Our friends over at Melbot Studios have just launched their Kickstarter campaign for their intuitive and unique Tamagotchi-like toy, the Melbits POD. This fascinating new physical and digital hybrid device is the result of two years R&D over in their offices which are based in Barcelona and Valencia, Spain. I was part of the beta process with the unit, having bought one of the initial prototypes a few months back, so I’ve been able to try out what the device is capable of first-hand and experience roughly half of the features we’re to expect in the final product.
But first of all, who are Melbot Studios? I first worked with the team back in 2018 when they launched Melbits World, a cooperative PlayLink title for the PlayStation 4. This is a puzzle game in which you have to save the Melbits by interacting with your phone, via an app, as you pushed, flicked, tilted, and spun the various controls to alter the world so that the cute creatures don’t fall off the edge of the stage. Since then, the game has launched on Steam, Mobile Devices, and the Nintendo Switch.
This was our first introduction to the Melbits, a group of cute and lovable creatures that live within the internet which you can dress up and customise with various unlockable accessories. Melbits World focused on the adventure which our new friends were embarking upon, to save the internet from the evil viruses, but Melbits POD takes us back to the very beginning; to the birth of the Melbits. As the new owner of a Melbits POD, your role in this new experience is to incubate, raise, and care for as many Melbits as you can.
The Melbits POD was inspired by the pet-raising simulation toy of the 90s, the almighty Tamagotchi. However, the developers have gone one step further and created a unique and advanced toy which is both a physical incubation unit (the POD) and an ever-evolving digital app which provides much more intuitive interaction than the small screen on the pocket-sized toys of yesteryear could offer. But, just what do you do with your POD? Do you take it out and have it work as a pedometer, like the old Pokemon devices? Do you simply place your Melbit in the POD and leave it for a few hours? Or does it ‘pretend’ to do things and makes decisions for you, like most of the older toys?
The simple answer is, none of the above. The Melbits POD is fitted with various sensors which enables you to manipulate how your incubated pixie will evolve by physically changing the conditions in real life. For example, when you’ve placed a Melbit within the POD, you’re shown a few variants on your tablet or phone along with the conditions they require. These requirements include things such as warming up the POD, making it cool, putting it in the sun, placing it in the dark, and either moving it about or keeping it very still. Depending on how you treat the POD during the incubation period, you’ll birth a new and unique Melbit.
As your Melbit gets bigger and more advanced, you’ll need to combine multiple functions together, such as keeping the POD warm but in darkness (I shoved it down my shirt for this one), or moving it about whilst in the light. This, unlike Tamagotchi devices, encourages kids to choose which evolution they wish to aim for and then experimenting to meet the condition required in the real world. I personally think that this is a really inventive and fun way to combine the digital world with reality.
Speaking of the digital world, a mobile or tablet device is required as all of the main functions outside of evolving your Melbits takes place via an app. As of today, the app I’ve been using has been updated a few times, adding new functions and features, but I’ve been told it only covers about half of the things you’ll be able to do once the product goes live later this year (yes, the campaign was funded within 24 hours!). The POD seamlessly syncs to your device via Bluetooth, which it does automatically the first time you sit it on your phone/tablet – as if by magic (there’s another sensor on the bottom, a light sensor, which allows the app and POD to talk to each other by simply sitting the unit on your device).
Once everything is talking to one another, you can interact with your digital buddies as you would a Tamagotchi device, you can stroke them, feed them, play with them, and place them within your POD when they’re ready to evolve. If you’re lucky, they’ll even bring you gifts which you can use to dress up your ever-growing family. A brilliant new feature which was added recently is the ability to see your Melbit within your POD via Augmented Reality – you can rotate the device in real life and see a live feed of the little one inside of the POD along with any heat or light requirements, incubation time, and what the sensors are currently picking up.
The interactions don’t stop there though, the team are looking into implementing games you can play with the Melbits and you can even use Augmented Reality to place them in the real world for fun videos and photos (as well as giving them exercise). I’ve been told that the final product (based on their current roadmap) should contain over forty missions, actions required to unlock and care for our virtual visitors.
Two exciting features
There are two features listed on the Kickstarter campaign page which I can’t wait to try out for myself closer to the official launch. The first is how you actually go about finding new Melbits, known as Seed Harvesting. You’ll initially only have one ‘Seed’, a cube-like being which you can evolve into your new best friend. But, you’ll want to breed and grow as many as you can in order to create a big happy family. So, you have to go and harvest Seeds with the Melbits POD. The device will purr when you are near an obtainable Seed, kind of like Pokemon Go from what I understand. This is based on the temperature, light source and/or motion. If you find the right spot in the real world, you’ll capture a Seed which you can bring back into the app.
The second feature is how to take care of your poorly pixies when they get ill due to forgetting to feed them or neglecting their needs. You have to transfer the Melbit to the POD and then care for them based upon the elements which triggered their birth. So, if you have one which was born by being placed in a cold and dark box, don’t place it next to a roaring fire as it’ll make it worse! This is yet another innovative way that the developers have managed to bring the digital characters into the real world so that you can physically tend to their needs.
The Melbits POD campaign is running over on Kickstarter until the 24th of April. As I mentioned above, the initial goal has already been reached within the first 24 hours, meaning that it’s already a success and is set to officially launch later this year. However, just like any other campaign which has reached its goal, there are a few stretch goals which will add new features to both the app and the physical unit, and you can pre-order the unit now at a discounted price. There are various amounts you can back the project at, each one offering exciting new bonus items such as a plushie or a figurine.
One thing I have to commend the developers on is the amount of detail their actual campaign page goes into. It covers the backstory of the Melbits, the prototype and 3D printed beta PODs, all the various Melbits you can breed, and lots of info about how it all works. A lot of time and effort has gone into this campaign so I’m extremely happy that they were able to smash their initial goal. I really like the concept and execution of this project and seriously can’t wait to see how the experience evolves between now and the official launch later this year.
The idea of combining a digital ‘pet’ with a physical device, which requires yourself or your child to be active and inventive with the methods of evolving and finding them, is brilliant. Rather than simply interacting with an app all the time, or being restricted to the limited functionality of a physical toy, both aspects combine to deliver an experience which both kids and grown-ups will love. Also, thanks to the tech involved, the Melbits POD and companion app could constantly evolve over time, offering more interactivity and ways to care for your new BFFs!
If you are interested in checking out the campaign, and I hope you are, you can do so here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/melbitspod/melbits-pod-the-physical-digital-virtual-pet-evolution-game
A basic overview of the toy from the developers: