The Nabu Runner
It all started with some luck. It’s not everyday you get a chance to collaborate with a company like Razer but we were lucky to be asked to propose something to them. The brief was to make use of their new Nabu fitness band (well, it was new at that time) and integrate it with an existing endless runner, something to combine fitness and fun together. This was our chance! To make another game that is both meaningful and fun, possibly along the same vein as Chiro Heroes.
Razer Nabu Fitness Band
Putting on our brainstorming hats, we got to work. Our goal was to make the existing game idea as fun as possible by using the many features of the band. Maybe you can track your steps to get more rewards? How about sharing your steps with your friends through the push notification to remind them to play? Perhaps, you can link your achievements to your friends achievements and both of you can achieve more together? Perhaps this… perhaps that… and so on so forth.
Well, that didn’t turn out too well. After many discussions, we had a whole list of feature ideas, but we lacked FOCUS, the features were EITHER meaningful OR fun, nothing in between that had a good mix of both. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that just adding a layer of fitness to an endless runner does not necessarily make the game better. They just did not gel as much as we hoped.
We wanted to develop a BRAND NEW GAME, not just an add-on to an existing one. Slightly dejected but not beaten, we moved forward and restarted the brainstorming process.
The birth of Fitmon
We asked ourselves, what game do we want to create that uses the Nabu and is something we would like to play ourselves? When we were kids (and mind you it was a very long time ago), Digimon was really popular and we’d carry a digivice with us everywhere we go. As you walk, you train your digimon and make them more powerful. How about making a modern version of it with a battle system that is much more engaging?
Initial Gameplay Idea
With the direction set, we then began to draft out the whole gameplay. Here’s the basic features we drafted out initially.
Rearing System: You first begin by collecting monsters. As you feed and take care of them, they grow stronger and eventually evolve. What they evolve into is determined by how you take care of them.
Proposed Monsters and Evolutions
Battle System: As you play the campaign, you get to battle powerful enemies and gain exp to level up and learn new skills. The battles are reminiscent of generic turn-based battles found in most JRPGs.
Wearable Integration: Layering the main game was the idea to supplement the rearing and battle with wearables that will make a difference. As we thought of integrating the tracking of your distance and ultimately build a synergistic system!
Wearing Integration System
A good idea… but what’s next?
With the core features and initial game idea flashed out, Fitmon sounded like really good idea. Even after drafting it out with the concept art and gameplay flow all looked wonderful and filled with potential. Of course, we knew that was only the beginning of many iterations and we were excited to prototype and test things out.
More in the next post! Stay tuned!
So what apps are best for learning Chinese character writing?
While figuring out the idea for Chiro Heroes, we scoured the internet and app store to see whether there were any games that enhanced learning Chinese character writing. Indeed, there were many gamified apps and apps that helped with writing. However, few really incorporated true game mechanics that promoted application based learning and practise. In our last post on recommended general Chinese learning apps, some had writing features but none were specific to learning writing.
Amongst those that truly focused on Chinese character writing, some stood out to us. Here, we want to recommend a few to you and also explain more about Chiro Heroes and its objectives for learning.
Price: Free for one week, then $14.99/month or $99.99/year (~45% discount)
This is certainly one of the most established apps in the market to learn Chinese writing. A very comprehensive app that utilises a space repetition algorithm that shows you when you learnt the word and how well you learnt it. Each exercise is a test of your writing skills. Prompts come in the form of Hanyu Pinyin, english translations and chinese sentences. These give clues for remembering the words. If you want a challenge, you can write the Chinese characters from scratch (without stroke guides) but can easily turn them on and off with a press of a button. There is a pronounciation and tone practise exercises also help with listening and speaking of the words. If you want to practise writing with more of a guided approach with meanings of words translated and Hanyu Pinyin, this is definitely one of the better apps.
2. Monkimun Chinese Class
Price: Free, then USD$3.98 for more level packs
This is one of the more beautiful Chinese writing apps in the market. With its vector based design and colours of the Chinese characters and pictures laid out nicely on your phone or tablet screen, it feels nice to interact with. Though it is marketed as a children’s app, we think learners of all ages will still learn better with it. It uses real world representations of the characters. For example, the word 山will have a mountain graphic drawn and animated behind the characters after it is written. It also ensures the learner takes a step by step approach to learn the characters by showing how each stroke should be written first, before prompting the learner to write it. Overall a great app to get started learning the basic characters but look beyond it if you want to practice more complex ones.
