ChemCaper - Petticles in Peril is an upcoming role playing game from ACE EdVenture Studio, produced in collaboration with Artoncode (a development team based in Jakarta, Indonesia). Said to be the world's first educational game based on Cambridge University's IGCSE Chemistry syllabus, topics such as elements in the periodic table, compounds, types of bonding, and even laboratory apparatuses are lifted directly from the textbooks and repurposed as story or game elements in ChemCaper.
Concepts of covalent, ionic and metallic bonding are encountered and learned through gameplay. The Active Time Battle System will see kids battling various foes with the help of their faithful Petticles, creatures formed by chemical bonding. Learning comes full circle with each Petticle demonstrating unique traits representing real life particles.
Additionally, students will learn how to separate compounds, refine fluids, and sieve through precious metals in various mini games which will introduce students to the kinds of Chemistry apparatus used in laboratories.
Though creating a role playing game with such scope and magnitude may seem like a huge undertaking (some might even use the word "risky"), ACE EdVenture Studio does seem to have the right personnel and experience to get it done. Led by CEO and founder Anne Tham (who also founded Sri Emas and Dwi Emas International School), the core of the development team also consists of educators and academic teachers who know a thing or two about making learning fun.
In this interview we ask the founder of ACE EdVenture, Anne Tham, about what inspired her to make a Chemistry based role-playing game for students, her philosophy on educating children in the 21st century, and what are her future plans on branching out the world of ChemCaper into other school subjects such as Physics, Biology, and even Maths.
Hi Anne, first of all thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Perhaps we can begin our chat with a little introduction about yourself and your school?
My career in teaching started about 28 years ago when I tutored students in a local college, but back then I would never have imagined that teaching was going to be my life's work and I'd be doing it until today.
My decision to form ACE Ed-Venture back in 1996 was an easy one, when I realized that a number of critical skills required of students at the college level need to be instilled before they were entered into tertiary education. Students loved the way we teach, so we decided to start our own school (Sri Emas International School) in 2012. Currently we are working towards opening our next school, Dwi Emas International School, the first entrepreneurial school in Malaysia, located in the city of Shah Alam.
With ChemCaper, you and your team have set out to make Chemistry a fun subject to learn. Can you tell us more about ChemCaper, and also why you chose Chemistry as the theme for your game?
Since students are so engrossed in the use of digital media, we decided not to fight them but to make use of the media that students like. One way of doing that is to replace the content of an RPG with something that is educational and acceptable to parents. Hence our Chemistry game, ChemCaper: Petticles in Peril was conceived.
Chemistry was chosen to be the first subject to be developed as it is the most difficult of the science subjects to explain, simply because everything is happening at a molecular level. The idea of Chemistry is difficult for students to grasp because we have to rely on words to explain what is happening. Hence an individual's ability to understand Chemistry really depends on their ability to imagine or perceive what is happening on that level. It is unlike Physics or Biology where we can experience or feel what is happening.
And contrary to popular belief, kids don’t have anything against learning - they just don’t like to be bored while they’re at it. So we have made it our mission to change the perception of how education can be delivered. In this day and age, getting kids to drop their gadgets in favor of a textbook is probably not going to happen. So we figured it might just be better to design a game for a device (i.e. tablets and smartphones) which they are already spending most of their time using.
You’ve designed ChemCaper in such a way that makes it the perfect tool for students to play it and learn about Chemistry. But what about adults, especially those who are already in the working world? Will they find any enjoyment from playing the game, and how so?
Although we created ChemCaper with the vision that it can help students who are studying Chemistry to learn more effectively (through a fun medium), we think that it is not just exclusively for students. Since we designed ChemCaper first and foremost as a game, we figured that adults and just about everyone can play ChemCaper as a game, with the added benefit of learning Chemistry while playing.
What's the cost of developing a game like ChemCaper, with the sort of scope and features that you have planned for it?
We have invested much of our own funds into developing ChemCaper. I can tell you that it's not cheap to develop a game, and anyone in the industry long enough can certainly vouch for that. ChemCaper is a game created by teachers, who want to make the subject of Chemistry easier for students to comprehend and remember.
Our team took the intangible concepts in Chemistry, and molded them into something concrete by humanizing many of its fundamentals and theories, thus enabling students to have a better grasp of the subject.
Imagine the entire Secondary curriculum being delivered in an RPG of five acts. Act 1 alone has taken an entire team consisting of about 30 people 3 years to develop.
