning Rounds.

Lightning Round Triggers

The Lightning Rounds will show up when you reach some types of interesting locations: tourist towns, quirky roadside attractions, hot springs, etc. You can now choose to accept this adrenaline charged challenge, or decline it each time it is triggered. By playing the Lightning Round, you can accumulate more "ride points", which you can use to customize your vehicle. You can also choose to stop the Lightning Round notices from appearing to you.

Plates Across America® word game

Duration of a Lightning Round

You are given the choice of 3 levels for the Lightning Rounds from hardest to easiest, where the amount of time determines the difficulty.  The less time you choose, the more ride points you can earn.

If you have not played our game before, try it out here for free:

Happy Travels!

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Route Number Signs Add to the Travel Experience in Plates Across America®

Plates Across America® NM Route Number
New Mexico
In Plates Across America®, we want the game to give players a true sense of traveling. We've added a number of features and visuals to help achieve this, including the route number signs you would see as you traveled. This was a painstaking process of both creating the images and assigning the proper route numbers to each portion of each route.

Types of Route Number Signs

There are 3 main levels of route number signs in the U.S.

  • National - There are only a handful of these: U.S. routes, interstates and business routes. There are also a few miscellaneous ones for national park roads, national forest roads, etc.
  • Plates Across America® route number
    County Road Sign
    State - Each state defines their own route signage, so there are 50 variations needed. Some are elaborate, some very simple and many in between. And in some states, like Texas, they have a lot of variations depending on what type of road it is designated (e.g., ranch road, farm to market).
  • County - There is a county-wide standard for what county road signs should look like, though this has not been universally adopted. For the sake of the simplicity, in the game, we assume all states have adopted this standard.

Designing Route Number Signs

Plates Across America® FL route number

When considering national, state and county road signs, we ended up with 68 variations. However, this is just the number of different "styles" of signs and each of these can have hundreds of different route numbers appearing on them. If we were to create a different image for every possible combination of style and number, we would need to create many thousands of images. Just creating the 68 styles would be time consuming enough for us.

Our solution to reduce the number of images was to use a Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) for the style and then use the SVG layering ability to drawn text characters on top of it for the route numbers. The route numbers could be anywhere from 1 to 4 characters, so the font size and position would need to be adjusted depending on the number of characters. Fortunately, the SVG format gives some help in allowing us to do this, so it was less tricky than it could have been.

The other big consideration that the SVG helps us solve is web site responsiveness. Scaling images and especially fonts to all the device sizes out there is important for the game's playability.

Assigning to Routes

Plates Across America® MN route number
Plates Across America® has nearly 350 different routes, however, these are the game's concept of "routes" which are not the same as real life routes. In fact, a single game route may traverse many different (real) route numbers. We needed to go through each of the game routes and find all the route numbers that have to be assigned for each segment of the route.

We used Google Maps to find the real-life route numbers and our internal route editing tools to encode them in the game. Interestingly, Google Maps has a similar problem in showing route numbers for states and counties, though they chose *not* to use different styles for each state like we do. When you look at Google Maps, round circles are state route numbers, while square route numbers are county roads: this is true for all states.

Plates Across America® CO route number

When we encoded the route numbers in our editing tools, we used a convention of combining the "style" (e.g., state) and the route number. For example, "i-95", "tx-2222", "ca-1", "county-34a".  Our software would then parse the style from the number, choose the right style SVG and then render it with the text of the route number depending on how many character were in he route number. In order to have the number fit into the image boundary, we have to scale down the font size more for a 4 digit route number than for a single digit one.


We put quite a lot of effort into these route number signs even though they are not a major part of the game. However, we felt that in order to recreate a real sense of traveling in the game, a lot of these small and subtle details needed to be included.

If you have not tried our game before, 

Happy Travels!

Plates Across America® Route Signs

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Plates Across Americe's® Badges and Achievements

Achievements Page
Achievements Page

When you play Plates Across America®, you will earn "badges". Some of these are directly related to the single-player game's Travel Goals, some are earned for achievements in the two-player game and a few others for players that make contributions to the game.

Since it takes a while to accumulate all the different types of badges, we thought it might be interesting for newer players to see the full set of our badges and to find out how each one is awarded. We add new badges from time to time, so there may be new ones by the time you read this article.

Achievement Levels and Coloring

For all the badge types, there is a range of achievement levels. These levels will correspond to some minimum value needed to earn the badge.  As you reach higher threshold values, the color of the badge reflects the increasing achievement level. The coloring scheme for the achievement levels is shown in the image below for the Miles Traveled Badge.

Types of Badges

Miles Traveled Badges

We start with the simplest one to understand: the miles traveled badge. This is based on the total number of miles you have traveled while playing the single player mode. The achievement level thresholds for this badge are 100, 250, 500, 1000, 2500, 5000 and 10000 miles.

Miles Traveled Badges

Collection Badges

The core concept for winning the single player mode is the "Travel Goal". You can earn Collection Badges as you reach travel goals. Examples of travel goals are:

  • states you have traveled through;
  • license plates you have collected;
  • scenic routes you have traveled; and
  • locations you have visited for the different "location types".

Here are examples of some of the badges you can earn as you achieve travel goals.

Collection Badges

Location Badges

As you travel in the single player game, you pass through (or near) cities, landmarks and other man-made, natural and geological places of interest. You can collect these places to reach different Travel Goals. The kinds of places you can collect include:

Location Badges
  • state capitals, 
  • national parks, 
  • national monuments, 
  • bridges, 
  • caves, 
  • ghost towns, 
  • mountain passes, 
  • tunnels, and
  • waterfalls.

Two Player Game Badges

When two players compete against each other, we call this a "Race". In a race, each player is given the same 10 puzzles. There is a time limit for each puzzle. The player that enters the best answers wins the race. You can get badges for competing in and winning enough races.

Two Player Game Badges

User Contribution Badges

The final set of badges we have are not for in-game achievements, but are for players that have helped improve our game. There are a few ways users can help to improve the game:

Dictionary Words

Dictionary Badge

It is more challenging than you might think to build a good dictionary, and even harder to get a large group of people to agree what should and should not be included in a dictionary. Therefore, we acknowledge that at any point in time, our dictionary will not be complete and it will evolve. Because of this, players can suggest words to be added to our dictionary.  

When your answer is flagged as being incorrect because it is not in our dictionary, we provide a link you can use to submit it to us. We review these submissions and if the word is accepted and added, we acknowledge your contributions with the "Pit Crew" badge.

City Facts Badge

City Facts Badges

As you travel in the single player game, your pass through and near cities, towns and other locations of interest. To add to the feeling of virtual traveling and to provide players with some interesting context on the places being visited, we have a "City Facts" feature that gives some interesting trivia, facts and history of the locations. 

There are tens of thousands of places across the country, so it is hard to know about each and every one of them.  However, if a player is acquainted with the area, they may know something interesting about it that we do not. In the game, we allow players to contribute and share that knowledge by sending it to us for review.  We will research the suggestion and if it is accepted, we acknowledge the effort with the "Historian" badge and also give attribution to the person that submitted it. 

Early Adopters Badge

Early Adopters Badge

Plates Across America® has evolved a lot since the early versions. We constantly iterate to make the game better and better. We can only do that by having real players try out the game and give us feedback.  Some give us explicit feedback, while others provide it indirectly by what they do and do not do as they play the game.  

To thank those people that have played earlier versions, we give them the "Trailblazer" badge.  The earlier a player joined, and the more they have played, the higher the badge level.

Closing Comments

We hope this overview of the game's badges was informative.  If you have never played Plates Across America® before, you can start acquiring badges by playing here:

Happy Travels!