Red Knight creating virtual world for kids

A video games developer has struck out on an unusual, first-of-its-kind project: creating a virtual world geared exclusively to children.

Red Knight Learning Systems of Richardson has been selected as a creative partner by London-based Ludorum, which is developing a new children’s character called “Chugginton” best described as a new Thomas the Tank Engine that will be used for multifaceted children’s entertainment including toys and games.

Red Knight is creating virtual world prototypes, original artwork and learning-based games for the Chugginton’s debut in the interactive arena. Known as a massively multiplayer online game, or MMO, the game would allow thousands to be online playing Chugginton at the same time. Chuggington will also include children’s toys and a television show.

In the game, players will create their own train avatar, or choose from one of the characters on the television show. Parents set the learning experiences their young players will experience, and how they will be allowed to communicate with others in the world.

“Because it is geared toward this age group, there’s going to be a lot of limitations that parents can put on there,” said Red Knight President and CEO John A. Purdy. “For instance, if you want to say hi to another person in the game, you don’t type in the word ‘hi.’ There will be a special way to toot the train’s horn that everyone knows means ‘hello.’”

Red Knight’s team is one portion of a global network coming together to develop the online learning game. Apart from Ludorum, toy manufacturer Learning Curve, based in Chicago, Ill., and animation studio Shanghai Motion Magic Digital Entertainment, based in China, will also play major roles in its development and roll-out.

Red Knight Learning Systems, which opened its doors less than two years ago, is relatively unknown in the video games industry. CEO John Purdy said the studio is one of the first wave of “serious games” studios. Its prior projects include a reading tutoring simulation for Southern Methodist University.

Purdy also said the company is bidding to become the developer for a NASA-licensed multi-player game where thousands of people online can explore known portions of outer space together, learning math, science and astronomy along the way.

“I’m kind of a space geek, so that’d just be a dream come true for us if we nail that contract,” said Purdy. “We’re a very strong contender for it.”

Launch of Chuggington in multiple media formats, including the online game, is projected for the first quarter of 2009.