About this project
Empowering Deep Learning Platform
We are creating an amazing online game that also teaches real content. Being gamers ourselves, we know that the educational games out there don’t take advantage of the power of video games as a medium. We are fixing that.
Empowering. An open world with non-linear & exploratory game play so students are led by their own choices.
Deep Learning. We utilize quest-based learning embedded in the context of the game’s story, which gives the learning meaning. Students participate in active learning via problem solving during these quests, with gameplay tied directly to learning.
Platform. One single game world crafted for relevant learning over a variety of subjects. With all content in one game world, players will stumble upon content they never may have sought out otherwise.
We are set in a future where the Tyto Foundation brought on a golden age of technological advancements as they worked to prevent the decline of Earth. For decades, humanity advanced technologically at a desperately great speed, inventing faster-than-light space travel, cryotechnology, and life-supporting biodomes. They even created their first interplanetary research colony on the planet of Ovo.
However, they failed to prevent the now ongoing evacuation of Earth. Billions have already been evacuated to new planets, leaving the only home they had ever known.
Gameplay begins when the player awakens from cryosleep as they arrive to this new world after having been recruited into Tyto Academy, which only accepts students with the utmost potential. As a new Tytonian, they must learn everything they can, explore the new worlds, and research Earth’s past in a mission to one day restore Earth.
The type of game we are building is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG. This is like World of Warcraft, but for learning. In this type of game, students create a character that represents them in a 3D virtual world full of new lands, character, and stories. Thousands of players interact in this dynamic virtual world together online, working to complete quests, or missions they accept. In our case, these quests will utilize problem solving and be linked to learning objectives. Being a social game, players need to cooperate together and often improve their collaborative understanding in order to get better at the game (therefore learning more).
For our first release, we are starting with the basic set of underlying mechanisms (networking, leveling system, custom character, etc.), the starting city, and a module of ecology linked to middle school science standards. After that, we will continue to release in a series of mini-expansions as we build out our world and add more content.
**From Update #6: Customization Options!**
In the video below, our Creative Director Paul reviews the basic character customization and customizable room that will be in our initial release.
The following are gameplay features of this first ecology module:
Many of the quests will take place within the biodomes that the Tyto Foundation set up to preserve Earth’s life. The students will assist the scientists and researchers as they seek to sustain these ecosystems. Students will learn ecosystem differences, change environmental variables, and complete quests within these biodomes that will lead to learning ecological concepts.
For example, reports say plants in the Rainforest Biodome are turning brown and shriveling so they are asked to solve the problem. They discover the humidity is off and adjust it to the optimal level for the biome. Or they might be asked to figure out why ants seem to be acting very strange and then dying. As it turns out, a fungus had turned them into zombies! After finishing the quest line, we’ll provide information and photos about how it really happens on Earth, too!
**From Update #4: Gameplay Video!**
This gameplay video is to give you an example of how quest-based learning will function. The networking to make it multiplayer, animations to let the student actually discover the fly traps are eating butterflies, and other elements are still being developed!
The Biodex is how students will document the flora and fauna they discover in the biodomes. Think of it as a personally generated Wikipedia. When they come across something new, they will tag it and a new entry will populate in the Biodex. This will encourage exploration and allow them to generate knowledge about cross-over species and their environmental needs. Animals in their Biodex will also be available for generating a custom biodome.
The capstone experience of this module is the Create-Your-Own Biodome, where students will apply their knowledge of ecosystems to create their own functioning biome. Don’t worry, though, we’re ethical: they are just simulations to help the Tyto Foundation with research as they work towards being able to relocate some to new terraformed homes. We aren’t letting them rearrange and manipulate Earth's actual precious resources and lifeforms!
Above is concept art of this feature, with a user placing a tree in their populated biodome. As they learn more by exploring the biodomes, their own personal biodome is able to grow in complexity as well.
We have consulted with a post-doc ecologist and are working on modeling the ecosystems using established methods such as the Lotka–Volterra equations. Did we mention our CEO has a stats minor as part of her PhD work?
**From Update #8: Playable Prototype!**
We also now have a playable prototype demo available for download! Read more and watch the intro video on the update page.
Download the build here: http://immersedgames.com/downloads/TytoPrototype.zip
Please play the game at the highest resolution possible as the screen elements do not scale yet.
To exit, on Windows: Alt+F4; on Mac: Command+Q
When you download, double click to unzip. Then enter the TytoPrototype folder and enter the folder for either the Mac or PC version. For the Mac, double click the file to load. For the PC version, double click the .exe file to load. You may have it warn you since we're a file on the internet, but please tell it you trust us and everything will be okay!
