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Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Hangman in ASP.NET

By Scott Mitchell


Recently I came across the hangman sample code on ASP101.com. This code illustrates how to create a hangman game using VBScript in an ASP Web page. I decided this would be a fun project to implement in ASP.NET. Rather than attempting to port the application directly, I decided to write it from scratch. In this article we'll look at the code for the hangman game in ASP.NET (using VB.NET). If you'd like to take a moment and try out the game first, feel free.

- continued -

The Rules of Hangman
The rules of hangman are quite simple. There's a secret word that you must guess by choosing one letter at a time. If you chose a letter that appears one or more times in the secret word, the letters and their positions are revealed. If, however, you guess a letter that is not in the secret word, then a piece of the man being hanged is added to the gallows. If you incorrectly guess six letters, the complete hangman character is drawn, meaning you lose!

Investigating the Hangman User Interface

As with any application, it is important to examine what, specifically, how we want the user interface to appear before tackling any coding. Traditionally hangman is played on paper, with the hangman figure drawn in the upperleft-hand corner. Beneath this character can be found underscores representing the letters of the secret word. As the person playing hangman guesses correct letters, the underscores are filled in with the appropriate letters. When incorrect letters are guessed, the hangman figure is updated. The game ends when the person fully spells out the word, or when he has guessed incorrectly six times.

Our user interface for this game will borrow heavily from the interface for the paper version. Specifically, we will have a hangman figure in the upperleft-hand corner. Beneath him will be the secret word, with underscores used for each letter that has yet to be guessed. Finally, a number of hyperlinks will exist labeled A through Z. A user guesses a letter by clicking the appropriate hyperlink.

The hangman figure shown to the right is one of seven different images representing the seven different states of the hangman figure. The first image has drawn just the gallows; the second the head; the third the head and torso; and so on, up until the seventh figure, which has the complete head, torso, arms, and legs. These images were shamelessly taken from the hangman example on ASP101.com, and have been saved locally in the /images directory with filenames hang_x.gif, where the image specifies the hangman figure to be used after x incorrect guesses. For example, the image to the right is the image /images/hang_4.gif, since it represents the figure after four incorrect guesses.

To see the complete user interface, take a moment to view the hangman demo. The code to generate the user interface can be seen below:

<form runat="server">
  <asp:image id="hangmanImage" runat="server" />
  <asp:literal runat="server" id="currentWord" />
  <asp:LinkButton runat="server" id="A" CommandArgument="A" 
                        Text="A" OnCommand="LetterGuessed" /> |
  <asp:LinkButton runat="server" id="B" CommandArgument="B" 
                        Text="B" OnCommand="LetterGuessed" /> |
  <asp:LinkButton runat="server" id="Z" CommandArgument="Z" 
                        Text="Z" OnCommand="LetterGuessed" />
      <asp:label id="lblEndGameMessage" runat="server"
          Font-Size="18pt" Font-Weight="Bold" />

The hangmanImage is an Image Web control that we'll use to display the current hangman image. The currentWord Literal control displays the letters that have been correctly guessed for the secret word (and their positions in the word). For letters in the secret word that have yet to be guessed, an underscore is displayed. Finally, the lblEndGameMessage Label control is used to display a message when the game is over, either because the player has won or lost.

Choosing a Secret Word

When a player starts a game of hangman, a random word must be selected. This, of course, is the word that the player must attempt to guess before choosing six incorrect letters. How do we choose a random secret word? There are a number of approaches, such as having a database table with various words, and then randomly selecting a word from that table (see this FAQ for more information on this topic), or having an XML file with elements whose text content is the secret word, and then randomly choosing an XML element and using that.

I chose to use, in my eyes, the simplest approach, which involves a text file that contains each potential secret word on a separate line. To select a random word, the text file is opened and its contents are read line-by-line into an ArrayList. A random item is then selected from this ArrayList and is chosen as the secret word. I've not performed any performance tests, but I'd wager this approach is comparable, if not faster, than the database approach for relatively small lists of secret words. If you want thousands or hundreds of thousands of potential hangman secret words, the database approach will perform best.

The following function demonstrates how to extract a random line from a text file. Specifically, the function opens the text file specified by its input parameter filePath, reads in the contents into the ArrayList words, and then randomly selects and returns a word from words.

Function GetRandomWord(filePath as String)
  'Open the file
  Dim objTextReader as TextReader = File.OpenText(filePath)
  'Read in all the lines into an ArrayList
  Dim words as ArrayList = new ArrayList()
  Dim word as String = objTextReader.ReadLine()
  While Not word is Nothing
    word = objTextReader.ReadLine()
  End While
  'Close the Text file
  'Now, randomly choose a word from the word ArrayList
  Dim rndNum as Random = new Random()
  Dim iLine as Integer = rndNum.Next(words.Count)
  Dim selectedWord as String = words(iLine)
  Return selectedWord    
End Function

Starting the Game

When the user first visits the page, we want to "start" the game. This means that we want to display the initial hangman image of the gallows (/images/hang_0.gif), select a random secret word, display the underscores for each letter in the secret word, and other such tasks. These tasks are performed by a helper subroutine, ResetGame(). Note that the hangman game uses three session variables. The first, hangman_word, specifies the secret word the player is trying to guess, while wrong_guesses indicates how many incorrect guesses the player has currently made. Finally, current_word contains the current partial matches of the secret word, with asterisks for letters that have yet to be guesses.

For example, if the secret word is "scott" and the user has made three guesses, guessing letters "S", "T", and "A", the value of Session("hangman_word") would be "Scott", the value of Session("wrong_guesses") would be 1 (since one of the three guesses was incorrect) and the value of Session("current_word") would be "S**TT", since "C" and "O" had yet to be guessed.

Sub ResetGame()
  'This is the first time the user is visiting the page,
  'use the defaults
  hangmanImage.ImageUrl = "/images/hang_0.gif"
  'Choose a random word from a text file
  Session("hangman_word") = _
  Session("wrong_guesses") = 0
  'Specify the current "guess", which is no letters guessed
  Dim i as Integer
  Dim initialGuess as String
  For i = 0 to Session("hangman_word").ToString().Length - 1         
    initialGuess &= "*"
  Next i       
  Session("current_word") = initialGuess       
  'Put in blanks for the various letters
End Sub  

As the above code shows, the list of hangman secret words is at the URL http://aspnet.4guysfromrolla.com/demos/hangmanWords.txt. Additionally, the above code utilized a subroutine called DisplayCurrentWord(). This subroutine simply displays Session("current_word") in the currentWord Literal control. The code for this helper subroutine is shown below:

Sub DisplayCurrentWord()
  currentWord.Text = ""
  Dim i as Integer
  For i = 0 to Session("current_word").ToString().Length - 1
    If Session("current_word").ToString().Substring(i,1) = "*" then
      currentWord.Text &= "_&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;"
      currentWord.Text &= _
         Session("current_word").ToString().Substring(i,1).ToUpper() & _
    End If
  Next i
End Sub

Now that we've looked at how to get the game rolling, we need to discuss what to do when the user selects a letter. We'll examine this facet of the hangman game in Part 2.

  • Read Part 2!

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