We speak to the London studio about its innovative educational game Dino Tales

How Kuato is using Siri to teach kids about dinosaurs

Kuato Studios is a small London developer with big plans. 

Speciaising in educational games, the team has previously produced a robot combat title that teaches kids to code and a memory jogging quiz game that not only tests you on trivia, but also tests you on earlier questions to see how much you can recall.

While these appeal to a wide variety of ages, its latest release – Dino Tales – is aimed squarely at younger children. This 3D adventure game allows players to explore an island full of dinosaurs, with mini-games such as a volcano slide and boulder bowling to keep them entertained.

Dino Tales has a number of innovative features – such as its ability to generate a storybook for kids to read to their parents based on their in-game actions – but perhaps one of the most interesting is its use of artificial intelligence.

Kuato has gained access to SRI International’s assistant technology and used it to help children learn more about the creatures they meet in the game. At any point, kids can use a series of dropdown menus to compose a question, and an animated pterodactyl will give them the answer.

We caught up with the studio’s MD Mark Horneff to find out more about this unique use of smart device technology.

Where did the idea for Dino Tales first begin? What games, or other forms of entertainment, did you draw inspiration from?

We had a number of objectives for our latest release: reach a younger demographic, maintain our approach to learning embedded within the game, and create a title that would use KAGE (our platform of services for question-answering and analytics).

In terms of the ‘theme’, a complete fascination with dinosaurs is about as commonplace as discovering a love of chocolate for most children. Dino Tales gives four to ten-year-olds access to a huge amount of information to answer the ever-present question: why? It satisfies curiosity and gives kids the ability to story tell, nurture the baby dinosaurs as they do with pets or dolls and learn key skills in a captivating way.

How did you first get access to the Siri technology and how is it used in Dino Tales? Why is it so suitable to a title aimed at children?

SRI International, the people behind SIRI was an early investor in Kuato and some of our technology stems from or was inspired by that source.

Our KAGE platform offers an in-game conversational agent. We looked at how children form sentences and via user testing, and established the types of questions they might want to ask a character in a game. Instead of trying to recognise any possible question, we focused instead on getting good coverage over a desirable question set.

We developed a set of intuitive “word wheels” which have a toy-like feel and allow a child to “dial” the question they want to ask rather than offering freely spoken input which would have created a number of challenges with accents and language skill levels. Using the word wheels, children can ask Darwin, the in-game pterodactyl learning buddy, questions who will then answer in a child-friendly voice.

This system is expressive and lets the child explore the question set, never forming a grammatically wrong sentence. Exposure to the range of questions is also very positive in terms of literacy.

We looked at how children form sentences and via user testing, and established the types of questions they might want to ask a character in a game.

How else do you think your technology could be used in games development? Do you have plans to use it in future titles?

We believe it is vital to engage kids by creating learning games that look, feel and sound like the games they play for fun. Both voiced and written questions plays a key role in that.

We have been using technology such as our KAGE platform for a few years now and the potential to increase and evolve it is constantly increasing. As such, we expect to develop voice and written commands in future games.

In the short period of time that technology like Siri and KAGE have been around, we have already seen huge advances; it used to be like meeting someone for the first time every time. As the technology grows however, each new version is enabling us to have meaningful dialogue. In the future, we fully believe this sort of technology will mean a digital friend for children.

What else is unique about Dino Tales?

One major innovation at the heart of the game is the storybook. Dino Tales gives players a unique ability to capture their play session and turn them into digital storybooks with a textual narrative of the player’s journey presented with each ‘snapshot’ of play. The game also invites the player to select alternative words allowing them to take part in the creation of a tale that can be shared and read with family and loved ones.

Normally, there is little or no parental interaction – the tablet is simply used as an entertainment device while the parent or guardian carries out an unrelated task. For us, the ability for parents to be alerted to the completion of a play session and then to sit down and read through the storybook together is a perfect way to reconnect and discuss what the child has achieved.

We believe it is vital to engage kids by creating learning games that look, feel and sound like the games they play for fun. Both voiced and written questions plays a key role in that.

How well do you expect Dino Tales to perform? What are you doing to reach your target audience?

We are currently rolling out a multi-channel marketing plan to spread the word far and wide to the kids themselves, and their parents. We have a video trailer on YouTube and a PR programme generating app reviews and engaging parenting publications.

Our expectations are obviously high based on the success of our previous market releases. Early download figures suggest the game is being really well received. To date, well over 200,000 questions have been put to ‘Darwin’ the in-game learning buddy, and over 180,000 ‘Tales’ have been created.

There have been nearly 290,000 games played since launch and over 25,000 storybooks – which individually document a player’s game, have been read and shared. We’re incredibly pleased with these figures, which show that children from Birmingham to Boston are taking to the game.

We want to grow these further – so watch this space! 

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