Are You Game for Learning?


The staff at KEYSYS will be the first to admit that even though they write software code daily, coding itself is only a means to an end. When it came to a project they did for HudsonAlpha, the coding behind the project depicted an end of the worldof sorts.

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has a three-fold mission of conducting genomics-based research to improve human health and well-being, sparking entrepreneurship and economic development, and providing educational outreach to nurture the next generation of biotech researchers and entrepreneurs, as well as creating a biotech literate public.


Using a game to Teach About Careers

They need the next generation of bright young minds to consider the field of genomics. It seems that if you ask most junior and high school students what they want to be when they grow up, very few will answer “bioinformatician.” It’s not that they wouldn’t like the career; it’s more that they’ve never heard of it. That’s where HudsonAlpha’s partnership with KEYSYS began.

“The goal of the project was to develop a learning game to help high school and junior high school students practice using the tools in genetics and genomics,” said JB McAllister, CEO and Co-Founder of KEYSYS. “Through gameplay, students discover whether or not they would like to pursue a career in the bioinformatics field.”

Throughout a five-year engagement, KEYSYS created ‘Filtered,’ a learning game designed to expose students to the field.

“In the game, a pandemic is sweeping across the world, and the game players are part of a team of scientists working to contain the virus and stamp it out. Players look at the genetic profile and DNA to determine if the cause of the pandemic is a fungus, a pathogen, or microbacteria.”

Zac Bragg

Lead Game Designer, Senior Software Engineer, KEYSYS

Learning Through Playing

The game gives the player a glimpse into a bioinformatician’s day-to-day life. The story begins on day one when a player shows up to work at a fictitious company called Camden Pharmaceuticals. The player goes through orientation and is immediately put on the team to stop the pathogen spread.

According to Bragg, the real work on the project began before any of the work began. A five-year grant funded the game, and KEYSYS helped HudsonAlpha apply for and win the appropriation. The grant kicked off in 2019, and the first three years were spent developing the game. It went live in 2021, and the last two years of the grant focused on gameplay testing and refinement. 

Regarding the actual development, Bragg and Guy Archibald, a Senior Software Engineer at KEYSYS, used Unity 3D. 

“One of the unique elements of this project was the storytelling. We worked closely with HudsonAlpha to make artistic decisions about the characters in the gameplay. Many of those decisions were driven by the desire to create characters that connect with an audience of high schoolers. They can’t be all nerdy. They can’t be all slackers. You have to walk the line between ‘cool’ and ‘scientist,’ and they have to reflect the demographics of the players.”

Guy Archibald

Senior Software Engineer, KEYSYS

Teamwork Made the Game Work

The team from HudsonAlpha developed the characters and storyline, while the KEYSYS team developed the look of the lab and the locations for the game. The KEYSYS team also mapped out many of the story effects, such as music and sound effects, while Dr. Adam Hott at HudsonAlpha collaborated to provide the characters’ names, backstories, and artwork.

The game resides in the App Store. It is being deployed primarily by teachers in classrooms.

Players never see another essential element of the game. KEYSYS engineered a Teacher’s Portal where they can sign in and track progress on tests and challenges built into the game.

The game was so well-looked that Filtered won a “Best in STEM” award in 2023.

“While the product that goes out our door is software, I believe at heart we’re an engineering company. There’s a lot of technology and coding to our solutions, but there’s also a lot of art. We engineer solutions using code. We use software to solve problems.”

Jim Bob McAllister

Founder, CEO, KEYSYS