Rapid Sims – A case study
What does this motley crew have to do with Rapid Sims? This is the Caspian team picking up an award for best learning game and simulation at the eLearning awards in London.
The award was presented for work on The Rome Game – a game that takes players back in time to ancient Rome where in their role as a futuristic Time Knight they must solve mysteries to protec the integrity of time from those that would change it.
This was our first game developed with our authoring tool Thinking Worlds 3.0. This enabled a very complex game with 48 different scenarios, 20+worlds and hundreds of historical characters and artefacts to be delivered end to end in six months. I’ll publish some examples of TW3.0 in a bit but for now I’ll share the award submission document as a case study.[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Rzw5QVg4CgA]
The client is a spin out business of one of the worlds foremost media groups. Its core business strategy is to generate a web-based educational offering that positions it as the primary choice for educational content to homes and schools globally.Â The company recognised that games technologies would offer one of the best opportunities to achieve its goals and engage its target audience; boys and girls aged between 11 and 14 yrs of age.
The clients ultimate goal is to deliver a series of real 3D learning based games applications, which motivate children to want to learn by taking advantage of the benefits of this technology and yet do it in a scalable and flexible way. Other knowledge based learning resources are and will be delivered however, They had a clear desire to develop a range of highly motivating â€œblue ribbonâ€ resources that supplement these knowledge resources. The client selected the gaming medium in a clear and thought through effort to increase the levels of learner engagement and interaction, setting new standards in â€œeducational applicationsâ€.
Summary of Client Brief & Statement of Training needs
As a first step to achieving its goal, the client wanted to develop a game to cover approximately half of the â€˜Roman Historyâ€™ curriculum which would provide a proven development template for other curriculum areas.
The objectives of the 3D Roman History game cover both learner motivation and learning improvement:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Engender high levels of motivation within the target learners (replay-ability, time on task, determination to complete, score improvement over time)
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Improve both the core skills and domain knowledge of the learners
Â§Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Target improvements in seven core curriculum competencies: interpretation; analysis; method; judgment; personal; social and domain specific knowledge
Â§Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Rome in Danger must cover 50 stated curriculum learning objectives.
In addition the client stipulated that the game must:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â be equally engaging for both boys and girls
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â include action based learning activities
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â feel like a commercial game, not an educational product
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â must have a â€˜wowâ€™ factor, especially the visuals and movement in the worlds
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â must be delivered via a web browser.
The Game & Linking to Learning Needs
To meet these objectives, Caspian Learning developed an immersive 3D interactive game called â€œRome in Dangerâ€. This game was developed using Caspianâ€™s core technology Thinking Worldsâ„¢.
Thinking Worldsâ„¢ is a globally unique engine, in as far as it is a real 3D games engine that has a range of proven learning interactions and behaviours designed into it. The engine allows Caspian to develop and utilise high fidelity 3D worlds that learners can explore, such as Roman villaâ€™s, forums, street scenes, catacombs and many more. It also allows highly interactive game challenges to be used to target core learning outcomes.
The design template for â€œRome in Dangerâ€ is a puzzle adventure format that successfully blends game plot and narrative with historical content and learning activities. This genre of gameplay is ideally suited to the instructional design challenge; featuring progressively more difficult puzzles; props, problems, mystery; character based narrative interactions and full exploration of the 3D world. This core would provide a deeply engaging gameplay experience proven across millions of children and adult players across the world.
The game covers the development of Rome and explores the social and political changes related to it.Â Learners take on the role of â€˜Time Knightsâ€™ working for the Chrono Crime Commission – Â a group of time travelling investigators sworn to protect the integrity of history from others from the future who may abuse it.
â€œThe year is 2115.Â Time travel into the past is now possible thanks to an ingenious invention by Professor Trinkwasser. The eccentric Professor works with a team of young scientists and adventurers in Gilliam Castle. From this Scottish castle the Time Knights jet through the ages. Their employer is Chrono Crime Commission (CCC), a secret government organisation. This special unit has two important missions: firstly to explore the past and secondly to safeguard the space-time continuum. The latter becoming increasingly important since the greedy Agent X has stolen a model of the time travel machine. With the help of this invention, the villain wants to plunder the treasures of the past and seize control of the word. He couldn’t care less that in the process, he might turn the course of history upside down. But our Time Knights are prepared!â€
In the course of their adventures, learners travel back in time to be immersed within a historical 3D world to experience real chapters of Roman life.Â It covers major events including the Punic wars; Republic in crisis; and the rise of Imperial Rome.Â The real historical narrative is linked to different game story narratives, such as the chase of a Time Criminal â€“ â€˜AgentXâ€™.
The game includes a â€˜learning hubâ€™ where the learner is briefed on their missions and receives feedback at the end of each challenge. The hub takes the physical form of a castle called Gilliam Castle. The castle provides the learner with access to their colleagues in the CCC and to a library of learning resources to support their mission. The learner must gather key information for their mission and pass knowledge acquisition tests before the Time Machine is activated and they can travel back to ancient Rome.
