Besides the instructional likes of Mavis Beacon, typing games that double down on playfulness are a rare delight; one of the strangest and most surprising examples is still The Typing of the Dead, originally released in Japanese arcades way back in 1999.
It’s this niche genre that developer Pumpernickel Studio hopes to break into, and which has fascinated founder and game designer Malte Hoffmann since he began learning to touch-type about seven years ago.
There have been a few other inspired examples in recent years, notably action RPG Epistory and bullet-hell shooter The Textorcist, but they’re also notably fast-paced affairs, and after playing those games, Hoffmann felt there was potential for the genre to go into other, uncharted waters.
“I thought of what I would like to play,” he says. ”And as I really like strategy games, that’s what my mind came to.”
The result is Touch Type Tale, which combines touch-typing with RTS elements. By typing randomly generated words tied to specific units and structures, you marshal units and gather resources to battle your enemies.
Set in a medieval fantasy universe, the typewriter itself is introduced as a mystical machine that harnesses the power to command from afar. It just so happens that only the protagonist, a young boy called Paul, has nimble enough fingers to make use of it. It’s a fairly typical hero’s journey quest, with a king’s assassination turning into a game of thrones between dukes and duchesses vying for control of the kingdom.
What I’m more intrigued by is whether it’s possible to effectively translate the depth of an RTS with just a keyboard and no mouse. A look at the single-screen map shows some of the design constraints the team was up against.
“The biggest challenge was unit movement,” Hoffmann admits. “We had thought about having something like hexes, but it was too close together, so a visual fit was to have waypoints which you can move between.”
Maps are essentially structured as lanes, which might have you thinking Touch Type Tale could have easily been a MOBA. Apparently, the game had been prototyped almost like a single-player take on that genre, where typing caused your units to switch lanes at different junctions.
Ultimately, Hoffmann explains, this felt too fiddly and lacking in the tactical range he wanted, such as accruing timing attacks or outflanking opponents. “In the end, we decided that words should appear around a waypoint where the unit can move, and as soon as you type one of those words, units start moving in that direction, and you can’t stop them until they get there.”
With words all over the map, the choices at your fingertips can seem a bit overwhelming at first, though at least structures are differentiated from waypoints by using upper-case letters. What you won’t find, however, are themed words, so you won’t be typing ‘crops’ when farming, for example – after all, the emphasis is on training you to type, rather than inputting literal commands.
The structures themselves do offer minigames, though, displayed on a mini-screen below the map, which requires further typing to perform actions like gathering crops or mining gold – or, amusingly, typing a single letter to keep a minecart in motion.
Nimbly typing away through its introductory mission feels satisfying, as you direct your units of infantry, spearmen, archers, and cavalry across the map to capture enemy waypoints and defeat bandits, all the while keeping your resources topped up so that you can deploy more units.
Admittedly, it does feel a tad on the simplistic side, perhaps because the build I played didn’t penalise you for any typing errors – you can just use backspace if you start typing the wrong word. But Hoffmann assures me that one element the team plans to introduce is ink supply, which will function a bit like magic points in an RPG.
This means that players will need to put a bit more thought into their actions instead of just typing away at any word that pops up, lest they find themselves unable to move their soldiers to counter an enemy raid on the other side of the map because they’re waiting for their ink to regenerate. Likewise, you’ll also be able to keep the ink supply topped up by building ink laboratories.
To get a feel of the mission variety the team are aiming for, I also tried out a level that plays like a tower defence game, as you fend off waves of escalating enemy types, from horse-riding knights to ogres. For this mission, instead of just relying on infantry, your tower also happens to be able to shoot powerful rays, which admittedly turns Touch Type Tale into something more like a reflex-first shooter.
Nonetheless, it’s a lot of fun, even more so once you ratchet up the difficulty and start scanning around the map for enemies and words to strike them down with. Having won the Indie Showcase at this year’s Develop conference, signs are positive for Touch Type Tale: already, it’s shaping to be a fun and innovative war of words.
Genre: Touch-typing RTS
Developer: Pumpernickel Studio
Publisher: Pumpernickel Studio