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$1,749 pledged of $15,000 goal
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By Scott Holman
$1,749 pledged of $15,000 goal
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About this project

The Game

"Beat the Kanji" is a JPOP music rhythm game for learning the kanji of the Japanese language. Get to know the kanji as you play a fun music game with professionally produced songs containing Japanese lyrics sung by native Japanese singers. The Japanese lyrics in the game are designed to give you exposure to the kanji as you play.

"Beat the Kanji" can help you stay motivated to stick with it and keep learning - it's all about repeated exposure. This mobile game app, made by the creator of iNattou and member of the team that brought you Chex Quest, will be released for iOS so you can play it on Apple's iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

As thanks to our backers, we're offering reward levels with a special Kickstarter exclusive "All Access Pass" that will allow you to play all the songs and stages we ever release for the game! That is all songs and stages available on release plus all new songs and stages that come out over time as we continue to make more music for the game. Ordinarily, the songs and stages in the game will be in "songs packs" available as in-app purchases, so this is a great deal we're happy to give you now as thanks for your help in making this game possible!

Why Kanji?

Kanji along with hiragana and katakana make up the writing system for Japanese. Whether you want to be able to read manga in Japanese, text appearing in anime, read Japanese literature, or survive in business and life in Japan, mastering kanji is a must.  

I've been a student of the Japanese language for many years.  My Japanese studies were originally motivated by my interest in Japanese pop culture (anime, manga, JPOP music, etc).  These days, Japan and the Japanese language are even closer to my heart as Japan is my wife's home country and is part of our son's heritage.

After picking up the basics of Japanese through self study and some classes back in college, I found the biggest challenge of mastering the language has been learning the kanji. I could listen to a conversation in Japanese and understand it, but give me a written transcript of the same conversation and there would be words I wouldn't have recognized. Learning the over 2000 kanji an educated Japanese adult is expected to know is not an easy task.  Just reading lots of Japanese books, magazines, and manga would be a great way to increase vocabulary in the language (along with being fun!), but the reality is at first you run into so many unknown kanji you get bogged down just looking up every other word you come across.  You feel more like you're acting like an amateur translator converting the kanji in the text to English bit by bit with your dictionary in hand, not actually enjoying reading a book or following a story.

Flash cards are a traditional way to go.  I've done this. I've had many a vocab list turned into paper flash cards, sets of professionally printed cards, and digital flash card apps. There's nothing wrong with these - they can work - after all it's all about repeated exposure. It's the staying motivated to keep looking at the flash cards or vocab lists over time that is a challenge.  I would start each new vocab set with excitement and optimism on the first day when I made them, then maybe continue a few days, maybe more if lucky, but over time my study would drop off until I got motivated again (maybe due to vocab from a new manga or book I was trying to read). Then it all repeats.  I know if I had absolutely needed to learn Japanese to survive in daily life or business, then I would have stuck to it. We're all good at studying when we have a strong motivation.

So, the question on my mind for many years has been, "Is there a way to make sticking to studying the kanji more motivational? Especially for all of us studying kanji out of pure interest?" I've thought through many ideas, various game designs, and "Beat the Kanji" is my answer.  It's easy to be motivated to sit and listen to music.  It's also easy to be motivated to play a game on your iPhone or iPad. Not just one time, but regularly, even daily.  What if you had the motivation to jump into a kanji learning game regularly the same way and for the same amount of time you do with one of your favorite mobile apps? That's the idea behind "Beat the Kanji". Even just playing a little each day will go a long way toward getting to know the kanji. Again it's all about repeated exposure.

Gameplay

First and foremost, "Beat the Kanji" is designed to be a fun rhythm music game along the lines of traditional games in the music beat genre. The kanji learning is in there, but the gameplay comes first! This is important since it's the fun gameplay and music that supports your motivation to stay at it and continue learning. (and it's just not a game unless it's fun and this is a GAME!) As in most music games, the game is played by pressing on screen targets in time with the music.  Whereas most music games tend to focus on the beat, this game uses the lyrics along with the beat.

The songs are designed to have lyrics that provide a good set of vocabulary with kanji while still being fun, professional quality songs - songs that can stand on their own even if not in an educationally focused game.  The songs are written and produced by a professional in the music industry and sung by native Japanese singers.  The lyrics themselves are written by a native Japanese and all language content is overseen by a native, professional Japanese translator and interpreter with language teaching experience.