3. Chinese Writer
Price: Free, then USD$0.99 per level pack
Learn to write Chinese the fun way! This is a writing app that takes a more gamified approach to writing practise. Words come down from the top of your phone screen and you are supposed to write it as fast as you can. You can choose to ‘trace’ the characters, which is the guided approach or write it from scratch if you want a challenge. The app also helps you improve by identifying the characters that you frequently write wrongly so you can revisit and practise them again. If you are studying for the HSK test, this app might help as the characters are presented in packs for the different levels of HSK. The company trainchinese also has a dictionary and flashcard app for your other learning needs; do check out these other apps too.
4. Chinese Letter Academy
Price: Free, then USD$0.99 for 10 tokens
This game was rated one of the best kids apps for learning Chinese writing on the app store in 2014. We tried it out and found that it was indeed very suited for 6 to 8 years old kids. The characters in the app are shown in fun coloured crayon vector art. It takes a step-by-step approach by first showing you the stroke sequence as well as how to write each stroke. Then, it prompts learners to write accordingly and repeat. You can also check your practise history in the ‘history’ function of the app. It gives you a snapshot of how you actually written the characters so you can review whether you’ve improved too.
5. Chiro Heroes
Chiro Heroes takes a game-based approach to learning Chinese writing. Learners will practise what they learnt by writing words to battle monsters and defeat them. Games like Chiro Heroes motivate learners to complete complementary goals (defeating monsters) while learning at the same time. This gives a higher sense of motivation to learn and progress. Also, to ensure learners can learn at their own pace, we adopted some good features like providing a ‘learning’ mode for people to learn the words first before going straight into practice. If you want to learn basic Chinese characters, our app is suited for that too. Our overall goal was to make learning fun, because learners who have fun will enjoy learning and will learn better.
Some of the recommended apps have features like explanation (meaning and understanding) of Chinese Characters while others use effective methods for practice (spaced repetition). Others use games to encourage and motivate learners to progress more. We hope our game, Chiro Heroes can provide you with some fun in your learning journey. Do explore and use a combination of these apps to enhance your learning experience, we hope the above recommended apps have given you a clearer idea of what you can choose from.
Have you tried the above apps? How useful are they? Are there any other apps that you find to be useful? Do share with us in the comments below.
What is the best Chinese language-learning app? Answer: There is no one best app!
Before deciding on an idea for our game, we scoured the app store to see what great learning apps there were to help us with our idea generation. We also wanted to look for the best app. We then realised, there was no one best app for learning the language. Most apps focus on a certain type of content or component of the language.
Great! It was an opportunity for us to make something cool. We found that there were not many fun writing apps and thus, decided on the idea for Chiro Heroes, to make learning Chinese character writing more fun.
Despite not finding a panacea app to learn the language, there were apps that we found that are quite comprehensive and well developed. Many of these cover a combination of the learning components (reading, writing, listening etc.).
In this post, we want to recommend a few of these apps as we believe they will help learners of the language. Many of these go beyond just writing and they do complement Chiro Heroes very well. Here are 5 of those.
- Pleco (Awesome offline dictionary with upgradable features)
Price: Free (basic version)
Pretty much an all-in-one app, though it is more of a dictionary and a translator. Other cool features include the optical character recogniser, handwriting recogniser and text reader. These help as there are times you often can copy the words from an external source (like copy and paste words from a website) and the app can read it out or identify it for you. It’s like ad-hoc translation on-the-go. Beginners and advanced learners will all benefit from Pleco.
- Anki (Vocabulary review with spaced repetition)
Price: Free for PC and Android. iOS $24.99
Need to remember more words? Anki is one app that can help. It can be considered as one of the more popular SRS app that utilised flash cards to learn new words and review words learnt. ‘Decks’ can be customised with different words and you can even download them from a public database that is open-sourced. You can contribute by sharing your decks too.
