Into the Haze

At long last, our next text adventure game, Into the Haze is here!

Can you survive the poisonous haze and rescue your brother?

Into the Haze is an interactive graded reader that takes place in some post-apocalyptic Chinese city. Your brother has gone missing, and you need to make your way into the city, survive the poisonous haze, and rescue your brother.

Into the Haze cover art

Try it out!
(You'll need to be signed up, which is free.)

How do I play?

Our text adventure games are interactive stories. You're presented with a sentence or two about where you are and you advance through the game by making choices, so read carefully and choose wisely!

The main narrative of the game is presented in the style of a conversation (think a messaging app) with the most recent message at the bottom. Below the conversation box, you will see a question and one or more choices. To move forward in the game you select one of these choices by tapping on the numbered button. If a scene or action results in more than one message, you won't initially see the next choice. Instead the messages will be displayed one at a time so you have time to notice and read each one. You can press the down arrow icon to show each subsequent message, until the choices display below.

Here's what the game interface looks like:

Into the Haze cover art

What's new in Into the Haze?

In addition to an entirely new setting, story, and characters, Into the Haze also introduces some new game mechanics, as compared to our first text adventure game, Escape. We think these new game mechanics make this game more fun to play, and more fun to keep replaying.

Also, Into the Haze is about twice as long as Escape. And although we tried hard to keep it at the same difficulty level, with the longer length comes some additional characters (649 instead of 422). But don't let this worry you! Even if many of these Chinese characters are new to you, they will be second nature by the time you manage to fully explore the world of Into the Haze.

Resources

Into the Haze features some resources that you accumulate and use throughout the game. The most important resource is Air (空气). The city you must explore is covered in a poisonous haze, and you must wear a gas mask and breath only the air you bring with you. As you move around the city, you consume air and so you must find an efficient route so you can complete your mission without running out of air. You will also find opportunities to gain air throughout the game.

Other resources include your health, health kits, and various other items, such as a guns and gas masks.

Randomness

There are two sources of randomness that make playing Into the Haze less predictable:

  1. Random outcomes. Sometimes the outcome of an action you take will depend on the roll of a die. This introduces a bit of luck into the game. And although you can often avoid such random outcomes, to do particularly well in the game, you'll need to take risks and test your luck.

  2. Random encounters. Some scenes of the game occur at random times. These scenes will test how well you can deal with unexpected situations as you carry out your mission.

Strategies and replay

The world of Into the Haze is rather large and you have a fair amount of free reign to move around in it. We purposely don't provide a map so that you need to read carefully and explore until you discover how the places connect together. That said, it is probably very helpful to try and draw your own map. We've given each place a short name that you will find next to the map icon () in the game state area. Keep in mind that the random encounters happen in different places each time.

At the beginning of the game, you're asked a question about how you have survived. Both answers are good answers, but how you answer will affect various aspects of the rest of the game. Can you beat the game using both strategies?

Keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with failing. You can always play again. And by exploring different paths through the game you will develop a better understanding of the world, and get additional practice with your Chinese. You can always restart from a checkpoint if you lose. There are many good ways through the game, so don't stick too much to one path you happened to find that works okay.

After you have explored the game, you can challenge yourself to try and see how many points you can earn and how much text you can read by the end. And the more you play the more Chinese you'll learn.

And don't forget to try the game in audio-only mode to improve your listening comprehension ability.

Playing the full game

Into the Haze is free to demo (you can make up to 10 choices), but in order to play the full game, and have the benefit of saving your game at checkpoints along the way, you'll need to subscribe as WordSwing backer.

Currently there is a discount (62% off) until we ramp up the pace of creating text games, meaning a subscription is only $3/month.

WordSwing is entirely student-supported, and we hope you'll consider becoming a backer to help us keep WordSwing alive and flourishing.

We are no longer charging separately for audio. Both demo mode and the full game feature audio for the game content.

What's next?

Now that we've finished up Into the Haze, our plan is to develop some games aimed at less advanced students. We also hope to pick up the pace of releasing games, eventually aiming to release a new game every ~6 weeks. We also have lots more free stuff planned for WordSwing and many other improvements.

We hope you enjoy Into the Haze, and don't forget to let us know what you think.

