Mads Bonde

CEO and Co-founder of Labster

October 2, 2012

Developing Labster on two continents

At Labster we’re a relatively small team, but we span two continents. With our content development, operations, marketing and sales teams based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and our development and tech teams in Bali, Indonesia, communication is crucial. Especially when it comes to our science content. When we collaborate with professors and instructors to create cases for the lab, the
process from idea to execution involves many people and a lot of steps. So, how do we take the scientific experiments and theory, and turn them into a working virtual lab?

To celebrate our new CSI case in alpha, we’ve interviewed Adit, one of our star front-end developers, to give us the scoop on how the tech team develops a case.

First of all, some background:

The Labster Bali team pauses for a photo shoot

The Power House in Bali

Part of the answer is the against-the-grain working environment of “The Power House” in Bali. Our astounding co-founder and top programmer Michael Bodekaer (wearing the white shirt in the photo) oversees work in The Power House, where all the developers and programmers live, eat and work together in a paradise-like villa complete with pool, live-in chef, and not to mention coding sprints. The consensus here is clear: everyone is more productive when they are living, working, and playing according to their own schedule. And boy, do they get stuff done! Here’s how:

The Team and their process

A team of 7 develops Labster’s platform. First comes the design of the platform’s architecture. When the look and feel of the lab is decided, then our biotech experts send overviews of the technical and scientific information (for example, what does a PCR machine look like, and how should the student click through the PCR process correctly?) Then two front-end developers and two 3D developers build the lab in the Unity 3D platform with the help of our concept artist, who creates 2d sketches of the instruments, materials and machines needed in the lab. Simultaneously, our animator animates the molecular sequences in 3D so our users can see what’s  appening on a microscopic level. Luckily, each team member can play to his or her strengths; developers don’t need to know the inner workings of the science, and biotech experts don’t need to be able to code. Our workflow takes care of the translations.

So, Adit, what is it like to develop in Unity 3D as opposed to other platforms?

Adit: “Thankfully, we only need to study a machine's main function then define those functions using a simple xml when we program. This is the same with every assets and functions in the game.

The asset store is also a major advantage; they have a lot of amazing plug-ins that we can easily access. Unity also has many amazing features that are very comfortable for our 3D artists to use, for example the lightmap, which helps us achieve a photo realistic lab environment.”

Were there any unexpected challenges you ran into in this first phase?

Adit: “The most challenging part was to design the lab environment to allow the students to make mistakes. This is the most interesting part of the game design because we want to allow them to make mistakes so that they can learn from those mistakes and hopefully not repeat them when they are using real lab equipment. For example, we even discussed the possibility of throwing the PCR machine in  he trash bin [as a mistake the student could make].”

How has your experience been working on Labster? Any anecdotes to share about what makes Labster unique?

Adit: “Other than the amazing people I get to work with, Labster is very interesting because of its microbiolgy education background. It is also very fun to play-test and see what kind of mistakes we can make within the lab.”

And the Power House? What’s that like?

Adit: “My work-life balance is pretty good. We have company activities here, for example we went snorkeling 3 weeks ago, and we have game nights where we shoot each other in several FPS games.”

What's the status of the project now? When do you expect to move into beta?

Adit: “We are currently testing the game with the help of our team in Denmark, and now we are applying the feedbacks that we got from those tests. We expect to move to beta in less than 2 months.”

You heard it – in less than 2 months be ready to beta-test! You’ll hear more about beta-testing from the team then, but in the meantime you can sign up to be a beta-tester here!

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