Bringing the game to a larger audience
Imagine that, despite reading this article, you have made a typing game. Now you want to bring it to an audience as wide as possible. That means localization to languages with different vocabularies, keyboard layouts and writing systems. Maybe accessibility features, modding and even gamepad support for consoles? Many new challenges await you. Let’s see how those who came before you tackled (or avoided) them.
The first time we showcased Epistory at Gamescom, some players were annoyed that we had Qwerty keyboards. Even if we took care to bring good mechanical keyboards with us, the Germans are used to a Qwertz layout and the French expected an Azerty. Americans are the most surprised when we bring our own laptops with French keyboards when they have never heard of different keyboard layouts. In addition to the regional variations, you have to consider player preferences for modern layouts like Dvorak, Colemak or Bépo, and potentially different control schemes.
Usually you take the character inputs from Windows and don’t care about the layout. But when the position of the keys matters, you need to know which keyboard is used. In Epistory, for instance, patterns like “QWERTYUIOP” had to be translated to different keyboards to keep the same feeling. In their levels with camera movement, Touch Type Tale uses the position of the keys on the keyboard. Remember that they use IJKL to pan the camera with a Qwerty, and that words starting with these letters are omitted by the system to avoid confusion between movement and typing. This means that with a Dvorak, you move with CHTN and the words starting with these letters are avoided instead.
Don’t forget that part of our target audience is typing fans, many of whom own and love their unique keyboard layout, so supporting them becomes a selling point.
We’ve also opened up the possibility for players to integrate their own keyboard layout, as well as change all of the text (typable words and story), by modding the game’s localization via the Steam Workshop. It has been used to make fan translations, to change the typable words to their British English spelling, and to change all words to “A” in order to easily get certain achievements. Ettome also plans to have modding available for Typing Heart so players can create their own themes.
For Nanotale, however, we don’t support modding. The way we built our word database was more complicated and we would have had to build a user-friendly editor for that purpose (instead of separated word lists, we have one database in which all words have multiple tags). Before starting the development of the game, we shared a survey among Epistory players that got more than 2,000 responses. We asked how interested they would be in different game features, including modding capabilities. This was the least requested feature (and no one marked it as “very important”), so we focused our efforts on other aspects of the game.
Modding is great for fan translations, but what if you localize the game yourself? For the short answer, as Ettome said, “localization is complicated for a typing game.” For the long answer, you have to translate the story text and the typable text. Ideally, you let players select different languages for the story (and menus) and for the typing, as Epistory, Nanotale and Touch Type Tale do. Translating the typable text is the most complicated part because it has a direct impact on gameplay, and because writing can be very different from one language to another. It’s a bit like porting a game for a variety of gamepads with different designs and ergonomics.
Textorcist was not localized upon release and, for Diego Sacchetti, it’s one of the biggest challenges: “while everybody would love to perform the spells in their native language, changing the language can completely change the challenge and this can break the progression, and the game.” One problem is the difference in average word length (or average sentence length in the case of Textorcist). When you type individual words and not complete sentences, you can request from your localization team words within a given range of lengths instead of a direct translation of the English word pool.
The second problem comes from the accented characters. For Malte Hoffmann, “you could allow the player to just type the word without an accent, if you have an ‘é’ you can just type an ‘e’ but then it kind of defeats the purpose of learning to type in French or German.” On a German keyboard, letters with an umlaut (ä, ö, ü) are accessible on the right of the P and L keys, as is the eszett (ß). But sometimes the accented letters are typed by pressing the key with the accent first and then typing the main letter, making it mechanically longer to type a word of the same length. So for Epistory and Nanotale, we asked our localization team to avoid using words with characters that require two keystrokes for time-sensitive gameplay (in menus, it’s fine). French, for instance, has characters like ï and ê that are very rarely used and can be avoided.
Now what about non-Latin alphabets? China is a big market and in Japan, typing games actually have a good reputation. Touch Type Tale plans to be translated into Chinese and, with Nanotale, we went with Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
Chinese and Japanese are written with logograms that represent a word or a syllable called hanzi in Chinese and kanji in Japanese. Their pronunciation can be “romanized” to the Latin alphabet to give pinyin (from Chinese) and rōmaji (from Japanese). They are usually typed on a Qwerty keyboard with an IME (Input Method Editor) that shows a list of suggested words to choose from. It allows the user to choose between multiple homophone words that can be typed the same way but are written with different hanzis / kanjis, and also allows to validate a word without typing it fully, just like with predictive typing on mobile.
