Adding visual context to a text adventure game

Our text adventure games have always been focused on reading and listening comprehension. We believe that this interactive experience without many bells and whistles gets you the most language practice for the time you invest.

But after some encouragement from our students, we are taking a stab at adding illustrations to one of our text adventure games, The Magistrate's Gallery.

Here's what it looks like on iOS, Android, and our new web app:

Game illustration app screenshot

We hope that these illustrations liven up the games while at the same time providing some helpful visual context for the text of the game.

In total there are 16 illustrations. This is not enough to illustrate everything that happens in the game, which is not the point, but rather just enough to break up the text a bit and keep your imagination working to picture the rest of what happens.

If you like combining reading/listening with visual context, you might also be interested in our narrative that goes along with the Pepper and Carrot web comics that we introduced a while back.

Thanks to our early backers!

Olle and I wanted to express a big thank you to our early backers!

We deeply appreciate the confidence you've had in WordSwing, and your support, which has helped us build the apps, games, and activities that are WordSwing.

It’s been just over a year since we introduced our early backer subscription ($3/month). Since then we've released 5 more text adventure games, our iOS and Android apps, narrative and audio to go with 9 episodes of the Pepper and Carrot comic, and much more (see below).

But we can only continue to do this if we can grow WordSwing into a sustainable endeavor. From the beginning, our early backer discount was designed to reward them for their support while we ramped up our efforts. But it was always designed to be temporary. And we feel that next month is a good time to start asking new backers of WordSwing to pay the full price for the subscription ($8/month).

All current early backers can keep the less expensive subscription forever.

Or, if you subscribe before June 15th, you can also get (and keep) the early backer price ($3/month).

So, if you're not yet an early backer, we invite you to become one before we end the discount.

The past year in WordSwing

We've released 5 text adventure games:

Magistrate's Gallery (县长的画廊) – A man knocks on your door with an unusual problem. He needs the assistance of a skilled artist to help rescue his daughter, who seems to have been trapped inside a painting. You will need to unravel the epic tale surrounding his daughter's capture by traveling into the many paintings in the Magistrate's private gallery and coaxing the stories out of the spirits that inhabit the pieces of art.

Into the Haze (迷雾中) – An unknown catastrophe has ended civilization as we know it. You live in a small society of survivors on a hill outside the big city where the air is just barely breathable. In the city, it’s worse, but riches left from before the catastrophe still lure people into the deadly mist. Including your brother. And now he’s gone missing. With your gas mask and a few days of supplies, you enter the city. Will you find your brother? What else hides in the mist?

Wandering Cat (小女孩寻猫记) – Your mysterious uncle has asked you to watch after his cat for a few days. But after an unexpected encounter with a fortune teller, you realize there is a lot more at stake to this task than you thought.

Zoo (动物园) – It’s your first day at your new job as an assistant zookeeper. Can you manage to follow your boss’s instructions on how to feed the animals? Be careful not to let the chatty animals mislead you!

Burning Building (火灾) – You are at home in your apartment when you notice a strange smell. Is it a fire? Can you get out in time? This game is the first of our shorts, games designed to be easier and shorter than our full-length games.

We have released apps for iOS and Android with a redesigned interface that works better on mobile devices.

iPhone and Andorid phone pictures

We added support for Traditional Chinese to the two mobile apps.

We created narrative and audio to accompany the open web comic, Pepper and Carrot.

Pepper and carrot screenshot

We're looking forward to another year packed with progress growing WordSwing's Chinese practice activities and tools. Thanks for your support and if you're not an early backer yet, we hope you will consider joining the many students who have chosen to support our efforts.


Kevin & Olle

PS: Below is Olle's latest video playing and discussing our most recent text adventure game, The Magistrate's Gallery. If you're not familiar with our text adventure games, this is a great way to get started.

The Magistrate's Gallery

The Magistrate's Gallery is our sixth interactive graded-reader-style text adventure game for practicing Mandarin Chinese.

