Former Apple software engineer and designer Ken Kocienda, whose work included the original iPhone and the development of touchscreen autocorrect, has created his first iOS app, Up Spell. The fast-paced, fun word game challenges users to spell all the words you can in two minutes and uses a lexicon of words Kocienda built to allow for the inclusion of proper names. A portion of app revenues are also being donated to a local food bank, so you can help give back while relieving stress through gaming.
Kocienda says he had never before made a standalone iOS app.
When he worked at Apple, all the code he wrote was integrated into a bigger iOS release. So when Kocienda got the idea to develop a game, he looked to obvious sources of inspiration: his past experiences with typing, keyboards and autocorrect.
The game’s lexicon was built first with the New General Service List to serve as its foundation. This was followed by weeks of writing small programs to generate lists of candidate words — like, by adding an “S” to existing words to pluralize them, for example. And hours more were spent scanning lists to choose the words to include.
Kocienda says he also wanted the game to be fun, and personally found it frustrating that other word games wouldn’t allow proper names.
“Many games accept words like PHARAOH and PYRAMID, but not NILE or EGYPT. This doesn’t make sense to me. These are all words!,” he says.
So he built his own list that includes thousands of proper names, then added to it more slang and contractions to expand it even further. That means you can spell a word like S’MORES, which involves an apostrophe, for example.
While support for a variety of words, including proper names, is the key way the gameplay differentiates from rivals, the app’s business model is also one that’s becoming less common these days: it’s a one-time paid download.
The app is a $1.99 download that lets you pay once to play forever. Today, many games in this same space use a freemium model where the app download itself is free, but you’re then nagged with in-app hooks to buy coins or tokens to advance gameplay or unlock certain features.
Kocienda’s decision to forgo this model was intentional, he explains.
“I made Up Spell a two-minute game without much in the way of gameplay gimmicks,” says Kocienda. “You just spell words. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, and sometimes taking out two minutes to think about nothing but spelling a few words is just the kind of right kind of stress reliever,” he adds. “I hope Up Spell brings people a little unexpected happiness to their 2020.”
Also of note, 25 cents per download is being donated to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which works to get food to vulnerable people in Kocienda’s area.
If all goes well, Up Spell may be followed by other games with a similar model, like a sounds or color-matching games, for instance.
The new game is a one-time paid download on the App Store.