Monday, January 16, 2012

Why we've been quiet

It's been a while.

There's a reason why it's been a while, and now I think it's time to explain myself.

Oh... this is Bryan, BTW. Not Carl. I rarely chime in, but in this case, it is my duty to explain to you exactly what the scoop is.

Before around October 2010 things in the land of Kilflame were flying hot and heavy. We had momentum building, and we got to tap the fruitful mind of our terrain engine guru who has provided us with a quite stunning graphics engine complete with particle effects, and shadowed terrain and all sorts of wonderful goodness. If you follow our other blog ( then you've no doubt seen the awesomeness already.

Unfortunately around October 2010, things inside my body were reaching critical mass, literally and figuratively.

As a professional programmer I spend at least 8 hours a day in front of a computer. Sometimes more, if there's an abundance of work that needs to be done. As a programming hobbyist, I spend a great deal of my free time in front of a computer. As a hobbyist and professional programmer, I gave very little consideration to things like diet and exercise. My weight ballooned to a point where I am embarrassed to write it down. Lets just say, I was well into the morbidly obese category, and when I look at pictures of myself from that time frame, I'm shocked and disgusted by what I see. I had no idea how bad it was. Even though my wife tried to tell me, it just didn't register in my mind.

So, as time went on I acquired diabetes, and eventually pancreatitis. The day I had my first pancreatitis attack, I also suffered a pretty bad heart attack (I believe the word "massive" was bandied about more than once). I got pain medicine for the pancreatitis and I was put on a clear liquid diet, but they were so focused getting me to recover from the heart attack, that the pancreatitis went onto the back-burner. Understandable - but unfortunate. Around Christmas of 2010 I went back to work, thinking that I was better than ever. By then I had dropped a good 50-60 pounds and I was feeling great.

Looking back, I can see how absent-minded and goofy I was during this time, but when it was happening, I was blind to it. So although I was back to work, and thinking I was doing great, I was not even close to functioning at 100%. I was closer to 50%... maybe even 40%. It was bad.

Around March 2011, I started to turn yellow. Around April 2011, my belly started feeling really really bad, and at all times, I was either starved with excruciating hunger pangs, or I was nauseated because any food that touched my stomach made me sick. I would only eat when the pain of the hunger overcame my fear of the forthcoming nausea. So, toss self-induced malnutrition on an already sinking ship.

So in July I had a procedure that took care of my jaundice and allowed me to eat without being sick. This helped a great deal, and I could eat without getting sick. Unfortunately, that was only part of the problem. The rest of the problem was revealed in August 2011 when I was curled in a fetal position on my bed from abdominal pain and unbelievable chills, although I was under every blanket in the house. So back to the hospital, where they discovered a massive abscess attached to my pancreas that was sucking the life out of me.

Anyway, I've probably told you way more than you ever wanted to hear about - although I've tried to leave out the gross parts. And believe me, there are some gross parts. But to wrap up this long boring anecdote, they attached something to my body which cleared out the abscess, and in the final throes of 2011, I finally got rid of that damned thing. I still have bouts of pain and nausea, but the doctors are telling me that should fade over the next few weeks and I'll be able to return to work and become a productive member of society again.

Yay me.

Oh, and I've lost over 200 pounds. Not the way I wanted to lose the weight, but now that the weight is gone, all I can say is Good Riddance. I will not be allowing much of that to come back. Some - I look like a z0mb13 at the moment - but not much.

The upshot of all of this is, I was physically unable to spend much time doing the things that I really wanted to spend my time doing, such as adding a save feature to Opac's Journey, and working on the gameplay and combat and AI that will be the meat and potatoes of The Legend of Kilflame. I got the bulk of it done in a separate sandbox application, so I have to stir it methodically into the game application which holds our graphics engine, and the character animations and all the stuff that doesn't matter in a sandbox app.

So here's where I'm at now... I'm down to counting the days before I can return to work. I'm trying to get my sleep schedule back to something that resembles an adult human's rhythm, and I'm working on getting to a point where I can sit erect in front of a computer for extended periods of time without causing undue pain in my back and neck. This is much easier with so much less of me filling up the chair, but it does take work. I'm also trying to find a balance between sitting for extended periods of time, and getting up to walk around to prevent clots from forming in various parts of my body threatening me with stroke, heart attack or pulmonary embolism. That would really suck to work so hard on my recovery only to die from something preventable.

