Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit go Chinese on the Mac

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The folks at Wei Li Corporate Services Ltd have spent the last five years developing Chinese versions of the two best selling board games in the world (Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit) one of which is a unique Chinese computer literacy aid. And they're Mac compatible.

Utilized as a brand profile enhancement strategy, they have the potential to put the name of Apple on the lips of every child and parent in China, according to Damien McVey and Martin Cummins of Wei Li Corporate Services.

Developing a Chinese version of Scrabble was no small chore, McVey told MacCentral. It would seem that there are too many characters in Chinese with which to play the game. On one hand, that's true. On the other, there's a different system of writing the language, which all Chinese learn in parallel to their character script: the transliteration schema known as Pinyin. Pinyin is essentially the Latin alphabet without the 'v,' as this sound isn't used in Chinese.

In Pinyin, the four tones of Mandarin Chinese are represented by diacritical marks or tone-graphs -- which look very much like the accents used in French -- above each syllable. It's this abstraction of tonality that the Chinese find particularly difficult to grasp, McVey said.

"Of course, if you're learning Mandarin as a second language when your native tongue is Cantonese, then it is especially important to get the intonation right, since Cantonese is itself a tonal language and confusion is a distinct possibility," he added. "This cross fertilization of tones can only be avoided by mastering Pinyin. Therefore, any learning aid aimed at teaching Mandarin effectively to both native and non-native speaker alike, must incorporate some means of representing the tones."

If you where to have a separate tile for each vowel\tone combination, plus all the consonants used in Chinese, you would need a set of 58 different tiles. This is far more than the maximum number permitted (35) to have a playable game of Scrabble. The problem was to develop a set using just the 25 different letters in Pinyin and provide a way of representing the tones over each vowel, McVey said.

"This was achieved, and it is this process that has been successfully patented in Taiwan, is about to be converted to full patent in the UK and is patent pending in China, where I filed last," he explained. "What is really exciting is that the use of Pinyin has really accelerated with the advent of the computer and the WAP phone. This is because it is the natural system to use on the standard qwerty keyboard when inputting data into a Chinese computer environment."

Over 85 percent of the Chinese who use computers employ Pinyin for this purpose. It's also the only method suitable for accessing both Chinese and international Internet sites, according to McVey. Considering all this and the fact that tens of millions of non-Mandarin speaking Chinese, such as the Cantonese, are learning Pinyin to help them speak Mandarin, the potential for Chinese Scrabble as a fully authentic teaching aid, computer literacy aid and recreational device that fits perfectly with the Chinese mindset, is huge, McVey said.

All of the above can be also applied to a Chinese version of Trivial Pursuit, for which the sales figures are even higher, he added. The makers of Trivial Pursuit were not able to develop a set in Chinese for a very good reason.

"After analyzing the game, it is possible to distill its winning format into five distinct elements," McVey said. "Four of these can readily be translated to the Chinese board game environment. The fifth, and most important, could not. This was the concept of the general knowledge quiz, which is not ingrained in the Chinese psyche as powerfully as it is in the West. It was necessary to find an equivalent psychological hook to incorporate into the Chinese version of the game."

The Wei Li Corporate version of Trivial Pursuit involves completing a four character phrase or "chengyu," all of which have been ordered into levels of difficulty, each level of difficulty being denoted by one of the Five Elements, he added. The game, therefore, looks uniquely Chinese. It takes about 30 seconds to explain how to play the game.

"During market testing in China, I literally had to drag people away to give others a turn," McVey said.

For more info on the Chinese versions of these games, call 00 44 (0)151 708 8078.

And McVey wants you to know the following: "The trademarks 'Scrabble' and 'Trivial Pursuit' are owned by the respective manufacturers and/or licencees of the games cited above. These trademarks are quoted for illustrative purposes only. Wei Li Corporate Services Limited will be selling their games under a Chinese brandname and trademark which has been registered with the appropriate authorities. These name bear no relationship, either in sound or meaning to the trademarks quoted in this article and no similarity of any kind is intended."

This story, "Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit go Chinese on the Mac" was originally published by PCWorld.

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