Alex Yixuan Xu

learning experience design
︎ education
︎ digital accessibility
︎ playfulness

Design-centric Work

problem-solving, research, documentation
Accessible Groove Pizza
Bartending 101

Ec-centric Work

exploratory, conceptual, playful
Smile Machine
Content, Data, Space
Balance of Life
Follow Your Teacher
The Exorcism of a Forsaken Grudge
Double: Two Souls in One Body
Public Trashcan
Patrick’s Whatever Twitter Bot
IDM Showcase Posters
Draw N’ Chat
The Unknown Game Blog 

about ︎ + resume
instagram | linkedin | github

Bartending 101

Game for Learning Design, Design Research, 2019

A game for learning design documentation based on learning and design theories.


Bartending is more than serving drinks-it’s also about understanding customer needs and balance the timing of everything (conversing, taking/remembering orders, making drinks, serving drinks while preventing patrons from getting too drunk, managing customers, offering check & receiving tips). Bartenders need more than the technical skills of making drinks, but also need the emotional intelligence to understand customers and manage potential tensions with customers.  Bartending 101 aims to facilitate the understanding of this workflow while teaching common drink recipes. The game provides a basis of bartending knowledge in a more accessible way than bartending school and in a risk-free environment to practice working as a bartender. The game will help learners know what to expect and be better prepared before they start working professionally as a bartender.


Target Audience
Our primary target audience is someone who has no previous experience but is interested in working as a bartender and hopes to gain knowledge in common drink recipes and the workflow of bartending.

Our secondary target audience is anyone who is not necessarily interested in working in the service industry but enjoys and would like to learn more about the process of making cocktails.

Persona 1
Ethan is a 22 year old University Senior who has worked as a waiter since he was 16. While he has worked in restaurants with bars, he has never received training in bartending. He is considering getting a part-time job as a bartender to earn additional income. While Ethan aspires to be a bartender (as it pays more than his job as a waiter), he doesn’t feel confident enough with the drinks to ask for a bartending job. He wants something to teach him the basics before diving in head-first. He found it would be interesting to try out what it feels like to bartend by playing a game about the subject.

Persona 2
Ken is 38-year-old who just quit his job at a law firm because he found it to be a high-stress work environment. While he was a bartender in college, he hasn’t done so since. He enjoyed his time working in the service industry and would like to return to it as a simpler means of earning money. However, Ken feels a bit embarrassed that he seems to have forgotten a lot of what he knew when he was still bartending. He tries out the game to help him brush up on the basic cocktails so he’s not unprepared when trying to find a job.

Educational Objectives
Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, through Bartending 101, players will learn common drink recipes and use the right equipment to prepare the drinks. Players will be prompted for repeated practice, through which they will reinforce their memorization of the drink recipes and of their preparation process. Meanwhile, players will understand the basic workflow of bartending by balancing the timing between understanding customer demand, taking orders, preparing drinks, serving and managing the bar/customer relationship.

Players will apply their knowledge of the recipes and the workflow to real-life situation of bartending. They will analyze the real-life situation they are experiencing and reflect on what they learned through gameplay. They may adopt the tips or suggestions they learned in game to their situation such as conversing/offering water to prevent customers from getting too drunk. As players become more experienced in bartending, they may view Bartending 101 critically where they evaluate what in the game resonates with their situation and what doesn’t. Eventually, players have the opportunity to freely create and share their cocktail recipes in game, which can also be facilitated by their real-life practice.

Description of Content (level, scope)
Bartending 101 aims to facilitate the understanding of the basic bartending workflow while teaching common drink recipes. Players will learn a bartender’s basic workflow by balancing the time of different tasks to maximize customer satisfaction and will learn to deal with potential tensions to manage the bar. This activity can be engaging as it situates players in a simulated, risk-free context of bartending.

Considering the narrative design, players will be immersed into the stories of the customers through different conversation options, customer reactions and diverging storylines.

Bartending 101 uses scaffolding and limits the recipes the game teaches at 15 most common drink orders. A recipe book will be at the player’s disposal. Once the player has learned the basic 15 recipes, the player can access create mode where they can create customized drinks. They can also learn from their own research and the community of players about different recipes.

Bartending 101 will not be an exact reproduction of the unpredictable real-life situation of bartending, but will simulate the core workflow in a more accessible, playful manner. Players will need real-life practice but the game will help learners know what to expect and to be better prepared before they start working professionally as a bartender.

Market Analysis
Bartending VR Simulation

This is the most direct, modern competitor. While this game does teach players a good number of cocktail recipes, there is a high emphasis (primarily for silly, funny game play) on “flair bartending”, where you get higher tips for doing tricks with the equipment. According to my conversations with bartenders in real life, they describe this as not being true to their experience,and that getting good tips is more about establishing a rapport with the clients and serving them good, well-balanced cocktails.

The bar set-up relatively resembles real-life and players get to travel to different locations. VR technology enables players to mimic the motions of a bartender. However, there is no real interactions with the customers and players only deal with given orders. In addition, the fact that the game is in VR means it is not particularly accessible for users who do not own or are unable to afford the expensive equipment required.

Last Call!

This is another, less modern competitor (released in 2000). This game, like Bartender VR Simulator, gets the setup of a bartender right, and has a recipe book (which is common for new bartenders), and include interactions with customers (ID checking and even flirting). However, the game is limited in terms of interactivity as it is purely point-and-click and does not mimic the motions and mannerisms of a bartender. It is also limited in terms of the number of customers (20) and levels so the player may see repetitive customers/conversations.

The game has a lot of good elements we can adopt to, such as set up of the bar, timer, recipe book, and narratives of customers.

