This weekend at the 2018 Games for Change Festival, Harley Baldwin, VP of Design at Schell Games, and Jesse Schell, CEO and Founder of Schell Games, took the stage to talk about the course of development for their upcoming game HoloLAB Champions.

They began with the general project evolution of the game. HoloLAB Champions began life as a kind of space adventure. The chemistry portion was necessary to solve problems on your spaceship. Over time, the game has evolved into a game show-like set up that focuses completely on the chemistry aspect, creating an “immersive, safe and entertaining environment scored on accuracy and safety.”

A large portion of the presentation was a discussion of the five big lessons they learned while developing their latest game. Their first was how easy it is to underestimate simple things. This ranged from details to how to present the chem lab notebook in a “relevant and useful” way to how to adapt certain tools to the controls offered by a VR rig, or handle liquid in a fully-virtual environment, a notoriously difficult task.

Another lesson they learned was that VR can amplify stage fright–this game was play tested with middle school and high school students, the intended audience. They noticed, in particular, that less female students were trying the game out when given the opportunity. When asked, these students seemed to express ideas along the lines of that while they were interested, they would rather play at home, and not in front of all their peers, in case if they embarrassed themselves somehow.

G4C 2018: ‘HoloLAB Champions’: The Making of a VR Chemistry Lab - n3rdabl3
Harley Baldwin and Jesse Schell were surprised to find that teachers were more focused on safe lab procedures than memorizing data.

The third lesson was that teacher input on the game was crucial to their project, for big ideas down to seemingly small details, like how many decimal points should be included on a scale. With this, there was the fourth lesson, the realization that classrooms “need a ramp to VR.” Most classrooms are simply not ready for VR yet, and one of the biggest issues cited was the need for open space. Most classrooms are crammed with desks, lecture podiums, chairs, and experiment stations, where HoloLAB Champions needs about six feet of open space around a user to allow unencumbered movement.

The final lesson was one that probably just about anyone in any field can take to heart: that the expert is not your player. In other words, remember your audience! In this case, students were looking for different things than their teachers, and things teachers liked about the game were things that didn’t always appeal to students. One such thing was the sense of humor–teachers love corny jokes. Pre-teens and teenagers weren’t as amused; corny “teacher humor” repelled them in some ways. So humor was reworked to make it more self-aware and “subversive,” which appeared to improve student response.

In order to further reach both the teacher and student audience, there were even two trailers made. You may watch the “student” trailer below.

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The educator trailer is also available:

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HoloLAB Champions will be available on July 10 on Steam. For more information on this game, please keep on checking n3rdabl3 for our interview with Jesse Schell and the hands-on experience report for HoloLAB Champions.

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