questions & answers

What is Woodlouse?
Woodlouse is – we reckon – the simplest game there's ever been. List words that have more vowels in them than consonants.

Over the days, weeks, months and years that you play, that's all you have to do: list as many vowel-heavy words as you can.

And – and! – it's the first game in a wholly new genre. We're calling it 'Background Gaming'. Games that sit there, in the background. Not passively, like so-called 'gamification', but kind of actively, ready to pounce at a moment's notice.

Why "Woodlouse"?
"Woodlouse" is one of our favourite valid Woodlouse words.

…plus the icon's dead easy to draw.

Who made Woodlouse?
Jake Simpson did all the code. Pete Morrish did everything else.

What's the story behind Woodlouse?
About twenty years ago, I (Pete) was working in a warehouse with a guy called Lee. The job was kinda boring, and Lee and I invented a pile of things to do to keep us entertained.

One of those things was making dinosaurs out of cardboard boxes.

Another was us challenging ourselves to think of as many words of at least four letters than had more vowels in them than consonants. It sounded simple, but we soon found ourselves scribbling tens, and then hundreds, of words on scraps of cardboard. We'd parse everything anyone said to see if there were any valid words.

For a couple of weeks, it completely took over our lives.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I remembered about this silly game that Lee and I used to play. I asked one of my colleagues to knock up a simple version of the game on iPhone; a couple of hours later, he'd made a prototype.

And that prototype became my most played game Of All Time. Every single day, for well over a year, I added at least one word to my list. I even got my Mum involved – every time we spoke on the phone, she'd have a few more for me to try.

Eventually, after about twelve months of this, I figured that if I couldn't stop analysing sentences to see if there were any new valid words there, and that if my Mum couldn't read a newspaper article without noting down vowel-heavy words, then I might be on to something.

I drew up a full design, put out a shout on some games industry forums I'm a member of, and found someone to help me out with actually making it. We bolted it together in our spare time, with a view to splitting any money we make. This time next year, Rodders...

How do you play?
Woodlouse is dead simple. Basically, it's just a list. Over time, just enter as many words as you can that have more vowels in them than consonants. And it's got to be *more* vowels than consonants – 'lose', for instance, isn't a Woodlouse word, as it's got the same number of vowels as consonants. Add an 'o' to make 'loose', though, and that's a Woodlouse word.

When you fire up Woodlouse, it should put itself straight into word entry mode. So put in whatever you were thinking of. If it's a valid word, with more vowels than consonants, and that's in our dictionary, and that you've not already got, you'll get a point for it. Yay!

What is 'Background Gaming'?
'Background Gaming' is the genre into which we think Woodlouse best fits. Whilst we can't claim to know about every game that's been released – particularly in the burgeoning indie scene – we think that Woodlouse might be the first of its kind, and the first Background Game.

Background Games are so-called because they sit in the background. Unlike every other game we can think of, they don't command all your attention all the time, and you don't play them in discrete chunks. Rather, they tick along in the background, only demanding your time and attention when and where they feel like it.

Unlike Gamification – which applies game-like thinking to non-games – Background Games are still very much an active, as opposed to a passive, endeavour. They just don't command your full attention all of the time. And we think that that makes them quite special.

It's a weird-looking game. How come?
I love design. I'm not a trained graphic artist, or even a trained designer, but I love good design.

And at the moment, I have a real thing for what I call 'confident ugliness'. By that, I mean things that revel in the fact that actually, they're dead ugly. I first noticed it when I saw a particular pair of speakers – the Kef LS50s. They're ugly. But… I love them. They're like hideous little jewels.

And then I started noticing confident ugliness in other places, too. Like the Nissan Juke. And the Electric Razor building at Elephant & Castle here in London (but not the Shard: the Shard is too try-hard).

I love things that are confidently ugly.

My first mockups for Woodlouse (it was called 'Vowels vs. Consonants' back then) were a bit... pretty. They were gorgeous, but they were bland. They were all pale grey and white and sophisticated typography. Everybody liked them. In fact, a Lead Artist I used to work with even went so far as to say they were the most beautiful screen mockups he'd ever seen.

And that, I couldn't have. Woodlouse had to be ugly. Confidently so.

And so began an experiment. At the time, the design world was obsessed with 'flat' – the sort of interface typified by the new Windows / Metro UI (and, more recently, iOS7 – even though iOS7 isn't 'flat' flat...). I wanted to see just how flat one could go. And so I made Woodlouse completely monochrome. Just black stuff (icons and words) on a white background. And that's it.

None of the visual cues one would normally expect from a well-designed interface. No 'this is a button' or 'this is active' or 'this bit is separate from that bit' or anything like that. Just a trust that the people who are eventually going to be playing Woodlouse are curious enough and playful enough and confident enough with touch interfaces to find their way around.

I wanted Woodlouse to be confidently ugly. In that, I think I think I've succeeded.

I also wanted it to be aloof but friendly, distant but comforting, and stern but playful. Time will tell whether those loftier ambitions have been achieved.

Can I compare my score with other people's?
You certainly can. At the top left of the screen is a globe icon; tap this to see the Woodlouse leaderboards. You'll need a Game Center account to see them. There are two sets of leaderboards: the global leaderboards (represented by the globe icon), and friends' leaderboards (represented by the group icon).

By default, global leaderboards are selected. When you're at the leaderboards, tap the relevant icon to change between the two.

