Living Our Mission: Embracing the Art of Gamification with Hector Robles, Lead Game Designer at Circadence

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If there’s anyone who truly embodies the art of gamification, Hector Robles name just might top that list. As a lead game designer at Circadence, Hector works closely with the company’s content and curriculum departments to take complex cyber concepts and learning paths and artistically weaving them into fun cyber games that make learning desirable.

Hector has more than nine years of professional experience in the game design and cyber security/tech space, but his career wasn’t always rooted in making games for companies. In fact, after graduating from high school, Hector proudly served in the U.S. Army, as a military police officer. It was there he gained an understanding of and appreciation for the importance of security as a whole. Hector saw firsthand how proliferating technology impacted both civilian security and military security operations. After his service, Hector followed his interest and passion for game design by attending the Miami International University of Art and Design and graduating with a degree in game design. Then, he began working with media conglomerates and startup companies as a designer, producer, and artist.

But something was missing. While Hector was accumulating an impressive portfolio of entertainment game design work, he sought something more meaningful—a way to apply his skills in game design to help others. It was then he learned about Circadence and joined the game development team alongside colleagues Kari Sershon, Ronaldo Periera and Jose Velazquez.

Hector has worked on Circadence’s flagship platform Project Ares, specifically the cyber learning games embedded within it. The cyber learning games that Hector has designed will also soon become a part of the CyberBridge Essentials learning hub for wider customer access. Hector’s work can be seen most poignantly in Circadence’s new 2019 game, RegExile, which teaches players how to do regular expression coding work. RegExile helps players learn the syntax of regular expressions so they can efficiently parse through the data in search of evidence of a breach. It is a fast-paced pattern-recognition game that teaches the concepts of regular expression while exercising player’s muscle memory and reaction time. The game challenges players to form the correct expression to select or exclude data while immersing them in a futuristic “save the world” scenario filled with human-destroying robots. Players must recognize patterns in the names and type proper RegEx techniques to eliminate robots before they destroy the colony.

For Hector, designing games like this is fulfilling. “It’s a completely different beast from entertainment game design. It’s meaningful to take complex cyber concepts and turn them into fun, interactive, easily-digestible material for players—whether it’s people just starting out in cyber security or seasoned professionals looking to brush up on skills,” Hector says.

Hector typically approaches new game development by first thinking about how to make a certain concept or task in cyber “fun.” He does a lot of game research to come up with ideas of new game play designs and layouts. The research, which may include playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons to get the cognitive juices flowing, playing an arcade style game to think of narrative storylines and actions, or even breaking out a board game with friends, sparks Hector’s imagination and creativity. Once he has an idea of what kind of game he wants to create to teach the cyber concept that the Circadence Curriculum team has outlined, he develops a one-page pitch for stakeholders that presents his ideas cohesively, including details on game objectives, purpose, and technical specifications. After approval, the fun begins! Hector and his team start prototyping features and components of the game to make the ideas on paper become reality. For RegExile, he planned out the movement of the robots in the game by moving game board pieces around to capture an authentic “in game” feeling for the player.

“I try to always think about what games are out there and how we can make our games truly unique,” says Hector. “We’re constantly thinking about things like accessibility, narrative, and pacing to ensure our games aren’t just entertaining, but that people are really learning from them,” he adds.

Hector is also working on augmented reality and virtual reality card games where players can learn cyber security concepts in industry-specific settings like oil rigs and power plants to further engage one’s understanding of different cyber threats and defense tactics in the cyber kill chain. Users will eventually be able to use physical playing cards to learn things like ports and protocols too. Stay tuned for more on that!

While some may view Hector’s work as all fun and games, it does have a meaningful component that many end-users don’t think about at first. When someone logs onto a game, they are presented with audio/visual and text-based cues to inspire their behavior or ignite an action. Those cues are what allow a player to understand how to engage and act in a game setting, so they are not confused as to what to do or how to do something. Hector’s work takes the guessing out of game play for Circadence’s products. Players who engage with a cyber learning game like RegExile know immediately how to play the game and what the objective is without having to jump through hurdles or be confused at where to start. Thank Hector and his team for that!

“When they get to the platform, they know what to do, the basics of the tool, and more of the narrative and understanding of how they’ll engage with it,” said Hector. “It’s the components we build into the game that allow them to feel empowered when they hit “play” to start,” he adds.

