Deconstructing Kelvin: Idea for Using Characters and Achievements

According to the designers: "Kelvin and the Infamous Machine is a point-and-click adventure about the well-intentioned by not-so-brilliant Kelvin, his workplace crush, a crazy scientist, and a hideous time machine that came to ruin everything." According to me, it is a cleverly-written game with a fun graphical interface that gave me some ideas to help you add more engagement and effectiveness to your learning experiences. So Kelvin is the subject of today's game deconstruction, where I help you make connections between game and instructional design.

While there are many aspects of any game we could focus on, and which aspects appeal to different people will vary, I have pulled out two main categories from Kelvin: characters and achievements. You can go check out the video version and/or keep reading.


The game is structured in three chapters, each of which has Kelvin helping a famous historical figure. Well helping may be a strong term, but the stories show a valuable lesson which is that even the greatest minds of history get stumped or off track now and then (even if these misadventures are made up). Using historical figures as people your learners need to assist can immerse them in learning about those figures and the subject matter in ways that simply teaching them facts and figures can't.

One of the the things that make games so powerful is that we feel responsible for the characters in games because we control the action. You can bring those same types of connections into your courses even without playing games. Rather than having a learner write about what a person did, you can have them become the person and write from their perspective, or have two of more historical (or just fictional) characters have a dialog or debate. You can encourage your learners to become scientists not just study science. The use of avatars and characters can create emotional connections for the learners which in turn will get them more engaged.

You can also promote critical thinking and creativity by having learners explore various what-if scenarios. In Kelvin, there is a chance that Beethoven wouldn't have completed his infamous fifth symphony; or that Newton would have pursued a career path as a fan-fiction writer, not scientist; or that Leonardo da Vinci would have completed the Mona Lisa. Eeeek. What would have been the result of any of these?


The other piece of Kelvin that we are going to deconstruct today is use of achievements in the game. Now there wasn't anything terribly interesting about each on giving you 500 XP, which I don't think were tied to anything else, but I did really like the variety of types of achievements. Too often badges and achievements are conceived with little creativity or meaning for the player, but Kelvin had a few good tricks up his sleeve.

  1. Some of the achievements were milestones and it is always important to acknowledge when someone completes a major step. In this case, there was an achievement for completing each chapter. That is something to celebrate and make note of. 

  2. The second type involved going through scenarios using different paths. I like this one because in many learning experiences someone might get to the right answer accidentally or by taking a shortcut that deprives them of seeing where things could go wrong or that there are different ways to tackle a problem. But using achievements that only unlock once you have experimented with the different pathways, you encourage replay/review of the topic.

  3. There were a few achievements that were for finding hidden images in each chapter. These easter eggs again can encourage people to go back and take a closer look or explore a little more.

  4. Finally, there were some that simply encouraged you to dig a little deeper into the story. Rather than just providing learners with a list of "additional readings" the game drips out additional pieces of the story and let's you decide at the end of each piece if you want to hear more about this side story or return to the main action. 

If you try out anything new with your learners based on Kelvin, let me know. I would love to hear how it goes. Remember that it may take a few iterations to get the right combination of gameful elements and instructional design to work at optimal levels. 

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