Niantic's next game involves caring for and breeding fictional creatures - but it's nothing to do with Pokémon. Instead, Peridot is a brand new creation by Niantic itself - the company's first for many years - and one it's aiming at an even wider audience.
With Peridot, Niantic seems to be gunning for the now-vacant Neopets market (RIP Neopets), with cutesy Pixar-esque characters, Tamagotchi-style gameplay and - because this is a Niantic game - a good old nudge every so often to get you off your sofa.
"We want it to be a standalone pet simulation game," producer Ziah Fogel told Eurogamer this week via Zoom call, when asked why it was building a new app separate to Pokémon Go. Niantic's mission here, she continued, was to iterate on and improve the popular pet simulation genre. You'll be able to try it for yourself soon, too - it arrives in soft launch in certain countries within the next few weeks.
Peridots - Dots for short - are digital creatures who have emerged after thousands of years into a very different world (on behalf of all humans, allow me to apologise). The species is now endangered and their genetic diversity is low - which is where you come in.
Your job is to care for and raise baby Dots into adulthood, help them forage for food and a place to nest, then let them free to go repopulate the Peridot population. The gameplay loop involves regular interactions with your digital pet and daily quests to take care of their needs, such as wanting to go visit a particular place nearby, or eat a particular food item. Interactions generate XP for your Peridot, and help them grow up.
As with any Niantic game, augmented reality is used to increase immersion. With Peridot, the company's impressive Lightship technology has taken another step up. Peridots can be occluded by real-world objects - ducking behind a tree or between your legs, for example. The game can also recognise real-world surfaces, allowing Peridots to forage different items from different environments (such as kelp from water).
"I think it will depend," Fogel says when I ask how long growing a Peridot will take. "Obviously there will be some players who rush to the endgame, but for most players - most casual players - it will be something in the order of one to three days you'll spend with the same creature from babyhood to teenagehood to adulthood."
Once grown into an adult, you'll then have the option to release your Peridot at a local point of interest - the places you may have seen as PokéStops in Pokémon Go, where other Dots can reside. While some of these places will have Peridots placed at them by Niantic's algorithms, there's also space here for you to encounter other creatures which players have left.
Breeding then requires a nest item, various varieties and rarities of which will be found in-game. (Speeding up the acquisition of these - and more interesting versions - sounds like it may be where some of the game's monetisation lies.)
For players who have formed a bond with their Peridot, creatures which have been released can always be summoned back to you for a catch-up - there's no pressure to keep breeding more and more if you want to check in on a favourite creature from the past.
Niantic says each Peridot is "100 percent unique" with its own "DNA" - a mix of handcrafted assets and procedural generation - that will then blend with another creature when creating offspring. (On the mating process, Niantic said it would keep things extremely PG.) This way, Dots can mix and match traits from numerous animal archetypes - unicorn, peacock, clownfish, yeti and many more.
During a roundtable discussion, Fogel was asked whether this 100 percent unique nature leant itself to NFT integration - Peridots as those algorithmically-made digital chimps, basically. "It's a really interesting idea and it's something we're obviously looking at," she replied, "but right now we're focused on testing and refining the core gameplay experience so that's fun and accidental."
For Pokémon Go fans, Peridot will likely raise the question of when breeding - a core mechanic in the main series Pokémon games - will finally arrive in Niantic's title. Did its arrival here - seemingly in a far more advanced format - suggest some cross-pollination of ideas or development with the company's flagship game? When asked this, sadly, Niantic declined to say more.
For everyone else, Peridot seems to offer a similar Niantic spin on something Pokémon Go mastered - for those who grew up with Tamagotchi in their pocket, rather than a Game Boy, Peridot is the modern answer. But I can see it appealing to a whole new generation of virtual pet fans too.
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