Cell-fie Concept and Characters © Grace Ling 2017 – 2020

Cell-fie is a biology-inspired virtual reality role-playing and simulation game that aims to gamify learning created solely by me. The inspiration from Cell-fie combines my previous pre-med background, passion for games and art, technical abilities, and desire to inspire more girls to pursue STEM. Cell-fie aims to make learning more fun and is estimated to be released in 2021, available on the Oculus store.

🤳 Why “Cell-fie”?

Cell-fie is pronounced “selfie.” Players create their own character that resembles themselves, then obtain abilities of different organelles and cells as they level up and complete quests.

🎮 Awesome! May I see a gameplay demo?

Of course! Here’s my latest video:

Tools used: Unreal Engine, Autodesk Maya, Adobe Photoshop

👀 Wow, that’s so cool. Can you tell me more?

Of course! The objective of Cell-fie is to gamify the biological and chemical learning experience. It is a role-playing and simulation game in virtual reality, offering players the opportunity to see what it’s like being a cell. They also get to customize their characters and surroundings.

The goal in Cell-fie is to evolve into an organism. Users start off as an organelle, then can gain levels by doing quests to evolve a cell, then finally an organism. Through this process, they will learn about the biological concepts along the way in an interactive environment.

🎨 How did you come up with the design?

🤔 Problem: Currently there is a gender gap in STEM workers. As of 2018, 74% of the workers in STEM fields are male, and 26% are female.

👩‍🔬 Goal: Cell-fie aims to inspire more girls to explore STEM and have fun learning.

Learning through interaction is also more engaging than learning from reading from a textbook, so Cell-fie is also an exploration on using virtual reality games in education.

🎨 Design: The design of Cell-fie combines games and giving a personality to inanimate objects for educational purposes. Cell-fie started as a series of concept art drawings and game design documents with ideas before being prototyped in a virtual reality environment.

Thylakoid Islands concept art
Thylakoid Islands in virtual reality

⚙️ I then decided on the main core game mechanics to implement: quests, exploration, and simulation.

Photosynthesis light-dependent reactions quest

💡 The quests I have designed follow a specific process inside the cell, such as photosynthesis. The types of quests range from item gathering, quizzes, and virus (enemy) righting. They aim to educate the user on the cellular process by becoming part of the process and are guided by non-playable characters.

Thylakoid-inspired open world for exploration in the chloroplast

🌎 The exploration mechanic of the game gives users the chance to interact with the environment and partake in fun and relaxing activities such as picking glucose apples from the glucose apple tree.

🎨 The simulation part of the game is to give the user personalization and control. The user will be able to customize their own in-game avatar and build their own thylakoid islands.

After deciding on the core game mechanics, I designed the main goal of the game as to evolve from the smallest to largest biological objects. Users start off as an organelle (eg. chloroplast), do quests and gain levels to evolve into a cell (eg. plant cell), and as they advance further in the game, they will evolve into an organism (eg. coconut tree).

I first drawn my concept art digitally using Photoshop, then creating a 3D version of my art using Maya, and then imported my models into Unreal to build and code Cell-fie.

Lens flare post processing

In Unreal, I also created textures and materials for my 3D models, particle effects, and post processing to add another layer of visual design.

If you’re interested in learning more about my design process, click on my slide deck below.

📰 Press Releases

1. Santa Clara University Home Page – December 2017

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Article link

2. VR Meets Biology Meets Video Games: Introducing Cell-fie – February 2018

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3. Grace Ling Leads Cell-fie Team to Imagine Basic Biology in Game Environment – February 2018

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4. Meet Grace Ling: Cell-fie’s Team Leader – April 2018

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