Who are the core members of your development team?
ChemCaper is actually a global initiative; the chemistry and narrative team, 2D and 3D artists, and the management team are all in-house. The art direction is by Nicholas Chong, a Malaysian based in Sydney.
For the music we collaborated with GEM Impact, an audio production studio founded by the Norihiko Hibino. GEM Impact is actually renowned for their work on the Metal Gear Solid series.
To enhance the quality of the game design and programming, we invited Indra Gunawan and Anton Budiono of Artoncode to be our partners. Our partnership with Jakarta-based Artoncode, has been nothing short of great. They got us straight away, what we were trying to do and how we were going to do it. It has been a fantastic partnership since.
Your team was at the Game Developers Conference this year to showcase ChemCaper to visiting attendees and participants of the event. Can you describe how the experience was like?
We were in San Francisco for two weeks, and during that time we participated in both the Game Developers Conference and Game Connection America 2015. Many attendees and participants visited our booth to try out ChemCaper, and they were thrilled by how well the educational content was incorporated with exciting gameplay. We even had the opportunity to meet with some of the biggest names in the industry, and news of ChemCaper was picked up and featured on many notable outlets such as Bloomberg, Reuters, Yahoo Finance, CBS 8 and Gamasutra. The exposure has been nothing short of tremendous for us.
The ChemCaper team at GDC 2015, San Francisco
How has the learning methodology changed (or evolved) in the last twenty years?
The key words are 'has to change' with reference to the learning and teaching methodology. However, not much has changed, in that there is an over-emphasis on being top students or the pressure of achieving straight A's.
Many average and above average students don't see themselves ever succeeding or even amounting to anything because they don't see themselves as fitting into the top category. It's even worse for those who fall below the average levels. It is tragic, that it is us, the adults - parents, teachers, and society in general - who perpetuated this belief.
And then there are many parents and teachers who know that this has to change, but the question is: to what and how?
In your opinion, what would the future methodology of learning be like? And are Malaysians prepared for it now?
Students have to relate good feelings to the process of learning. Otherwise, formal education cannot compete with the many forms of entertainment that distract and engage the students. Currently, many students have an aversion to formal learning. Parents have to encourage, cajole, push, scold and sometimes even threaten their children to work and to try harder at school. It is a constant battle at home.
In general, Malaysian parents understand the traditional method of learning but have difficulty accepting the 'noise' that is generated in the process of doing group work and group discussions. I had to help parents understand that the students are learning the process of building relationships and rapport with the people they work with, very much like the way we do at work. Students are and should be in school to learn life skills.
So, to answer the question, many parents are not aware of or ready for what their children's future is going to be like and the process necessary to get their children there.
How do you (and your teachers) teach the students in your school?
We teach students the way they want to learn, not the way we adults think they should learn. Lessons are interactive in nature between teachers and students and among the students themselves.
We push the boundaries of how teaching and learning is done. Our approach is innovative in all subjects. This removes the students' resistance towards learning.
And how are the parents' reactions (or comments) toward your non-traditional methods of learning?
Those parents whose children have been through our system of education are our greatest advocates. They have seen their children grow in confidence and their ability to express themselves. The majority of our students' parents love what we do for their children. About 25% (of parents) whose child/children have not completed their studies with us have mixed feelings. The tune changes when their children move on to college and with their lives, as they see their children excel or do so much better compared to their peers. That's really when these “skeptical parents” become our advocates.
ChemCaper's Release, and the Future
When can students download and play the first act of ChemCaper? And for what platforms or devices will the game be available on?
ChemCaper will be released in the last quarter of 2015 on the App Store and Google Play, so everyone will be able to download from these platforms and play the game.
ChemCaper would be perfect to play on the PS Vita. Are there currently any plans to port the game for PC and consoles?
Right now there are no plans to place it on PS Vita. But if there is enough demand, we can definitely look into that (making it available on PS Vita).
What are your future plans for ChemCaper?
We are already in the process of developing the second act of ChemCaper. Act II of ChemCaper will be based on Year 8 of the IGCSE Chemistry syllabus, while Act III is based on Year 10 and Act IV, Year 11. ChemCaper Act III and IV are scheduled to be released within the next three years. Besides Chemistry, we also have games for Physics, Biology, Math and Additional Math in the pipeline within the next few years, as we are planning to have an ecosystem of educational games out there for students globally.
[More information about ChemCaper Act 1 – Petticles in Peril can be found at its official site, http://chemcaper.com/.]