I was really excited and honoured to find out that the Elearning Laboratory won gold in the Articulate Guru 2015 contest.  Although I hoped I had a chance of winning a prize, the more examples I saw posted online the more my hopes started to fade, and felt gold was out of reach.

The file for this course has already been shared online so you can see how the course functions.  In this post I want to take the opportunity to show how the course was designed, the process that it went through and the sweat, blood and tears that turned my hair grey (well greyer).

Introduction Screen


If you want a breakdown of how it was built technically, this is not that article and I make no apologies for that.

The Idea…

I wanted to build a game but also wanted to ensure that there were strong instructional design principles behind the design (I will go into this later) This was not the first course that was planned to be entered for the Guru 2015, I originally planned to build a course on sun awareness for kids (and have planned to do this for the last two Guru awards) for reasons I won’t go into this was shelved and I needed to come up with an idea.  I train regularly in the martial arts of the ninja and have an interest in the history of the ninja, that coupled with a course that I built last year for a client gave me the basis of an idea and Enter the Ninja was born. The main aim of my design was not to use traditional navigation and to nudge the user in the right direction.


The Master of this modern Dojo

… the Design

For most of my courses I will do all of the design work, however I knew at the beginning of this I would need an illustrator to help me out.  To get the images I needed  I wrote a rough storyboard in Storyline and added images I got from the internet, almost as a mood board, to give Laura an idea of what I was after, Laura is brilliant at interpreting what I needed and never had to send one image back for correction. I would also like to say that some of my descriptions of assets I needed and how the needed to be provided were overly complicated and Laura helped (particularly in the Release the Water challenge) to reduce my workload and produce a streamlined design.


Simplified Design much better than my plan! (Is that an easter egg)

The course

The deadline for entries was fast approaching, the plan was to create a course with 4 Mini-games and a final test. After completing the storyboard it was obvious that I did not have time to create 5 interactions (Fact! In the storyboard I only had 3 ideas for the mini-game and these made it into the final design).  The Five interactions were whittled down to three, Escape the Room (this already existed from a previous challenge and just needed rebranding) , Shuriken and Release the Water.  Now with a cut down design it was time to start building.


Introduction Screen

Instructional Design

Although this is definitely a game, there are instructional design elements that I would urge my clients to use in their courses, the main body of the game are the mini games, and I would see this as the assessment in a course, it is my belief that you can pass the assessment in most courses you should not need to view the instructional element, in this game if you fail any of the assessments you are passed to a screen where the master shows a video of the game being completed.  This way the learning is reinforced and you are then offered the opportunity to take the assessment again.

Instructional Video

Instructional Video

The Build

The initial build took about two days and the base course as you see it now existed in a playable form at this point, I am not saying it was without bugs but it was functional enough to send out to a few people for feedback and testing.  I used a group of trusted developers, colleagues and friends to test my version 1 and got lots of positive feedback but also lots of corrections/criticisms/ideas sent back and for those I am eternally grateful and owe each and everyone of you a pint (at least).


After V1 I tweaked and fixed elements of the game, at this point I should probably describe my development process, I generally use the rapid development process and continually refine and redefine my design as the review process continues.  For this course the same thing happened. Graphics got replaced timing got sorted out, fonts got changed and colours were tweaked.

Eventually one week before the course was due to be submitted the course it was completed and I could focus again on my clients work.

How wrong was I…

A couple of things happened to change this and also helped make the course better because of it.  They both happened  because of my children.  I had been working long shifts to be able to complete this and my other work,  I found was building this course late into the evenings whilst my children were around,  one day Thomas my eldest asked if he could play the final version, of course I said “yes”.

I watched him whilst he played the game intrigued to see how intuitive it was. Immediately I noticed that he was clicking on things that I didn’t expect him to (which is where the plan for the easter eggs came from) I learnt a lot from watching him play and refined a lot of the experiences from this real world test.

As soon as Thomas wanted to play so did Holly my youngest again I said yes and this changed the game for the better, two things happened, Holly was disappointed that the Ninja was male, and she also struggled with Shuriken challenge (as the control was keyboard and mouse driven).  Two fixes immediately came to mind one was to add in branching based on age (to make some challenges easier) and also to change the Ninja based on their Sex. In this game if you are under seven the shuriken game is a click and pop game instead of a keyboard based interaction.


Your Profile

The Easter Eggs

I was acutely aware that the course was now only three games long, after watching Thomas I added in 3 easter eggs (one in each game).  I will not ruin the experience for you, but to make it easier I added in an easter egg icon so you know where they are, to view the easter egg itself you must do something more than click on the egg though.  The easter eggs themselves were demos and examples I had previously built, some needed so additional work to match the aspect ratio, otherwise they are unchanged.

Very last minute (just before submitting) I added in a final easter egg (Paint the Fence) this is hidden but can be found with perseverence.


With only three days left the game was fully tested and fully built, there were a number of refinements added to again maintain interest, such as a badge system tied to the final certificate. More progress bars and a running ninja, The course was submitted before the deadline and the result is now history.


As in every project the final outcome was not the one I originally storyboarded, I always say that all good developments come from a collaborative approach, in this case my reviewers and children made this more than I hoped for and as such, I am indebted to everyone who helped review it and give feedback.

I love the Guru competition it is probably the only competition where you are judged on how you use the tool rather than the content (although I am sure that helps) I have now submitted three entries (Unplaced, Bronze, Gold) and I am already planning for the next one perhaps it will be the sun awareness course. Congratulation to everyone who entered!

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