Sunday, April 10, 2011

Combustion Safety Certification Transformed Into Serious Games

Serious Games moving players towards mastery

November last year, Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) announced that their test for Combustion Appliance Safety Testing Certification would utilize Serious Games technology. 

Having already adopted guidelines for combustion appliance safety testing, and in order to be certified as a Comprehensive Home Energy Rater or a Building Performance Auditor, RESNET’s rater or auditor needed to be trained to conduct combustion safety testing. 

RESNET has then decided to create an online Serious Game testing platform for its combustion safety certification, and partnered with Interplay Energy to develop an interactive 3-D Simulation for raters and auditors seeking to attain their combustion safety certification.  The simulation was developed in collaboration with members from RESNET’s Technical Committee and the Training and Education Committee. 

“Serious Games offer a powerful solution for testing certification. Written exams fall short on testing real world understanding.  Field tests often suffer from inconsistency and high costs.  Simulation testing, however, is highly controllable, consistent, cost-effective and measures real world understanding,” said Doug Donovan, CEO of Interplay Energy.  

The Serious Game is now available through RESNET training providers: Interplay Energy, in partnership with RESNET, used 3D gaming technology to transform complex combustion safety certification into an immersive training environment. 

By using Caspian Learning’s Thinking Worlds 3D visual authoring technology, Interplay Energy was able to develop a more efficient, cost-effective and scalable combustion safety certification solution.

The Case Study - Complex Certification Exam Transformed Into Pioneering 3D Serious Game

Game Background

Home energy efficiency is a relatively new industry. Energy efficiency certification requires an understanding of a complex safety issue, Combustion Analysis, which is challenging to teach and test because of the wide number of variables that could affect an outcome in each scenario.

Simulating this amount of complexity with real field training is vastly expensive due to the fact that an experienced field proctor must administer the test in a volunteer home. The field proctor usually charges approximately $100/hour and the test can take up to 2-3 hours. In addition, the volunteer home is often logistically difficult to manage and some of the training companies that offer the testing have resorted to buying homes and setting them up as test homes.

The number of scenarios becomes limited with such prohibitive costs and the consistency of field testing standards is inadequate across different training companies that exist in different states and regions in the US. Clearly, this is not a cost-effective, sustainable or scalable solution if the industry wants to move forward. 

A solution needed to be identified that would ensure training costs remained low, certification standards remained high and consistent, and the safety of home owners would never be compromised. 

Interplay Energy, in partnership with the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) decided to investigate what other options were available that could deliver the same high level of training for Combustion Analysis that test homes could deliver. 

After researching, it was decided that the best fit for the problem would be to create a Serious Game that could be setup by an administrator to portray any amount of possible combustion analysis scenarios.

After some comprehensive research into 3D authoring tools and Serious Games designers Interplay decided to use Thinking Worlds as their development tool of choice and commissioned Caspian Learning to help design the simulation.

Caspian Learning designed the Sim so that it would take approximately 1 hour to complete and would take place in a two-story home. The test conditions were linked to an administrative control panel and could be set differently prior to each test to keep test takers actively engaged.

Standardization and Deployment

Due to the disparate locations of test centers and companies in the US running the certification tests, there was a vital need to bring a consistent, standardized certification test to all states across the US in the most accessible manner possible. Several deployment methods were made available:

1. The finished simulation was downloadable and able to be played on standalone, individual PCs
2. The finished simulation could also be deployed as a web-based Sim that could be played from any PC with an Internet connection.

For both methods, results were able to be recorded centrally.

The pioneering simulation is expected to benefit everyone involved, from companies looking to train staff in the very latest techniques available with up to date information, to the millions of homeowners who will benefit from a standard, consistent and comprehensive approach to combustion safety analysis.