We've added a bunch of different score types to Woodlouse; we'll tell you about them further down the page. Each score type has its own leaderboard – tap on the currently-selected icon to cycle through them (so if you're looking at the global leaderboards, tap on the globe icon to see the next score type's leaderboard).

Are there any Achievements?

…but our Achievements are a bit different than you might have seen in other games. To see the Achievements Screen, drag down on the top bit of the screen to expose the extra icons. To the left is a Trophy icon; tap that to see the Achievements Screen.

Each Achievement is a clue. Solve the clue, add that word to your word list, and you'll get the Achievement. All the answers are valid Woodlouse words, with more vowels than consonants.

The clues are a bit abstract, so if the clue was (for example) "this", the answer might be "woodlouse".

What can I buy in the Store?
We've got a few bits and pieces that we hope might appeal to people that really get into Woodlouse.

To go to the Store, drag down on the top bit of the screen to expose the extra icons. To the right is a trolley icon; tap that to go to the Store.

In there are a number of different scoring modes (currently Loyalty, Length, and Quality), and a dictionary. You can also buy everything in one fell swoop – and make a decent saving – by grabbing the Pro Pack.

All the scoring modes are separate from each other, so scoring in one doesn't affect another.

Loyalty Scoring is free. With Loyalty Scoring, you get an extra point for each consecutive day you enter a valid Woodlouse word.

Length Scoring scores you according to the length of each word in your word list. So 'one' would be worth three points, whereas 'ratio' would be worth five.

Quality Scoring gives you more points for words with a better vowel-to-consonant ratio. So 'queue' would score better than 'loose'.

All score modes are retrospective, so you'll score points for all the words you've entered.

How does Loyalty Scoring work?
Loyalty Scoring rewards you for being loyal. For each consecutive day that you enter a valid word into your word list, you get more and more points.

The first day you added a word, you'd get one point in Loyalty Mode. Come back the next day and add another word, and you'd be awarded two further points. On Day Three, three points. And so on.

If you missed on the fourth day, though, your Loyalty multiplier would reset, and you'd get one Loyalty point if you added a word on Day Five.

You only get awarded Loyalty Points once per day.

How does Length Scoring work?
Length Scoring rewards you for the length of your words. Instead of getting one point per word, like you do in the standard scoring mode, Length gives you one point per letter. So even if your friend has got more words than you, you might have longer words than them!

How does Quality Scoring work?
Quality Scoring rewards you for having very vowelly words. In Quality, the ratio of vowels to consonants in a word is important.

A word's Quality Score is determined by subtracting the number of consonants in the word from the number of vowels, and multiplying the length of the word by that number.

For example, 'video' would score 5 x (3-2) = 5 x 1 = 5 points.

…but 'queue' would score 5 x (4-1) = 5 x 3 = 15 points.

So your friend might have more words than you, and might have longer words than you, but you might have better words than them! Hooray!

How does the dictionary work?
The Dictionary adds definitions to Woodlouse. Simply double-tap any word in your list to see a definition for that word.

What's the Pro Pack?
The Pro Pack activates everything we're offering for sale at once. Even if you've already bought one thing, the Pro Pack will save you a bit of your hard-earned.

And – and! – buying the Pro Pack will get you any additional stuff we add to the Store in future updates.

How did you make Woodlouse?
Lots of people want to work in games, so we've decided to open up our documentation to give anyone that's interested an insight as to how games are made. Even very simple games – like Woodlouse! – can actually be quite complicated to make.

Woodlouse was simple enough to be able to define up front: we could capture the entire design in a single document. Whilst this works for something as small and as simple as Woodlouse, this method of game creation isn't great for bigger games that require a lot of iteration, prototyping and playtesting. They need to be an awful lot more fluid than we could get away with here.

If you're interested in the depth of thought that goes into something even as simple as Woodlouse, head on over to the 'making of' section, where you'll be able to download:

- the Product Specification: the 'bible' that defines how the whole game hangs together
- the Visual Specification: a less-wordy, more visual interpretation of the above
- the Clickable Mockup: an interactive wireframe that helps visual product structure
- the IAP Specification: a document that defines exactly how the items in the Store work
- the Transition Specification: describing animations using words is quite difficult; the Transition Spec helps define exactly how the screen to screen transition work.
- the Alternative Scoring UI: we determined that the way we were handling viewing different scores wasn't great, so came up with an alternative way of doing it.

These documents were all written by Pete, and actioned by Jake. We live on different continents, with opposite working days, so we had to be very clear in our communication. Some stuff we got right, some stuff we got wrong. We got there in the end, though, and hopefully opening up our documentation might help someone somewhere.

How come some of the game is different from the documents?
A reality of the development process. Gamemaking is a very fluid beast, and it's impossible to design everything perfectly up front (although Woodlouse is the closest I've come!). Sometimes, something that seemed simple from a design point of view can be a nightmare from a coding perspective (or vice versa), and so we go with a different solution. Because we were making Woodlouse in our spare time, getting it out was more important than getting it perfect. If people like it, and buy lots of extras, we'll be able to spend more time on future updates and polish!

I like the font. What is it?
It's nice, eh? It's called Oranienbaum, and was made by Ivan Glakikh and Oleg Popselov. It's available for download from Behance or Google Fonts.

What dictionary does Woodlouse use?
We're using Lexicontext, by Ori Regev. The default Apple dictionary wouldn't let us display dictionary definitions inside the app itself, so we had to find a different solution. And Lexicontext was flexible and cost effective. Done!