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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: Mobile, VR, WebGL

Products

Specific Simulations I worked on :

SMA

Skeletal Muscle Movement :

Build your own muscle system

LOS_Case

Skeletal System :

Solve a missing Person Case

SNA

Skin Layers and Organ Anatomy :

Follow a skin cell’s journey

PNS

The Peripheral Nervous System :

Create a model of the nervous system

CNS

Introduction to the Central Nervous System : Explore your body’s command center

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Introduction to the Nervous System : Subdivisions of the nervous system

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Gross Function of the Nervous System :

Let your brain learn about itself

GIA

Small and Large Intestine Absorption :

A journey from stomach to bloodstream

NR2

Microanatomy of a Neuron :

Build your own neurons!

Development

Role Description

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.

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The main responsibilities of my role as Game Designer within Labster’s development ecosystem :

Design interactions of various laboratory activities and subjects into an engaging and learning efficient experience

Contribution in the improvement of Labster’s simulation Building tools

Documentation and propagation of emergent interaction patterns and mechanics between projects

Development & Experience

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.

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

1. Procedural Rhetoric:

 

A technical 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 pop culture rule evaluates simulation activity concepts as a whole, examining how each mechanic practically contributes to the main learning goal.

3. "Show, Don't Tell":

 

This principle challenges the scientific writers and the team to adapt dense, rigid theories into accessible and intuitive concepts, particularly for Labster's higher education simulations.

Active Learning

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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Study Topic

Team

Brainstorm

Analysis &

Scoping

Flow Design

Prototyping

Asset Design

Implement

Feedback

Refine

Document

Hand Over

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.

Rethinking and expanding modularity into Level Design patterns for virtual Labrooms :

I had the opportunity to distill various Level Design methodologies into practical, Builder-friendly pattern 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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