Children can draw an animal and the environment it lives in, and with a click of the mouse, see it spring to life.A whole new world is coming to your computer, and you’re going to create it yourself. That’s the idea behind Shidonni, a new Web-based computer game developed by an Israeli company of the same name, which allows youngsters aged four to 12 to create their own virtual worlds, then watch them come alive right before their eyes.

Using Microsoft’s new Silverlight technology, the Rehovot-based team has built what Shidonni CEO Ido Mazursky believes is the ultimate answer to all those shoot ’em up games parents hate so much, and which he believes are the antithesis of what computers should be all about.

“Most of the games that are out there today are very violent,” Mazursky tells ISRAEL21c. “We want to create a world that is based on several principles. The first is creativity. Today children play mostly copy/paste games, or adaptations of existing things they see. We want kids to create for themselves. Because we believe that if the world doesn’t continue to develop products that teach children to create, we will become stagnant – people will stop creating, and we want to stimulate this.”

Players draw their own world

That’s exactly what happens when players log on to the company’s web site, where a preview version is currently available. A “virtual universe” is displayed, offering the choice of several “galaxies” to choose from. Players then get to draw their own world, beginning with a creature that either walks or flies, which they draw freehand using drawing and painting tools familiar from other computer applications.

Maya, our Shidonni demonstrator, draws a dinosaur-looking beast. Players then draw their own environment for the beast to live in, in Maya’s case, some mountains, a sun and a sky. With a click of another button, however, she gives her picture something really special: life.

Suddenly the beast moves from side to side, climbing along its environment, animated without the need for any other outside animation programs to be used in conjunction with the game.

Chief technology officer Nachshon Peled, an old army friend of Mazurksy’s who developed and patented the algorithm that gives the characters “life”, explains that working on the program with the new Silverlight technology from Microsoft was beneficial in that the Microsoft environment was familiar enough to draw potential developers to help work on the complicated project.

“There are other animation programs, but not like this where you take a freehand drawing and it comes to life,” he says proudly.

Meanwhile, Maya presses a key allowing her creature to have a baby, which dutifully follows its mother creature around her world. Moments later she creates food for it, which must be fed to the creature to keep it “alive.”

A scale on the side of the screen indicates whether your animal needs to be fed, and whether or not it’s happy or you need to play with it more. While comparisons to the Tamagotchi craze are inevitable, Mazursky notes that “the difference is between something you create and something you buy already made.”

New worlds exist to be shared

According to Shidonni’s credo, new worlds exist to be shared, and the animals created by youngsters can be shared with children across the globe.

An email like program will allow children to send their creations to friends anywhere in the world who are playing the game on the Web, and these animals can pop into their worlds too. So a flying monkey created by a child in Tel Aviv might find a home in a world with a llama played by a child in Peru, Mazursky explains. The animals can also be used in a series of other games in the program, like chutes and ladders, puzzles, etc.

Mazursky, former general manager of Toys R Us in Israel, believes the game will advance several ideas important to his company, which is backed by a group of British investors he represents.

“A developer has to care about what is happening in the world, and that children will not just be stuck with shooting games and blowing things up – that’s going nowhere and nothing will come of it,” he explains. “This site is built so that the child builds everything, it’s his own creation.”

The game, which will be available in its final version this Fall, is also geared to stimulate what he calls “the parent-child” relationship and “having contact with the world around us.”

“Shidonni’s goal as a kids’ social network is to break down barriers between children around the world,” he explains. Shidonni will also be a ‘green’ game, with the elements ‘recycled’ for use by the child in creating his or her next virtual world.

So far there’s significant interest: Shidonni is featured on Microsoft’s Silverlight site and was third in hits after only a week on the site. That could be because the game represents elements that will have appeal to parents and kids alike.

“Raising children is a serious responsibility, and we are providing another example of how one can use technology to find many positive directions, and we will develop it even further,” says Mazursky.

He’s particularly proud that an Israeli product is geared to shoot down shoot ’em up games among younger kids: “We are working to change the image people have of Israel; this is the real Israel, Israel is a positive, pleasant place,” he says.