Tidepool is an MMO that caught my attention when I learned it was set to be more educational than the average title, more than just gaming. It is planned to teach kids both in and out of school settings how to code and create their own stories in a shared universe. I wanted to reach out to the creator, Tim Falconer, and learn more about this different take on an MMO.
Development and Funding
Falconer said that Tidepool has been in development over the course of three years, comprising of about two years of man hours. He stated that it has been difficult to maintain his motivation and momentum alone though when we spoke with him, his excitement was very evident and so I feel like he has worked through theses issues. Ideally, Falconer is targeting beta to begin Summer 2016 and to be completed in time for the International Conference for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) . The summer leading up to this will hopefully be used to create content for kids.
As mentioned, Falconer is doing all the coding by himself and currently he has two major milestones that he is focusing on. Completing the Cognitive AI Helper (which helps the kids program their creations) and the realistic terrain (using NASA’s elevation data of Earth). Falconer went on to explain that Tidepool uses a custom engine, for two primary reasons – integration with the Cognitive AI and support for “occasionally connected” use.
I asked Falconer why he chose crowd funding over a more traditional method, and with this type of game he wanted a less formal kind marketing with a heavier focus on the gaming aspect of the title, than the educational side. Crowdfunding also gives a chance for the community to get involved and feel like a part of the game, which harmonizes well with the people they are trying to reach.
Tidepool is now on Kickstarter with some fun backer rewards set up from being president of your own country, to naming towns and even one-on-one coding lessons from Tim Falconer himself. He is also thinking of future benefits such as half price yearly subscriptions, an early landrush, and also positions on the Funding Council (which will decide on educational groups that get assistance for their projects). The crowdfunding itself only represents about 10% of the total cost of development.
When talking about money I wanted to know if it was going to be a subscription game, but being as it is educational Tidepool will be free. It’s a great opportunity to get kids involved in the future of gaming or technology in general that they might not normally get in school. There will be a yearly optional subscription that will earn you additional Crystals each week for around $25/year.
Crystals are the ingame currency that are used to buy items in the game, such as new words (the building blocks of everything from AI actions to NPC models) and even speeders (the ingame mount) or other unannounced modifications later on.
To make the game widely accessible it will be launching on PC, Mac and Linux though Falconer does have a stretch goal to add Android, iOS and browser-based support. Server architecture comes in the form of a megaserver with geographical gateways provided by region (though currently there are only US-based gateways). Falconer expects that, unlike a more traditional MMO, the educational focus will see gateways in Uruguay, Brazil, Haiti, Nepal and Germany being a priority, though they will be launched based on need.
To speak on the setting, after some discussion Falconer agreed is was most like a visual MUSH, a pristine sandbox world which, while having some indigenous NPC’s will, over time, be more filled by the creations of players than of a development team.
Every player creation can be flagged to allow replication in the world, and players will be able to specify a “garden” in their parcel (plot of land) where these creations can “grow”. As to how the creations will look, they will be completely hand drawn with one notable exception – the ability to import a 3D scan of a clay model (for use as an avatar or an NPC).
Falconer shared that in an earlier build the game allowed for regular 3D models to be uploaded, but he was concerned that this would inhibit the kids’ creativity as a market would develop for high-rez 3D models and the desire to draw or craft their own creations would be diminished.
One final feature, that is common in the software world, though has not been seen in the gaming space is the inclusion of a fully featured version control so system on the entire gameworld. This means that the kids will be able to improve on each others character appearances and coding (with the original creator having the ability to promote a new version made by another player).
For example, Player A may create a dragon on his Parcel. When Player B comes along, she might update the appearance of the dragon. Whenever Player B sees that dragon, she will see her version of the appearance. When Player A returns, he will still see his original dragon appearance, but also have the option to see Player B’s version of the dragon and even make that the default appearance for everyone moving forward.
Tidepool really does seem interesting and I hope we get to see more of it in the future. Kids are the future of gaming and getting them interested in making games will get them excited about coding and technology. Think back when you were in school and how boring days were, if kids were excited about learning there is no telling what they can do. In Tidepool they have a chance to remake the world how they want, learning as they go and still having fun with it.
Tidepool‘s Kickstarter can be found at backtidepool.com.
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