- Fluent U (Real-world immersion and interactivity)
Price: Subscription based – Free, Basic (USD$14/mth), Plus (USD$29/mth)
Relevant real-world immersion helps with learning any kind of language. FluentU takes a huge collection of real-world Chinese videos—like music videos, commercials, news and talks and personalise them for the learner. You can choose a subject or media you are interested in like a song ‘Frozen’ or funny advertising videos from their library and learn from the transcripts. Customisation is available also. If you spot an interesting word in a song that you don’t understand, you can turn it into a flashcard deck. It also has various assignments like ’fill in the blanks’ which you can use to test yourself.
Price: Subscription based – Free, Basic (USD$9/mth), Plus (USD$59/year)
Memrise mainly uses mnemonic devices to help you learn words. Chinese characters are introduced with pictures that are representations of it. This helps with memory recall as these characters are attached to something familiar. It also takes a spaced repetition approach for learning each word. There is also some form of gamification as you get points for the right answer and get ranked according to how many points you have. Probably one of the better tools to learn vocabulary.
It is a great tool – for learning vocabulary. Memrise’s combination of user-written mnemonics, gamification, and use of spaced repetition algorithms to determine when to test you means that it’s an extremely efficient tool for acquiring and retaining new vocabulary – the best I know of.
However, it’s important to realise that Memrise doesn’t (currently) do all the other things necessary to learn a language: equally important are learning sentence construction, grammar, and developing speaking and listening fluency.
You should therefore look at Memrise as one (very powerful) part of your language-learning toolkit, which should also include speaking/listening (with a native speaker if possible), studying some grammar, and reading simple material written in the target language.
- Learn Chinese Free by Bravolol (For Speaking Common Phrases)
Price: Free, Unlock Full (USD$4.99)
Common phrases and sentences are foundational to learning a language. This app is a beautiful collection of these commonly used phrases and sentences that are well organised into categories such as greetings, eating, transportation, hobbies etc. We found it useful especially for practise as the characters are put into context. Also, the audio helps when repeating the phrases or sentences as you can learn how to pronounce the words correctly.
With the plethora of Chinese language learning apps available, its best to handpick the few that serve your learning objective. We hope the above list can provide some direction as we recommend the apps that we find to be more useful for those learning the language.
Have you tried the above apps? How useful are they? Are there any other apps that you find to be useful? Do share with us in the comments below.
Just key in ‘learn Chinese language’ in the mobile app store and a loooong list of apps can be found. With so many types of apps, which are really useful to learning and what can we learn? As explained in the previous Chiro Heroes Origins post, there are many components to learning a language.
During our research phase for Chiro Heroes, we found many types of apps and here we will share some of what they are and what to look out for when choosing an app to catalyse your learning.
1. Information focused
These are mainly for reference and guides. Some examples include dictionaries, flashcards, character recognition and translation. Majority of the apps populate this list with some popular examples like Pleco and Anki.
2. Test focused – Cater to different levels
These test-focused apps have specific progression and content integrated for various language tests like the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) standardized exams or local curriculum like the Primary School syllabus. Some examples include Chinese Writer and our own Chiro Heroes which focuses on the Primary 1 syllabus.
3. Game focused
Some of the informational focused apps have game or progression mechanics (like leader boards) incorporated into the app while others are pure games like Chiro Heroes. These apps use games to make learning more enjoyable by increasing player engagement.
Whether you want to learn how to read or recognise words through the flash cards apps or practise word writing, there are things you can look out for within these 3 types to ensure that you find the right one. Consider the following before deciding to download any of the apps.
1. Active learning
Game focused apps are best for this purpose. With game features, you will interact more with the content and feel more involved. It encourages thinking and helps with memorising and learning.
2. Customisation and Usability
Look for an app that allows you to choose settings to suite your needs and interests. Do you want to study vocabulary about transportation on a basic level? Maybe writing on an advanced level? If an app allows you to choose the component and level of learning, it helps, as you are able to customise your learning to suite what you like and this could motivate you more.
Identifying your mistakes and having features that allow you to review what you’ve learnt (or have not learnt well) is important. There are Space Repetition Software (SRS) like Anki that allow you to do so. This takes advantage of technology as content can be scheduled for review, which actually helps with memorization.