Here's a short blurb introducing the game:

You get a knock on your door. The visitor is seeking your help rescuing his daughter, who seems to have been trapped inside a painting. You will need to unravel the epic tale surrounding his daughter's capture by traveling into the many paintings in the Magistrate's private gallery and coaxing the stories out of the spirits that inhabit the pieces of art.

Our Text Adventure Games work like an interactive graded reader, targeted at intermediate students of Mandarin Chinese. As you work you way through the story, you make choices that affect what the protagonist does and how the story progresses. We've carefully written the game to include hints that reward you for careful reading.

Each of our games includes a bunch of hours of game play, and you'll encounter the vocabulary many times throughout the game, which combined will help quickly propel your Chinese reading and listening.

Here's a screenshot from the game on iOS:

There is audio available throughout the game, and a built in dictionary to help with words you don't know.

There are two variations to this game, so if you finish one, see if you can also finish the other. This game is about the same difficulty as Wandering Cat, though less linear and a bit longer.

The game is available in WordSwing's iOS, Android or web app.

We hope you enjoy.

Go play!


Kevin & Olle

Tracking your progress in the WordSwing iOS app

When you're working through WordSwing's text adventure games, dialogs, or comics, it's possible to swipe the text to the left (iOS only for now).

This indicates to WordSwing that you've read that text carefully, and may help encourage you to read everything carefully.

Here's what it looks like (YouTube):

WordSwing uses this information to help you track how much you study and what you're learning.

Why bother swiping?

Reading and listening are normally rather passive activities, and it's easy to gloss over without realizing you're not paying much attention. By interjecting the swipe action we aim to break reading into pieces so you can recognize that you're focusing on each one.

The trick for swiping to be helpful, is that it must gain a personal meaning for you.

For example, if swiping to you means that you put in the dedicated effort to read and understand the text, then each time you swipe, you get to appreciate that you put in this effort. The swipe action will begin to acquire a small mental reward that can help propel you forward despite the frustrations that crop up as you study.

I want to emphasize that swiping is not meant to be some cheeky attempt at gamification, but rather a mechanism for you to recognize and nurture your own intrinsic sense of reward for working hard. Studying a second language presents a continual barrage of little frustrations. This is not a problem if you derive sufficient satisfaction from the learning process and it's result. But too often those are too intangible compared to all the little frustrations. So we hope that this swipe mechanism can help you mentally condition yourself to notice and appreciate the effort you're putting into your language study.

And when you reach the end of the activity, you can look back at all the items you've swiped, and you can see the sweeping scope of what you've read and all the little pieces of effort you put into the activity.

How it works

Before you swipe some text, it looks like this (I've turned the colors on to show my knowledge level ratings):

iPhone screen shots

During the swipe you'll see two numbers in circles, indicating:

  1. The number of Chinese characters in the text (15 in this case).
  2. A count of swipe points, which is a measure that combines the length of the text, the difficulty of the text, and whether the characters and words in the text are new to you.
iPhone screen shots

Notice that after you've swiped the text, there are little yellow and teal circles that appear in the upper left corner of the text. These help you notice which text you've swiped.

iPhone screen shots

Tracking progress

Once place we use this information is in the "Learning Stats" area, which you can get to from the app's main menu:

iPhone screen shots

There are three plots:

iPhone screen shots

The middle plot shows you how much text you've swiped. The yellow line (left axis) is simply a count of how many characters you swipe. The teal line (right axis) gives your swipe points.

There are also plots for how much time you've spent on WordSwing over the last 30 days (left plot) and how many times you've increased your knowledge level ratings of words you're studying (right plot).


Learning a language is a daunting task. And so we'll end with this Itchy Feet comic. We hope to build learning tools that help you overcome some of the obstacles to learning a language, and help keep you on your way up Mt. Fluency.


Kevin & Olle

Page: 2 of 12