Building out our Universe
We are here on Kickstarter to back the creation of our very first module. We plan to continue building additional content and release frequent mini-expansions as we grow our game's worlds. The long-term goal is to have 3rd through 12th grade with everything you can think to teach in a video game— science, math, entrepreneurship, arts, history, financial literacy.
That’s Huge! How will you do it?
We are using our Kickstarter funds for our first release of the game. With additional funds raised and/or the profits from that first module, we will fund continued development (expanding our team) and will then release frequent mini-expansions. These will add additional modules, features, and fun social content. In this way, we will iteratively build our game world. It also works with our story line colonizing a new planet — more will appear as we colonize and build out!
As an indie studio, we obviously don’t have the funding to release a giant game world full of content all at once, which is one reason to build our world iteratively. But even if we did have millions of dollars, getting it out in pieces like this would be preferred so we can learn from how the students play the game and continue to improve our own approach to the learning gameplay as we develop for years.
Potential for Impact
The potential for social good as we build out our platform is immense.
By playing the game, we expect students to have increased engagement with subject matter, improve their academic achievement from the deep learning in the game, and increase 21st century skills (media literacy, technological familiarity, etc.). What we're most excited about is how these impacts can then lead to long-term outcomes-- improving students' lives. If they do better academically and are more engaged, they are more likely to stay in high school. We are incorporating social issues into our game, and so will be working to improve interest in the world around students and their civic engagement with the world. We also hope to see expanded career interests as students interact in-game with learning opportunities around new areas they may not have pursued independently.
**From Update #7: Real Life Learning Links**
We will be pairing quests and in-game learning with real life links, suggested to the students and parents/teachers. For example, if the student learned about volcanoes in the game, the parent would get an email with the instructions on how to build a volcano in the kitchen. Helping students generalize their in-game learning into outside activities and expanded interests is essential. Read the update for more information.
Our full vision is massive, and it would take upwards of $500,000 to complete our stretch goals and beyond. However, a goal that large would require a large following that we do not have as a smaller startup. We’ve started with a goal of $50,000 for the basics needed to launch an initial version of our game, and then we will keep building and expanding.
The initial goal will fund the underlying MMORPG mechanics: networking, quest system, leveling system, and chat and friend system. It will include basic character customization options and the starting city. This will also have three distinct biodomes (Grassland, Rainforest, Desert) with quests, the Biodex, and Create-Your-Own Biodome systems.
This is a modest goal to make a game at this scale; however, this is a project our team believes in. We’ve already been working on it for a significant amount of time, nights and weekends and around classes, and with an amazingly dedicated team of interns. There was a team email a few weeks ago saying, “what is the bare minimum you need in order to quit your job and go full time?” We set our goal on that to hopefully ensure we can hit our initial goal and make this happen.
- Additional Biodomes // Our primary educational consultant sketched out a set of biodomes with us that covers all the major biomes of Earth! The stretch goals include 6 additional biodomes (9 total) with quests and expanded functionality for the Biodex and Create-Your-Own Biodome.
More Character Customization Options // The original goal includes a handful of hairstyles, faces, and clothing/skin color changes. This stretch goal would add even more variety and a wealth of additional options, such as more styles and independently selected facial features!
- Backer Special: Mr. Tipps Plushie! // If we get to $100,000, every backer at the $80 tier and above will automatically receive one Mr. Tipps character plushie as part of their rewards! Exact details are pending, but expect a 6-9" plushie!
- Capture the Flag Water Balloon PvP Arena // This non-violent Player vs. Player (i.e.competitive) arena will help make our game a fun place to just spend social time in. When students are hit with a certain amount of water from the balloon, they'll drop the flag. We are even discussing making it on roller derby skates!
- Pixel8 Arcade // The arcade will be a fun hangout spot with old-school arcade games, and perhaps even some original and student-made games!
- Back-End Website with Adaptive Learning // We will be developing a website login that will allow teachers, parents, and homeschoolers to track student progress in real time, assign quests linked directly to state standards, and receive actionable suggestions on additional activities. We will be partnering with a deep learning platform to deliver us information about how the player is interacting with the game. We will then use that information to provide supports, such as giving clues or reframing a problem for players having difficulty with concepts.
We worked to come up with backer rewards that would let you engage with the Tyto Online creators in the creative process. Name a street, help us design a new species, even have a statue of yourself in the game!
Add-On: $5 per additional alpha/beta invite
If you have multiple children or want extra alpha or beta invites, we will include one additional copy of whatever beta/alpha access and digital associated items were included in the reward tier you have already selected. For example, if you had Tier II access with the in-game shirt and poster, those will be included in the new invite. If you had Alpha level access with everything that entails, that is also included. Just select a tier, then add an additional $5 per invite. We'll collect specific information in the survey once the campaign is finished!
