Software Engineering (SE) and Systems Engineering (Sys) are knowledge intensive, specialized, rapidly changing disciplines; their educational infrastructure faces significant challenges including the need to rapidly, widely, and cost effectively introduce new or revised course material; encourage the broad participation of students; address changing student motivations and attitudes; support undergraduate, graduate and lifelong learning; and incorporate the skills needed by industry. Games have a reputation for being fun and engaging; more importantly immersive, requiring deep thinking and complex problem solving. We believe educational games are essential in the next generation of e-learning tools. An extensible, freely available, engaging, problem-based game platform that provides students with an interactive simulated experience closely resembling the activities performed in a (real) industry development project would transform the SE/Sys education infrastructure.
Our goal is to extend the state-of-the-art research in SE/Sys education by investigating a game development platform (GDP) from an interdisciplinary perspective (education, game research, and software/systems engineering). A meta-model has been proposed to provide a rigourous foundation that integrates the three disciplines. The GDP is intended to support the semi-automated development of collections of scripted games and their execution, where each game embodies a specific set of learning objectives. The games are scripted using a template based approach. The templates integrate three approaches: use cases; storyboards; and state machines (timed, concurrent, hierarchical state machines). The specification templates capture the structure of the game (Game, Acts, Scenes, Screens, Challenges), storyline, characters (player, non-player, external), graphics, music/sound effects, rules, and so on. The instantiated templates are (manually) transformed into XML game scripts that can be loaded into the SimSYS Game Play Engine. As a game is played, the game play events are logged; they are analyzed to automatically assess a player’s accomplishments and automatically adapt the game play script.
Currently, we are manually defining a collection of games. The games are being used to ensure the GDP is flexible and reliable (i.e., the prototype can load and correctly run a variety of game scripts), the ontology is comprehensive, and the templates assist in defining well-organized, modular game scripts. In this report, we present the initial part of an Agile Software Development Process game (Act I, Scenes 1 and 2) that embodies learning objectives related to SE fundamentals (requirements, architecture, testing, process); planning with Gantt charts; working with budgets; and selecting a team for an agile development project. A student player is rewarded in the game by getting hired, scoring points, or getting promoted to lead a project. The game has a variety of settings including a classroom, job fair, and a work environment with meeting rooms, cubicles, and a water cooler station. The main non-player characters include a teacher, boss, and an evil peer.
In the future, semi-automated support for creating new game scripts will be explored using a wizard interface. The templates will be formally defined, supporting automated transformation into XML game scripts that can be loaded into the SimSYS Game Engine. We also plan to explore transforming the requirements into a notation that can be imported into a commercial tool that supports Statechart simulation.