ItzaBitza, a new computer game for the PC, offers an exciting new way for kids to play on the computer while learning to read and exploring their creativity.
What makes this game so revolutionary is that it introduces the concept of "Living Ink," which means kids draw a requested object and when they do, that drawing comes alive through animation and it is incorporated into an ongoing story. Because it is so cool to watch their drawings come to life, kids are motivated to read the next part of the story so that they can find out what they get to draw next.
And to help new readers with that reading, all words in the game can be read aloud in a child's voice by simply moving the cursor over a word. When you do, the world turns red, gets bigger, and then is spoken aloud so that it is easy to follow along.
The idea for ItzaBitza incubated in the Microsoft Advanced Strategies unit before it was spun out to be produced by the startup Sabi, Inc. Its development team included cognitive psychologists and learning specialists.
ItzaBitza is made up of five themed playsets, which unlock as you play through the game. You start with the first playset, "Home Sweet Home," where you meet a girl Sketchy and a boy Sketchy. After you select the one you want to play with, the Sketchy will ask you to draw a house. On the screen, a translucent piece of paper appears on which you can draw.
What is amazing is that the game anticipates what shapes a child might draw, and then magically adds color and detail to the drawing as it brings it alive in the playset. For example, with the requested house, kids can draw a square, a circle, or even a random shape, and the Sketchy will be adjusted in size to fit that house. Once kids draw a door, the Sketchy will open it, and walk inside the drawn house. When you draw the requested windows, you can observe your Sketchy moving throughout the house.
In addition to requests from your Sketchy playmate, the scene also contains stars which, when clicked, provide quests. For example, you may be asked to find the golden letter in the mailbox. When you complete enough quests (about five), a new playset will open for you to explore.
The other playsets are themed around camping, space, a haunted house, and a farm. As you progress through the playsets, the reading gets more challenging, as do the quests.
What makes this game so much fun is that each time you play, it changes, because your drawings are always different. Plus kids can take in-game photos of their drawings to share later with others.
The reading in the game is also well thought out. Because kids are reading for a purpose (to find out what they can draw next) and they then cross reference the words with visual objects that they have drawn, they are reading for meaning. This software provides great motivation to read.
ItzaBitza is perfect for kids who are just starting to decode words, but it also excellent for all kids ages 4-8 because it is so fascinating to watch your art creations come to life.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.