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Editorial: How a sim designer would 'teach' cell structures: A concept document

The first real deliverable from me to a client is a concept document, that highlights approach and rough interfaces, always practical. Some clients ask for two or three different concept documents on a given topic, and then choose their favorite to go forward. Here is an example of a short concept document on teaching cell structures.


Cell Sim - Learning Objectives
The goal of the Cell Sims is to develop in the player a knowledge of the core components of cells, and how and why differences in cells exist.


Cell Sim - Set Up
In this sim, the player will have to design cells to meet stated challenges. Players will do this using a toolkit of simple building blocks that correspond to real world cell elements (suggested building blocks are presented below). The graphics will be accessible and encourage experimentation.


Cell Sim - Basic Screen Interfaces and Interactions
The player gets a 'board' in which they can place cell elements. The cell they define will exist in the surrounding environment, and will have a shape based on the placement of these elements (the membrane auto-adjusts the size). In this most simple of example (the level one) below, the player has to build a cell that can carry a signal from the right to the left, using a few different options.

Almost invariably, the cell the player will create will be long and thin, which maps to the cell properties of a real world transmitting cell.


The player could in the next level connect several signals and receptors, and design a cell that had the natural properties of a neuron.


Subsequently, the player could design increasingly complex cells, and for a wider variety of purposes, including some ready for growth and replication. Rather than simply be a puzzle, however, the cell can evolve dynamically during the course of a gameplay. In a similar structure to the popular iPhone game Plants vs. Zombies, the player can harvest nutrients to build functionality while defending against hostile forces. A screen shot may look similar to this:


Over the course of the gameplay, players would develop for themselves different types of cells. They would also engage in all of the essential cell activities, eventually making a multi-cellular organism.

Technical names and timelines could be used in game and interjected during transition screen to reinforce necessary vocabulary.


Cell Sim - Conclusion
The entire module could take less than 30 minutes to engage. But the player would remember core functionality and properties for years, if not longer.

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