Catbox Future Development

What next for Catbox? The prototype developed for this project features a virtual pet capable of engaging with its user, displaying distinct behaviours and a developing personality. It fits the brief developed at the start of the project, and hopefully works as an engaging piece of software in its own right. With the project concluded, I’m going to cover some possible future developments for Catbox.

To continue the academic development of the project and to better exceed the needs of the brief, the next step in the process would be user testing. A group of participants would be given the Catbox app and charged with ‘taking care’ of their own Catbox for a few days. At various points during this process data would be gathered through surveys and interviews, to get a qualitative picture of the developing relationship users have with their Catboxes. An additional layer to this could include quantitative assessment of user’s engagement levels, with emotional response data gathered through, for example, EEG.

The results of this user testing would be used to inform an iterative development cycle, in which Catbox is modified to better meet user’s needs, then tested further, and refined in a cyclical pattern to achieve the best possible user experience. This will improve the core Catbox experience; there are also additions to the game I would like to make based on findings from the various case studies. Continue reading Catbox Future Development

Catbox Interface Design

The user interface for Catbox needed to fulfil several of key requirements. Firstly, it needed to be unobtrusive, to avoid distracting from engagement with the actual virtual pet. Secondly, it needed to be embedded in the physical objects of the game world, so as to encourage interaction with the world rather than abstract it. Finally, it needed to be optimised for touchscreen control, making use of natural touchscreen behaviours to minimise the time a user spends thinking about the interface. Continue reading Catbox Interface Design

Case Study: My Boo

This case study follows the format established as part of my research into virtual pet design, which will culminate in the design of my own virtual pet.

A basic Boo as seen at the start of the game.
A basic Boo as seen at the start of the game.

My Boo is a virtual pet and mini game compilation game developed by Tapps Games and available on iOS, Android and Amazon devices. Players take care of a cheerful-looking blob creature called Boo, which can be customised with a wide range of colours and features earned with in-game currency generated by playing mini games.

Mini games are unlocked as Boo levels up through continuous interaction. The game is free to play and ad-supported, with options for players to pay to remove ads and win more in-game currency. There is an emphasis on player-to-player interaction, with players able to share their Boo’s design through both traditional social media and dedicated My Boo sharing platforms provided by Tapps Games. Continue reading Case Study: My Boo

Case Study: Daily Kitten

Daily Kitten is a virtual pet game for iOS and Android devices developed by Honikou Games. First released in 2014, the game centres around taking care of a 3D animated kitten, ensuring it’s well-fed, clean and rested, and playing mini-games to score point which can be spent on items in game. The game is free to play, but new toys and items for the kitten can be purchased with real money via in-app purchases.

From the game’s Google Play page: ‘Daily Kitten offers you your own cat; it’s just for you. It can do anything as long you take care of it. Caress it, feed it, teach it to stay clean, play with it, put it to sleep … you can accompany it in its dreams, dress it up the way you like and make it purr when you stroke it. To make a long story short, it’s your new companion and you help it grow and have a lot of fun.’ Continue reading Case Study: Daily Kitten

Catbox Behaviour Design

Designing for believability requires a virtual pet to react as much like a real animal as possible. For this reason, the pet’s behaviour needs to be predictable enough to not seem completely random, but unpredictable enough to be believable as an independent thinking agent. As a real life example, a cat will behave mostly predictably when it’s hungry – meowing, running to its food bowl, etc. – but it won’t meow at the exact same time or run the exact same route to the bowl. Catbox needed to emulate this kind of behaviour in order to suitably represent a real, thinking animal in the eye of the player.

Designing A.I. to react in a natural way is a challenge – A.I. programs tend to be good at being completely random or completely predictable, but less so at portraying a convincing level of unpredictability. For Catbox, I initially tried out a machine learning approach to developing natural behaviour. While initial results were promising, this approach ultimately turned out to be unsuitable for this project.

The solution settled on for Catbox employs series of personality ‘curves’ which track the pet’s internal state over time and adjust its behaviours according to both its inbuilt tendencies and input from the user. This allows Catbox’s behaviour to change over time, according to his immediate needs, his pre-set nature, and the types of interaction he’s had with his user. This article covers the details of developing this behavioural approach. Continue reading Catbox Behaviour Design

Case Study: Neko Atsume

This case study follows the format established as part of my research into virtual pet design, which will culminate in the design of my own virtual pet.

Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is a mobile game available on iOS and Android platforms which centres around building a virtual garden to attract a host of colourful cats to visit. Players purchase different types of food and furniture with either currency earned in game or purchased with real-life money; these can then be dropped into your garden, and different cats will appear over time depending on which items are available to them.

A busy garden in Neko Atsume.
A busy garden in Neko Atsume.

