Beta 1 Released!

Hey everyone, our first Beta release is officially out! If you joined our Alpha testing through the Play Store already, you should be getting the update automatically. If you haven’t joined yet, you can do so by clicking the image below:

Get PhoeniciaWhat’s new?

We’ve made the marketplace much smarter, and reactive to the player. To do this we introduced purchaser “profiles” that choose the requested items and their quantity based on specific goals, such as helping the player get rid of excess inventory items, gathering letters and words they haven’t used very often, or pushing them to complete the current level and move on to the next.


Speaking of new levels, there are now two new dialogs you will see. The first is displayed at the start of each new level, showing you what new items have been unlocked for you, as well as how many coins and points you’ve earned by reaching that level. The second, which can be activated by tapping the level’s star icon in the default view, will show you what items (and how many of them) you need to gather before you can move on to the next level.


The first two mini-games have also arrived. In the first you must match a series of word images to the corresponding spelling of the word. In the second it’s reversed and you must match a spelled word with the image it represents. If you can make it through getting fewer than 3 wrong, you win one of the words you correctly matched, plus some extra coins. But, win or lose, you have to wait a while between playing, so be sure to pay attention! Many more games are planned, and you will be able to give different levels of difficulty to them to keep it challenging.

device-2016-07-28-233216There have also been a number of smaller UI/UX changes that make the game play a little smoother. For starters, any scrollable elements will now display a scrollbar both to indicate that it’s scrollable, and to show your scroll position. All HUD displays can now be closed by tapping on an area that shows the background map, while play-testing we found that this was what the players expected and they tried to do it without even thinking, so we changed it to match. You’ll also notice that when you tap a letter or work that’s building, the indicator that appears will tell you the actual time remaining, rather than the percentage, which is another thing play-testing proved to be the expectation. Finally, we’ve added some more placeholder art to help get you through the first several levels. device-2016-08-17-225155There has also been a major change to the locales. A new set of tools has been developed to help locale authors get started. All you need to provide is an alphabet and a list of words, and these tools will generate a working locale manifest, complete with levels and progressively increasing values for cost and build time for your letters and words. You can even generate placeholder images for both letters and words so you can play your locale right away. These tools will continue to be developed, and will be the used for both our English and Kiswahili levels.

Beta 2

We’re now hard at work on Beta 2, which is due out at the end of September. You can try Beta 1 now from the Play Store, and you will be automatically updated to Beta 2 when it comes out. As always, feedback, bug reports, and contributions are always welcome!


Phoenicia Alpha 2 release

We have reached our planned  Alpha 2 Milestone, and with it we’re very excited to announce the availability in the Google Play Store for anybody who wants to test it! To install Phoenicia alpha 2 on your device, follow this link:

Once installed, you will get updates every time I push a new version to the Play Store, which will be roughly every month to coincide with these update announcements. Please report any bugs, crashes, or confusing things to our GitHub Issues page.

Common Audio Repository

There has been on-again, off-again talks about cross team collaboration on this prize, and in an attempt to kickstart that I asked @edmcnierney if we could have a common GitHub repository where we should share resources, and he was kind enough to set that up:

I have already uploaded all of Phoenicia’s audio recordings for the US English alphabet, both letter names and phoneme, using a Creative Commons license that is compatible with the XPRIZE rules. I invite any team that wants them to use them, and also to contribute other assets that you think would be useful and foster collaboration.

New Chat for XPRIZE teams

Before the Global Learning XPRIZE officially started, Jono Bacon setup an IRC channel at #xprize-community on Freenode, but it was rarely ever used. Discussions here on the forum were more active, but the latency between posts made for slow conversations. I had recently started using Gitter, a modern chat service built around GitHub, for another project, and thought it would be useful for XPRIZE teams as well. There is a common XPRIZE channel as well as the ability to create new ones based on individual repos. I’ve already created one for Phoenicia.

It’s open to anybody in the XPRIZE organization on GitHub to join (you should have been given an invite from Ed at the start of the contest), and we’ve already had many fantastic discussions on there. Its GitHub integration makes it easy to reference code and issues related to your project, and it gives activity updates in a side bar. Please come and join is there:

Word Builder Queues

Previously building a word in Phoenicia was instantaneous, as long as you had the necessary letters, but the plan was always to make that process take time, so that the player would need to plan ahead. With this update the word building screen has been updated and word building now takes the amount of time designated in the Locale definition. You can also queue up more than one to build (again, if you have the necessary letters) and they will be built one after the other, with an audible notification when they are finished.


The player is now also responsible for going back and collecting the built words before they can be used to fulfill market requests.

Beta 1

May was a slow month for features. The above work required some major refactoring to the underlying code, both for the word building screens and the background builder objects, which meant that little else was done. Learning how to build and sign release APKs that were suitable for the Play Store was another challenge (if anybody has questions or needs help with that, please let me know). June has already seen quite a bit of changes, but I will save those until the next update. The next major milestone for Phoenicia will be the Beta 1 release, currently scheduled for the end of July. If you want see everything that happening, you can always follow us on GitHub and try the code yourself.

