Directed Evolution is a method for gradually improving proteins functions for different purposes. It was invented by Frances Arnold, and won the Millennium Technology Prize in 2016. Technology Academy Finland (TAF) awards the prize every other year for life-changing innovations. In the beginning of the year 2017, TAF looked for a way to explain Directed Evolution to the general public and youth, and came up with the idea to make a game about the method. The company collaborates with Aalto University, so they looked for Aalto students to take on this challenge.
I took this opportunity together with Lassi Vapaakallio. We both have background in biosciences in addition to game development, so participating in this project felt like a great combination. As the brief from TAF was quite vague, we got a lot of creative freedom with the project. During the few months of development time, we came up with something that both demonstrates the basic idea of Directed Evolution and is quite an interesting game to play.
I was in charge of all the visual things in this projects, while also contributing in the design. The most important challenges for me were:
how to arrange simple 3D parts into convincing-looking molecules
how to clearly demonstrate the three important steps of Directed Evolution
how to make the mood of the game science-y while also being elegant
how to give the players enough information without overwhelming them
“I think the game is pretty functional and intuitive visualization of Arnold's technology. ProDE demonstrates how games can be part of the popularization of science. It visualizes and makes a difficult subject to be understood in an interactive form. The player can try and investigate how different parameters affect.” (Prof. Perttu Hämäläinen, Aalto University)