OK. I suppose I've babbled on long enough. This is probably way too much information - way more than I'm sure any of you really wanted - but I wanted to lay out the full disclosure of why you aren't sitting at your XBox right now, destroying Spectral creatures and staring Macabre in his bone armored visage and wondering what is in store for Ophidian Wars: The Third Project.

I still plan to add a Save feature to Opac's Journey, and I really hope to have Ophidian Wars: The Legend of Kilflame on the XBox console by summertime. In fact, I think I'm going to go get some of that right now... I'm working on attack collision detection today. :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Inspiration Through the Blue Portal

Many of us are working on our own gaming projects that keep us up at night.  Maybe it's developing/porting a game, or in some cases a brand/IP - maybe you're making strides on the journalistic side of things or developing a YouTube following to watch your game footage. Whatever it may be, we're all trying to carve out a little piece of cake to call our own, taste the delicious frosting of success, and raise the cake over our heads exclaiming, "This is my cake, eat some!"

But it sure is easy to get sidetracked.   And by sidetracked I don't mean the heavy hand of the procrastination or utter laziness.  I don't mean the little red Netflix envelope, Twitter banter, or figuring out what the hell Reddit is (okay I get it now, and I am a little hooked).

I am talking about losing sight of your original goals while you wallow in the inter-drama.  I am talking about questioning your motives and falling off course, swayed by the opinions and rhetoric of others.  I am talking about flocking to mindless controversy because it's seems exciting.  Some examples:

  • Community disputes over other game's worth/value/success (or lack of). 
  • A debacle over Xbox ratings exploits. 
  • Aggressive marketing techniques that ride the unethical gray area. 
  • Forums and comment threads locked in endless and often pointless debate. 

Now I am not proposing that discussion or involvement in the above happenings is completely avoidable, or that it needs to be.   For many, there's personal stake to varying degrees - and so be it, get involved.   Get on your soapbox when it really calls for it. (just remember not to feed the trolls)

But I just played Portal 2.  And holy shit it refocused me - like a slap in the face.   Here's why:

As I poured through this game and it got it's grips on me, I was carried away.   I was reminded of what makes games the mental vacation that we all crave.   It reminded me of what I am attempting to do and why I spend hours of my free time doing it.   

I am not going to talk about Portal 2 or why it's such a wonderful game - it just is, and that's fairly widely agreed upon at this point.   The point is, Portal 2 did for me what I have always wanted to create for others - it's a lesson book for game design, or interactive media for that matter.   It highlighted my favorite elements of gaming, and what I need to regather focus on accomplishing within my own project. 

Better yet, the gaming high felt from Portal 2 contrasted so heavily with the swamp of eternal stench listed in the bullet points above, that it was a moment of clarity.   I believe it hit me when I was looking through a blue portal and realized I was about to launch myself like a cannonball across a gaping pit to the exit, while being mocked by a vindictive and sarcastic A.I (and what I consider a top 5 video game villain of all time). 

So I would encourage anyone reading this, to take a step back from the daily shitstorm and remember why you dove in headfirst to begin with.  Get back on that path and beware the tempting sirens of controversy, opinion-blasting, and so forth.   Ignore them, grab your drug of choice, and work on something special to you.  Sometimes it take a great game to remind you what you set out to do. 

Some screenshots of our work in progress, Ophidian Wars: The Legend of Kilflame

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The UNOFFICIAL XBLIG Developer's Code of Ethics

Consumers will always buy garbage - watch garbage movies, listen to garbage music, and even spend hard-earned money on garbage video games.   So I guess it shouldn't be a huge surprise that the demand for garbage is met by a willing group of garbage suppliers.    After all, garbage is pretty common, easy to create, and mostly void of worth.

So when garbage restrictions are minimal (hello XBLIG platform), out of the woodwork come developers willing to 'develop games' that cater to the garbage eaters.   Some succeed, far more don't, but holy shit these terrible games are running rampant.  

I know what you're saying.  "But if people are buying it they must not think it's garbage, stupid!  I am just giving them what they want."  

