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‘A tremendous amount of fun’ Team grows with help from starship role-playing simulator

Players of Incandescent Workshop’s Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, shown here participating in a 2017 event, have different information on their displays, based on their role on a starship bridge. Gaming Nomads, a company in London, Ohio, uses the software to lead corporate training exercises. (Incandescent Workshop photo)

Players of Incandescent Workshop’s Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, shown here participating in a 2017 event, have different information on their displays, based on their role on a starship bridge. Gaming Nomads, a company in London, Ohio, uses the software to lead corporate training exercises. (Incandescent Workshop photo)

William Wallace’s gaming experience company, Gaming Nomads (www.gamingnomads.com), is looking to build small and medium corporate office teamwork with one very simple message: work together, or you’ll fail — and your starship maybe even explode in the middle of space.

It’s not a subtle message, but it’s effective and is carried out by Wallace’s Ohio-based company through Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, a networked video game in which each person is assigned a role such as captain, pilot, weapons, communications, science or engineer while the game itself is projected onto a large screen. Players must learn to communicate and command their starship, with mission goals such as wiping out alien invaders, rescuing stranded ships, dodging asteroids, space mines and space monsters and defending space stations.

Players must communicate to survive a roleplaying scenario on the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. “Effective communication is also one of the central tenets of agile project management, so it just made sense to use Artemis as a tool for teams to improve their communication skills,” said William Wallace, owner of Gaming Nomads. (Incandescent Workshop photo)

Players must communicate to survive a roleplaying scenario on the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. “Effective communication is also one of the central tenets of agile project management, so it just made sense to use Artemis as a tool for teams to improve their communication skills,” said William Wallace, owner of Gaming Nomads. (Incandescent Workshop photo)

“Artemis is the best team-building experience that we have ever come across, said Wallace. “It teaches effective communication and teamwork in a very organic setting. Most teams get so into the simulation that they don’t realize that they are improving their team dynamic.”

James Hsiao of Atlanta, Georgia, experienced one of Gaming Nomads’ corporate training sessions with an internet development company. The company had a number of remote workers, all of whom were coming to Atlanta for a homecoming conference.

“It was a tremendous amount of fun,” said Hsiao. “And it really allowed us to get a little more insight into people who were two or three levels above us as well.”

Sitting down with fellow employees to pilot a ship and fight simulated space aliens helped smooth out working relationships, Hsiao said.

“Sometimes if there were cantankerous relationships between two people, … just getting together and having fun and not having the tension of work specifically but more more having, ‘Oh this is us versus the fictional adversary in the game,’ It really brought the people together,” said Hsiao.

Training with Artemis, according to Wallace, can show where a group of coworkers needed to improve.

“We had a crew of people who worked together as a successful software development team; they kept talking about how they were going to just rock the simulator since they were such a good team,” said Wallace. “When the simulation started, they were so confident in their individual abilities that they didn’t communicate as a team. They were out of power in 8 minutes and dead in 10. We restarted them in a new scenario and the now-humbled crew communicated much better and successfully completed the new scenario.”

A ship from Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. (Incandescent Workshop photo)

A ship from Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. (Incandescent Workshop photo)

In a training scenario at a multi-day training event at a major media corporation, the crews included a vice president of the company that many people worked under, but no one really knew, Wallace said. After playing several scenarios together, several employees told Wallace how much they’d enjoyed getting to know him and that they had no idea he was so funny. This, in turn, changed their working dynamic for the better.

Wallace, 53, a software developer since 1982, holds a bachelor’s degree in computer and Information sciences and executive certificate in agile methodologies — the use of short development cycles with a focus on continuous improvement —  from the John Cook School of Business as well as other IT certifications.

Wallace in 2012 began using Artemis as part of agile project management, as a tool for teams to improve to improve their communication skills.

“Effective communication is also one of the central tenets of agile project management, so it just made sense to use Artemis as a tool for teams to improve their communication skills,” said Wallace.

For each training session, Gaming Nomads provides up to two full spaceship bridges, each consisting of a server computer, a 55-inch main screen, and a computer and a larger touchscreen for each position, adjusting the equipment to each venue’s space and needs as necessary.

For their first time out, new crews begin the game piloting a starship that’s been damaged by an enemy attack and is almost out of power. The crew must learn how to hail a nearby ship, bring power back online, repair their ship and get back underway. The scenario ends when the crew has successfully repaired their ship and fended off an enemy attack.

Over the course of a training session, Wallace said he introduces the participants to their roles, encourages people to change their bridge stations between games so they can experience different roles and responsibilities, then gradually increases the difficulty levels as they gain experience. In between games, crews generally conduct a review of their performance, often without encouragement.

Hsiao’s company, during its homecoming conference, also bought licenses for Artemis and installed it on their own computers, using the software after hours for additional team-building and blowing off steam.

“This was after hours, so there was alcohol involved. … We had two different two different bridges set up and the really fun thing was that there was one ship where everybody was sober and another ship where the majority of people were not.

“I was essentially the captain of the drunk ship and trying to get them to all work together to achieve a goal in conflict with the other, sober ship. It was essentially like herding cats. There was at least one time where I essentially muscled somebody out of the way to to take over their position on the bridge so I could get somewhere.”

Wallace said that while Artemis corporate training does arrive with a base price, which is front-loaded to cover setup and teardown labor as well as any additional costs for travel for sites more than 100 miles away from central Ohio, there are reduced rates for special situations, such as non-profit organizations. Either way, your team can learn to work and communicate that much better while avoiding flashy, 3D-rendered deaths in outer space.

And how is that a bad thing?

Jason Whong contributed to this report.

5 stages of starship team development

William Wallace says there were roughly five stages of team development throughout an organization’s training session:

Forming: “What am I supposed to do?“ “What information do I need to relay to others, when do I need to relay it, and to whom?” “Who gives me the information that I need?”

Storming: “Why didn’t you tell me we were almost out of power?” “Stop forgetting to raise the shields!”
“What’s the beam frequency for this target?”

Norming: Everybody starts to understand what they need to do and when they need to do it. The crew begins to work as a team.

Performing: Everybody starts working together at a high level. Crew members know what others need before they ask for it.)

Adjourning: “It’s over already? Wow! The time went so fast!”
“We were just starting to kick butt!” “That was so cool when we…”

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