There it is, an overview of the different types of Chinese language learning apps in the mobile stores and how to choose them. We hope you find this useful. Keeping in mind what to look for will definitely help as you can then identify the best apps suited for your learning. Are there any other criteria you use to identify these apps? Do share with us in the comments.
In the next post, we’ll share some of the recommended apps that we’ve found during our research…
Children get lost in games and often beg their parents to buy them. Zoom by Toys R Us or a Video Game Store and you’ll hears kids ask: “Mama and papa, so fun! Can we buy it?”. On one hand, many parents won’t bat an eye if there is enough educational value, seeing so many children get put into tuition or piano classes. On the other hand, they rarely or reluctantly would spend on toys or video games as they feel that it is a distraction.
We hope to bridge that conflicting perception to let parents see the benefits; children can be entertained and learn at the same time. So to understand parents better, we let them play our game, observed and interviewed them during our play tests.
We first asked more general questions about their knowledge about their children’s interest in games and their opinions. Many explained that their children loved to play games, especially mine craft (1 playtester was even showing off his minecraft skills to us, we were amazed how an 8 year old knew so much). They have set times to allow children to play (usually during the weekends) and often limit these times. Most are not averse to letting their children play games as they see the benefits and happiness from playing. How about our game then?
After letting them try our game, to our surprise, many of the parents found the game fun. Word like ‘different learning experience’ and ‘engaging’ were mentioned. However, there was a preference for more learning content. One example, which we eventually incorporated, was the use of sound and Han Yu Pin Yin (shown above) in the game. Parents mentioned how that would help with word recognition, reading and listening. Also, they were more assured of its quality as it followed the Primary 1 Syllabus.
But despite it being fun and engaging, will they pay for game like Chiro Heroes? Well, the answers were mixed. Some will, some won’t but most said they don’t mind trying it out for free first. If it is good enough and there is enough value, then they will consider an ‘upgrade’. To us, it was a signal to initially go for a freemium approach when we priced the game for sale. We also ensured it as simple as possible (a straight 1X upgrade) with no complicated in-app purchases like those conventional mobile role-playing games.
Overall, we learnt that parents are willing to invest in games if there is value and payment is straightforward. There are high expectations in terms value. For example, it has to follow a certain curriculum or syllabus and incorporate very clear learning objectives. They seem to still see Chiro Heroes as an educational tool rather than purely a game on its own. However, it is one that is both engaging and educational at the same time and different from rote learning.
Based on their feedback, we designed and developed Chiro Heroes, keeping in mind what’s essential for learning while making the game fun. Also, by partnering with a trusted publisher, Marshall Cavendish, we ensured that the content within the game is well structured and presented in a progressive manner. Of course, the game can always be expanded into future modules or other areas of learning (like reading and listening) and we are always open to that.
We will like to hear from more parents too! If you are a parent or just want to learn Chinese writing in a fun way, do try it out here. We welcome more feedback, do let us know in the comments below.
Simon Says “Touch your belly”. Everyone touches his or her belly. Simon Says “Smile!”. Everyone smiles. As children, we played this game of watch and follow. Chiro Heroes originated from this simple concept. Remember the times in school when the teacher wrote and you followed? Same concept applied in our idea. How to make it more interactive then? Add some music and presto! Suddenly everything feels more interactive. It sounded like a great idea.
To learn and to practise. We started with these 2 essential modes. Players will learn the words by following stroke by stroke according to the tempo of music. Add in a guide or a ‘shifu’, ‘sensei’ or ‘master’ who will teach the strokes and we have a digital Simon Says game in the palm of your hands.
We expanded on that concept of practise and created a 3rd mode, the battle mode. Players will write for a bigger reason, to practise and feel that there’s progress. Each word they write will damage and defeat enemies. Now, it became a role-playing game and players had a purpose and goal to write more to win.
With the idea thought out, it was time to get down to work! Our first prototype’s goal was to test the ‘learning and practise modes’ for kids, our main target audience. What were the reactions? Well, it was mixed.
The kids had trouble following any form of tempo with the music. Once they missed the beat, the missed the words and they felt frustrated. The game had to be slower and more lenient.
