Welcome to Games-Galore 'Kung Fu Panda World'
November 9, 2009
Young fans of the movie Kung Fu Panda will soon have an online dojo in which to fine-tune their style: Kung Fu Panda World, a virtual world designed for ages 8 to 12, is being developed by DreamWorks Animation and is due to go live early next year.
The Web browser-based world, inspired by the 2008 film, will launch with dozens of arcade-style games and other activities. (A range of subscription levels is planned, along with free day passes; sign up for more details at kungfupandaworld.com.)
Chats, game, treasure hunts and explorations in Asian-flavored settings will let kids earn their way to higher levels of kung fu mastery, signified by the color of their belt or sash.
"Just like Po the Panda was a fan of kung fu but didn't fit those typical, traditional kung fu styles, he found his path and unlocked his hero within. And that is what we want kids to feel like," says Rick Rekedal, head of production of DreamWorks Animation Online.
DreamWorks game designers and animators have been working on the project for two years. Their goal: to go beyond typical "play the movie" games and improve the quality of browser-based games within a social virtual environment that the player can always return to. "We want to have this engaging sense that the world is always on," Rekedal says.
An exclusive peek into Kung Fu Panda World recently revealed a deep character-creation system and a varied portfolio of games. Players design their characters based on one of three kung fu styles: Monkey, Panda or Tiger. At first, your character resides in a dormitory, but you can earn your way to larger housing and even a training hall. "You could have your own students who come to your dojo," Rekedal says.
As you explore, you meet characters who populate the world. Po and the kung fu master Shifu are hosts and will make special appearances. A warm/cold meter informs when a game or activity is near. You play tag or skip stones along a river. "These are fun little (hidden) activities," Rekedal says.
The full-fledged games are arcade-style experiences of increasing difficulty. In one, the characters Mantis and Crane are used in tandem to kick alligators and pick off almond cookies as they fall from the sky and collect them for rewards. Kung Fu Face Off, played solo or against a friend, uses a Pokémon/Magic the Gathering card gameplay mode: Characters take turns wielding attacks to see who wins a bout. And dance-rhythm game Kung Fu Beats has Guitar Hero-style notes that can be played by many friends at the same time.
The games, says John Batter, co-president of production for feature animation, were modeled on arcade games and those from past console systems. "We were trying to have the same fun gameplay that was available back then."
Parents can set controls for chat monitored by real people and programs, and length of play time. There are links to games for parents, too.
Batter says Kung Fu Panda, even more than the studio's bigger franchise, Shrek, "provided a really excellent framework for a virtual world; all the elements were there. We want the kids to take over from there and make it their own."
The universe of brand-based kids' online worlds continues to expand. Dora the Explorer is among the latest to join others such as Build-A-Bear, WebKinz (and the recent addition, WebKinz Jr., aimed at ages 3 to 6) and Disney's Club Penguin and Fairies online worlds.
"They want to develop affinity for the brand and create a community of kids who like their brand," says Caroline Knorr, digital life editor for media watchdog group Common Sense Media. Many of the sites are good and safe, but parents should "sit with their kid and learn it and set some rules," she says.
A pay-as-you-go model can mean less upfront advertising and marketing to kids, she says. "You do get a lot of pressure. For instance, with Club Penguin, they do allow kids to play for free, but you have to pay for premium features. So there can be a stratified market on the playground of who's got the premium (access)."