The kanji learning comes from repeated exposure to the lyrics of the songs in the game. Now you're not expected to learn all the kanji in a song all at once to enjoy playing the game.  You can start off as a total beginner and learn step by step.  Each stage of each song in the game introduces a few kanji at a time. You'll see and hear all the lyrics (for added exposure) but your score in each stage is dependent on just those specific kanji along with pressing all the "regular" traditional style rhythm targets. As you pass stages and move on to more difficult stages, you'll be playing with more kanji of the song at a time.  Over time you can make your way to mastering all the kanji in a song.

There are three main types of targets in the game (with additional variations to add to the fun) "green", "yellow", and "red". The color refers to the color of the frame around the words. The "green" targets are basically the same as what is in a traditional music game. You press these in time with the music.  The "yellow" targets are similar to the "green" targets - you press them in time with the music - but these targets are aligned to the lyrics in the song and have the lyrics written on them.  You are not expected to know the actual kanji on these targets. Your score is based purely on your timing.  The idea is that these targets give you additional exposure so you have some familiarity in later stages when the focus is on these kanji.  The third target type is "red". In these you need to make a choice.  You'll be presented with one piece of information (Kanji, Reading, or Meaning depending on the stage) and need to choose the correct corresponding answer between two choices by pressing the target with the correct answer in time with the music. It is the kanji in these "red" targets that are the focus of study for any given stage. Your score is affected by your ability to correctly answer.

Kanji Reading (pronunciation) practice modes: Kanji->Reading & Reading->Kanji using Romaji
Kanji Reading (pronunciation) practice modes: Kanji->Reading & Reading->Kanji using Romaji
Kanji Meaning (English) practice modes: Kanji->Meaning & Meaning->Kanji using Kana
Kanji Meaning (English) practice modes: Kanji->Meaning & Meaning->Kanji using Kana

When you correctly answer a kanji, that kanji is added to your kanji collection in your "Kanji Album".  Continued correct answers for that kanji in the song - or any song in the game with that kanji - will add experience points to the kanji and level up the kanji. Leveling up the kanji helps you unlock new stages, complete challenges, and unlock new visual themes in the game.

More Ways to Learn


The main rhythm gameplay is not the only part of the game that supports your kanji learning.  Each stage starts out with information about the kanji focused on in that stage (kanji used in the "red" targets of the stage). You will also see the specific vocabulary in the lyrics that contain those kanji along with their reading and meaning.

For a more in-depth look at the kanji and song lyrics, there is an interactive "Lyrics Sheet", section in the game. In the "Lyrics Sheet" you can view all the lyrics to a song along with their reading (as furigana or romaji) and English meaning.  Tapping on a lyric will bring up more information about the kanji and play that part of the song.  You can also listen to the whole song and watch the lyrics and English meanings light up karaoke style in front of you as you follow along. 

The "Kanji Album" is where your kanji collection resides.  Here you can see all the kanji you've collected along with the ones that are still out there to collect. Each kanji has an active level based on the amount of experience points you've gained by successfully collecting the kanji in songs.  The game also keeps a record of how many times you've played each kanji, in which songs you've played the kanji, and how many times you've passed and failed per kanji. This way you can see which kanji you're getting good at and which you need to study more.  If there is a specific kanji you want to study, you can find which songs contain that kanji.  Experiencing the same kanji in more than one song is a great way to expand your exposure to the kanji.

Total Beginner Basics to Advanced and Expert

"Beat the Kanji" is great for beginners and advanced learners looking to expand their kanji knowledge.  The songs contain a variety of kanji from the most regularly used, basic kanji through more advanced kanji.  As we continue to add more songs over time, we plan to make sure the lyrics across all songs give a good overall balance of kanji.  New songs will introduce new kanji while also repeating certain kanji to allow for additional exposure in a new context.

The step by step, stage by stage structure of "Beat the Kanji" allows total beginners to learn their first kanji. We also support two systems of learning the proper way to say a word in Japanese - the Japanese writing system "kana" and the English style "romaji" (for instance, writing "arigatou" is the romaji way). So even if you have zero experience with Japanese, you can begin to pick up Kanji.