That’s when we had our first iteration with the following changes:
- Removing the tempo based writing mechanic. This allowed the kids to write it at their own pace when they learnt during the ‘learning mode’.
- Have clearer markers for strokes after it is showed
Our 2nd prototype included the ‘battle mode’ with the above changes. How did they react this time?
With the learning mode changes, the kids were no longer frustrated with being unable to follow the strokes. In fact, they enjoyed the game more. With the battle mode in the game, they repeated playing the game over and over again. Some even wanted to compete with their siblings on who could write faster. Here you can see some of the play testers enjoying themselves
Our observations meant it was good news for us, our core mechanic was fun! It was also high replayability as the players wanted to continue to progress. However, we also noticed what else we needed to improve on:
- To keep the battles short (mainly game balancing) as the kids get tired easily
- To put battle at the forefront of the game. Essentially putting fun in front
- Polishing stroke sequence feedback to be clearer
With our play tests done, we validated our game concept and mechanics with high interest shown from our target audience. We pressed on with polishing the game and eventually completed and commercialized it. More information about our final product can be found here: http://www.deltaduckstudios.com/chiro/
Hmm… but what did our play testers parents think? They are our buyers after all.
Next post, we’ll share more.
Learning Chinese was boring. Having to write words over and over while struggling to figure out what they meant was quite a chore for me. Engagement with the language was almost non-existent and those strange looking pictorial Chinese characters were not contextual enough. Every… word… a… picture… so difficult to remember, so difficult to write. Just look at the character below. Hardest Chinese character to write, ever.
I practically lost all motivation to learn the language. Somehow, I managed to pass my tests, barely. As I grew older, I recognised that I probably was not the only one suffering. My partners in Delta Duck Studios did too. The modern day parent probably do too, recognising how hard to teach or get their child interested in learning Chinese.
When we got the chance to collaborate with Marshall Cavendish Education in Singapore, we hopped onto the opportunity train and decided to tackle problems related learning Chinese.
We started researching and knew that there were many components to learning a language, from writing to reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary. We to create a game to be interactive, engaging and application focused at the same time. We wanted to turn the most boring part of learning the language to make it much more fun. Just one area of learning was what we decided to focus on. Which area of learning Chinese to focus on then?
Digging deeper into our research, in a writing experiment conducted by the University of Hong Kong, 73% of children wrote the wrong stroke sequence for Chinese characters. In writing Chinese characters, stroke sequence is important for writing speed, accuracy and readability. More importantly, it aids learning and memorizing the words. When we reviewed how we wrote the simple words like 火, we realized we were writing the wrong stroke sequences too. Alas, a problem we could possibly tackle!
Also, learning Chinese writing was pretty mundane too. Doing 习字or what we call practise writing the same characters again and again and again, it was rote learning that felt like brain rotting boredom.
Thus, putting our idea hats on, we went on to ideate how we could make learning Chinese writing fun and also educational at the same time. What game mechanics did we come up with? How did we test? How to create fun but ensure content is relevant for learning?
Stay tuned for part 2…
- Children’s stroke sequence errors in writing Chinese characters NANCY LAW, W.W. KI, A.L.S. CHUNG, P.Y. KO & H.C. LAM Department of Curriculum Studies, University ofHong Kong, Hong Kong, PR China
We were browsing through the google store this morning and found a new featured category for SG50 games here: https://play.google.com/…/…/promotion_30018da_SG50CTP_games…
We recommend the first 5 games which are uniquely Singapore games.
Feeling wonderful that Google also featured 2 of our games there:
Chiro Heroes: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…
Retro Arcade Dash: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…
Other wonderful Indie Games that we recommend are:
Ravenmark Mecenaries: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…
Konbini Story: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…
Support Local FTW! Enjoy them! Quack!
We’ve updated the Android version of Chiro Heroes with the 1B Syllabus!
With more words, more exciting battles and more customization!
Download it from the Google Play Store:
Here’s the overview of the updates:
– 1B words added! You now have 81 New Words to play with!
– Speed Slider added! You can now manually change the difficulty for the game!
– Combat is faster and much more fun!
– New Character Portraits to ogle at!
– You can now see a Timer Bar when Writing!
Enjoy it! Quack!