Schell Games might be better known among virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts for its escape room experience I Expect You to Die, but the studio is becoming more prolific in the edutainment sector. Using VR as a means of interactive education has been gaining ground in the teaching field as a way of engaging students in more traditional subjects that are seen as difficult or less appealing. So Schell Games has created HoloLAB Champions, a VR videogame aimed purely at the subject of Chemistry.
For HoloLAB Champions Schell Games has taken a gameshow style theme, putting you in front of a virtual audience – made up of brains – and of course a host (called Earl), who makes a few wisecracks to lighten the mood. While the focus is on learning, putting real world facts and figures in front of you, the whole process certainly feels more towards a light-hearted classroom that isn’t going to judge if you drop something.
The title has two main components to it Chemiluminescence and Identify Unknowns, both of which tackle various tasks within chemistry. As the name suggests Chemiluminescence is about the creation of glowing chemical solutions by mixing the correct amount of liquid and solid ingredients. While Identify Unknowns is about correctly identifying various substances using only a limited amount of reference information.
Each one starts off gently, acclimatising you to the mechanics of the experience. You get to learn about the various cylinders and beakers used, weighting solids on scales, how certain chemicals react with one another and much more. As each test is completed – there are 10 in total for each segment – the next one will added to what you’ve already learnt, building up that knowledge base for the final exam.
While the whole process is engaging from the outset, only feeding information in bite sized chunks, what’s remarkable is the finesse and accuracy of the experiments. Just like in a real lab measurements need to be spot on to the millilitre (ML) or gram which Schell Games has notably managed, especially on the liquid tests.
On the graduated cylinders for example each of the ML can be seen and poured to. Even the curve of the meniscus is visible to get an accurate measurement. Achieving this level of detail on the HTC Vive is certainly an accomplishment due to the fact that normally most VR developers keep items at a reasonable distance due to the screen door effect.
It’s this sort of attention to detail that makes HoloLAB Champions a shining example of what can be achieved when mixing the worlds of VR entertainment and education together, thoroughly focusing your attention for the entire time. Do remember however that this is more of a teaching tool rather than a videogame product. As such it is short, with each section taking around 30 minutes – or less – each, depending on if you get stuck at all.
To keep things interesting HoloLAB Champions does time and score you, penalising you for taking too long or spilling chemicals – trashing the equipment will massively reduce the final score. On the other hand, perfectly pouring ingredients out and solving the tests quickly will achieve max points.
As a normal piece of VR content HoloLAB Champions is short but sweet, offering an informative introduction into the world of chemistry. This isn’t the sort of title where you can go all mad scientist and create crazy concoctions – there’s Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-Ality for that – but it’s not meant to be. As a teaching tool it’s quite easy to see how VR has a place within education.