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To make sim screen reader friendly, use the response options for critical information

Screen readers read screens.  This means that sim designers need to write out key bits of information that are otherwise presented in any onscreen display.

One way to sneak in information is to embed it in the user response options.  Here are some recent real world changes I made.


Second: Here are two screen shots of the same moment in a sim, one without the embedded text information and one with.

Screen without using response options for key information:

Screen using response options for key information:

Use Humor When Creating Short Sims

When building out short sims, use humor where possible.  This can get users comfortable with the interface, and de-intellectualize the experience.  It also reduces learning fatigue.  Here is an example, that is completely voluntary from the user's perspective:

Example of 508 Compliant Sim

In order to make sims more commonly used, they have to be 508 compliant, an issue with which many of us have been wrestling.  I added a scratch track (my voice, sorry) to one short sim I had created using, and am pretty happy with the effect.  If you were visually impaired, and could only use your voice for input, you could still get this sim.  On the other hand, you can always turn off my voice (a feature more people wished they had), and zip right along.

Advanced Short Sim/Branching Story Technique:A Helpful Host

In this sim, presenting an introduction to Econ 101 supply, the player has to assemble food trucks and other options to feed a growing crowd of people.

In this case, the on-screen character is positioned as a helper and collaborator (and conduit to the outside world), not as an authority figure or a judge.  The voice I had for him was Iron Man's Jarvis.

Further, the player could create different solutions to the problem, such as here to feed 100 people, not just find the one

Feedback can be still be given in a Jarvis kind of way (and yes, the player's "voice" is Tony Stark)...

...and artifacts can be created "as a courtesy" to the player.

Advanced Short Sim/Branching Story Technique: A Strong, Visual Microcosm

For any learning sim, one goal is to create a strong microcosm.  In this short sim, designed to introduce demand curves to students, the player can raise or lower the cost of a drink, or have the sun come out or go behind a cloud, to change demand and generate a standard demand curve.

The demand is visualized dynamically by the length of the people in line, with shadow highlights.  The traditional demand curve serves as a mini-map to reflect the situation, with a yellow highlight showing the exact current position.

In this situation, different kinds of characters are waiting in line, and others are not.  As the price goes up, only the most thirsty and those with the most money remain.

The interface is very simple, and allows for the player to navigate towards to objective, stated clearly, to find a situation where demand = 7.

There are some subtle elements as well.  In the conditions above, a female is dragging a male to get a drink.  As the price goes up, the male decides it is not worth it, leaving a thirsty buy unhappy female still in line.

Note:  Temperature shifts the demand curve.   For a mnemonic device, higher temperature moves the curve to the right, hopefully making it easy to remember for other situations.

Short Sim/Branching Story Technique: A Good Size - About 80 Nodes

The short sims I have been creating recently have used a state-based architecture.  This approach has trade-offs, but the speed and predictability of development and deployment, and the ability for me, finally, to be able to role-model an approach by which non-technical people can create genuinely interactive experiences in roughly the same time frame as creating text or video, has made this approach worth serious exploration. These are also easy to embed in html or epub documents.

One reasonable question is, how big should one of these short sims be, from a number-of-nodes (what BranchTrack <> calls "scenes") perspective?

I have created reasonably big sims, of 250 nodes, which turned out to be just a bit too hard to keep track of.  What I have found to be a sweet spot is about 80 nodes.  The configuration of these nodes, however, can vary tremendously, such as this example above and below.

The example below is shown through two view of the same architecture, one with all of the connections shown, and below, with the connections of one node highlighted.

 For one piece of sim model - just 3 options by 2 options by 4 options by 2 options - this is what the wiring looked like.

Advanced Short Sim/Branching Story Technique: A Rosetta Stone

Short sims may use a branching story structure, even as they expand the traditional boundaries of what a branching story is and does.

One technique, when presenting a technical explanation, is to allow the user to go back and forth between a more precise, jargon filled description and that same description in plain English speak.

In this Econ sim, in a debriefing passage following some interactivity - I broke a complicated passage into three chunks.  At any time, a user could shift between two parallel streams, an economist description and a plain speak description.  The user could follow one stream all the way through, or go back and forth as often as met their need.