The inclusion of a variety of kanji in the lyrics allows more advanced learners to pick up new kanji while strengthening their familiarity with the basics. All the kanji in a song is considered either "Basic", "Advanced", or "Expert". "Basic" kanji is typically taught in early grade levels in Japan and is used more frequently in the language. "Expert" kanji, on the other hand, is typically taught in higher grade levels in Japan and may be used less frequently in the language. One third of the kanji in a song is considered "Basic", one third "Advanced" and one third "Expert". 

The "Basic" kanji in a song are then organized in that song's "Basic Zone", the advanced kanji in its "Advanced Zone" and the expert kanji in its "Expert Zone".

Each Zone contains a number of stages. Stages are where the game play happens. In a stage, you play through the song by pressing the pattern of targets on screen along with the music. Each stage focuses on a subset of the kanji in the Zone. Stages are broken down into "Easy", "Medium", "Hard" and "Master" difficulty levels. The "Easy" stages introduce all the kanji of that particular Zone a few at a time while later "Medium", "Hard" and "Master" stages combine the kanji you have learned for a greater challenge.

If you need a break during your studies and just want to enjoy the music as a traditional music rhythm game, you can also do that in the special "Break Time" stages in each Zone!

Song Packs

The app itself will be a free download on the app store and will contain some sample stages, but the main content will be in "song packs" available as in-app purchases for $4.99 per song pack. However, you can get a Kickstarter exclusive "All Access Pass" level reward now to get every song pack we ever release!

Each new song pack contains 3 Basic Zones for totally new songs plus 1 Advanced Zone and 1 Expert Zone for songs whose "Basic" Zones have been previously released in prior song packs. This way, you get a mixture of new music along with more kanji and stages for the previously released songs.

There will be a number of song packs available on initial release. (We're hoping to have 3 to 4 right away on the release day.) We then plan to continuously release a new song pack each month thereafter on an ongoing basis. Our hope is to be able to continue this monthly release schedule for as long as possible to create a comprehensive learning tool giving exposure to many kanji throughout many songs. 

All Access Pass

Your support will help us make great music and game stages. The more backing we receive, the better shape we'll be in to keep on making more and more song packs. We're hoping to be able to release a new song pack a month on an ongoing basis for as long as possible. As part of our thanks to you for your support, we are offering a Kickstarter exclusive "All Access Pass" in many of the rewards.  This pass gives you access to all songs and stages in the game. You get every song pack available on release plus every new song pack we release over time for free - no need to make any song pack in-app purchases, just enjoy it all!

Some rewards offer a "Limited Edition Physical All Access Pass."  In addition to the privileges of the regular digital pass (all songs and stages from all song packs we create) you get something to have in the real world to signify your status as a wonderful and much appreciated backer of this project. You will get a special physical postcard version of the pass sent to you in the mail.

Beta Testing

We are including beta testing in the higher reward levels.  We'd love to be able to include all backers, but there are a limited number of beta tester slots we can give out on iOS. We felt it only fair that the biggest supporters get those slots.  We've divided the beta testing into "Early" and "General".  "Early" will, as the name implies, start earlier. At this point, the game will have evolved from the current prototype but still be evolving toward the release (basically you could call it an "alpha").  Beta testers involved in the early stage will be able to see the game's progress and give feedback at a time when we are the most able to make some design changes. It's your chance to be more involved in the process.  The "General" beta testing will occur later as we approach the release version. The focus of the general beta will be finding and squishing any bugs while polishing and tuning the experience. Early beta testers will also be part of the general beta testing round.

Stretch Goals

Our project goal of $15,000 is the absolute bare minimum we need to take the current prototype to a release version. Any backing we receive above this amount will allow us to add more content and features to the game. Most importantly, the more support we receive, the more great music we will be able to create.  Our hope is to be able to continue to release a new song pack every month on an ongoing basis, making as many songs as possible to create a comprehensive Kanji learning tool.  The more funding we have, the longer we can keep going.

In addition to more music, we have some ideas for integrating the game with other Apple ecosystem devices.  Reaching these higher stretch goals will allow us to build these additional features in addition to making more music and stages.

$45,000 - Second Screen Experience on Apple TV.  At this level, we can implement some ideas we have for extending the game experience to the Apple TV over Airplay as a second screen.  Some examples of the possibilities are viewing a karaoke style playback of the songs on your TV, additional display of your progress and kanji collection, or other added gameplay mechanics.

