Immune Defense

Immune Defense is a strategy game about molecular immunology for big kids and grown ups (ages 10+).  In Immune Defense, players use various types of white blood cells to fight off real pathogens, using real surface molecules and signaling molecules.


I am proud of the game Immune Defense. I wanted the player to feel confident at all times and to be engaged in the feeling of exploration. The beginning levels accomplish this well, they draw players in, giving players the opportunity use the powerful Neutrophil cells to eat bacteria. You will likely need a walk through for Level 4. After level 4, the game really opens up and you can see the potential awesomeness of the strategy game. The player can zoom in and out, looking in deeper, as if with a microscope, to see the details of the interactions between the white blood cells in the bacteria.

My team pulled it off really well!  Alec Slayden was the programmer that developed this version of Immune Defense.  His patience, willingness to iterate and his imagination really brought Immune Defense to life. Cosmocyte provided the art, although no one is to be blamed for the splash screens but me. Other game design help came from Jacob Clayman, Eric Martin and Jerold Council. This version of Immune Defense came with me from DC to Seattle in 2013.

In Seattle, work and grant writing continued. John Biddle contributed vital clean up code. Mike Halbrock, the most patient, talented, versatile game designer and C# wizard ever, was invaluable in creating this version of Immune Defense. Without Mike I could not have responded to the many many many rounds of play testers’ comments and the game would not be as clear and fun to play as it is now. The core game loop of binding, eating and killing bacteria kept happening offscreen and we had to take drastic, ridiculous measures to keep these cells on screen…. And finally, thank you to all of the DC and Seattle based play testers. This version of the game was accepted into several competitive indie vide game expos, including MAGFest, Gamescape and Seattle Indie Expo (2015).

This is not the whole game, I am still working on it and on my company, Molecular Jig Games. But this game is good, fun and waiting for the perfect, whole game is keeping you and everyone else from getting to play this pretty awesome demo version.

What people are saying about Immune Defense
July 2016
6 DC-born indie games you can play right now
July 2016 13 ways to jump into DC’s indie gaming scene
July 2015
Here’s what you can play at Gamescape this year
January 2015 Rock, Paper, Shotgun by Shaun Green.
August 2014 Serious Game Market by Eliane Alhadeff.
July 2014 Binky’s Blog


More on Immune Defense from my 2014 blog post
A new kind of strategy game.
Immune Defense is a strategy game, a mixture of Real Time Strategy (RTS) and Tower Defense (TD) style games, so it is an innovative game as regards the mechanic.  Our game mechanic is informed by the biology. This neat combination of science and game mechanics creates a unique game type: a tower defense game with moving towers. We find a wide range of players enjoy Immune Defense.  We have shown it at the NIH, Serious Play conference, iFEST and Seattle Indies Expo (SIX at PAX) and we are part of the MAGfest Indie Game Showcase Jan 24-25th 2015 in DC.

Game design is about defining the problem.
In the lab, we create models on paper that we can test at the bench.  In games, we present players with the details and tools to make and test meaningful theories.  Basically, we took a scene of inflammation and infection, gave players a subset of information and power over a subset of actors (players can choose cells, adjust a subset of surface molecules, and move some diffusing proteins).  We created a balance between providing detail and providing a manageable puzzle to solve–just like all good games do.

Further development.
Immune Defense could grow from a game to a simulation of cellular interactions: players could design their own levels and scientists could model cellular signaling and crosstalk, such as the reception of more than one signal.  We plan to develop Immune Defense along these lines.  Checkout our game, our user interface and our “heads up display” and see for yourself how we could use our game system to address multiple molecular scenarios.

How did I know how to make a game?
I studied game design for the past 6 years at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in DC.  I spent 2 years prototyping and testing Immune Defense.  I’ve learned how to produce, manage, troubleshoot and salvage every aspect of game development: programming that makes the core of the game, level scripting each game level, art for the backgrounds, the heads up displays, and for the cells and molecules in the game that interact with each other…. I have experts who are on hand to polish Immune Defense. The money will go to pay for freelancing game developers, while I work my day job.

How was I funded?
I wrote an NIAID grant to study how 7th -12th grade students learn biology from a video game. The game was Immune Attack, by FAS, a think tank in Washington, DC.  I published a nice paper: I demonstrated that 15 — 19 year old students learn a lot of molecular biology from playing a game about it. They gained confidence with the topic, as well, which is conclude will make them more open to learning about it in the future.

Popular Molecular Biology
Knowing how much understanding was possible with a 3D shooter like Immune Attack, I set out to make a game that was even more fun to play, engaging to a broader audience that would facilitate learning of more molecular details. We ended up making a pretty nice prototype of a game: Immune Defense. The game presents molecules in random diffusion, pathogens and white blood cells with surface molecules that do or do not interact with each other and with the randomly diffusing molecules.  Players “buy” cells, change their surface molecules and drag around inflammatory cytokines to activate and target various cells to various pathogens.  See the cool parts of science, the interesting parts that you need those fundamental concepts to understand.

How do I know it teaches?
I have evaluated Immune Defense in schools.  Players can answer our follow up questions and in person interviews do not indicate any misconceptions.  We will continue to evaluate learning and watch for misconceptions.  Getting the game onto tablets will facilitate our large scale evaluation.

Price = Pay what you want.
I want this game to be played by everyone. If the average person knew more about the basics of cell biology and biochemistry, then the average person might be able to understand reports on research reports. They might realize that our work at NIH, NSF, other public and privately funded research is close to many useful cures and discoveries.

Why do we need games about molecular biology?
People have a lot of misconceptions about science and molecular biology in particular.  We also know that misconceptions are hard to “un teach.”  So we should present the behaviors of molecules and cells to younger people and to non-scientists in fun ways that let us manipulate the molecules and cells.  Teachers can build upon the intuitive understanding by explaining the concepts in formal terms.

Here are a few concepts we address:
1. There is more to science than memorizing facts! Everything in Immunology/Molecular and cellular Biology is not yet done, in fact we are the edge of many great discoveries.
2. Science is a puzzle to figure out.
3. Proteins have specific functions that their shapes prepare them for.
4. Proteins/molecules/cells cannot see where they are going, random processes form a well regulated system, that can easily be upset.
5. Protein localization is important factor in its regulation.
6. Loss/decrease in concentration of a protein causes loss (or gain) of a particular function.

Here is Melanie talking about her learning and confidence data at IGDA-Seattle in November 2014.

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