Lessons Learned – Focus on Learning DemoFest 2016

The 2016 FoL DemoFest in Austin, TX was fantastic. There was an undercurrent of enthusiasm that permeated both the presentations as well as the P2P interactions – specifically in emerging technology, such as 360 videos and VR.  It was a great experience to see the different things that people brought to their projects, and feel their excitement about what they had created.

Feel free to try my demo on your devices. Access the demo using this link:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/19826707/games/nekronomicon/index.html.

Background

Splash screen from my DemoFest 2016 entry

My project, NekroNomIcon: Story-Driven Mobile Game Developed with iSpring, was primarily focused on the following items:

  1. Creating a unique experience, based on and exclusively driven-by a specific story
  2. Showcasing what can be accomplished using iSpring as a development tool
  3. Pushing the limits of both iSpring and the associated tech (hardware, HTML5, etc.)
For my story, I chose thematic elements from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise, focusing primarily on the character, Ash, and his interaction with an evil book. While we sometimes focus on the arbitrary instead: slides; quizzes; pre-/post-tests; objectives, why not take a cue from film and games? Let story drive the media and content and flesh-out the experience.

NekroNomIcon is a game experience driven by its fictional story. Investigate a book that’s intent on raising an army that is both Evil & Dead and stay alive!

Design & Development

From start to finish, I used iSpring to develop this project. iSpring has several elements and ready-made experiences already built into the tool. Given my focus on story, the real challenge was more about ensuring that these interactions matched and aligned themselves with the story.
From the available Visuals, I was determined that my demo should utilize the Book interaction. You know…since the NekroNomIcon is an evil book.
DnD Quiz
Rather than testing retention or knowledge, I decided to leverage iSpring’s Quiz functionality to provide a more gamified experience. Using a drag-and-drop quiz question allows the participant to experiment with outcomes by mix-and-matching the on-screen “magic words.”
iSpring’s impressive Simulation tool adds a quantifiable level of coolness to any project. However, was a challenge to find a way its unique presentation fit within the scope of my particular story.
Interactive branching with iSpring’s Simulation tool
After much experimentation, I settled on using the Simulation to provide my audience an entertaining FAQ section on the creation of my demo. I feel that this use was a successful marriage between its intricate branching functionality and my particular sense of humor (such as it is).
Judging by the general reaction from participants, many of whom chuckled out loud (…”COL’d”?…), this decision was a success.

What Worked

Broadly speaking, NekroNomIcon was a smashing success – there were few, if any, major technical hiccups. As many of you know: technology has a way of not working, right when you need it the most. However, I was fortunate that the demonstration went very smoothly (this time…lol).
Additionally, the various interactive elements from iSpring provided added value to both the demo and its core story.
The use of thematically cohesive visuals also helped to cement the experience. I chose to flex my 3D skills by including various still images of custom 3D models I created. Additionally, I leveraged iSpring’s Web Object to include a small window which allowed participants to ‘play with’ the 3D model itself.
Try it for yourself:
This solution uses a 3rd-party website called, Sketchfab. While there are other methods to allow participants to directly manipulate 3D models in real-time (i.e., ThreeJS, Unity3D, WebGL, etc.), using Sketchfab was the fastest and most robust. For DemoFest, I needed to be sure the 3D displayed correctly and was able to be controlled across many devices – Sketchfab successfully fulfilled this need.

Finally, the understated hero of NekroNomIcon was iSpring’s ability to easily create branching within the simple PowerPoint slides. eLearning professionals all know how important branching can be to our industry, our content, and our audience. However, we sometimes take for granted what it will take to create such branching, especially from a programmatic (code) point-of-view.

The iSpring Presentation Explorer is easy to use and allows custom branching at both the slide-level and to/from iSpring interactions. This is tremendous time-saver for projects like mine that critically depend on branching for core functionality.

From a participant perspective, it was fantastic to see how many individuals got the homage to the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness references. Many came to the NekroNomIcon demo solely for the thematic element. That’s a rewarding experience; this demo was made for those people.

What Didn’t Work

Like any project – especially ones crafted personal passion – experimentation is both key and potentially excruciating. As film editors can tell you: there is way more on the cutting-room floor than will ever see thelight of day.

Metaphors aside, there were many things I wanted to include in the NekroNomIcon demo, but was unable to do so for various reasons.

A wall round of Hogan’s Alley. (source: Wikipedia)

Borrowing from element of surprise, I tested a Hogan’s Alley (video game)-esque pop-up/shooter. While I feel this type of interaction may have lent more excitement to the demo, I was only able to partially bring this concept to life within iSpring’s current constraints. Close, but not quite. It is possible that, with more time for testing, I could successfully create this element. However, the idea was scrapped for the 2016 DemoFest.

Similarly, iSpring has a wonderful Timeline interaction, which I’d hoped to showcase at DemoFest. While this tool is very easy to create and implement, it is text-dependent and, thus, not appropriate for the lightning-fast pace of DemoFest. Thus, it too was dismissed.

Additionally, while iSpring effectively handled the heavy-lifting of Responsive Design – meaning the entire demo worked across several devices – there were certain visual limitations, specifically from handheld devices (such as my Android phone). Responsive Design has become tantamount to standard design in our industry. iSpring handled this expertly across all the devices I used/tested.

Yet, given its PowerPoint origin, my demo stayed at landscape mode despite device rotation. This made some elements near-microscopic, from a standard visual point-of-view. I’m certain this could have been overcome with a snippet of code or an included library. Again: due to time and resource limits, I chose to toss the idea and move on.

Take-Aways

This was a one (hu)man show–meaning I was the designers, developer, coder, QA, and client, all rolled into one (fantastic-looking) package. The majority of the shortcomings to NekroNomIcon can be squarely place on my shoulders.

Yet the real successes – I feel – are more subtle than the functionality of the demo itself.

  1. I created something unique; something that focused as much on the inherent story, as the play-ability of the demo itself.
  2. I was able to take ‘standard’ eLearning elements (quizzing, branching, etc.) and use them in ways that supported this.
  3. I not only saw what iSpring can do, as-is, but also:
    1. How far it can be pushed.
    2. What is possible.
    3. I can only imagine the possibilities with additional coding.

Having my project accepted to DemoFest was an honor. Being able to flex some creative muscles was even better. Best yet? I now have an additional development tool (iSpring) for interactive content in my arsenal.

I look forward to my next opportunity to create a demo like NekroNomIcon.

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