What is Metablast?
Metablast is a real-time 3D action-adventure video game, aimed at high school and undergraduate student audiences, meant to provide an entertaining, engaging experience while simultaneously educating players about cell biology. Our team has years of experience working in casino gaming software and have found that by immersing players into a virtual cell environment and allowing them to interact with it on their own terms, the developers hope that players will come to a greater understanding of the cell than they could learn from traditional diagrams and textbooks.
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Why a video game?
A cell is a complex unit, made up of many types of structures, each of which functions differently and interacts with the others in particular ways. However, traditional methods of teaching cell biology, via textbooks and illustrated diagrams, do not always adequately show how the cell functions or how its parts interact in real time and space. In a 3D video game, players are immersed into a virtual environment that requires them to recognize, not only where the virtual space they are located, but also how the environment reacts to their actions. By presenting the cell as an interactive environment that responds to the players actions in real-time, students will not only take more active interest in what they are being taught, but also will gain a better sense of how the cell actually operates by being able to see it function as it would in real life.
In a 3D video game, players are immersed into a virtual environment that requires them to recognize signs of growth, not only where in the virtual space they are located, but also how the environment reacts to their actions. By presenting the cell as an interactive environment that responds to the player’s actions in real-time, students will not only take more active interest in what they are being taught, but also will gain a better sense of how the cell actually operates by being able to see it function as it would in real life.
By playing Metablast, students will be introduced to the concepts of respiration, photosynthesis, and the functions of various organelles in a manner complementary to the textbook. Students will also be introduced to how the living cell actually appears through a biologically accurate virtual replica of a cell environment.
Students will be presented with a series of puzzles and goals, such as having to create oxygen, which will require them to think critically in order to come to the solutions. By actively participating in these biological processes, students will “learn by discovery.”
Metablast is intended to provide a gameplay experience on par with those of professionally developed commercial video games. Among the developers working on Metablast are artists, programmers, sound programmers, and writers dedicated to accomplishing high quality game design. Among their goals are creating aesthetically pleasing environments that will catch students’ attention and motivate them to explore; a storyline that is practical, believable, and will hold the attention and interest of high school and undergraduate students; and gameplay mechanics that will work on new gadgets and are not only educational, but also simply fun to participate in.
In addition, by using a video game as a vehicle to teach, students who typically do not care for science may be taught basic biological concepts simply through play. Metablast will be able to reach students who do not learn well from text or diagrams, who learn best from interactive, first-hand experience.
MetaBlast Website and Database Design
The website provides access to the game, and supplementary learning materials and ideas for students and educators. In addition, we have added a novel and robust set of features for both students and educators; these features are enabled by augmenting the game client with a server side database (http://www.mysql.com/). Student learning is enhanced through a basic group implementation that is designed to support collaboration within and between student classes. Educators can use the preexisting game questions in module one, or create a question set custom-tailored to the needs of the class. These question sets can be shared among educators. For educators, the database also provides a central data collection point to provide a foundation for analysis of their student's progress and ensure educational goals are met throughout the virtual environment.
The web servlet that powers the game will push a player's information upon the completion of determined milestones (level finish, obtainment of an achievement, etc). This data, which is stored in a database, will be used to drive a community portal on the website. This community portal will include tracking of a player's progress throughout the game (including information on the areas of biology students have covered). The final system will allow for enhanced privileges for teachers that will including the tracking of students in their class. The base site is driven by RefineryCMS (open source software) - http://refinerycms.com/ - which provides a large portion of our functionality.