Katelyn Procci | December 3, 2011
It has been a busy, busy week. RETRO has been at I/ITSEC to show-off two of our minigames, Garden Defense and Devil’s Advocate, both of which were finalists in the 2011 Serious Games Showcase & Challenge. It is certainly an honor to have not one, but two games as finalists in this prestigious competition. I am extremely pleased (and proud) to announce that Garden Defense, our tower defense assessment minigame, won Best Student Game!
A little bit about Garden Defense: Like Devil’s Advocate, this minigame was developed for the Novonics Corporation for their Walk in my Shoes serious game. Walk in my Shoes follows a solider through his deployment, including the stages both before and after. This serious game teaches players conflict management strategies, provides information on the challenges of reintegration, and even gives more background on everything that needs to be done before deployment (e.g., assign power of attorney, renew car registration).
In Walk in my Shoes, we needed some sort of assessment method to serve as the capstone experience. This would determine what content areas the player needed to review. Traditionally, this would have been a simple quiz-based assessment. Our game designer, Lucas Blair, saw this as a challenge. How do you gamify an assessment? Games as a medium are uniquely suited for this type of task as they require input from the player to drive play. The decisions a player makes can affect his or her progress within the game world. When coming up with the design for this assessment game, Lucas knew that somehow the performance on the quiz had to have a real-time effect on gameplay.
I think what Lucas did was ingenious – he decided to design a tower defense game. For those who are unfamiliar with the genre, this type of game involves lines of enemies marching on your home base. You must protect your base by strategically placing defensive towers, which automatically fire upon enemies when they come near. In order to build those towers, you need to spend money/resources. Different enemy types will require different types of defensive towers to defeat them and points and time are often limited, so this quickly becomes a resource management and strategy game.
In Garden Defense, players are tasked with protecting tomato and pepper plants from an extremely persistent bug army. The towers (bug spray, fly swatters, and bug zappers) aren’t free and players need to spend points in order to defend their garden. To do this, and here’s the smart part, players are required to answer questions. If they answer correctly, they are awarded points to spend. Essentially, the reward for correct answers is in-game currency, which is needed to play and beat the game.
These questions come from all of the different content areas presented in Walk in my Shoes. Player performance in the assessment directly affects their ability to successfully play the game, and based on his or her performance, at the end of the game it tells the player the content they need to review. By requiring the player to use the content they have learned in order play, Lucas successfully turned what would otherwise be a boring quiz into a fun, tower defense serious game.
This game is a shining example as to how games themselves can be used as an assessment tool. It is also another example of the creativity a game-loving research scientist can bring to the table when designing effective serious games.
I would like to thank the dev team for their incredible work:
- Programmer: Skyler Goodell
- Artist: Danielle Chelles
- Designer: Lucas Blair
- Production Managers: Danielle Chelles, Lucas Blair, Katelyn Procci
- Instructional Systems Architect: Dr. Anya Andrews
- Subject Matter Expert: Dr. Michael Kofler
- Additional Writers: Katelyn Procci