Alaska Airlines Turn Pro was a training app developed to teach airline personnel ground procedures and cooperation tactics. It was used as an integral component of their employee training program and led to improved trainee engagement and conceptual retention.
This was the first time Alaska Airlines had attempted to gamify any aspect of their training content so there were many challenges to overcome. In addition this was the first opportunity they had to showcase their modern practices via touch screen tablets that each trainee used to interact throughout the course.
Goals & Constraints:
- Create a user experience optimized for touch screen tablet input
- Create an interface that was intuitive and required no tutorials
- Create a responsive messaging system to inform trainees when they’ve made an incorrect input and guide them towards the correct input
- Reduce abstraction when possible so trainees understand specific components and actions
- Create an online portal for instructors to track classroom stats and display user scores
- Follow visual guidelines to make the app feel like a natural extension of the Alaska Airlines brand
- Lastly, create a fun experience for maximum trainee engagement
Contributions: Game Direction and Design, User Experience and Interface Design, Prototyping, Ambient Sounds
Tools Used: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, AfterFX, GameSalad
Before I came on board the project a more cute and casual concept was floating around inspired by casual game Airport Mania. Users would be more focused on abstract concepts and simple management of multiple planes, lanes and gates. Users would get better scores for managing high level resources. This version of the app would be more entertainment focused with only light bits of real world process.
The video below shows a rough prototype I put together quickly in GameSalad depicting a station-to-station gameplay system similar to Airport Mania, albeit with realistic planes.
Soon after beginning the project we were told to shift focus away from cute and entertaining gameplay to something that was a bit more simulation. Instead of abstracting specific concepts we instead were challenged to integrate them into the core gameplay. This led to a very structured system for action categorization and menu based user interface.
The player would need to perform specific actions at specific times in specific locations of the plane in order to continue successfully in the game. Though, I was left with the challenge of having to depict multiple planes on screen with very little room for direct interaction of its specific parts. Because of this, I created a common user interface at the base of the screen that the user could access ground team actions from. In addition, I created an alternate X-RAY view of the plane where the user could specify plane specific locations and actions.
Once all requisite actions were performed and completed, the plane would then take off and the user would earn points. The faster the better.
After early usability testing we found it increasingly difficult to maintain focus on the various planes depicted on screen at a given time. We eliminated the landing and takeoff process and reduced the on screen plane count to one. This helped really narrow the user focus.
By this time, we had begun integrating 3D rendered assets for realistic scene depiction. We integrated a system for animations to play out when triggered by user actions. This was the first step towards user engagement, rewarding their actions with pleasing graphics.
TIME SIMULATION AND IMPROVED USER EXPERIENCE
Early reception to the game was positive but there was still a major disconnect between what the player was doing and what was happening on screen. There wasn’t enough consequence for mistakes or incentives for correct inputs. In addition, the game just didn’t “feel” authentic. The next shift would change the nature of the game, its interface and ultimately lead the project to major success.
Working in collaboration with the folks at Alaska Airlines we were given a real world breakdown of length and duration of each key action in the plane turning process. We were able to compress these time estimates into gameplay time and map them accordingly to each of the user’s interactions.
Rather than breeze through all the interactions the player would really have to pay attention to which buttons they were pressing at any given time. Correct input would result in a small timer ring that, when filled, would award points and allow the user to move on to the next step. An incorrect input, however, would take the same amount of time as a penalty and restrict the user from making any more actions from that category. This inclusion of real world time as a component created a sense of player agency and engagement as they could no longer pass the training through passive engagement.
In order to put a lot of emphasis on this new time element the UI was removed from the bottom of the screen and the XRAY plane view was also scrapped. Instead, the game camera shifted its angle at various stages of the game to give the player the best view of all relevant plane and ground components. I was then able to integrate all category buttons directly into the scene itself with all possible actions expanding as a list view. This not only cleaned up the outer HUD but also drew the player into the scene giving them a better sense of spatial relationships between the actions they were performing.
LATE GAME FEEDBACK AND BALANCING
Now that the core game experience was feeling much closer to its real world counterpart (thus satisfying the simulation requirement) it was time to add in some last minute polish and entertainment value.
When studying users playing the latest version of the game it became clear that most would get stuck at one point or another before being able to complete a plane. This was a major problem. Not only was this frustrating to the player, but it indicated a failure on the trainer’s part to teach the trainee all requisite concepts. Rather than hold the user’s hand through these moments we opted for a clue-like messaging system that appears in the lower screen HUD. The user is prompted to perform a certain action in order to move forward, but they then have to discover which group category that action belongs to which could require some searching on their part. This worked well towards the user having a more complete understanding of their actions.
Another key feature that was added was a “COMMUNICATION BONUS” that was awarded to players that completed related actions between two different ground groups. When awarded, all game timers for the remainder of that turn would take a 25% reduction which stacked as more and more bonuses were awarded. This was a feature implemented to give users a firm understanding of how inter-group communication can lead to expedient plane processing and savings for the company.
One of the features I am most proud of was a late addition of bonus pickups that appear randomly around the scene called FOD (Foreign Object Debris). If the user taps the FOD icon before its timer runs out, they get bonus points; this made the game feel much more like a hidden object reflex game too, keeping the user on their toes. The best part about this feature was how well it integrated with real life safety precautions. FOD is a real threat to planes as any debris can cause malfunctions to the aircraft, slowing its departure and costing the company a lot of money. Employees are always told to be on the lookout for FOD when performing their real world tasks around the planes. This bonus feature ended up really bridging the gap between the game world and the real world.
INSTRUCTOR WEB PORTAL
The last component of this project was to provide a custom web portal for instructors to create and export leaderboards for each trainee session. This was key to tracking performance metrics as well as publicly displaying top performer rankings. The portal was Alaska Airlines branded and could store 3 unique leaderboards per trainee session.
Top performers would be greeted with a custom Alaska Airlines wings badge which would also display next to their name on the leaderboard. All of these little touches further increased trainee agency, engagement and retention of course materials.
WHAT WAS LEARNED
- Fun can be found at the very last minute and through very simple features
- User communication via the scene objects was more successful than user communication through the exterior UI
- Realistic scene depiction provided the right level of user immersion and conceptual understanding
- Less is more when you want to maintain user focus
- Time constraints have always been an effective vehicle for player agency
- Games are indeed a fantastic way to teach
Business Development: Mark Chuberka – GameSalad
Direction and Design: Billy Garretsen – GameSalad
Game Engineering: Jonathan Samn – GameSalad
Sound and Quality Assurance: Chris Kokkinos – GameSalad
3D Art Lead: Jeff Arthur – Independent