February 06, 2014

Since KanaSwirl

Late one night two years ago, I was lying in bed when suddenly I had a flash of inspiration.

"Make a fun game that also happens to teach Japanese."

The ideas came flooding quickly past my mind. I grabbed the only tool nearby, an iPod Touch on the nightstand, and captured (both in words and in quick sketches) as much as I could.

I have no idea how long I was in that beautiful fugue state. When I did finally come back to my senses, I reconsidered the challenge with only slightly more skepticism. I had never done Objective-C or iOS development before.

But hell, why should that stop me? I'm a decent programmer. I can handle it. I quickly finished the basic teaching and gameplay mechanic:

The first friend I showed this to suggested that since this was my first foray into iOS development, I should consider shipping just this as a simpler game first. Which I did. I called it KanaSwirl.

However, KanaSwirl was not at all the game that kept me awake that fateful night. My muse and I, we had much loftier goals. The umbrella name I've chosen for my iOS projects, RPGlanguage, shows this.

Since KanaSwirl and KanjiSwirl, I have certainly had some false starts. There was the below, which I posted technical details about, but that went nowhere.

The most fully-formed idea was a tower defense game where you would write Japanese characters to defend against slowly approaching monsters. That foundered due to forces beyond my control. That and I couldn't quite figure out how to make all the mechanics work together.

But, as part of experimenting with that project, I managed to build a prototype of the handwriting recognition, which was good enough to use in a real game:

I sent this prototype called "Magic Canvas" to a handful of alpha testers. It even had a system that synced each tester's characters back up to my server so that I could pick several reference examples for the handwriting recognition engine. In all, just 10 people wrote nearly 5000 characters with this app, which is very humbling to me.


I also built an iOS app for my company Infinity Interactive called pinPics. Making pinPics taught me all about how iOS reaaaaally works and has made me a much better developer both in Objective-C and in general.

So. Two years in, now I am finally ready to take on my first big Japanese learning app.

The game I'd initially stayed up late thinking about was a role-playing game. The core mechanic I had in mind was that to attack, you first must answer a quick Japanese quiz (in the style of KanaSwirl).

This is one of the crude sketches of the idea that I made that night.

I've been building that for the past 37 days. Well, a much nicer version of that. There have been some very late nights, and entire weekends where I've done nothing else. I'm so very excited about this project.

I can't wait to share more with you! Stay tuned. :)