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Labster’s Virtual Labs have burst open the possibilities of what science educators can offer students, while addressing some of the steepest challenges in academia today.

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Virtual Labs is a live platform that houses an expanding list of Unity-powered laboratory simulations allowing students all over the world to complete online, from their personal devices. Each lab places students in real world scenarios, where they must apply their knowledge to solve real world problems

Role : Game Designer        Developer : Labster      Release Type : Live       Platforms: Browser-Based, IOs, Android

Development

Development & Experience

Each simulation is produced and developed by a specialized team of scientists and developers before it is subsequently released on the Virtual Labs online catalog.

 

The teams that create these simulations are essentially rapid game development units that have embedded scientists and pedagogs into the design process in order to shape the educational interactive content and theme of each simulation based on the specifications set between Labster and the client institution.

During my involvement with designing for Labster’s products I have applied and honed the following practices and skills :

Keeping a consistent work and task completion rhythm with remote team members and contributors around different time zones and roles on a daily basis.

Deconstructing and reinterpreting complex scientific topics using a limited set of modular interaction mechanics, ensuring creativity within short production timelines.

Communicating solid Game Design, Interactive Narrative, and Procedural Rhetoric methods and intentions, to various team members of different academic disciplines and roles within the production of each project.

Game Design

Game Design

Educational Game Design and Active Learning : 

Labster's pedagogy focuses on Active Learning, engaging students experientially in the learning process. Each simulation consists of procedural activities that involve users in thinking, discussing, investigating, and creating around the topic

 

Design Process and Content Gamification Methods : 

 

To implement Active Learning, I restructured it into three practical tenets for our multidisciplinary content team:

  1. Procedural Rhetoric:

A designer's rephrasing of Active Learning, this term guided discussions between toolmakers, platform creators, and scientific writers, emphasizing learning through mechanics.

2. "Wax on, Wax off" Effect:

 

This rule evaluates simulation activity concepts as a whole, examining how each mechanic contributes to the main learning goal.

3. "Show, Don't Tell":

 

This principle reminds scientific writers to adapt dense, rigid theories into a more accessible format, particularly for Labster's higher education simulations.

Design implementation:

 

My typical responsibilities and activities as a Game Designer within a Labster Simulation production cycle would form the following steps :

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Studying "Subject X" to internalize learning objectives, usually identified by the pedagogy department or the client.

Consulting teaching experts to understand how "Subject X" would be taught in a lab or class.

Brainstorm with the entire team  on the specific simulation activities, to both to utilise their experience and maximise their sence of owership, and passion

A. Determine how many and how closely each real-lab student action could be  expressed using the Labster Simulation Platform's existing interaction  vocabulary.
B. Determine which elements of "Subject X" teachings needed to be compressed to fit the simulation's intended playtime scope.

Creating a first draft document and flowchart proposal as a design thumbnail for the educational simulation.

Creating prototypes for each "Learning Activity" (main interaction points).

Identifying interactive elements challenging to express with pre-existing Building Blocks and proposing design solutions.

Blocking out the main beats of the "Subject X" Simulation in-engine, collaborating with developers, content writers, and artists to flesh out the project.

Conducting internal and external playtesting and tweaking.

Refining and expanding overall documentation if new templates, tools, or methods were created during the production of "Subject X."

Handing over the release candidate to the product department

Production Methods

Production Methods and Challenges

Development Cycle :

Approach

Challenge: 

Labster's average production cycle of 2-3 months would demand efficient distillation of each topic's essence and intricacies.

 

Creating fitting art, animation, and sound design within this limited timeframe is a significant challenge.

Re-contextualizing the use of conventional tools to tap into open ended game engine functions, reducing the constant need for novel builder systems

Focus on each teaching topic's Core Principles rather than replicate its reading materials,
and brainstorm on how to efficiently communicate them

Encourage a more modular development proccess
by creating re-usable assets & interaction templates

Platform Development and Release :

Challenge:

During my time at the organization, the Labster Builder, (a proprietary simulation-building editor powered by Unity), lacked some of the more robust  features common in other conventional game creators.

Delivering final products with an in-progress tool presented a significant challenge.

Approach

Sharing learnings from past productions, and introducing established solutions and workarounds from the commercial game industry, to benefit an otherwise education-focused development team.

Utilizing some of my generalist game-dev
"low-level" and "hands-on" experience in various production stages to maximize my team's potential and boost their roles

Encourage a more modular development proccess
by creating re-usable assets & interaction templates

Unique Role Challenges and Learnings

Squad-based Creative Direction versus Central Creative Direction.

Challenge:

Rapid catalogue expansion during the global pandemic and the introduction of game designers without a clear role definition led to inconsistent production scopes, design direction, and implementation methods across the content teams

Approach

The game design circle worked together to introduce various creative pillars based on common learnings from previous simulations across all teams to establish production quality and standards.


These rules were adapted and optimized for our team, with periodic re-examination and iteration to maintain consistency across the organization's output.

The unique limitations and “Hands-on" restrictions of Labster's Game Designer role

Challenge:

The high-level functionality of the transitioning Builder Platform coupled with my role's limited access based on Labster's pipeline and personnel structure with regards to in-engine assets or scripts made rapid prototyping of particular novel ideas and setups challenging within short production cycles.

Approach

I developed rapid prototypes of mechanics and unique activities directly in the Unity Engine,  using custom-made placeholder scripts and assets consistent with  Labster's Builder framework. By doing so, I saved considerable time for  team members, providing them with compartmentalized assets compatible  with their familiar pipeline. This optimized our team's process without  intruding on the content department's current practices

Personal Highlights

During my time at Labster, in addition to contributing to the mission of creating high-quality, affordable educational content, I experienced the following personal highlights:

Rebooting the scrapped Exploration Mode feature:

Exploration Mode, a special interaction mode allowing students to examine objects and their layers, was initially scrapped. I drew from UX learnings and worked with different departments within Labster to revive and adapt this feature, making it suitable for a wide-purpose educational tool like Virtual Labs.

 

Redesigning and prototyping a new modular system for virtual Labrooms:

I had the unique opportunity to distill various Level Design methodologies into practical, Builder-friendly modules. This aimed to empower future content creators and in-house artists to produce game industry-level environments within the Labster context.

Role Challenges
Personal Highlights
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