$80,000 - Apple Watch Integration.  The Apple Watch is coming and we are excited about the possibilities! We have ideas on how the watch could be used to help with your kanji studies and integrate with the game. Reaching this level will allow us to explore the possibilities as Apple opens up watch development over the coming months.

App Platform

"Beat the Kanji" is a universal app for iOS.  This means it will be playable on iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.  This Kickstarter project's funding only covers iOS, sorry no Android. I do also develop Android apps, but the reality is there are so many different devices with different graphics and sound capabilities, screen sizes, and Android OS versions that it is a much bigger challenge to create a consistent experience across all Android devices.  I want to ensure that everyone who backs this project will get a great experience on their device.  I can do that on iOS for this project's goal, but it would take much more to do this on Android.  I have chosen to not include Android as a stretch goal because as explained in the stretch goals, we want to be able to put those funds to making more and more music plus expanding the iOS experience.  If "Beat the Kanji" is a success, both as this Kickstarter and as an app on the app store, I would definitely be interested in expanding to other platforms, but those will be a separate project with a separate budget so I can make sure I have the resources to do it right.  If you do not have an iOS device (and do not plan on getting one. ;-)  ) but still want to see "Beat The Kanji" happen and back this project, I greatly appreciate your support - I think that's the true spirit of Kickstarter - though please understand that regardless of the final funding result, this Kickstarter project is for iOS only.

Schedule

The plan for the project schedule is to be able to start the "early beta" phase in March 2015, followed by the "general beta" sometime in April 2015, with a release sometime in May 2015. We want to make sure we release a quality game to the public. If the early beta testers convince us there's a significant change to make, or the general beta testers find something that takes more time to fix, then the final release date could of course be pushed back some, but we feel good about being able to get the game into the hands of beta testers in this time frame and tuning the game from there.

The Team

I'm a developer with 20 years of professional experience.  I taught myself programming back in middle school to try and make games and have been programming ever since with a focus on games and interactive media.  I started my professional career at the multimedia studio "Digital Cafe" where I worked as lead programmer during my college years while getting my Computer Science degree.  Amongst the many fun projects I worked on at Digital Cafe, probably one of the best known and definitely most widely distributed is "Chex Quest", the first CD-ROM game ever given away as the free prize in a box of breakfast cereal. It was distributed in millions of Chex cereal boxes.  I've been a freelance developer since those days, creating a variety of projects for clients while also pursuing my own projects with my company "Snowy Penguin".  One of my creations is iNattou (i納豆), the iPhone's (and possibly world's) first virtual experience of mixing and playing with the unique Japanese food "nattou" (sticky, strong smelling fermented soy beans). The app was well received in Japan being featured on national TV, print magazines, and the web in Japan. iNattou went on to become a top 10 entertainment app in Japan.

For "Beat the Kanji", I'll be focusing my efforts on my own expertise - making the game itself into which the music and lyrics will go and applying my insight as a non Japanese native who has faced the challenge of learning kanji. I'll be leaving the actual music composition and production along with lyrics writing, singing, and Japanese language content oversight to the experts.  I'm working with a professional in the music industry to write and produce the music, a native Japanese to write the lyrics, native Japanese singers, and a professional native Japanese translator and interpreter with language teaching experience is overseeing all the educational language content.

You can see and hear the results of this team in the working prototype in the video. We're all looking forward to being able to make a fun game with lots of great music in which you'll be able to move forward in your journey to "Beat the Kanji!"

Thank You for your support!!!

Risks and challenges

We have a working prototype as you can see and hear in the video, so we're off to a good start. The challenges from here are taking the game engine itself to a release worthy state and creating more songs, lyrics, and stages to go into the game.

The team I've assembled are individuals I know I can work best with together to create a quality game. They are my top choice for making this happen. One risk as with any project is that something major in life comes up for any team member causing them to be unable to stay on schedule. My team is working for very affordable amounts to make this happen at our minimum goal, so if a team member needs to be replaced, I will look for alternative members but that would likely cause changes in the schedule and budget.