Writing your own Locale Pack

You don’t need to be a software developer to contribute to Phoenicia. One of the best ways to contribute is to help develop Locale Packs for teaching literacy in different languages and demographics.

To help you learn how, we’ve published a breakdown of a Locale Pack manifest, detailing everything you need to know to develop your own. Phoenicia will soon be able to give the player a choice of locales for starting a new game, and when it does we will show you how to get yours included.

Development update: Sample levels

Here’s quick walk through five sample levels of Phoenicia, showing the planting and harvesting of letters, the construction of word builders and building the words. It’s taking ideas from the many popular farm/city building games, but rather than growing crops and manufacturing goods, you’ll be harvesting letters and using them to build words.

The build times have all be lowered for the sake of a watchable video. Sound works, but the Android screen recorder doesn’t capture it. I’ll work on getting an audio track recorded for the next video.

The Beginning of a Game

I suppose there is always a story to be told, right?  Phoenicia is definitely no exception to that idea, that’s for sure.  I mentioned before that Phoenicia is an idea that was formed on the side of a mountain, but the story is a little more elaborate than that.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

You may know the Phoenicia team from our work on the development of the Qimo 4 Kids project.  Qimo showed us that we can bring an idea to successful fruition, and Michael and I have consistently contemplated new ideas in Qimo’s wake.  His friend and colleague went to the X-Prize foundation, and we discovered that there was a literacy prize ready to launch.

Michael is the brains, Brian is the creativity, and me?  Well, I suppose the idea behind Phoenicia was squarely mine.  Michael and I, once we discovered the upcoming competition, began to half-heartedly kick around ideas on gaming, laughing and joking that we ought to enter, but we didn’t have a solid idea of what we might actually be able to do.  We had no clear game plan, if you will.

It’s amazing how ideas will come if you give them time, and the peacefulness of mind to allow them to develop.  Michael and I, together with our children, and my parents, set off on a road trip up into the Appalachian mountains, a place we all adore.  Ten days in the quiet solitude of a mountain cabin proves good for the soul, but it also gives the mind a chance to dream, too.

Like I said, Michael and I had continually tossed around a half-joking idea that we should enter the X-Prize competition, and he had talked to his colleague some about what the competition required, but we still hadn’t had the moment, you know?  That moment when inspiration strikes.

So, imagine –

It’s late evening our third or fourth night in the cabin.  The six of us have eaten dinner, the children are playing a game, my parents are watching something on the television.  The sun is setting over the valley, so from the porch of our cabin, we can watch the spectacular colors of late fall turn brilliant shades of pinks and oranges.  Our cabin porch is conveniently equipped with a hot tub, so we find ourselves relaxing, enjoying the gorgeous view, and just chatting about nothing in particular, until Michael brings the conversation around to the X-Prize again.

It’s a lovely picture isn’t it?  Definitely the moment that stands out in my memory.  So, he began to tell me about the requirements of the prize, the goals, the testing requirements, and so forth, and once more he joked “You know, we should enter!”

At that moment, it hit me, and I said, “You know how I’d win?”

And I told him.

I laid out the game, the game play, the idea right there, in that moment.  Sitting on the side of a mountain, looking out over the valley, I realized I knew how to compete.

We got really excited, and talked well into the night.  And when we came home, we talked with Brian – we would need his expertise on board – to make sure he was willing and able.  We studied, we listed, we pros-and-cons listed.  We paced, and we might have (I did) had a brief panic at the thought of entering.  But when we boiled all down to the basics, we realized that we had something that could teach kids to read.  And that the idea deserved a chance.

We have a long way to go, that’s for sure.  There’s a lot of hard work coming, and a lot of uncertainty, but we aren’t scared.  We’re up for the challenge, we’re excited to see Phoenicia come to fruition.

We hope you’re willing to come along on this ride with us.  It’s going to be an amazing journey.

Welcome to Phoenicia

Welcome to Phoenicia!  We’re so glad you’ve stopped by to visit.  As time progresses, you’ll see posts about the game development here, as well as blog posts about our team, our ideas, and what our goals are.  We are thrilled to share our experiences with you.

Phoenicia started as an idea, hatched on the side of a mountain, in response to the Global Literacy Prize challenge from The XPrize Foundation.   We hope to, through fun and engaging game play, increase the literacy skills of our target group of children over the competition time.  There will be more on that, and so many other topics, as the next year goes by.

We want to take a moment to thank you all for your support and encouragement.  The next months will pose quite a challenge for our little development team, and we are all so thankful for the support of our family and friends who want to see this little brain-child through to fruition as badly as we do.

Stick around, come back and visit us often.  There will be a lot of changes coming, and much more information.  We are very excited, and would love if you’d join us on this journey.