The Four Letter Word Thing

I’ve been working on something new ever since I got back from Indiecade. Thought it was time I talked a little about it!

So, I submitted two games to the IGF this year. One was At a Distance, which I’ve talked about plenty already here.

The other is something new that’s simply listed on the IGF site as “(Four Letter Word)“. Why they’ve listed it that way, I’m not sure – it was the filename of the build I sent, but it’s not the game’s title. I actually submitted it as “____”, but that’s not the game’s title either – just the best ASCII approximation I could manage.

This is the game’s actual title:

Since the entire game is in a made up alien language, it didn’t make sense to me to give it a english title. Also, frankly, once you’ve called a game “VVVVVV”, it gets pretty hard to top yourself.

____ is something I’ve been working on in this form since the last Ludum Dare (when I was calling it “Nyxgame”), but I’ve been thinking about it for much longer than that – the game is basically a mash up of a lot of small ideas I’ve had in the last couple of years that suddenly came together for me in a really exciting way. And it plays a bit like that too – it’s a combination of a bunch of different interconnected systems that do unexpected things, but in a logically cohesive way.

On the flight home from Indiecade, I found myself with a spark of inspiration, and suddenly realised how it all fit together. Despite barely having anything playable at the time, I entered it in the IGF because I wanted to force myself to do something with the idea. It was an impulsive, snap decision, one which was probably pretty bloody stupid. Honestly, I don’t really expect this to get anywhere in the IGF (my hopes are pinned on At a Distance). ___ is intentionally inaccessible, ugly, almost unplayable really. And worse than that, the build I’ve submitted to the IGF is so early in development that it isn’t nearly as inaccessible, ugly or unplayable as I want it to be.

As it happens though, entering it in the IGF actually had exactly the effect on me I hoped it would. Rather than this just being another game I never got around to making when the inspiration hit, I’ve been crunching on this for the last few weeks, and it’s finally at a state where you can sorta see what I’m going for. It’s still a good bit short of playing anything like the game I’ve got in my head, but it’s getting there. I’m excited about it. I’m going keep working on it, keep updating the IGF build, and find out where the hell it ends up.


20 Comments so far

  1. Ben Reilly on November 1st, 2011

    I saw this on the IGF list and was intrigued: the screenshots provide a precise minimum amount of information, yet generate a maximum amount of interest. If only because you get to wondering how any of it can even make sense.

    And for some reason, the fact that ____ is, by design, practically unplayable, is appealing, and I look forward to fighting with it when it’s released.

  2. cheepguava on November 1st, 2011

    I’m sort of doing the same thing – I’m working on a script for class instead of just having a few ideas for it and then putting the idea away for later – and I’m glad to hear that strategy is working out for someone else. Also, this game looks awesome. Do you have a pronunciation for the name, or is ____ all we’re going to get?

  3. BiggerJ on November 1st, 2011

    The art reminds me of Small Worlds by David Shute (

    That is a good thing. That is a very, very good thing.

  4. Ben on November 1st, 2011

    Fascinating and lovely looking.
    When my brain sees that title it thinks “fire” for some reason.

  5. gnome on November 1st, 2011

    Deeply intriguing! And I’m sure it will do strange things to ones eyes too. How very nice!

  6. ZL on November 2nd, 2011

    I’m tempted to call it “fourscore” for convenience. Looks intriguing.

  7. ____, From Terry Cavanagh | DIYgamer on November 2nd, 2011

    […] Four Letter Word Thing, or “____” is his other new one, and he’s just taken to his blog to tell us about […]

  8. Anonymous on November 2nd, 2011

    To me, it looks like it says “FINE”, which is fine by me

  9. cams on November 2nd, 2011

    How do you pronounce the title?
    (Even an alien language should be pronounced somehow)

  10. Terry on November 3rd, 2011

    I wouldn’t worry about pronunciation – it’ll probably change before I’m finished anyway πŸ˜›

    (thanks for the nice comments everyone)

  11. Mr. Uvula on November 3rd, 2011

    Color me interested!

    It’s very difficult to get a sense of space or perspective from these images, which makes me optimistic that it will play with player expectations in a unique way. Can’t wait to see what this looks like when it is complete!

  12. Chocobot on November 7th, 2011

    Liking the look of this one – now will you get it finished! You seem to start loads of stuff but never get it finished, and yet it all looks so utterly delicious!

    ‘the game is basically a mash up of a lot of small ideas I’ve had in the last couple of years that suddenly came together for me in a really exciting way’ – I’m sure you won’t want to be, but can you be any more specific?

    And if you want to make it eye-piercingly ugly, have a look at ‘Boulder Dash’ for the Commodore 64 – AAAGGHH!!!

  13. Eelfroth on November 13th, 2011

    Maybe you can’t display the name in ASCII, but here is an unicode-approxiamation:

    This one is even closer, but it requires a monospace font and zero interline spacing (and it doesn’t emulate that cool moirΓ© pattern):
    Ò–ˆÒ–ˆÒ–ˆ Γ’β€“β€žΓ’β€“β„’Γ’β€“β€ž Ò– Ò–ŸÒ–œ
    Γ’β€“β€žΓ’β€“β€ž Ò–€Ò–›Ò–€ Ò–ŸÒ–Ÿ Ò–ℒÒ–
    Ò–€Ò–€ Γ’β€“β€žΓ’β€“Ε’ Ò–›Ò–› Ò–›Ò–—
    Ò–ˆ Ò–€Ò–Œ Ò–Œ Ò–œÒ–Ÿ

  14. Eelfroth on November 13th, 2011


  15. Hyoscine on November 22nd, 2011

    Eelfroth, that looks awesome. How did you achieve that last one?

  16. Alex on November 30th, 2012

    Are you still working on this, Terry? I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say – WE WANT TO PLAY IT!

  17. Terry on November 30th, 2012

    I haven’t worked on this for over a year now πŸ™ I still like the idea, but unfortunately it’s not looking good…

    Oh well. Perhaps it will return in some other form, one day…

  18. Newfur on October 20th, 2013

    Are you going to upload it here? It looks really interesting.

  19. BCS on December 18th, 2013

    Even a playable build would be neat to poke at as a proof of concept, even if it’s not complete.

  20. VonGuard on January 10th, 2020

    Hey Terry, when do we get to see this game? It was fantastic, and I think you are seriously under estimating your audience if you think they’d not like it. I still think about this game. It was so unique and fresh. I even figured out some of the puzzles in the IGF build…

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