In the game, we don’t use an IME and have the player type the full romanized word. The user interface is changed a bit to display the hanzi / kanji on top of the pinyin / rōmaji so the words are easy to read and the typing instructions are clear. Setting aside the fact that some players prefer one romanization over another (SENPAI or SEMPAI, ARIGATOO or ARIGATŌ or ARIGATOU), the system works well. Typing Quest (2021), recently released on Switch exclusively in Japan by a Japanese developer, also uses the romaji method.
Korean works differently. The Hangul alphabet was created from scratch in 1443 (which is fairly recent compared to other alphabets) and, while it looks like a logogram system, it’s actually composed of 19 consonants and 21 vowels. The trick is that it’s written in blocks of two or three “letters” combined together. Although an official romanization exists, there is no need to use it to type Hangul with a keyboard: the system combines the letters together as it does with Latin ligatures (the input ㄱ ㅗ ㅇ becomes 공).
So in the game we only display the words in Hangul and the Korean players know how to type them. The only problem is that one block of combined consonants and vowels is one unicode character. So we can’t highlight the typing progression per keystroke, but only per character. Last remark, the word length rules are adapted for Korean, which requires two to three keystrokes per character. So, in Nanotale, the length of Korean words is doubled in our database and 한글 counts as a 4-letter word even though it takes 6 keystrokes to write 2 characters.
Video game accessibility is a topic that has rightly gained importance in recent years. Typing games are less accessible by nature: you need to be able to type with a keyboard at a normal speed to be let into the experience.
We already described adaptive difficulty as a way to make the game accessible to players with a wide range of typing skills. Allowing it to drop very low or letting players set it to a fixed low value helps players who can’t type faster to still play the game. Nanotale even offers an option to pause the game by pressing a key (actually making it run at 1% speed) while still being able to type the words. It gives the players control over when they want to remove the time pressure without simplifying the tactical/puzzle aspect of the game.
“In general, from what I’ve seen, typing games are not very accessible,” Ettome said of the accessibility issues Typing Heart would face. There are many reasons for this, mostly a reliance on colors (to categorize words) and the keyboard input that can’t be rebound to a more accessible control scheme. Color-coded words in Epistory that were a problem for colorblind players were fixed by adding an icon before the word, but only in a recent update. Even without colors and fancy fonts, reading can be a difficulty. For dyslexic people, Ettome tried the OpenDyslexic font and will keep it as an option in the game, just like Nanotale. OpenDyslexic is a free to use typeface that is optimized to be readable by people with dyslexia. That said, some don’t like this font and claim that writing the text bigger is always better; so think about this at the early stages of doing your user interfaces (even if you are not doing a typing game).
To help with the difficulty of typing, we can remove the necessity of special characters, by providing simplified dictionaries or removing the requirement to write accents (so that typing E works for e, é, è, ê and ë). In Touch Type Tale, capital letters are used at the beginning of words to differentiate between different types of words, but this can be changed in the options to not have to enter capital letters at all. As always with accessibility features, the takeaway here is to give as many options as possible to let players enjoy the game how they want. In Nanotale, you can rebind all the keys that are not related to typing. The only thing you can’t change are the 26 (or more) keys that are used to type words. Unless you are porting the game to a different control scheme…
I said at one point that typing games couldn’t be released on consoles because they require a keyboard to play. But you can actually plug a keyboard into modern consoles and it just works. In fact, The Textorcist is available on PS4, Xbox and Switch (and also on Dreamcast apparently) and Epistory has been ported to Switch and Stadia. The thing is, to pass the TRC (technical requirements checklist), you have to support the console’s official controller. That’s when typing controls end up being translated to gamepad controls.
Epistory simply changed the words to patterns of up, down, left, right, A, B, X and Y. For Nanotale, which is also available on Stadia, we designed a different system that uses the right thumbstick to replace the typing controls: the spell selection is done through a succession of selection wheels. Then, spells are cast by aiming at targets (like in a dual stick shooter); the closest target in the aiming direction is selected.
Textorcist’s gamepad “typing” with the trigger buttons
The Textorcist team, after many prototypes, settled on a method that is as fast as actual typing (and faster than Epistory’s method). “Our final implementation takes only two triggers and every letter is associated with the left or right trigger,” explains Diego Sacchetti. “The trigger associated with a letter is always the same, which allows for memorization. This implementation can be as fast as keyboard typing, but it’s far from feeling like typing. The real gamepad typing mechanic is something I think about very often and I think it’s one of the hardest design mysteries that still awaits for an elegant solution.”
If making a typing game is too easy a challenge for you, adapting typing controls to a gamepad is the next frontier. Joking aside, we’ve reached the very end of what I can say about making typing games. So I leave you to your oh-so-boring non-typing games. Thanks for reading, I hope you found something useful here.