Heidi Erwin Cartoon Sun Drawing
heidi erwin
Writer's Block
Word Puzzle Game

WHEN:  Fall 2018
WHAT:  Game Design, C#, Unity, Project Management

A puzzle game about wordplay, death, and dentistry made with Brown RISD Game Developers during the Fall of 2018.
Play the game online here!

Writer's Block Level 1 Screenshot
Writer's Block Level 2 Screenshot

My Role
I served as game designer, project lead, and programmer (C#, Unity) on this puzzle game, where the player is a writer traversing through a novel, assisting characters by manipulating words on storybook pages.

As a game designer, I created word puzzles which experimented with different variants of the base game mechanic, playing with ideas including words as physical objects (introduced Level 1), compound words whose component words have different meanings (introduced Level 2), and words carrying over between levels (introduced Level 3). Largely, my work as a designer on this project included developing the game's puzzles, which relied on clever wordplay and puns, developing and testing the core movement and puzzle mechanics, and conducting playtesting to incorporate user feedback to improve puzzles and manage level progression.

As the project lead, I guided the 13-person team through the development process, facilitating communication between art, programming, design and sound teams to ensure the project’s completion over the course of the semester.

This game was developed as part of Brown RISD Game Developers, a student game development organization run by students at Brown University and RISD, with audio contributions provided by students at Berklee College of Music.

Development took place over the course of 24 hours, with work spread out across 4-hour weekly meetings and one 8 hour mini-game jam.

Fun Fact: The handwriting in the game is mine!

Writer's Block Credits
Writer's Block Level 3 Screenshot

This game was one of the first projects that sparked my joy for ensuring accessibility in games.

The first level relies on **spoilers** the use of the word "crown" in both the royalty and dentistry contexts. People who didn't grow up speaking English as their first language might be unfamiliar with the use of "crown" to mean "the part of the tooth projecting from the gum." Even native English speakers who are less familiar with practices of dentistry, for financial reasons or otherwise, would struggle to solve this puzzle.

After user research and playtesting revealed this to be true, I implemented a hint system, so that players stuck on particular words could gain the necessary knowledge to solve the puzzle.

With any hint system, though, it is important to respsect players, and ensure provided hints aren't condescending.

With this in mind, I wrote hints that even someone who solved every puzzle immediately might be interested in reading. Sticking with the game's storybook theme, the hints were rhyming:

"That which rests atop the royal head
and that which covers what we use to chew bread
share a name.
Give the first to the dentist,
In this game,
they're one and the same."

I had a lot of fun writing these hints; it's always encouraging to see efforts geared towards accessibility pay off in multiple, unexpected ways!

Final Game
Play the game online here, or watch a video of Cryptic Hybrid’s play-through of the game below!