Hot on the heels of Company of Heroes 3, which looks amazing and feels great to play at times but doesn’t innovate the RTS genre all that much, comes one of the most original takes on real time strategy in a while. Touch Type Tale, a blend of real time strategy, typing based gameplay and the voiceover talents of acclaimed actor Jim Broadbent – we talked to the studio behind it to find out more.
What can you tell us about Pumpernickel Studio?
Pumpernickel Studio was founded by me (Malte Hoffman, Programmer and Designer) in 2017 after having completed my PhD in particle physics. Video Games were always a huge part of my life and after learning how to code during my time in science I decided to take the plunge and develop my own game. I met Jelde and Fabian after posting a job-ad, and it became clear immediately that we were a great fit. While Jelde studied animation at the film university Babelsberg, Fabian studied Media Art and Design.
How did you get the idea to implement typing mechanics into a real time strategy context for Touch Type Tale?
While trying to improve my typing skills I searched the web far and wide for typing games to help me accomplish my goals, but there were not many games to be found. The most well known one back then, Typing of the Dead, is actually banned in Germany, so it’s hard to get. After playing Epistory, which was great, and Z-Type, a small browser game, I ran out of games and I started thinking about the games that could have been. As I love RTS, my first instinct was to think about how one could implement typing mechanics into an RTS.
At first I imagined a game with lanes on which minions would auto-move, like in MOBAs, and by typing one could then set the paths for those minions. After prototyping this idea, it quickly became apparent that this wouldn’t really work out. Mostly because the player did not have enough agency and there wasn’t a lot of typing to be done. After changing the unit movement to its current form, it all suddenly clicked. This is when I started to reach out for help and when I found Jelde and Fabian.
How did you go about transcribing familiar RTS mechanics to a typing environment?
One of the easier things to transcribe was the way the player can interact with buildings.
We knew that we didn’t want the player to touch their mouse, so instead of clicking on a building they would just type a word next to it. Instead of then clicking something in the building menu, they would again have to type a word next to that button. As the building menu would need a lot of space to fit all of the words, we had a lot of room to play with for the building menu. That room was beautifully filled by Jelde and Fabian with an in-game view into the building itself where the actions to choose in that building are shown not by buttons, but by putting words next to the things to interact with.
What was more difficult to solve, was unit movement. We knew that the MOBA-like lanes did not work. We tried mimicking a mouse, as we did for the interaction with buildings, by putting words above units to select them and then displaying words for your move targets. That also didn’t really work because it didn’t feel immediate enough.
What we came up with in the end was a movement system where one can move their units along routes between predefined nodes. A single word can then denote which units should move in which direction and once they start moving they will continue moving until they have reached their next waypoint. This felt great as it was immediate but also quite tense as you can’t stop your units anymore once the move command is given. We later refined movement by implementing a system that lets you choose how many units and which unit types will listen to your next move commands, but otherwise that part of the game didn’t change much anymore.
Another design constraint one wouldn’t immediately think about is that we can’t use tooltips, as there is no mouse to hover over anything. That is the reason why we have an Interactive Glossary in the game in which the player can explore the rules of the game and the nuances of all the spells and unit types freely.
Traditional mouse and keyboard controls will be pretty hard-wired into the brains of those who play PC RTS games – how do you break that ‘habit’?
As the mouse can’t be used for anything in our game except menu navigation (where it is optional as well) it becomes clear to our players straight away where their hands should be. Luckily, this already feels more familiar to RTS players than for most other genres as RTS players are used to navigating the game via Hotkeys that can be all over the keyboard.
From a gameplay design perspective, how do you manage the “whoever can type the fastest” aspect in a multiplayer setting?
Being able to type lots of words per minute (WPM) in Touch Type Tale translates quite directly to having a high APM (actions per minute) count in other RTSs. It will clearly help you, as you can transfer your strategy from your mind into the game quicker, but in the end it’s the strategy itself that is more important.
We took care that there is nothing in the game where the benefit just scales linearly with your typing speed. If, for example, the amount of gold that you can earn would scale linearly with your typing speed, that would be quite problematic as the player that can type twice as fast would have double the amount of gold, giving him a huge advantage.
In our game, the benefit of a high WPM naturally has a kind of diminishing returns. If you can increase your typing speed from 5 to 10 WPM the difference will be quite noticeable. But when going from 25 to 30 WPM it will be far less noticeable as all of the high impact actions are already achievable with 25 WPM.
Touch Type Tale launches on March 28th – what did the final stretch look like?
We are done after 6 years of development and had the Open Beta playable on EGS until the 8th of March. Afterwards we did some final bug fixing and polishing before releasing the game on March 28th.