Now, I don't hate you, imaginary blog interloping XNA developer, but I don't want to associate you with you.   If that's your rationale for creating poor quality, turn-a-quick-buck slop-ware, let's just part ways.   You're catering to the lowest common denominator.  I get what you're doing, and I get your point (blame the ones buying it, rather than yourself for supplying it), I just don't want any part of it.   I want to be separate. 

So conversely, if you're like me, let's agree to a code of ethics - as ambitious under-appreciated indie developers, let's be proud of our work.   Let's develop quality games to the best of our ability.  Let's use this code as a guardian of our integrity (too much?) 

And thus:

UNOFFICIAL XBLIG Developer's Code of Ethics 

1.  I shall not develop games about farting or pooping just for immature intentions (farts are funny, but they shall not be a crutch for my game concept). 

2.  I shall not develop quick turn gimmicky apps (massagers, screensavers, interactive photo galleries, etc).

3.  I shall not blatantly rely on partially nude woman as the main draw to my game. 

4.  I shall not clone a game (aka Pong, Snake) and then re-release essentially the same exact game (or less) for sale.  See #10. 

5.  I shall not develop a subpar game with Avatars, simply because I know that subpar Avatar games will sometimes still sell decently.  

6.  I shall not develop a subpar game with Zombies, simply because I know that subpar Zombies games will sometimes still sell decently. 

7.  I shall not release a game "just to see if it will sell."  

8.  I shall attempt to make my box art look attractive and relevant to my game. 

9.  I shall attempt to make games of high quality. 

10.  I shall attempt to innovate. 

11.  I shall take pride in the games I create. 

12.  I shall be an active and helpful member of the XBLIG community. 

If you like this code, please feel free to suggest adding new guidelines to be adopted. If you don't like this code, please leave a spirited hateful comment below.   

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Looking for Freelance Programmer (PAID)


Bryan (lead programmer) and I are looking for some part time help with Legend of Kilflame.  The position requirements and compensation are below, along with the current state of Legend of Kilflame.

Please send a note (formal resume not required) to if you're interested.


Deep understanding of XNA and C# programming.
Experience working with 3D terrain, models/objects, and animations.
Responsible, reliable, and able to devote 5+ hours per week until the job is done.
Open to phone and online discussions regarding progress and direction.  "Kick-off" chat is required.
Recommended: Have a published or work-in-progress game on XBLIG, preferably 3D.


While much of the game is completed, we need help establishing a working 3D terrain/gameworld.  All assets are completed (models, rigging, animations, textures, etc).   You would work on creating a live test world with these assets, along with a "function-first" (basic, no frills) level editor.


Compensation would be based on set $500 milestones with earnings up to $3,000 (for success).  Further compensation models can be discussed.


Ophidian Wars: Legend of Kilflame is the second game from Small Cave Games.   It is the action-RPG sequel to Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey which is currently a top 20 platformer on XBLIG.  Legend of Kilflame is a more ambitious project, employing custom 3D characters/models and animations and a much larger gameworld.

We currently have much of the game completed, including the HUD/inventory system, combat engine, working animations, title screen and intro sequence, dialogue system, and more.  

We're excited to be releasing something unknown to the XBLIG platform and continuing our original IP.  We're looking for some equally passionate to lend an experienced hand with some of the 3D aspects of our game.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Opac's Journey GAME DESIGN Postmortem

Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey has been "on the shelves" for about 20 days now which in XBLIG terms actually makes it mature (arguably dead actually, maybe on life support).   The game definitely met our hopes/expectations but I am going to do a separate postmortem on the sales/marketing aspect (aimed more at devs). I wanted to have a look back at Opac's Journey purely as a game without the numbers muddying everything up.  

There's so much to consider, especially in hindsight, but I am going to try to keep this concise.


Box Art:   Throughout development and post-release, we heard almost nothing but good things about the shadowy Opac reaching upwards on the box cover.   This without a doubt helped it stand out and create interest.

Retro Look:  It's not quite the 8-bit look that seems to appeal to sizable subset of gamers, but Opac's Journey still has oldschool flavor.  For better/worse, immediate comparisons were drawn to "Metroidvania" style games - while this look was semi-intentional and that was a huge compliment, I wonder if it potentially created some false expectations of the gameplay.  Either way the combination of nice box art with retro screenshots/graphics was a big positive.

Music/Mood/Story:  The majority of feedback from players and reviews was that the moody tone backed by a narrative (and further backed by a much larger gameworld) was appealing and worth the extra effort, even if some didn't bother with it.