The other potential risk is how much time it takes to go from the prototype to final release. Our beta testers will get to play the game before release and look for the changes, and fixes that need to be made. If we together find that improvements need to be made that will take more time, we will take that extra time (within reason) to make sure the game is release worthy. I have 20 years experience working on professional projects including many where I was responsible for creating and managing the project, so I have confidence in my ability to make good decisions on the schedule and about where to draw the line between making improvements and releasing a product, but I also know there are always unknowns, so it is only reasonable that I state that it is possible the final app store release date may shift beyond our planned May 2015. We will make sure to keep you updated on our progress and of course the beta testers will be playing the game even before the final release on to the app store.

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    Pledge $1 or more About $1.00

    THANK YOU! Your name will be listed in the Backer Thank You section of the credits in the game.

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    3 SONG PACKS - Receive 3 Song Packs in the game. Your name will also be in the game Thank You credits.

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    ALL ACCESS PASS - EXTREME EARLY BIRD - You will receive a digital "All Access Pass" that gives you access to all song packs we ever create for the game! This means you get all song packs available on game release plus all future song packs we add to the game over time. Your name will be in the game Thank You credits.

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    ALL ACCESS PASS - EARLY BIRD - You will receive a digital "All Access Pass" that gives you access to all song packs we ever create for the game! This means you get all song packs available on game release plus all future song packs we add to the game over time. Your name will be in the game Thank You credits.

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    ALL ACCESS PASS - You will receive a digital "All Access Pass" that gives you access to all song packs we ever create for the game! This means you get all song packs available on game release plus all future song packs we add to the game over time. Your name will be in the game Thank You credits.

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    ALL ACCESS PASS FOR TWO - You will receive 2 digital "All Access Passes" that give you access to all song packs we ever create for the game! This means you get all song packs available on game release plus all future song packs we add to the game over time. Use one for yourself and give the other to a friend, family, acquaintance, or complete stranger - your choice. Your name will be in the game Thank You credits.

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    LIMITED EDITION ALL ACCESS PASS CARD with GENERAL BETA TESTING + EXTRA DIGITAL PASS. Receive a limited edition physical postcard version of the "All Access Pass". Plus, be a part of the general beta testing. You'll get to try out the game before release and help us polish and tune the game. The "All Access Pass" gives you access to all song packs we ever create for the game! This means you get all song packs available on game release plus all future song packs we add to the game over time. Plus you'll also get an additional regular non-beta digital "All Access Pass" to give away! Your name will be in the game Thank You credits.

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    LIMITED EDITION ALL ACCESS PASS CARD with EARLY BETA TESTING + EXTRA DIGITAL PASS. Receive a limited edition physical postcard version of the "All Access Pass". Plus, be a part of the early beta testing. As an early beta test member, you will get to play the game while it's still in an early state and so be able to be more involved in giving us input as we make the game. You will also be a member of the general beta testing round. The "All Access Pass" gives you access to all song packs we ever create for the game! This means you get all song packs available on game release plus all future song packs we add to the game over time. Plus you'll also get an additional regular non-beta digital "All Access Pass" to give away! Your name will be in the game Thank You credits.

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    PERSONALLY NAMED IN THE THANK YOU SONG - We're going to create a special Kickstarter Thank You Song that will be given away to everyone in the game. Your name will be sung in the song in Japanese by a native Japanese singer. If your name happens to be Japanese, it will of course be sung as is, but for everyone else, we will use the special "katakana" Japanese pronunciation used for foreign words. If you have a preferred "katakana" version of your name we'll use it, if not we will help create the name pronunciation. This reward also includes the limited edition physical postcard "All Access Pass", early and general beta testing, an additional regular non-beta digital "All Access Pass" to give away, and your name will be listed in the Thank You credits.

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    BACKERS KARAOKE SONG PERFORMANCE - We are going to compile a karaoke version of one of the game's songs - and you get to sing in it! Record yourself singing your assigned portion of the song and send it to us. We will put all the karaoke backers' singing together into a song we give away in the game for everyone to hear! You will also get everything included in the "PERSONALLY NAMED IN THE THANK YOU SONG" reward.

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    CHOOSE KANJI FOR A SONG - Help us decide the lyrics for a song by choosing 30 kanji from the Jouyou Kanji (the set of Kanji all students in Japan are expected to learn). We will then incorporate your chosen kanji into vocabulary that we will try to turn into coherent lyrics for a song. Choose kanji you want to study, your favorites, or try to challenge us with a unique mix. You will also get everything listed in the "BACKERS KARAOKE SONG PERFORMANCE" reward.

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Funding period

- (30 days)