Ok so let’s address the elephant in the room. Guillaume and I aren’t chemists. We’re not educators either. I personally have never even built a volcano for any science fairs. I’m just a game developer with a passion for science and education. This is all a sham.
Or at least, that’s what it would be, if I had tried to build this game all by myself. 😉
One of the many reasons Guillaume and I get along so well is the fact that up until recently, Guillaume was a physics major whose hobby was making games, and I was a professional game developer whose hobby was learning more physics. Unsurprisingly, having Guillaume join me on the development of Tablecraft has already been incredibly helpful in many ways.
As you’d expect from someone with his background, Guillaume is constantly pushing for more scientific rigor (which often means more complexity), and contrariwise, as a game designer with no formal background in physics, it’s my duty to be able to parse through the things he says and convert the inherently complex and abstract rules of Nature into simple, fun and user-friendly game systems that anyone can understand with no prior exposure to the subject. A lot of the times we meet in the middle, which tends to make both of us happy.
However, as we now step into the next phase of Tablecraft’s development, we want to make sure we take on a solid design direction, and for that to be the case, a lot of discussions have to first take place – not just between us, but between us and the people who live and breathe the subject every day.
We used Lake Highland Prep School as our starting point. For the past few months, we’ve been collaborating with Cady Brewer, who is part of the science faculty at LHPS, to learn new insights with regards to what her students most struggle with when it comes to chemistry, and what they find most fascinating about the subject. She even brought us a group of her 8th graders to come play Tablecraft!
We’ve had external playtesters come in and try the game before, but never in the context of a classroom field trip, so perhaps that explains why this one felt so special. From this particular collaboration, not only did we get enormous value out of having an educator directly share their expertise with us, but also from having her students come with her, jump into VR and try out the game by themselves. Even with the occasional glitch and the abundance of unpolished visuals, they had a shocking amount of fun – so much so that we couldn’t help but wonder whether they loved it because we had done something right or whether they loved it because of the novelty of VR.
It would be hard to believe that our game was that much fun. But whether it was at the time or not, I believe it definitely can be, if we continue to seek external input like this. Even if we ignore the excitement and motivation we felt from seeing other people have fun with our game, and instead quantify only the sheer amount of suggestions and ideas we were presented with by some of the playtesters, the value we got out of this one playtest session was priceless.
Armed with this knowledge, I set out to create a Discord channel so that anyone could contribute to the game’s development, and I invited /r/chemistry/ to join, where once again, I was inundated with insightful suggestions from actual chemists. More recently, I’ve been exchanging ideas with Dr. W. Tandy Grubbs, Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Stetson University, creator of Chemical Mahjong and recipient of several grants from the National Science Foundation as well as others, hoping I can absorb as much of his experience as possible, and I look forward to continuing such efforts with more and more academics in the months to come. If you too are a chemist, educator or just a student of science like myself, then I invite you to join our community as well! We want as much external input as we can get. 😉
Speaking of external input, I have some exciting news to share! Drum roll please…
Trum drun drun drun…
Drun drun drun…
Wohoo, we’re taking Tablecraft to Games for Change later this month and I am soooo looking forward to it! 🚀🚀
Our booth is gonna be sharing the conference space with giants such as Schell Games and others – which is sort of spooky but also exciting – and I just cannot wait to see how people there will react to the work we’ve been doing. This will be our first time at G4C, so expectations are high, but knowing that the majority of attendees there share a similar passion to ours, I’m sure our expectations will be met. The dream would be that we would come back from it with many new collaborative partnerships – like it happened with our other project Liminal, that we showcased at GDC. Partnerships not just with academics, but perhaps even other developers, publishers or, who knows, educational grant writers… 😉