RPG Elements:  The same subset of gamers who value a story, also tend to love RPG elements.  While we probably didn't appeal as much to puzzle-platformer and action-platformer fans as much, we hit one out of the park for those who like exploratory-platformers.   The inclusion of upgrades and abilities (character progression) is time-consuming from a design and programming standpoint, but it was worth every second.

Controls: Outside of some complaints about the vertical size of the bounding box (which leads to "head-bonking" in tight spaces), we gathered that overall people were happy with the controls.  For me this is one of those categories in which "no feedback is good feedback" because that means the player noticed few-to-zero frustrations while moving around the world.   I've seen many other indie platformers fail on the first couple of jumps, and it's rare that the controls are perfect for everyone, so I feel as though we did well here.


It's not Metroid:  We saw tons of comparisons to one of my favorite games of all time, Metroid.   That's cool as shit.  The problem is, Metroid can never be dethroned (except maybe by Super Metroid) and getting held under the shadow of a timeless classic is never going to turn out well for the first time indie developer on a shoestring budget.  So in this respect we let some people down and gave reviewers a free hit.   "No combat?!" 

Borrrr-ing:  Related to the above point, players have expectations and if you don't meet them, some will dismiss the whole bag-o-donuts as a fail.   Those who like action-based platformers were quickly let down when a game which appears to be fierce on the surface, is actually more calm and exploratory.  This was probably a design oversight.  Opac appears too cool to not be kicking someone's buttocks, and the game has "Wars" in the title (that's the saga's name peoples!).   Also, while a good deal of content (upgrades, collectibles, puzzles, etc) is contained in the Journey, it would have bunch wise to include more in the first 5 minutes.  The game builds to a climax, and I fear some never made it there.

Game Name: "Who's Opac and what the heck is he?"  Good question, I made him up.  This little issue was something I was prepared for but had no intention of changing and remain stubborn on it.   The problem is, by naming our game something totally unknown/obscure, we failed to tap into any familiar veins.  No ninjas, no avatars, no farting, no massages, no aliens, no robots.  By unveiling a unique IP, we succeeded in peaking the interest of a [totally kickass] keen minority, but probably were overlooked by a general audience wondering why the title was so long and where the zombies were hiding.  Here's hoping for a long term investment.

Length:  We missed the mark somewhere here.  The game was about 60-90 minutes for most players which was intentional but something must be missing if that didn't sit right with reviewers.  It was too short for some, and too long for others who were taking their time (see "Ugly").  


No Saves:  Like a ten-ton boulder swinging into our groin region, we quickly learned that players sorely missed any sort of permanent save system.   Because this feedback hit so quickly and publicly, it seemed to snowball.  Checkpoints exist in the game, but you can't shut the game off and come back to where you left things.  Big issue, we found out.

This was a classic mistake of assuming your audience is just like you and knows what you know.   The fact is, for me, 60 minutes is a short gaming session for me, but not everyone.   Even more problematic was that while we knew the game was about an hour, players are never told this (that would be an odd thing to lead in with).  So players could be 55 minutes in and 5 minutes from winning, and have to go eat some grub - then come back and..."oh crap, screw this."  Lesson learned, big time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Switching Gears

With the release of Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey recently, it came to my attention that I could do the XNA community a better service by playtesting and peer reviewing. It's like reviewing, but helps developers make their games better and get them online.

There are a ton of other indie review sites out there (check sidebar for some) and quite frankly they were doing a better job than I was staying up to date and offering more features.

This blog is going to become space for company and industry relevant news and updates (and the Ophidian Wars dev blog will stay devoted to Opac's Journey and the upcoming Legend of Kilflame development).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Stop the Woodcutter! and Vampire Rage

And I'm back with a healthy Xbox. So back to highlighting some of the best games on XBLIG. This week we look at a notable tower defense game, and an enjoyable shmup.

Stop the Woodcutter! (240 MP)

If you like wood and furry animals, then have I got a game for you. That might not have come out correctly, but "Stop the Woodcutter!" (by Bidibidip) is a nicely done tower defense game where your small army of woodland critters takes down invading lumberjacks (and other anti-tree threats).

