The Story Behind The Addictive Web-Game ‘TypeRacer,’ A Competitive Mavis Beacon

I’m not the only one who has compared the insanely addictive “TypeRacer” to educational typing tool Mavis Beacon. The creator of the game Alex Epshteyn told me so over e-mail.

Epshteyn is a 26-year-old programmer who created “TypeRacer” all on his own (play it here, if you missed it). He’s been programming games for years, including a multiplayer strategy game influenced by “Master of Orion” and a multiplayer take on “Desktop Tower Defense.”

All of his creative works play on the competitive nature of gamers. Epshteyn even likens “TypeRacer” to an emerging sport. “Typing is a skill that can be improved with practice and pitted against people, just like any athletic pursuit,” he said.

He’s not a hardcore gamer. Epshteyn hasn’t even played “Typing of the Dead”! For the developer of a typing game, that’s just criminal. But I’ll let it slide.

“I hope your readers will forgive me, but the last console I owned was the NES,” he said. “I’m a fan of PC games, especially the classics. I’m not playing anything right now, as I’m trying to focus on building new features for “TypeRacer”, but the games I’ve been addicted to most recently include “Transport Tycoon Deluxe,” “Civilization 3,” and “Return to Castle Wolfenstein / Enemy Territory.”

The new features for “TypeRacer” will be welcome additions. Not only will Epshteyn introduce a Facebook application, but more importantly, private rooms.

The biggest problem with “TypeRacer” right now — the reason some of its fun disappears after a few minutes of exploring its novelty — is the randomness. In order to hook up with friends in a game, it’s a race to click reload over and over and hope you’re dropped in.

Private rooms will solve both that and some of the rampant cheating issues. You’ll notice that some of the lyrics and book excerpts repeat themselves. People will copy and paste that entire passage, allowing them to effectively cheat through the race. That’s no fun.

That’s the future of “TypeRacer”.

Its past is much simpler.

“I decided to take some time to learn how to touch-type the right way at a particularly boring summer internship I had a few years ago, between college and grad school,” Epshteyn told me. “I installed a shareware typing tutor for Windows, and two weeks later I was touch-typing! What they lacked was a multi-player mode, so it occurred to me that I should make a multi-player typing game myself!”

Epshteyn essentially took Mavis Beacon and made it a game. A former Mavis Beacon engineer even contacted Epshteyn at one point. The engineer said that “Mavis Beacon would be proud of what [Epshteyn had] done” with “TypeRacer”, and that his team once tried to create a Mavis Beacon-esque game, but the project never got off the ground.

“Mavis Beacon, for many, is synonymous with learning to type,” said Epshetyn. “”TypeRacer” goes beyond learning and turns typing into a sport. The competitive element is what makes “TypeRacer” so much more fun than the games traditionally included in typing tutor packages.”

The plan was to roll out the new “TypeRacer” features this week, but Epshteyn is a little behind schedule. We’ll let you know when the “TypeRacer” update goes live, but in the meantime, Epshteyn has turned on the ability to submit new typing phrases.

I’m going to submit loads of Weezer lyrics and help swing the game in my favor.

Have a hot tip? Is there a topic that Multiplayer should be covering and isn’t? Maybe you share my Mavis Beacon obsession. Drop me an e-mail.