In 2009, Rovio launched Angry Birds, one of the first games to make use of the mobile platform. In 2013, this infographic claims that there are 263 million active monthly users, and every other new cell phone purchased has the game downloaded onto it.
Kuato Studios, a development studio created from SRI International (the people who sold Siri to Apple) and Horizon Ventures (VC firm responsible for their investments in Facebook, Spotify, and Summly), is looking to take advantage of mobile platforms to a further level. Instead of crashing birds into objects, they want to use battle robots to make learning how to code fun. Wait, learning how to code can be fun?
I was able to sit down with Frank Meehan, CEO of Kuato Studios and former board member of Siri, to discuss Hakitzu and how modern technology can intersect with education in positive, fun, and captivating ways. Here is what he had to say:
A: Recently, I have noticed that students are using technology and educational apps to assist with the course curriculum. However, observation has shown that students are detached from the learning experience because the applications aren’t engaging enough.
Q: What makes Hakitzu so engaging without much instruction?
A: What earlier models of educational apps were missing was the proper implementation of music and graphics mechanics. Coupling state of the art music and graphics with a competitive aspect, we have made it possible for students to win at coding. And who doesn’t like winning?
It is also a pick-up and play game. There is no programming experience required to play Hakitzu for the first time. Our beta-tests have shown that providing little instruction allows the students explore the game freely, learning from their successes and mistakes. It is always great to get the reaction, “WOAH! I can’t believe that code worked, this is awesome!!”
Q: How will you use AI to assist the player?
A: We hope to use the AI to recognize when a player is struggling with writing lines of code. We understand the frustration that comes with learning how to program, so we hope to use a special AI to guide people when they are looking for a hint.
Q: What is the main goal of Hakitzu?
A: To win! The competitive edge of the game entices players to come up with clever strategies to defeat their opponents.
Another goal is to teach the fundamental foundation of syntax and how to write code properly. A lot of frustration comes from lack of coding discipline, and we believe that providing a strong foundation will make the children excited to learn about coding all on their own.
Q: Is Hakitzu meant to replace Codecademy or Code Dojo?
A: No, Hakitzu is meant to encourage children and users of all ages to feel comfortable enough to tackle the lessons taught on sites such as Codecademy. Think of us as a jumping point. We want to first make students excited about learning how to code. We hope this excitement derived from the game will encourage players to explore programming concepts outside of Haktizu.
However, we will be updating the game every 4 weeks to add new lessons such as how to create loops and arrays. Our main mission is to make people more curious and comfortable with the complexities of science. We want students to go to their parents and proudly say, “Guess what this game is teaching me?” We also want parents to say, “I’m glad that there are games outside of the classroom that also assist in my child’s learning process.”
Hakitzu isn’t the only project Kuato will be focusing on in the coming months. It is often said that if you solve a problem in a tough situation, you will be able to solve it in most others. The barrier of entry and extinction rate when it comes to learning how to code is quite high due to tricky syntax and a needing to understand formal logic. Therefore, the success of Hakitzu will prove that Kuato knows how to make learning engaging and fun for all ages, especially children.
Kuato’s vision is to become the ‘Pixar of Education’ and to create a series of platform learning games that make children interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). By creating successful games that make children more interested in double bonds and photosynthesis, Kuato’s platform will be a healthy alternative to the dangerous distractions that exist. Now this is something that both parents and children can be excited about!
We look forward to seeing all the exciting projects Kuato Studios is cooking up! I know what I will be introducing to my little brother when he gets old enough to stop spilling stuff on the iPad. Parents, how do you feel about games to spark scientific curiosity and discovery?