Selected Reward Descriptions
Some of the rewards need an explanation, so those are included below. Let us know if you have any questions!
- Tier I & II Closed Beta Access: When the game is not yet released to the public, we will offer beta access for play testing and feedback. Tier I access is first, and Tier II will come a few months later, when the game is further along after the first rounds of testing.
**From Update #3: Tester Program!**
As part of this program, we will be introducing students to the progress of development and the role of alpha and beta testers. We even designed some membership cards (below) for students to really feel like an integral part of the team — which they are! By submitting bug reports and feature requests, they are also developing their persuasive writing skills.
- Name on Foundation Wall: This is a virtual memorial in the game’s main city park to honor the early members of the Tyto Foundation. Your name, or child/character’s name, will be on the wall as one of these early members.
- Get Mentioned by a NPC: A Non-Playable Character (NPC) is a character populating the game that players do not control. These are quest givers and in-game scientists, etc. We will work mentioning your name (or child/character’s name) into their chatting dialogue, along with something interesting about you — such as an accomplishment, funny or embarrassing moment, etc.
- Design a NPC: Instead of just naming an NPC, work with Tyto Online developers to design and NPC and inspire backstory. We will start with our character customization tools and then add up to 3 additional features (e.g.: tattoo, new hair style).
- Alpha Access: This is the earliest access to game and play testing, while it is still buggy and has development to go. Giving feedback at this level can significantly impact features.
- Design an Alien Species: We have an entire world to populate with its own species — flora or fauna. Here, work with Tyto Online developers to imagine an alien species that we will put in the game.
- Name & Bust on Founder’s Wall: In addition to our list of names of contributing members, we will build a dedicated wall where the Founders of the Tyto Foundation are featured, complete with busts.
- Easter Egg: Work with Tyto Online developers to create a hidden object with a meaningful message or special feature in the game that players can discover.
- Quest Line Promoting Charity/Social Cause: Collaborate with Tyto Online developers to develop a quest line promoting a charity or social cause. This charity/cause is of course subject to approval by Immersed Games. Feel free to message us to discuss first!
- Name on Foundation Wall: This is a virtual memorial in the game’s main city park to honor the early members of the Tyto Foundation. Your name, or child/character’s name, will be on the wall as one of these early members.
Disclaimer: all custom rewards going into the game are subject to approval.
Our founding team members have backgrounds in education, programming, game art, writing, and business. We are not your average educational gaming team. We are not trying to make learning fun. Learning is already fun. Our vision was born from the realization that all games, even games like World of Warcraft, are amazing learning tools. You learn and care about rich, detailed information, without even trying. We wanted to harness that addictive power of video games, for learning.
- Lindsey Tropf // CEO // A doctoral candidate in School Psychology at the University of Florida with a specialization in Program Evaluation and Research & Evaluation Methodology. While running a photography business and working on a dissertation in educational games, she has been dreaming of making Tyto Online and finally found the team members to build it with her.
- Paul Burgermeister // Creative Director // His overwhelming passion for games and their intricate mechanics started as a 12 year old running D&D campaigns. Now he is a classically trained artist and Master’s graduate in Digital Arts and Sciences, with a specialization in Serious Games. His passion led him to be president of the Game Makers Guild at UF and to move across the country to be the Creative Director of Immersed Games.
- Sam Sewall // Lead Programmer // A programmer and problem solver that builds games and leads game jams in any free time. His technological expertise has extended from research in Simulated Surgery to building a weather alert application for the NASDAQ. Sam's leading our team of interns in all programming from networking to shader development.
- Caroline Lamarque // Lead Writer // Has a Master's of Arts in Creative Writing from SUNY at Brockport. Her entire life has been world-building for various novels, short stories, and comics, even coming up with her own alphabet as a child that she still uses for secret note projects today. She has also managed a small business for over five years, designing custom stuffed animals (like Mr. Tipps!). Now her main goal is to make the world of Ovo (and future planets) a rich, immersive experience.
- Ryan Tropf // Director of Experience // Has 10 years of experience in Sales & Training, from Best Buy to Apple. Ryan left Apple to receive his Bachelor's in Business Administration - Management and learn how to better make Immersed Games a success. He builds the Immersed Games culture and manages the internship program. He is excited to engage with the larger community as we launch this Kickstarter.
Tyto Online will be a massive undertaking that will take crafting and time to develop. But all that will be worth it when we begin to see children and teens become engaged and inspired by knowledge. We’ve been wanting to make this game for years, and with help from Kickstarter we can get to work full time on producing the first release. Remember, this module is only the first step!