Neko Atsume was designed by Yutaka Takazaki of Hit-Point, and released in Japan in October 2014. The game was later translated into English by studio 8-4, and released on Western app stores in October 2015. The game proved incredibly successful, passing 5.5 million download as of July 2015, with current downloads estimated to be close to 10 million. Continue reading Case Study: Neko Atsume

Case Study: Pleo

This case study follows the format established as part of my research into virtual pet design, which will culminate in the design of my own virtual pet.

Pleo is a robotic dinosaur ‘life form’ manufactured by Innvo Labs, first revealed in 2006 and released at retail at the end of 2007. Using a similar combination of robotics and artificial intelligence to PARO, Pleo is capable of responding to human contact and developing distinct personalities depending on its interactions with its user.

Where PARO is targeted specifically at care services, designed to aid elderly patients suffering with loneliness or the onset of dementia, Pleo uses similar technology to develop a robotic pet aimed at a commercial market.

From the PLEOworld website: ‘Every Pleo rb is autonomous. Yes, each one begins life as newly-hatched baby Camarasaurus, but that’s where predictability ends and individuality begins. Like any creature, Pleo rb feels hunger and fatigue offset by powerful urges to explore and be nurtured. It’ll graze, nap and toddle about on its own – when it feels like it! Pleo rb dinosaur can change its mind and its mood, just as you do.’

Pleo was designed by Caleb Chung, one of the co-creators of Furby, and shares much of the robotic ingenuity and appealing design that made that toy such a success.pleo-rb-autonomous-robot-life-form-3-large Continue reading Case Study: Pleo

Case Study: PARO

This case study follows the format established as part of my research into virtual pet design, which will culminate in the design of my own virtual pet.

PARO, a physical form factor robot pet developed by AIST and first released in 2003, is an attempt to use appealing virtual pet design in the mould of Furby to improve quality of life. PARO is primarily focused on helping elderly people less able to care for real pets, particularly those suffering with dementia and confined to care homes, where access to flesh-and-blood therapy animals can be difficult.

The therapeutic benefits of engagement with animals have been well documented, and PARO is just one example of designers using robots to emulate this beneficial companionship in a way that is more accessible to those who may find it difficult to care for a real animal. There are many of these therapy robots in existence; this case study will use PARO to examine how engaging pet design can emulate the therapeutic benefits of a relationship with a real animal.

Paro, available in a range of colours.
PARO comes in a range of colours.

Continue reading Case Study: PARO

Case Study: Neopets

This case study follows the format established as part of my research into virtual pet design, which will culminate in the design of my own virtual pet.

Neopets is an online community website and micro-game platform that centres around the raising and customising of virtual pets. Players can own a number of pets from 54 possible species, take care of them by feeding them special items, and customise them by changing their colour or giving them special equipment.  Pets are seen as status symbols by users, who take part in a lively community, with rare breeds, colours and equipment being highly desirable.

Neopets was originally conceived by British student Adam Powell and partner Donna Williams in 1999, with the site being incorporated as Neopets, Inc. by American businessmen Doug Dohring in 2000 following the initial success of the site. Neopets has since been owned by Viacom (2005 – 2014) and JumpStart (2014 – present). The nature of the site changed dramatically under its various ownerships, prioritising advertising and commercial content in its later iterations.

neopets-6What makes Neopets interesting as a case study is that it’s the only piece of software examined in this project that has been in continuous operation from the dawn of the virtual pet until today. In that time it has adapted to the prevailing business models of the time – with a premium membership model introduced in 2004, sponsored games and advertising content gaining prevalence through the late 2000s, and a premium currency being introduced alongside the game’s traditional purely virtual Neopoints currency in recent years.

In this sense, Neopets bridges the gap between the original, boxed-product virtual pets of the late 90s and the modern, mobile based, free-to-play virtual pet games available on today’s app stores.  Continue reading Case Study: Neopets

Case Study: Creatures

This case study follows the format established as part of my research into virtual pet design, which will culminate in the design of my own virtual pet.

Creatures is a life simulation software designed by computer scientist Steve Grand, and first released as a commercial game for Windows in 1996. Originally conceived as a virtual pet that could live on your desktop and interact with other Windows software, this ‘virtual mouse’ idea eventually became a broader experiment in artificial life, featuring semi-intelligent creatures called ‘norns’ which inhabit the planet Albia.

Players were tasked with nurturing a population of norns through multiples generations, assisting them in navigating their environment and avoiding the unwanted attention of the sinister grendel. Creatures released as three central games (Creatures, 1996, Creatures 2, 1998, and Creatures 3, 1999) with an online expansion Docking Station released in 2001. Several spin-off games were also released, including titles aimed at younger children and a release for the original Playstation console. This case study is primarily focused on three releases in the main series. Continue reading Case Study: Creatures