Sunday, April 20, 2008

Unusual Uses for Captivate et al

Visual help authoring tools like Captivate, Camtasia, and Mimic were initially designed for creating software-related “movies” showing how to use features or perform tasks in a piece of software. They’re great tools – easy to use, cheap enough (most in the $299 to $699 range) that they pose a real threat to “big” tools like Authorware and Toolbook, and flexible. That flexibility is one of the best features because it leads authors to use these tools in ways that the vendors perhaps never intended, or even thought of. For example:

Role-playing simulations – The tools make it easy to create role-playing sims like sales or HR training. Captivate 2 came with a sample that tested your skills as an automobile sales rep, and Captivate 3 comes with one that teaches interviewing skills. But these sims can cover almost any topic; in 2007, I created a sim that showed how to determine whether a baby’s diaper needed to be changed. (With apologies to my grand-niece Eleanor Ruby, aka Ellie Belly.)

Games – Your first response to the idea of using these tools to create games may be no. That was mine, until I realized that it simply depends on how you define “game”. In some ways, interactive role-playing or software sims are games – the difference lies largely in the tone. And these tools make it easy to create scorable “games.”

Comics – In early ‘07, an attendee in my Captivate class asked what I thought of the idea of using the tool to create anime-style comics. I was going to say that it didn’t seem appropriate until I remembered the evolution of my thoughts about using Captivate to create games. Depending on what you want to do, I see no reason why not to use these tools to create anime, or other types of comics.

One serendipitous thought about where to get graphics for your animated comics. Silke Fleischer, Adobe’s product manager for Captivate, mentioned in her blog ( the idea of creating a Second Life ( account and capturing the characters. This may be a lot of work initially if you can’t find someone who’s already using Second Life, but once you learn the software and create character(s), you effectively have your own animation studio.

Usability test recording – Less odd but more useful, these tools let you create your own usability test recording tools. One of the problems that I often hear regarding usability testing is the cost of the testing facility in general and tools in particular. In response to one question, I figured out how to use Captivate as a tool to record the results of software usability tests. It’s not perfect, but it does do a surprisingly good job. I write a tools column for the IEEE/PCS ( and, in November, 2006, wrote a column on that topic. I won’t repeat the details here, but I’ll be happy to send a copy of the column if you’re interested. If so, contact me at

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