GDC is usually about homecomings, and attending for a number of years now I’ve had the enjoyment of seeing creators develop, study, and transfer from venture to venture, or watch video games they’ve labored on slowly take form.
In the case of 1 cuddly octopus, this yr was a very pleasant reminder of that. Two years in the past I reported on an interactive educating toy referred to as Octobo: a blue octopus who teaches toddlers and younger kids how to learn, introduced to life by slipping an iPad Mini (or equally sized pill) into the plushie to present a touchscreen floor.
The brainchild of developer Yuting Su, it’s now grown from a graduate college venture to a fully-realized system prepared for mass manufacturing, with a staff of designers at her startup Thinker-Tinker. The unique mannequin I’d checked out was hand-stitched by Su’s mom. Now it’s been polished up, softened up, and debuted on Kickstarter, having launched simply this week after GDC. As of this writing it’s already at almost 20,000 of its 50ok objective.
There are related sorts of toys out there–the apparent comparability being Teddy Ruxpin. A cute companion who interacts with your little one as they learn tie-in books. But Octobo is each extra superior and, crucially, higher for snuggling than the exhausting plastic companions of previous.
Su and her son (and Octobo)
I met Martzi Campos, a recreation researcher at USC Game Innovation Lab who’s acted as an adviser on the venture, on the crowded Starbucks throughout the road from the Moscone Center to meet the brand new Octobo, who sprawled throughout one of many tables, oblivious to the specter of passing lattes. She confirmed off a wide range of interactive options centered round contact and recognition of tokens–putting a letter in Octobo’s “bowl” to establish them, as an example. But the most important change was within the octopus himself.
Back in 2016, when it debuted at Alt.Ctrl.GDC, I’d joked that I turned a gaming critic to “overview cuddle-ability” after describing how the Octobo prototype was just a little too cardboardy to actually get a really feel for it. All that’s modified now. The new Octobo is a big squish-ball whose tech is elegantly hid beneath layers of softness. When you take away your iPad, it’s now totally delicate and amenable to being snugged and thrown round by your toddler. But even with the iPad inside, it’s nonetheless cuddlable and reactive to contact. Petting Octobo will make him very completely happy, as an example.
The iPad turns into his animated, expressive face, and it could be interacted with immediately. If you set your finger close to Octobo’s mouth, he’ll nibble at it. If you poke his eye, he’ll turn out to be upset. The latter, particularly, was an fascinating little quirk that emerged from many discussions at Thinker-Tinker, the place there was a need to create a creature that would encourage empathy. “Hurting” Octobo has a consequence, suggestions that means he doesn’t prefer it; against this, shaking arms (tentacles?) and giving hugs makes him completely happy. In concept, it may be helpful for educating younger kids, in a managed setting, how to respect folks apart from themselves.
The foremost focus stays on primary training, nonetheless. Pattern recognition (‘Octobo loves striped fish! Find the striped fish!’) or figuring out letters and numbers. These can be found in two books, with their very own units of tokens, which include the Kickstarter launch: Octobo’s Underwater Adventure, and Octobo and the Great Letter Search. There’s additionally a cute spelling app that I obtained to check out.
Campos additionally launched me to one other creation of Su’s: Octobo’s world of Puzmo, a cutesy realm of different one-eyed anthropomorphic creatures (I choose to name it the Octoverse, nonetheless). That kingdom of cuteness, which places one within the thoughts of Hello Kitty’s world of pals, suggests the ambition behind this recreation. Part of what might make Octobo profitable is his scalability, in spite of everything; extra purposes can be added, extra tales can be written, extra tokens created. The system is designed to accommodate age-appropriate content material for youngsters starting from a number of months previous to about 7 or eight years of age–Underwater Adventure and Letter Search act as proofs of idea, as every is focused at a distinct age bracket.
Even as an grownup, it’s enjoyable to do a wiggly tentacle dance with Octobo and make him snort. The expertise is actually spectacular, slightly like Amiibo or Lego Dimensions, however with extra expansive tactility. It is an accomplishment to make all of it work whereas making a toy kids can actually maintain, making it akin to a dwelling stuffed-animal.
I gained’t lie, Octobo melts my coronary heart. And amid a generally difficult and tense GDC, it was beautiful to see this product of affection and technical dedication attain a brand new plateau of success. If Octobo succeeds as each an academic recreation and an empathy toy, it’ll be a triumph.
Katherine Cross is a Ph.D scholar in sociology who researches anti-social habits on-line, and a gaming critic whose work has appeared in quite a few publications.