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Designing Word Length

Word Length is a mini-game that was inspired by a story I watched on TV 10 years ago. It was about a teenager that was able to tell how many letters there are in a word really fast, just by hearing it. It was very impressive! He was extremely fast in his responses and he was always spot on! I guess I found that remarkable, because many years later I had the idea to turn this into a game.

Word Length mini-game from prototype to final version
Word Length mini-game from prototype to final version


The game displays a word in capital letters on a paper strip, along with a number keypad. The player has to count the letters of the word and enter the correct number using the keypad. It is as simple as it sounds, yet surprisingly addictive.

Difficulty & progression

The difficulty of an individual level is determined only by the number of letters in the word. However, the difficulty as a whole is affected by another parameter; the variation of lengths in successive words. The obvious choice when designing the level progression in this game would probably be to increase the length of the word gradually as the level increases. This would be problematic, though. As soon as players knew what a 6-letter word seems like, it would be fairly easy for them to detect a 7-letter word that followed. 

In Word Length, there is a trend to gradually increase the number of letters in the word, but there is enough randomization to allow for significant diversity between consecutive levels. For example, a 12-letter word might be followed by word of 8 letters. I believe that this makes it harder for the brain, because the pattern (which is the length of the word) changes constantly, thus altering the most recent point of reference.


One way of playing this game would be to count each letter individually, for each presented word. This “brute-force” approach definitely works, but it’s far from optimal.

Think how we usually memorize a telephone number. Most people do not memorize it digit by digit; they create chunks of digits that are easy to read and pronounce, and memorize these chunks. This process is explained in Joshua Foer’s book “Moonwalking with Einstein“. Even though in Word Length memory doesn’t play a significant role, I think the process is very similar; it’s more efficient for the brain to count the number of letters in blocks rather than by individual letters.

I’ve heard from players that they always count in blocks of a specific size, e.g. 2 letters. I assume that others use a different block size, whereas others may change the block size depending on the word, as I do. I don’t know which way is best, but I would be very interested in finding out if there is a single best strategy that works for all people or it changes with every person. For the record, I am not that good in this particular game!

Insane Round

During the Insane Round, players see two words instead of one. The words are presented in smaller font. This makes the insane levels substantially more difficult.

Dimitrios Bendilas
Lead Game Designer
Follow me at @dimitriosb

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