It’s Hector’s team’s expertise behind the coding work, gamification elements, and user interface that comes together to create the best user experience for the player. The art of gamification not only engages and entertains, but it inspires, teaches, and instills cyber knowledge in the minds of players who want to grow in cyber competency and skill.

“Seeing someone’s face light up when they play our games brings a smile to my face,” says Hector. “At first they’re hesitant but then they start playing and there is a moment of clarity that washes over their face that makes the time and energy put into our games all worth it.”

Hector believes the best way to learn is by playing games. That’s what ‘living our mission’ at Circadence is all about. The power of games can cement cyber concepts and we look forward to seeing what Hector and his team whip up next to keep professionals and first-time cyber learners coming back for more knowledge and skill building.

Nichols College Students Spearhead Cyber Security Education for the Entire Campus 

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Policy makers are now prioritizing data security over talent, efficiency and controlling costs. As students growing up and being educated in the digital age, we are just starting to understand the importance of cyber security to individuals and their companies. Taking part in a Research Associate Internship on campus at Nichols College, our eyes have been opened to the vast number of threats we face on a daily basis.

Oracle conducted a study titled “Security in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” where 341 C-Suite executives and 110 policy makers were asked of their plans to improve their company’s security in the next two years. The top answer from this sample was to train existing staff. Human error poses the greatest risk to these companies (Oracle). In order to mitigate this risk, it is imperative to understand the opportunity cost of training employees on the importance of cybersecurity. Prioritizing training would prevent small mistakes, potentially costing a company much more in the long run.

A Nichols College Associate Professor of Accounting and Finance, Bryant Richards, noticed a gap in cyber security education, wanting to bring cyber to campus in a big way, stating “As cyber risks have become ubiquitous throughout the industry, it is our responsibility to provide some degree of cyber literacy to our business students. We must train our accounting students to be data and technology professionals who understand accounting. The realistic and experiential nature of Project Ares matches how our students learn and provides a transformative learning experience.” Richards along with the two of us, helped Nichols partner with Circadence to complete a three-month pilot program of their gamified cybersecurity learning platform Project Ares.

What We Found: Circadence did a great job with Project Ares, with an appealing, gamified user interface that sucks you in and is easy to use. As a student with no technical experience in the cybersecurity field, Project Ares proved to be both engaging and challenging. It provided an abundance of resources through its Media Center and Mini Games. Users can obtain a base layer of knowledge, progressing into education on concepts like the Cyber Kill Chain and how hackers utilize it. The interactive Battle Rooms provide real-life, technical lab environments where users can spin up virtual machines, explore real-world tools, build their confidence, and hone their skills.

What We Learned: You do not have to be a professional hacker to steal someone else’s information or gain access to their computer. Understanding the code is no longer enough; this is much more than an individual problem. If your own device is compromised, the hacker can steal your personal information, and steal information from your employer and worse. This harsh reality surprised us when we first commenced our research. From clicking a wrong link in an email, to accidentally tapping an advertisement banner on your phone; these small errors can seem harmless but are really detrimental to your overall security.

The gamification of cybersecurity training has allowed those of us with no prior knowledge, a chance to get a leg up. With increased demand to train existing staff, new training approaches must be made for the next generation of cybersecurity specialists. Gamifying the process made it easily digestible, directly benefitting any potential company or individual.

The first step in becoming educated on cybersecurity is understanding that there are threats present in our everyday lives. In the words of the man who gave us our initial walkthrough of Project Ares, Brad Wolfenden compared cybersecurity to buying a gallon of milk, saying:

“I believe that part of the disconnect around cybersecurity best practices comes from the assumptions we make as consumers in general – that what we’re buying is designed and sold with our best interests, and security, in mind … The food you buy and eat is certified by the Food & Drug Administration to indicate it has been safely grown/ raised and suitable for human consumption. When making technology purchases, we cannot take these same conveniences for granted.”

It is everyone’s ‘job’ to maintain high ethical standards and awareness when operating on the Internet nowadays. It is no longer up to one person or pre-installed software to protect your personal information. The more we are educated on the basic underlying principles of cybersecurity, the safer we will all be.

References

Oracle. “SECURITY IN THE AGE OF AI .” Oracle, 2018, www.oracle.com/a/ocom/docs/data-security-report.pdf.

Wolfenden, Brad. “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Celebrating National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.” Circadence, 30 Oct. 2018, www.circadence.com/national-cybersecurity-awareness-month/.

*Students R.J. LeBrun & Lorenzo Secola guest authored this blog post as part of their Research Associate Internship at Nichols College