It's a lighthearted theme that works well for a tower defense style game. You use 'oxygen' (I might have used 'honey' if it were up to me) to summon animals such as bears, moles, bees, owls, and snails that offer different attacks and abilities. For example the skunk has a huge attack radius and launches stink bombs that can damage multiple enemies over time. The drawback is that they are bit inaccurate and come at a high oxygen cost.

One element I liked from the getgo was the easy control scheme. You can pull up radial menus that allow selection of the various critters (aka towers) - it's all quite intuitive - just rotate the joystick to select, then place them with the "A" button. There's also a ton of levels packed in, across several themes - so I'd estimate about 6-8 hours of fresh gameplay here easily.

The music is upbeat and the SFX get the job done. The levels are a fairly standard tile-based affair, while the cartoony characters and animations are fun.

One little critique I have is that some levels require trial and error to overcome. Until you see the pattern and types of enemies you're facing, you probably won't have a shot on the first try in some cases. Enemies that dig and fly can come in droves when you have essentially zero protection against them. That's a fairly standard element of the learning curve in tower defense games, but one I'd prefer to see a better, more creative solution to. Showing some sort of preview or hint of what the upcoming waves would consist of would be the obvious one.

So if you're looking to quench your latest thirst for tower defense, and don't mind hugging a tree or two, give this one a try. (240 MP)

Vampire Rage (80 MP)

Don't let the name fool you - Vampire Rage (by Tricktale) is a vertical-scrolling overhead shooter pew pew pew roar. Just picture a flying vampire instead of a ship, and you've got the basic idea. I appreciate the thematic twist though, and while not perfect, fans of the genre should agree that it's a nice addition to the XBLIG shmup collection.

So you know the dealio. Craploads of incoming enemies firing insane amounts of "bullets," creating a hellish weave-and-shoot gameplay core. The enemies are big and bold and the action is fast paced. My favorite gameplay element is that the character has a melee sword attack that can be used to deflect most bullets and damage nearby baddies. This creates some additional strategy because while using the sword you cannot fire your main attack - something you often can't afford.

Two other points worth mentioning - there's a light story that helps break up some of the bullet-dodging and there's a co-op mode that you can play with a friend. Nice. My only major gripe is one that I find with many shmups - it's sometimes really hard to see what's going on. There's so many large things on screen at one time that it can be aggravating when you seem to get killed by something you never saw because the bullet was nearly invisible among the other graphics. But maybe I am just getting old.

Anyhow - strong presentation and well-themed shooter - I'd suggest biting on it. Get it? Vampires...yeah.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Circle of Death

My third one. Fun times. I will get back on this horse as soon as they ship me a repaired one (or whatever they do behind the curtain). We're also about a week from 100% completion on Opac's Journey (thankfully I can play it on PC), so the focus is there anyhow.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Try It Or Die (3)

(week of March 21st, 2010)

Pretty strong week this past week - it's worth having a look at the recent releases. But here's two that I enjoyed the most:

Avatar Bumper Cars (80 MP)

Sometimes it can get annoying when a trend starts to peak and the bandwagon starts to get full. Yes I am talking about Avatar games - that's me, Debbie Downer. Avatar games seem to have natural appeal to those who value their avatars and like the big-headed cartoony look, so we've seen a flurry of them come out lately. And I get it, I do.

One other common theme is that the gameplay in avatar games is almost always very very basic. The avatar becomes the hook (and succulent bait), and the graphics, and then it's a matter of picking a simple theme and gameplay mechanic. So when an Avatar game works for me, it's usually because the simple gameplay mechanic is well-executed and enjoyable.

Breaking through the opening unintentional negativity, the reason I chose Avatar Bumper Cars this week is because the gameplay mechanic is smooth, works well within the cartoony world of avatars, but is actually not reliant on the avatars to be interesting. It's also not what I would call a "mini-game" (i.e. reaction game, timing game) - it's actually real time action with some strategy involved.

It's a 4-player local game if you have some peeps around, and players control their avatar's bumper car in a pretty small arena. The controls are simple forward-and-reverse, using the joystick to steer. Basically, the front of the car is strong while the sides and back are vulnerable - the idea being to ram your opponents (friends) in the side/back. Doing so enough will lower their "life bar" and eventually eject them out of the arena.

There's a good amount of hectic strategy as you maneuver to get the best angle on an opponent while at the same time trying to protect your weak spots. And that's what makes it fun. It could definitely benefit from some additional game types and arena choices, but the foundation is very strong. Enjoy!

