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Translating the skill of time management into a game: Half Life Hero

Time management is an art form that most of us struggle to master on a daily basis. How, then, do we translate this skill into a gameplay mechanic that assists in communicating an educational message?

Kelly Teng, Blogger

February 19, 2014

5 Min Read

Even at our best, most of us are pretty ghastly at managing time. We’re late to meet friends or miss the train to work. We constantly procrastinate, then we spend time stressing about procrastination. We spend four hours battling enemies in a game and forget that we had to do the dishes, clean the house, feed the cat, or eat (guilty as charged).

Simply put: time management is an art form that most of us struggle to master on a daily basis. How, then, do we translate this skill into a gameplay mechanic that assists in communicating an educational message?

More on that later. First, let’s backtrack a bit and talk about the game in question.

The makings of a Hero…

Last year, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) approached 2and2 to create a game for young high school students. The aim of the game was to show how medicines are created at the ANSTO facility in NSW, and also show the importance and benefit the facility has to Australia’s health services.

As the only developer of nuclear medicine in Australia, ANSTO provides large amounts of radiotherapy isotopes and diagnostic materials to hospitals in Australia and New Zealand. They also engineer materials like Silicon to use in microchips.

At its core, ANSTO uses science to help others and wanted to educate Australians on both what they do and how they do it.

From that, a hero was born: ANSTO Half Life Hero (we know we’re punny). A game that sits more or less in the time management genre, Half Life Hero puts players in the facility and tasks them with making materials. Doctors, engineers, and other people come in and place orders and users must make what is requested by completing a series of tasks. At the end of the week, these orders are shipped off and the cycle begins again.

Trials, tribulations, and triumphs

In creating Half Life Hero, we went through some interesting design processes and also faced a few challenges – and yes, we rose to them like always!

Firstly, the application itself needed to be as accessible as possible, but also needed to be robust enough to provide players with an enjoyable real-time experience. Because of this, we made a decision early in the process to not to lock the game down to a platform; instead, we would put our knowledge of HTML5 to good use and used this to create the game.

HTML5 proved to be very accessible, powerful, and easy enough to work with (especially after our previous work with ABC Zoom); we used a flash-like library called CreateJS and did our coding in CoffeeScript.

We were also faced with the challenge of how to stay on message throughout the game. ANSTO wanted to show the Australian public how their facility works and how they benefit our wider communities, and this message needs to be clear to every person who plays it.

This was done in two ways: after each week is completed, players receive messages from those who placed orders, telling them what the materials have been used for. There is also a simple animation added at the end of each week which shows materials being shipped around the country. Both help reinforce the key message that ANSTO’s materials and isotopes are used for beneficial purposes across Australia.

The time management genre

Now let’s return to the topic of time management. As a genre, time management games are incredibly delicate in the way they are balanced, and this had to be taken into account when creating Half Life Hero.

Have you ever played a restaurant management game, gotten stressed out and clicked ‘X’ because there were too many orders and you couldn’t service them fast enough? It’s a common complaint amongst many users: there’s too much going on and the game isn’t worth the amount of grey hairs you’ll accumulate as a result of stressing out. When players can’t keep up with the demand, they simply give up and quit.

So how do we combat this, but still provide a game that gets increasingly more difficult without giving people symptoms of aging?

Our developers decided that instead of dumping an overwhelming amount of orders on players throughout the week, the best option would be to use psychological elements to create the illusion of increased orders without actually increasing orders.

For example, players receive an influx of orders – albeit a manageable amount – on Monday, but do not receive any orders again until Wednesday. This gives them time to breathe and handle the orders they have received, but still creates a sense of urgency which makes the game exciting. It also demonstrates the pressures of time that exist with ANSTO’s materials, and allows players to simulate this and the elements of time management that go into creating isotopes.

Apparently time can be manipulated (at least in the game world), and in the end, it’s all about perception. After all, the time pressures created in Half Life Hero are simply a psychological trick – not reality.

…maybe it’s time we apply this to our lives as well?

This post originally appeared on 2and2's blog.

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