Connected toy pirate ship adventure
In the late 1990s, San Mateo-based Zowie Intertainment, one of two kids’ technology start-ups at Paul Allen’s Interval Research, developed and built the first generation of “connected toys” — what we would now call “Toys to Life” products. Redbeard’s Pirate Quest was a toy pirate ship which connected to your home PC. Using early RFID technology, it could track the motion of action figures and the ship’s mechanical parts (like the wheel at the ship’s helm, the deck hatch to the ship’s hold, and the telescope in the crows’ nest) to let kids control a pirate game on the screen.
Zowie partnered with Austin-based Human Code to develop the game software that would be driven by this novel hardware interface, as well as for the companion product Ellie’s Enchanted Garden. As the Producer/Designer on the game software, I led a team of thirty-plus artists and developers and coordinated with Zowie’s creative and corporate teams to deliver an award-winning game for a completely new (and actively under development) hardware platform.
In less than a year, we developed the entire game: the intellectual property for the original world, the characters, the story, and the hardware-driven gameplay, all while having access only to a series of rough prototype versions of the toy ship controller itself.
Leading a team successfully (but not stresslessly) through one of the fastest and most technically challenging projects of my professional career was a formative experience for me.
Thanks to the strong concept and the strong collaboration between our two companies, Redbeard’s won numerous awards for technological and creative innovation, including:
- The New Media INVISION Award 1999
- An EMMA Electronic Multimedia Award
- A TIMs Award from the Austin Area Multimedia Alliance 2000 (Texas Interactive Media Achievement Awards)
- The Bologna New Media Prize for Excellence in Children’s Software
- An AGN award