Kevin & Olle

Ready to become a backer of WordSwing?

The purpose of WordSwing is to provide effective and limitless ways to practice Chinese. Learning Chinese is a long-term endeavor and so is our mission at WordSwing.

The road so far

For four years we have provided nearly all of our services for free. And while we strongly believe that education should be as cheap as possible (and preferably free), we do need to try and cover some of our costs if we are to survive to see out our mission. Last year we started experimenting by selling audio to complement our first text adventure game. While that helped, we need to find a more sustainable solution that isn't so oriented around the occasional release of pay-only features.

Invitation to backers

Soon we will switch over to a new strategy, allowing our students to become direct backers of WordSwing through a monthly subscription. So if you like what we're doing, and want WordSwing to continue to survive, we are asking you to consider becoming a WordSwing backer.

We see our fate tied closely to whether our students believe in us and appreciate the Chinese practice tools we are building. So although you're welcome to see this simply as a paid subscription for a service, we see it differently.

We see each subscription as a vote of confidence that we are on the right track and we see each subscriber as a stakeholder in our shared fate.

Our next text adventure game

We are nearly ready to release our second text adventure game, 迷雾中, or Into the Haze.

This game takes place in a post-apocalyptic Chinese city covered in a poisonous haze. The protagonist has to leave the relative safety of a settlement and go into the dangerous city to rescue a lost brother.

Into the Haze is more than twice as long as our first game, Escape. And it features more elaborate mechanics, such as random encounters and resource utilization.

When we release Into the Haze, we'll also be turning on the switch allowing our students to become backers. To reward our backers we'll be making our text adventure games only available in full to subscribers. Everyone will be free to play the first part of each game, but to play the full game, one will need to become a subscriber. This also holds for the Escape game. So if you aren't ready to become a subscriber you have a few weeks to continue playing the whole Escape game for free.

Anyone who has purchased the audio bundle will be grandfathered into having the whole Escape game regardless of whether they become a subscriber.

Going forward

We aim to provide a steady stream of new games and activities. Our eventual goal is to release one new game or activity every six weeks (instead of one every six months). But until we get there, we'll be offering an "Early backer discount" to all of our backers, reducing the subscription from $8/month to $3 USD/month. And if you become an early backer now, we'll let you keep your discounted rate as long as you stay a backer.

WordSwing is a labor of love, and it will never by highly profitable. Nonetheless, we hope it will survive and we hope that you hope it will survive too. And the best way to make that happen is to become an Early Backer of WordSwing.

We'll let you know more about becoming an early backer when we release Into the Haze.

Introducing Quiz Tournaments

Ready for a little friendly competition?

An essential part of successfully learning a language is staying motivated. And what better way to motivate yourself than stoking a bit of your competitive instinct?

Today we're introducing Quiz Tournaments.

How does it work?

A Quiz Tournament is a few rounds of short, multiple-choice reading comprehension questions. Each question is a race against the clock. You and your opponent will each be asked the same set of questions and you are tasked with trying to answer each question before the clock runs out. After you respond to each question you can study the content at your leisure before moving on to the next question.

A typical question looks like this:

You are tasked with reading the Chinese sentence and selecting the best answer among the four or five choices given. Only one answer is correct. The timer at the right shows how much time you have left to answer.

Initially, you don't have tap-through access to WordSwing's built-in dictionary. But after you have answered or the time ran out, you can use the dictionary and other drill-down tools to study anything in the prompt or answers that is unfamiliar.

Each tournament consists of a few rounds of questions. Here is what a partially completed tournament looks like:

Your progress is shown on the left, while your opponent's progress is shown on the right. Each subsequent round becomes unlocked when both you and your opponent have completed the previous round.

You will have 5 days to complete each round. If you fail to complete a round in that time, then the tournament will expire, and you will forfeit the win to your opponent.

Quiz Tournaments are asynchronous, meaning that you and your opponent can answer the questions at different times, whenever is convenient.

To begin a new tournament, you can either build a new tournament and invite someone to play or you can request a random opponent:

If you choose "Random opponent" then you will be automatically matched with an opponent and the sizing of the tournament will also be automatically determined. In practice, the random opponent will just be the next person to also select "Random opponent" or a student who has just done so and is awaiting an opponent.

