Kody Kapow – Game Design Challenges and Inspirations

We love design challenges, but this was ridiculous. A children’s TV producer came to us about nine months ago and said, “I need a game that’s about teamwork and mindfulness, preferably both single player and multiplayer, for ages 4-7.” Sounds pretty daunting, doesn’t it? I couldn’t think of another cooperative digital game for kids that I really liked…plus the age range and COPPA laws further constrain the possibilities. Luckily, my colleagues at Legacy Games and I loved the TV show themes and characters and, together with our development partners at HitPoint Studios, embarked on a grand design challenge to create the game, Kody Kapow Village Defender.

Kody Kapow is a new original animated series for kids on Sprout, the daily programming block for pre-schoolers on Universal Kids. It features three adorable main characters – Kody, Mei, and Goji – as well as a dastardly villain, Mogo Monkey No-Go. Master Li, Kody’s grandfather, is on hand to teach the kids about how to use their superhero powers to help the villagers. There was a lot of great material to work with, including gorgeous 3D assets, witty voice overs, and engaging writing and storytelling, but what kind of gameplay would support the show’s heartwarming values?

DECISION #1. We first tried to tackle the design goal of creating a game that plays as well for one child as for three. In order to avoid complicating the game set up, and potentially raising COPPA compliance issues, we choose to focus on a pass and play, turn-taking style of multiplayer experience that would play the same regardless of the number of kids.  Check.

DECISION #2. Next, we wanted to tackle the problem of how to encourage kids to play together cooperatively, especially problematic if they are at different experience and maturity levels. We had to come up with a gameplay mechanic in which each’s child’s contributions could potentially help all the players win, or alternatively, all the players lose. Regardless, the players were in it together.

It turns out that physical board games provide some of the best examples of cooperative gameplay. (Cooperative games like Pandemic, Elder Sign: Omens, and Dead of Winter are popular and well-known to adult board gamers.) To our delight, we discovered Peaceable Kingdom’s popular cooperative board games, like Hoot Owl Hoot, for young children. Its basic premise is that game players must move all the baby owls along a colored coded track back to the nest BEFORE the sun rises (on a separate track). Game players work together to try and optimize their moves.

We borrowed the idea of two separate, color-coded game tracks, one for the protagonists in the story (Kody and friends) and one for the antagonist (Mogo Monkey No-Go). The game player has to figure out the optimum moves for each of the heroes to make, in order to get everyone to the Village before Mogo arrives. That involves problem-solving and strategic thinking, another one of our mandates from Universal Kids.

DECISION #3. We had a solid game concept, but now wanted to add some action elements and a light “retention loop” to keep the player engaged and coming back. Andrew Duncan, our Creative Director, designed fun mini games for each of the three main characters, uniquely suited to their personalities – one endless runner, one arcade action, and one Augmented Reality discovery game. The games become available when you choose to move a character to a specially marked tile. The more mini games the child plays successfully, the more lanterns they will collect. At the conclusion of the game, if the players beat Mogo to the Village, total lanterns are counted and high scores recorded.

Add to the mix a secret passage way and some funny antics from Mogo and his henchmen, and our design work was finished.

Or was it? Next up, how did the actual development proceed?  Stay tuned…

Kody Kapow Village Defender is available on Android and soon to be on iOS.