[Over at virtual worlds site WorldsInMotion.biz, we've restarted the Worlds In Motion Online Atlas, penned by Mathew Kumar - and an important view into a rapidly burgeoning part of the game biz. This time round - a look at the cutely named kids online world Dizzywood.]

Here's an overview of Dizzywood, a virtual world designed for children between ages 8-12 from Rocket Paper Scissors.

2008_05_12_dizzy.jpgName: Dizzywood

Company: Rocket Paper Scissors

Established: November 2007

How it Works: Flash; it runs directly in the browser window with no installation required. Navigation and gameplay is performed through use of a mouse, and users can talk to each other via keyboard input.

2008_05_12_dizzy1.jpgOverview: In Dizzywood, players can create, customize and name a character to explore an enchanted wood. Players can co-operate with others to solve the mysteries of the wood, and can earn rewards, such as items, achievement badges, e-motes and powers for successful completion of events, or they can just relax and chat with friends, take part in games and explore.

Payment Method: Dizzywood is currently free-to-play, but is to offer paid subscriptions in future as an option to access premium content.

Key Features:
-Safe world intended for children ages 8-12
-Solo games to play, but the mysteries of the wood emphasize co-operation

-Clothes, items, e-motes and powers can be unlocked and purchased, allowing avatar customization

Dizzywood: In-Depth Tour

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Dizzywood starts a little surprisingly -- once you've signed up (making sure you have your parent's permission, as it's your "parent's" e-mail address confirmation is sent to) and selected a server (one of four, and you can choose your server each time you log in) you're immediately sent into the world as a generic avatar.

Landing in "Presto's Grove", the starting point for all new players in Dizzywood, I began by talking to Presto, the anthropomorphic raccoon that the grove is named after. Presto serves as the initial tutorial to the world, advising new players first how to alter their appearance (through Preso's Wagon, but actually just as easily by the massive "change your look" button that makes up part of the interface), then how to customize their clothes (by winning them from the clothing game at the Clothing Wagon, and then purchasing them from locations that sell them). After that, players are largely free to explore the world as they see fit.

Dizzywood isn't a huge world, but it is, like many others, one where you can be at a loss where to begin once the tutorial is over. Presto does give some advice -- to check out the Magic Mystery Wagon; help his "trusty assistant" Chanjo; find a skateboard; and to explore Tanglevine Jungle.

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The Magic Mystery Wagon gives each player one chance a day to win something, so I immediately headed there and won, quite excellently, a skateboard! I'd already managed to strike off two of his recommendations with only one click! Of course, I was very lucky to win a skateboard on my first try -- in the days since, I've won such (completely useless) wonders as moldy cheese and a used toothbrush.

Chanjo's problem was similarly simple -- to find his missing tools strewn around Presto's Grove, which largely consisted of simply wandering about until I saw them. The rewards for this effort was one of the unique aspects of Dizzywood -- emotes, which in themselves aren't too remarkable, but in Dizzywood you have to earn them through games and exploration. Although my new ability to wink and give high fives wasn't especially thrilling on a personal level, I can see how the effort to find new emotes could be rewarding in itself.

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I couldn't help but then waste some time playing the game initialized by clicking Chanjo's machine. A version of the Zookeeper match-3 mechanics (try and match 3 of a specific item to win) I used the opportunity to raise enough money to buy a new top from the Clothing Wagon (a striped long sleeve t-shirt) before I headed off to Tanglevine Jungle.

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Tanglevine Jungle is only one of the many other locations in Dizzywood -- other locations include Presto's Edge, Skytown Skatepark, Farthing's Meadow and more. Each of these locations tend to feature some games to play, but also puzzles to solve using the environment. Tanglevine Jungle is a great example of this. While I could happily have whiled away the time playing the game Force Field with the wandering salamander sprites (a twist on Pong) with a little exploration I found a pair of pillars that granted me the power of levitation -- which I then used to levitate over a nearby river. There, I was able play more games (a game similar old Game & Watch game Fire with a frog, and a variant of hangman with a stone coffer) but also, with further exploration, I found the ability to make myself invisibile and received an opal idol from a ghost!

