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  • Applying Game Design To A Medical Study Aid

    - Charlie Czerkawski
  •  [Charlie Czerkawski, developer at independent game studio Guerilla Tea, examines the medical study aid Ward Round, while detailing the video game design principles used in its creation.]

    Ward Round is a new application which experiments with utilizing video game design methodology within an academic discipline, in this case, medicine. The project, aimed at medical professionals, integrates the study of medicine with the enjoyable spirit of video games, and is the first commercial project for new Dundee based game development company, Guerilla Tea.

    By introducing game design elements such as risk and reward, experience tracking and a heavily competitive edge, Ward Round seeks to innovate in the field of medical study. It utilizes a question bank which covers nine discrete specialties and involves the user tackling medical cases in the form of real life scenarios, rather than single, unrelated questions.

    For each case, questions take the player through potential diagnoses, initial investigations, interpretation of results, treatment and knowledge of pathophysiology. These allow the user to deal with medical/surgical pathologies in a more natural, holistic way.

    The Ward Round project was a ‘slow burn' and something which was introduced to me before I had really started on the long career road of video game design although I always aspired to work in that field. The concept had arisen in casual discussions, some years ago, with my client and good friend, Dr Adrian Raudaschl, during our time at the University of Glasgow, where I was studying for a BSc in Mathematics. He was a medical student at that time, but had always been interested in the video game industry, specifically in combining his career in medicine with video games in some fashion.

    With the formation of Guerilla Tea earlier in 2011, myself and three colleagues in the company, all graduates of Abertay University's excellent MProf in Video Game Development course, were on the lookout for commercial projects. We share a common ambition in that we are interested in finding innovative methods for utilizing the video game medium within other disciplines. The Ward Round project conformed to the proposed ethos of the company, and - of course - the eventual aims of both Guerilla Tea and Dr Raudaschl.

    Upon the project receiving the green light, we were given a design brief detailing a quiz application which would serve as a medical study aid. It would present textual information on interesting, real life, medical cases, the idea being for the player to answer a series of questions on each case, effectively carrying out clinical deductions. The brief also required the integration of video game elements into the project, creating a fun and absorbing educational game while retaining a serious, professional, study application feel.

    Extensive medical information was presented to Guerilla Tea with the brief being to utilize it as effectively as possible, in an interactive product. Due to the highly specialized nature of the project, and the fact that no member of Guerilla Tea has medical knowledge, regular and effective communication between ourselves as developers and the client, at all stages, was imperative. One of our main aims, as a small developer, is to function effectively through good verbal communication between team members - something which can (in my experience so far) be lost within larger companies. We were always aware that the need to work closely with each other and to communicate with our client at all times, through our producer Mark Hastings, was vital to the success or otherwise of this project.

    Concept Design and Art Style

    Early concept design for Ward Round involved identifying an over-riding theme and art style for the game. During this stage, I liaised closely with our artist, Matt Zanetti, working through a number of early iterations. The game was intended to be a loose representation of a virtual tour of the hospital wards, governed by specific textual information. The medical content was presented in the form of ‘cases' containing detailed descriptions, along with questions and answers, taking the player through individual diagnostic processes.

    The original concept involved a stylized hospital setting for the game, where the main menu consisted of a representation of a reception area. In this iteration, the game would effectively move through the various departments of the hospital as the player proceeded through the game. But game development naturally involves a degree of trial and error, over a number of iterations. Although this concept seemed to match our brief, we felt that it was ultimately going to become very art heavy and did not quite fit the slick feel we were trying to achieve, a reservation with which our client agreed. We therefore focused on a certain amount of simplification, formulating a style themed around basic (almost stereotypical) medical items such as pens, clipboards, and stethoscopes. This moved the app closer to our desired outcome, but further experimentation was clearly required.

    We ultimately decided on a more minimalist style, which played heavily on a clear, medical blue color, and would make use of transitions between screens, alternating between screens with greater blue areas, and greater white areas.

    Ultimately it was agreed that this art heavy approach with its pseudo-realistic elements threatened to cheapen the overall experience by becoming kitsch or even worse still overshadowing the primary focus of the app, the vast question bank. In response to this we decided to strip everything back to a far more minimalist style focusing on bold colors reminiscent of medicine, strong graphic design elements and simple motion graphics animations. This helped to elevate the app to its intended age limit without becoming dry when being observed for long periods of time or through multiple visits.


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