How can we boost student engagement? What’s more, how can we use a medium that is sure to resonate with students in the modern classroom? These are the questions that got our LIVE Lab team at Texas A&M University not only thinking about innovation, but acting on it.
The LIVE Lab (Learning Interactive Visual Experiences) is a research facility at Texas A&M University College Station that develops interactive learning experiences. Established in the summer of 2014 by a few students and our director, André Thomas, our team set out to incorporate game methodologies with college-level materials, also known as game-based learning. Given Thomas’ background as the former head of graphics at EA Sports and a graphics creator for major motion pictures, he knew these couldn’t just be any games; they had to merge commercial production quality and educational rigor.
Approached by an art history instructor here at Texas A&M, we tackled our first game-based learning challenge. In just two semesters the instructor had to cover 5,000 years of human art history on a global scale, which is like trying to see Europe in a speed train in a week. Game-based learning presented an ideal way to provide more context via a medium familiar to so many students. The result was the immersive art history game ARTé: Mecenas. In 2015, Thomas licensed the IP of ARTé: Mecenas to game-based learning company Triseum, a spin-off from the LIVE Lab.
Soon we started taking on new projects and more staff to design, research, and test new interactive approaches to highly engaged learning. Today, the LIVE Lab has grown to include five different teams, all critical to a successful game development process and partnership.
Our Design Team brainstorms each game’s concept, mechanics, and background, incorporating learning objectives and prototyping concepts to test their validity. The LIVE Lab’s Concept Team develops the look and feel, creating a style that effectively conveys the topics while engaging players. The 3D Team, specialized in procedural generation using technical modeling software like SideFX’s Houdini, executes the game’s visual target on a more massive scale. The Engineering Team brings all of the Lab’s work to life, programming and integrating both the mechanics and art assets and performing quality assurance testing. Finally, our Management Team oversees and tracks the progress of all teams and operations, ensuring the quality and integrity of each project.
All LIVE Lab employees/students are paid above minimum wage, receive royalties for any commercialized products they have worked on, and—most important—gain exceptional game development experience and exposure before graduating college.
A varied and impressive output
Over the last four years, our team has worked on developing games to help students better comprehend and appreciate the history of art through the ages. The ARTé suite has expanded to include two new games released this fall by Triseum: ARTé: Lumière and ARTé: Hemut. Further, we helped develop the highly engaging Variant series to help students succeed in calculus.
Diverse projects from external clients come our way too. We’ve researched and developed games to help alleviate stress in birds and make math more accessible and fun for preschoolers. We were even tasked with developing methods to quickly digitize complex industrial setups, such as refineries to help train fire fighters in a safe and interactive way.
Promoting gaming also is core to who we are and what we do. We host the largest student-run game jam in the world, Chillennium, right here in College Station. For 48 hours, students plan, design, and develop video games from scratch, competing for the Best Overall Game Award.
With a skilled and complete production team, the help of subject matter experts, and a passion for game development, the LIVE Lab has managed to create balanced interactive experiences that are both entertaining and educational.