To explore Rome, learners use a choice of real 3D avatars with accurate animations and expressions. â€œThe Roman Gamesâ€ is a fast-paced problem solving game in which learners meet characters of the time that they must guide and advise through the challenges that they face.Â They also have the chance to interact with famous historical characters such as Julius Caesar, Augustus, Cicero and Arminius; to examine Roman artefacts and to use tools.Â There are many possible outcomes to each challenge and many possible routes to each outcome.
The game utilises 11 different learning or game mechanics â€“ these are interactions by which the learner gains access to and manipulates learning information within the game. The learning / game mechanics directly link the actions of the player within the game and to the learning objectives that are to be achieved. It is a precise mapping in to the very DNA of the game. For example, for knowledge gathering and recognition the game employs mechanics such as multiple choice, conversation selections, process drops and labelling. Knowledge of key facts are embedded and tested by these methods. For higher level competencies the game employs mechanics of construction, non-linear conversation, block puzzles, object placement/manipulation and stealth.
These higher level multiple learning mechanics are linked together and interweaved with historical narrative and game story, sometimes over several different scenes. For instance, in mission one the player must solve several different mechanics to identify component parts of the plans of AgentX (the baddie). These must then be synthesised and judged in relation to historical events and facts, to understand what AgentX is going to do. This links natural resources, map of empire, voting process in Republic, role of Familia, role of Senate and the role of Military, to conclude and thwart his plans.Â
In this way every learning objective is literally embedded into the gameplay. These are seamlessly integrated within the game story and historical narrative â€“ a very difficult task. These link time travel, real historical events and possible other versions of history, code breaking, key finding, assassins, historical characters, soldiers, crystals, special abilities and a multitude of other actors and objects into a coherent whole.
Reward & Recognition
A reward and recognition system has been introduced to enhance game-play and incentivise re-playability.Â It takes inspiration from best selling games such as Zelda and New Super Mario Bros.
Â Two key methods have been used as the basis for reward and recognition:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Collectibles â€“ the player must find and collect â€˜Time Crystalsâ€™. A limited number of these are available in each scene.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Task performance â€“ the player must successfully complete learning challenges within the game.
By finding and locating Time Crystals and by solving learning challenges within the game the player will achieve different rewards and recognition:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Historical Artefacts â€“ each scene contains a special historical artefact that the player must find and bring back to the Castle
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Special abilities â€“ the player will unlock secret special abilities for their avatar
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Ranking â€“ as the player solves learning challenges, collects crystals and unlocks abilities their overall game ranking will change starting from â€˜cadetâ€™ and leading up to â€˜captainâ€™
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â High scores â€“ the player will be given a detailed breakdown of their scores on each scene within each mission.
Examples of these special abilities can be seen in some of the â€œsaved gamesâ€ accessed via the â€œload gameâ€ option on the main menu. These are not apparent to the learners when they first start their learning journeys, but do demonstrate some of these dynamic reward functions to judges with limited reviewing time.
Because of the embedded cognitive templates Caspian Learning was able to accurately match game tasks with specific competencies desired by the curriculum.
â€œRome in Dangerâ€ now:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â covers 19 Curriculum subject modules
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â covers 49 Curriculum learning objectives
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â embeds core knowledge and 11 core learning mechanics
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â develops higher level skills
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â includes 36 interactive scripts, 17 3D Worlds and over 100 objects
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 8 history curriculum characters (market tested and learner designed) and over 100 other historical characters.
3,000 German students aged between 11 and 14 tested â€œRome in Dangerâ€ over a three week period and revealed the following findings:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Self reported on learning experience – 90% of testers rated the learning experience good to very good
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Engagement â€“ self reports on engagement and motivation were over 96% good and very good
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Replayability â€“ Exact individual usage was not tracked, but overall group usage was significantly higher for the game than flash based games and normal eLearning
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Learning effectiveness (Replayability and determination to learn) â€“ 92% of users that played the game played through the scenarios and solved the challenges to completion. This is a very high number for eLearning where drop out rates are massive usually. Players could not finish in one or two times, the challenges were difficult and it required replay and determination to finish.
Rome in Danger has set a new standard in educational games. It combines console type graphics, and interactivity with real curriculum areas and outcomes. The improved learner engagement described above demonstrates how we can start to overcome what Michael Barber called the increasing number of â€œdisappointed, disillusioned and disappearing learnersâ€. We can use the learnerâ€™s native technology to entice them back into formal learning and allow them to have fun, experience challenge whilst developing their knowledge and skills.
As a result of â€œlearner centred designâ€ processes the original character specifications and concept art for the castle storyline / characters have all now been used across other resources due to the quality. Learners identify with the characters partly because they were integral to the design of them and this provides a really â€œstickyâ€ product.
In addition the fact that learners can explore 3D environments and carry out their challenges in accurate virtual worlds results in a more contextual learning experience. When teaching subjects like history and geography the environment matters. Rome in danger allows learners to see, speak, and understand what life was like at the time and view for themselves how different groups have different perspectives of what life was like during the Roman Empire.
Finally the games can be accessed remotely via the web. Thinking Worldsâ„¢ is the only 3D serious game engine that can work real time through the Adobe/Shockwave platform. This results in students being able to access the games wherever they like. It also allows other web 2.0 technologies to be utilised, so scores can be published, league tables created and real world rewards disseminated.