Dysnomia (240 MP)

I'll say right off the bat that I was really impressed with the overall production value and professionalism of Dysnomia. From the box art, to the cut scenes, to the graphics and gameplay - this is all upper echelon for the XBLIG platform.

From a broader perspective, it's a somewhat conventional top-down shooter, yes - but with far more polish, features, and attention to detail then I am personally used to seeing on XBLIG. For that reason alone I would encourage you try the demo.

The experience is backed by a pretty engaging "stranded on an alien planet" story, with satisfying controls and high-action. Oh and wait, there's also big boss fights, lots of exploration across many level-types, and a well-conceived map feature that will actually prove helpful. I'm not done - how about two player local co-op, cool lighting effects, a great interface for mini-quests, and 5 distinct gun types?

The whole package is just very tight and my complaint list is mostly picky stuff. The enemies spawn randomly and constantly which I generally don't like because it tends to punish exploration and patience. You have to keep moving or else you just get stuck fighting the constant spawns. I didn't find the music anything-but-average and once in awhile I felt like the level design was a bit restrictive/claustrophobic. Again, that's me being picky.

At 240 MP I actually think this could be underpriced - easily could be a 400MP game. Go try it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Try It Or Die (2)

(week of March 14th 2010)

Here's my picks of the week.

Ninja Chop Review (240 MP)

Oh where to begin. Fine, sue me - I am giving this a shout out partially (just partially!) because it involves a busty female cartoon protagonist karate chopping milk bottles. It's entirely gratuitous and a little bit genius - come on, you know it.

I experienced 15-20 minutes of good fun here, often because I couldn't believe what I was seeing and was laughing my ass off. You play as the aforementioned busty Asian karate student and the goal of the game is to chop as many milk bottles (up to five) as you can in one swipe. Successful strikes cause the milk bottles to shower your character with "milk" and gain experience, which allows you to change into new unlockable clean outfits. Well, that is until you inevitably shower yourself with more milk ("oh jeez, more milk on my blouse?").

Ninja Chop does have some other things going for it. Visually it's quite pleasing with a mix of 2D and 3D graphics and attractive backgrounds that change according to the four seasons. You can change camera angles, there are some solid special effects, and the modest outfit customization helps with a feeling of progression. I have to point out that upon every single chop, the camera's second fast-paced shot zooms directly to the chest of the main character - wazzaam!!

That all said, the obvious pitfall is the shallow primary gameplay mechanic. Essentially all you do is time the press of a button according to a sliding bar, which is really something that we've all played before and is really considered more of a "mini-game." The better your timing, the more milk jugs that you chop. It's addicting, but far from innovative or impressive. It's probably not going to win everyone over. Good graphics aside, this gameplay probably calls for a lower price point.

I am just hoping this is the trend setter for a long run of fetish games. Latex, fuzzies, feet, asphyxiation? Bring it on.

Word Duelist Review (80 MP)

And now something completely different. It's nice to see a word/puzzle game with such care put into the artwork and atmosphere. And honestly that's exactly why Word Duelist is a standout title for me this week. The colorful characters and backdrop of a word-loving "university" offer up a more appealing setting than just jumping into your average word jumble or spelling game.

It's also the perfect setting for learning obviously, so it's worth noting the possible fun factor as an educational game for kids/teens.

The overall concept is heavily focused around a variety of word games - some familiar, some with new twists (15 in total). You challenge various opponents around campus (hence the "dueling") and try to best them. While I am not personally a big fan of word games, my interest was retained by traveling the campus, talking to some of the odd characters and unlocking new games.

It probably goes without saying that Word Duelist is best played with a human friend. I found that playing against the computer has some funny quirks. Because the computer opponents have the same letters/challenge you do, I was actually able to cheat a little by watching them work and stealing ideas, or one-upping them in order to win. For example, there is a game where the goal is to spell the longest word using a set of letters, I could watch the computer spelling it's answer then either make a word one letter longer or if I couldn't think of one, just copy the computer to make it a tie. Dirty, I know - but sort of an exploit that might be abused.

All and all though, the large variety of word games, educational elements, and nice presentation make this worth checking out - especially if you're a fan of the genre and have a spare buck sitting around.