What gets funded by traditional investors is limited because they need to see evidence that the product is something people will love. With your support and sharing of us with your friends and network, we can get funding to not only build this first release, but also to show investors that people really want what we are building, and ramp up even more quickly.
We want all of your voices on board! Whether you are a gamer, parent, academic, educator, student, or just someone who believes in our vision, this is your time to be heard.
Use of Funds
- 5% // Kickstarter Fees
- 3-5% // Amazon Fees
- 5% // Backer Rewards
- 2% // Office (co-working space)
- 2% // Intern program (our interns are awesome!)
- 3% // Software (including Unity Pro licenses)
- 3% // Servers
The other 75% is towards salaries for development. The budget will be able to bring some team members on to work full time (Lindsey is already working full time without a salary). Reaching stretch goals means we can hire more developers that we have been wanting to bring on board, building more content much more quickly.
We will be delivering the game iteratively as we develop with an agile / scrum approach. Game progress releases will be delivered as soon as possible to start play testing and improving our architecture/systems, ease of use, and gameplay. We are estimating an Alpha in January 2015, Tier I Closed Beta by May 2015, and Tier II Closed Beta by August 2015.
- Dell Education Challenge, Second Place ($5,000 award)
- Games, Art and Music (GAAM) Crowd’s Choice Favorite Studio
- One Spark Top 10 Technology Creator
- Semi-Finalist International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Start-up Pitch Fest
- Sweet 16 Finalist, University of Florida Big Idea Business Plan Competition
Risks and challenges
The largest risk we face, and one common to game development, is experiencing timeline delays due to unforeseen problems with the programming and technical tasks, such as reworking a piece of the underlying structure. The longer the game takes to complete, the more expensive it becomes. To mediate this, we are using the scrum/agile approach with iterative development. In this way we are always hitting milestones and you will see the progress.
If we experience these types of delays, the reward tiers may also experience deadline delays, but we will deliver the rewards that don’t depend on development as soon as possible!
Frequently, when Kickstarter projects reach huge stretch goals and the project scope is increased, the delays compound and backers don’t see anything for years. Instead, we will be releasing in steps, and establish the base game before adding the additional social features that expand our scope. In the end, we have gotten this far working nights and weekends, and with our incredible team of interns; we are committed to finishing the project and will make sure it happens even if we experience serious unexpected delays.
The other risks involve developing something viable to the market. Perhaps it doesn’t engage people to the extent we expect. I have a hard time writing that because I believe in this so strongly, but it’s a risk. But with play testing and market research throughout development we can mitigate this as much as possible.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Oddly, this is actually the most frequent question so far! (And really, one person is in a Black Mesa shirt, not Star Wars.)
But anyway.... we decided we'd go casual in T-Shirts. Three of us live together and walked out in Star Wars tees and had a brief spat over who had to change, but they were all our favorite shirts so no one wanted to change. And then showed up to see Caroline was also in one... but way cooler, since it's in Chinese.
So, short answer: serendipity?
(from Lindsey) After that first moment of realization with how much I had learned in World of Warcraft, I got into education and realized more and more how game designers had made the perfect learning tool. In an MMORPG, you take on the identity of a character, work to “level up” by completing quests that could easily teach, receive instant feedback, are able to experiment and experience failure in a safe way, receive rewards for progress that make your character (and therefore you) more powerful, and being online, you have a perfect platform for social learning and collaboration.
Yes, games like this that are online and being constantly updated and generally supported by monthly subscription fees.
As we develop and reach out for potential grants and sponsorships, we will be able to determine the exact pricing and structure. Of course we want it to be as affordable as possible for students’ families, or through the school system with site licenses.
Right now, we are thinking it is going to be a freemium model: free for enrichment activities (financial literacy, entrepreneurship, etc.) and upgraded with a monthly subscription fee for the curriculum.
Ideally, we can help subsidize the game with sponsorships (for example, a bank sponsoring the financial literacy) or government grants. Other in-game advertising like Ikea in the mall for kids to decorate their rooms could further help subsidize expenses so we don't need to charge as much to cover development costs.
Right now, we are focusing on early adopter parents that want a positive game for their children, working with home schoolers, and some early adopting teachers who will implement it on their own.
It is goal for us to work with the school system, but that requires a lot more infrastructure for their technical needs, annual sales cycle, support, etc.
After we have built out more content (for example: an entire year science curriculum) we will start approaching schools with site licenses, and districts. We had a chance to talk with a room of 30 superintendents and district CTOs in December, and they affirmed that this was the correct approach.
I have seen some other educational offerings bought by the state for all students... obviously something like that if we are able to get contracts such as those so it's free for children and their parents would be great, too!
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