One of our first appointments here at CES this week was with a company called Nukotoys, which co-CEO Rodger Raderman told us was interested in asking the question for today's children: "What is a toy?" As we've reported here before, more kids than ever are interested in getting iPod touches and even iPads as gifts, so Nukotoys wants to come up with toys and products that sit in that space, coming up with new types of toys for children to play with and learn from on Apple's devices. Raderman said his company was going after both "virtual play patterns and physical play patterns," trying to combine "the power of physical objects" with all of the virtual computing play that the iPad and its various features can offer.
To that end, the company's first product consists of two lines of cards for two different apps coming up on the App Store in March. The first is an Animal Planet-branded line called Wildlands. With this system, kids will be able to buy cards (at select Walmart and Target retailers, among others) in packs of either 3 or 7. The way the game works is that the cards are pressed against the iPad's touchscreen, and then whatever animal is on the card will appear in the app's virtual savanna.
The technology to make the cards work is proprietary ("it's magic," Raderman teased when pressed for exactly how it worked), but we presume it works by using capacitive touch patterns embedded (or printed) on the cards themselves. The whole process is seamless -- just a second after the card is touched to the screen, without ever using the camera, the iPad responds in kind. If there is some sort of capacitive touch pattern on the card (and again, Raderman didn't reveal at all how it works), presumably it might be spoofed by putting your fingers in the same patterns, but of course until the product is actually out and people have a chance to analyze it, we don't know exactly what's happening.
At any rate, it works well -- press a card on the screen with, say, a lion on it in the Wildlands app, and boom, a lion will appear on the screen, which children can interact with, actually control from a third person view, or even pull up educational information and facts to read through. In the Wildlands set, there will also be cards like "Rain" and "Dust Storm" that will enable environmental effects, rather than actual animals. And animals will react to each other as well: Summon a gazelle and a lion, and the lion will realistically chase down the gazelle.
The other title from Nukotoys will be Monsterology, drawing from UK publisher Templar Publishing's line of popular fantasy-based reference books. In this game (produced with input from a Wizards of the Coast founder and Pokemon card game creator), the cards will represent various monsters and spells, and then scanning them into the iPad adds them to a collection, which can be summoned in a turn-based strategy campaign. Across 60 levels, players will be able to fight the evil wizard Vidius Muldervane across the "Oloverse," summoning various creatures that have been "tapped" on to the screen already. If players don't want to buy real cards to tap in, there will also be virtual cards to play available via in-app purchase, but Raderman did say that the virtual cards will be weaker than the physical ones, so there's still incentive to buy the real thing.
Both games will be free, but of course you'll need to buy the cards to get the full experience. Raderman points out that both games have elements of educational value to them -- the Wildlands game does have real animal facts, and the turn-based game does have some number-crunching and math elements to it (each creature has its own stats, and can be guided around the map at different speeds, depending on your current strategy or goal). Nukotoys' goal isn't just education -- their bigger goal is fun, which they say is what parents are looking for in interactive toys as well.
The whole system looks very interesting. The "tap" technology is definitely intriguing, and hackers will no doubt want to rip into the cards to see exactly how the company has developed this communication through capacitive touch. Kids may get into a "collect-em-all" mindset on the games, but at launch, at least, there are 60 cards for the Animal Planet set, and 100 for the Monsterology game, so it's not a huge, overwhelming system to get into.
That may change, though -- we'll see what the response is like on this one, and obviously Nukotoys has more plans for both these sets and other games in the future. We'll take another look at the game once it is released, and see if the final product in March matches up to what Nukotoys aims to do about crossing the physical and virtual space.