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The opal idol is an item which, if I continued to explore, would eventually allow me to unlock the "zap" power, but it's there that I decided to give my exploration of Tanglevine Jungle a rest and see the rest of the world. Dizzywood has many players enjoying the world in a similar fashion -- trying to solve its puzzles, but also taking time to just explore and interact with other players.

There are several locations and events to foster this kind of play. For example, players are currently being asked by Dizzywood's wizards to travel to Wildwood Glen, where they must plant and raise trees to restore it. In order to help trees grow, players have to hover their mouse pointer over the trees, and trees grow much faster when friends work together on this task. The world has featured many other events, such as a winter festival, Valentine's Day, and an egg hunt.

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Other social aspects of the world work as most do, with a "buddies & blocks" list for friends and players the user doesn't wish to talk to, and a red whistle on screen at all times for players to report anyone they think is acting in an unacceptable manner.

Dizzywood is an interesting experience -- while the world has more structure than many social MMOs, with powers to unlock and quests to embark upon, players are given as much leeway as possible to take part in them or not. It's possible that this could lead to players interested in one format or the other could become disappointed, but I think there are good reasons why Dizzywood should continue to develop in interesting ways for all players, and I'll talk about them in the conclusion.

Dizzywood: Conclusion

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I was primed to be captivated by Dizzywood before I began playing it thanks to the splash screen (which you can see above). The piece of art used is such a fantastic example of storybook art that the game already had me feeling like a kid again.

I'll be honest, though -- the world itself doesn't work quite as well at maintaining that feeling through its art. If we're going to nitpick, the art is inconsistent, with player avatars seeming to exist in a totally different world from the static "paper cut out" characters that supposedly inhabit Dizzywood.

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Of course, this kind of problem could be considered a limitation of the engine, which, as Dizzywood runs in flash and Javascript, can be a little bit idiosyncratic. I had problems getting it to work successfully in Firefox (it ran, but was glitchy) though it worked acceptably in Explorer.

Dizzywood offers a 3D world to explore, and at times that seems to be a little bit too much for the engine to offer, with animation sometimes flawed, movement occasionally jerky, and a play area window that's (arguably) far too small.

Inconsistent art and an (at times) dodgy engine aren't the limit of my problems with Dizzywood. The world falls into one of the major pitfalls that virtual worlds that feature minigames do, and that is tired and uninspired games. It's nice that every location features games to be found, but match-3 and Pong inspired games just aren't exciting enough to maintain interest.

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Which, I suppose, makes it all the more of a revelation that Dizzywood is still so worthwhile as an online experience for its intended market. As the Parent's Guide explains, Dizzywood is a safe world for children, but more than that it’s a positive one. Players can while away their time playing the games alone, but it's far more fun to explore in groups, with some aspects, such as trees that grow faster or rocks that are more easily moved by teams of friends, a great example of this. It's incredibly tedious to try and move a pile of rocks alone to retrieve a crystal skull (believe me, I tried) but a snap with friends!

Players don't have to bother with investigating the mysteries, either. I couldn't help but explore the world as if it was a game, but many users are clearly happy (and no worse off than others) for not doing anything other than chatting with friends.

As Dizzywood continues to be developed, too, they're adding more and more aspects to make both types of player happy. Explorers can now wear backpacks, and all players will soon be able to have their own rooms to decorate and hang out with friends in.

All in all, Dizzywood is a bit of a contradiction. The world doesn't look great and the technology behind it isn't particularly special. The games included are (mostly) derivative and boring. But it's brilliant fun to explore, and a great place to meet and collaborate with other players to discover its mysteries. With its continuing improvements, this could be one of the "tween" orientated worlds to watch (heck, it's even been featured in the New York Times!)

Useful Links:
Dizzywood FAQ
Dizzywood Explorer's Journal
Dizzywood Wiki