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How might we use advancements in AR technology to improve the game experience for patients, while still prioritizing safety and health goals?



ARISE by Spellbound AR is an augmented reality game app for iOS and Android designed to help pediatric patients ambulate, or move around, after surgeries and procedures. The AR game app is combined with a physical reef mat, 10 repositionable wall decals, and the device to create an interconnected experience for the user, blurring the physical and virtual.


Its subscription-based model utilizes Vumarks to generate beautiful, mosaic-style QR codes as wall decals to activate the product license and generate the AR portal technology. See the app and learn more at


FEBRUARY 1 - MAY 27, 2021

JUNE 2021



ARKit and ARCore opened up a whole new world of possibilities for ARISE.

Because more and more devices have ARKit and ARCore, we could explore augmented reality on devices without relying on the traditional diorama view - what ARISE was using when I first arrived at Spellbound.

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We chose portal-based AR using spatial tracking over LIDAR-based technology due to its wide availability on mobile devices. In a few years, however, LIDAR will be the standard on most mobile phones which will prompt another major update.

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Here is a view of the 8 foot tall portal experience at 10 feet away from the target. Notice that there is a distinct doorway feel, making the player feel as if they are taking a peek into an underwater Narnia as they approach the portal.

I incorporated much sight and perception research when determining the viewing angle width, size, and placement of our AR portals so that players truly felt like that were walking into something magical.

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Video of an early prototype of the portal system

Players need to feel like they were part of the underwater experience without getting hurt.

Initially, we considered a 360 degree, fully immersive AR experience that provided a semi-transparent blue overlay to the real world to simulate the ocean.

However, that wasn't safe in a hospital room.

With the portal system, patients are immersed but not unaware of reality, decreasing the likelihood that they will run into obstacles.

The portals are also programmed to shut off when a player gets within 10 inches of the wall target decal so they don't hit their heads on the walls.

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Challenge #1: Player Guidance

Playtesters continued to remark that the new technology created some confusion on how to use the game. Because of this, we added bubbles with player guidance that floated up strategically when needed. We continued to use the bubble modal to develop recognition for player guidance based on heuristics.

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Quests in the tasking system didn't always take place in the same portal where they were assigned. Because of this, we added an image of the corresponding wall target decal to the quest requirements.

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Challenge #2: Reliance on Practitioners

Practitioners, our other persona type, expected ARISE to help alleviate some of their workloads. However, the previous versions of ARISE often couldn't keep track of the targets, which made onboarding and troubleshooting an ongoing labor. 


In addition, the app was not narrated at all, so any patient who couldn't read well or was an English language learner needed continuous assistance from adults. Caregivers can't always be present, so ARISE needed to be playable by children on their own.

Sometimes a UX solution isn't what we typically think of as UX at all. To solve this problem, I managed a project to narrate all 11 characters in the span of two weeks using SpellBound employees as voice actors.

I also edited all the audio files (50-60 per character) in Adobe Audition and uploaded each file to its corresponding dialogue in Unity, revising text as needed.

I helped clean up the code in the dialogue to remove tags for player and reef names that could no longer be individually customized.

While these aren’t typical UX jobs to be done, in a startup everyone has to pitch in, and I was happy to do my part while also learning more about how the game is produced in Unity so that I could better anticipate challenges to implementation in the future.

Pro Playtesters loved the changes, and we're improving even more patient outcomes.

Interviews with our pro playtesters showed that we were solving their high priority issues with ARISE. I was able to conduct unmoderated playtesting with experienced users of ARISE followed by interviews. I wrote the protocols for both the playtesting and the interviews.

I chose to test with experienced users because new users tend to get swept up in the excitement of augmented reality and persevere/overlook issues in the game. This group of experienced users has implemented ARISE in their hospitals and gave deeper insights into how it would work practically with patients.

Narration was cited as the biggest improvement to the usability of the app by all study participants. Ongoing feedback from patients and practitioners continues to be overwhelmingly positive.


This upgrade was part of the version 10 release in June 2021, which is measured by usage of unique player IDs and length of playtime (measured in 60 second heartbeats) to demonstrate value for hospitals.

While I no longer have access to the actual data, SpellBound has confirmed that they've seen significant progress in the app usage and qualitative evidence of improved patient outcomes.

SpellBound is conducting NIH-funded medical trials to prove its effectiveness. They are currently in Stage 2 clinicial FDA trials. Read more about their past and current medical research here.

This is just one of many, many projects I worked on for Spellbound. Please don't hesitate to ask me about other work!

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