If you choose to build a new tournament, you will be able to select how many rounds you want and how many questions per round:

There are three ways to select an opponent:

  1. Invite someone you know by email.
  2. Select an existing student from WordSwing.
  3. Start over and choose a random opponent.

If you choose either of the first two methods, your opponent will be emailed an invitation asking if he or she wants to accept or decline the tournament.

You will be able to see a list of invitations that you require your attention, such as this:

These will either be invitations that you sent that have been rejected, and you can select a new opponent, or invitations someone else has sent you.

There will also be a list of your current Quiz Tournaments:

These are ongoing Quiz Tournaments or ones that you have completed or that have expired. Tournaments that you can play now with either have a "Start" button (if they are new) or a "Continue" button. Tournaments that are complete or for which you're waiting for the next round to be unlocked, will have a "View" button. Expired tournaments are also shown. Tap on the button to go to any of these tournaments.

Who is this for?

The current set of questions are designed for intermediate to upper-intermediate students of Chinese. But if this game proves popular then we'll build out more categories of questions, offering both easier reading comprehension questions as well as questions about the Chinese language (asked in English), among other categories.

At present, there are only a couple hundred questions, and so as you play, you'll start to see some questions a second or third time. So even if these questions are quite challenging given your current Chinese level, with some playing, you'll soon be able to get many answers correct.

Getting started

To get started, select Quiz Tournaments, from the Select page (or just jump directly there).

This activity is opt-in, so that you don't receive unwanted invitations and so that the opponents you choose among are more likely to be engaged. By the way, initially the activity was opt-out, while we were testing it over the last few weeks, but we decided making it opt-in will result in a better experience. So if you haven't yet enabled it, you'll get asked if you want to do so:

Then, if you haven't chosen a handle (nickname) for yourself on WordSwing, you'll need to choose one in order to participate in Quiz Tournaments. This is so that your opponent can recognize you during rematches and subsequent tournaments:

Ready to give it a try?

Go play

We hope you enjoy, and don't forget to let us know what you think or report any problems.

Have fun!

Chinese listening through adventure games

Listening comprehension is probably the most important aspect of learning Chinese. There are several reasons for this, but the two most important ones are:

  1. It accelerates learning, including in other areas. This is because it increases the opportunities for incidental learning and because it expands the amount of time you have available for learning since you can combine listening with almost any activity, which is not true for reading, for example.
  2. Listening is important because it's socially much more frustrating to have no idea of what 's going on compared to not being very eloquent yourself.

Still, listening is the area students tend to find the most difficult, at least if we exclude the initial confusion when it comes to learning characters. This can probably be attributed to lack of practice; students simply don't listen enough. However, putting all the responsibility on the student isn't fair either, because there certainly isn't a lot of accessible, engaging listening material around. Listening practice is often reduced to passive listening, which can work in large quantities, but can be hard to focus on.

Adventure, audio-only

To address this problem, we have created an audio only version of our first text adventure game, Escape. Instead of reading the text, you hear recordings of each description, action, or conversation. You have to listen very carefully, perhaps more than once, to understand enough to make the right choices in the game.

All this means that the whole game is like a listening comprehension test, with the critical difference that it's fun and engaging! In audio-only mode, you are not initially shown the text. If you fail to understand a passage, you can always peek at the text version and look up any unfamiliar words, but don't do this too often. Even if a passage is difficult to start with, listening to it many times will help you break it down and finally understand what it means. Only look at the text if you must!

You can play the text and audio version of the game in any order, but in general, it's best to focus on listening first since it tends to be harder to find good listening practice than it is to find good reading practice. You can also listen while you read, play part of the game in audio first, then with text and so on. It's up to you!

When audio-only mode is enabled, the text will only be shown if you request it:

You can enable audio-only mode by scrolling down towards the bottom and toggling the switch, so that it looks like this:

Go play

Want to see what it's like?

Not sure you want to buy the audio or try audio-only mode? Here's a two-minute screencast showing how you use audio-only mode and how the game feels in audio-only mode.

We hope you'll consider buying the audio to go along with Escape, and try out the audio-only mode. Good luck and happy language practicing!

Go play

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