Bartender The Right Mix

While this game measures the right ingredients to put in a cocktail, the measuring system seems to be arbitrary for players. The game misses an exact goal or the cocktail to make. The game seems to assume players’ prior knowledge of cocktail recipes and allows players to freely create. After each session, the player is given a score, where the grading system seems subjective and random too. There are also no customers interactions in this game, you are serving the bartender himself, who can end up with funny scenes or reactions.

Nimble Strong

This iOS game seems to have an effective measuring system, and is clear about how much liquid is actually going into the glass. However, you do not have a traditional bartender’s setup. Rather, when a client gives you an order, you select from a pop-up menu the ingredients you need. You could argue that the game does effectively teach you about which ingredients go in which drink, but seems to be ineffective in granting the user the true feeling of being behind a bar.

While Tapper isn’t really a traditional bartending game (you’re not making drinks, just pouring beers), it is a time management game that can effectively portray what it feels like to be “in the weeds” with seemingly endless waves of patrons. You have to run back and forth to make drinks and keep everyone happy.

Drunken Masters
Like Bartender VR, it has a high emphasis on “flairing”. In fact the tutorial says it’s the “only way to keep guests happy while they wait for their drinks”. In actuality, many customers would see this as a waste of time and would just like their drinks as quickly as possible so they can return to the people they came out to see. The game fails to represent what bartending is really like. This game does, however, interestingly illustrate the “patience” of customers: the longer they wait, the less happy they are. The bar layout is quite clear for players to interact with.

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

This game mainly deals with the sci-fi stories and narratives and nails at what it feels like to talk to guests, and when to cut them off/serve them weaker drinks. As far as teaching about cocktails, however, the ingredients used in this game are fictional. This game does not teach you how to make drinks in actuality but is more a simulation about the interactions that take place as a bartender.

Overall, there are a number of games that are related to the topic of bartending, many of these games are great at one or two aspects of bartending, but it feels as though none of them are effective on giving the user an all-around effective communication of the workflow of a bartender and the interactions that take place at bars. We can adopt the bar setup from games like Last Call, the drink-mixing motion from VR, and a narrative/stories from interactions with the customers.


Overall Game Idea, incl. game genre, game rules, levels
Bartending 101 is a single-player roleplaying game where the player takes on the role of a newly employed bartender in a small NYC bar getting trained by a senior bartender.

There are unlimited levels in the game. Each day in game is a new level and the bar opens from 5pm to 4am (1 hour in game correspond to 1 minute in real life). The end of the day earnings are tips as a form of scores. The more satisfied the customers are, the better tips the player will receive. Customer satisfaction can be maintained by 1) getting their correct orders in time, 2) satisfying their special requests, 3) conversing with them, 4) recognizing regulars, and 5) gracefully handling situations such as two customers getting into an argument.

With internet access, players can view the online leaderboard of their performance. The player can click into other players’ profiles and view their custom recipes.

The game will teach how to make 15 most common cocktails gradually within the narrative of the senior bartender training the new player. The recipes, from simple to complex, will start with drinks that require only mixing ingredients, to ones that require shaking and then ones that require stirring. Players can use Practice Mode to get familiar with the recipes in a un-timed situation. The recipes will be added to the player’s reference manual that they can access during the game. However, accessing the manual may slow down player’s process of making drinks.

  When clicked, expand to ->

Level 1 Day 1
Recipes: Whiskey Ginger, Gin and Tonic, Vodka Soda

Introducing mixing ingredients by dragging and holding ingredients near the container.

On day 1, the senior bartender Matt will come introduce himself and familiarize the player with the basic bar set up and game rules: 1) bar opens from 5pm to 4am, 2) player’s aim is to maintain customer satisfaction to maximize tips, 3) player can reference recipe book when making drinks.

The player will learn the basic workflow of bartending and means to maintain customer satisfaction including:
  • Taking orders in time
  • Chatting with patrons by tapping the conversation options
  • Mixing drinks and serving to customers in time
  • When a customer is getting too drunk, Matt will come back and notify the player to not make customers too drunk and offer them water instead.

Level 2 Day 2
Recipes: Tom Collins, Daiquiri, Cosmopolitan

Introducing shaking drinks by shaking the devices.

On day 2, Matt comes back, greets and adds items to the recipe book. the player starts with the usual workflow.

On this day, the player will encounter a situation where there is a familiar face among customers. Matt comes back and notifies player that recognizing returning customers and their frequent order by chatting with them can increase customer satisfaction.

Level 3 Day 3
Recipes: Aperol Spritz, Moscow Mule, Old Fashioned

Introducing stirring drinks by dragging on-screen elements in a circular motion

On this day, the player will encounter a situation where a customer doesn’t know exactly what they want. Matt comes back and teaches the player that they should chat and try to understand customers’ favorite flavors and make a drink according to those flavors.

Level 4 Day 4
Recipes: Margarita, Mojito, Manhattan

Introducing muddling ingredients by fast tapping on screen

Level 5 Day 5
Recipes: Negroni, Martini, Dirty Martini

Once players have learned all the basic 15 recipes, they can access Create Mode and the online recipe sharing platform. They may use the custom recipes in their own game. In Create Mode, players can make their own custom drinks to be written in the recipe book, and then tag the drink with descriptive adjectives such as “refreshing”, “fruity”, “dark” etc. These tags will be used in game. They can choose to share their recipes with their own descriptions/comments.

After the introductory stage of the game (after level 5), there will be random events where the player needs to react to. For example: 1) two customers starting to argue and disturbing others, 2) a customer is making an unprompted, drunken advances on another female customer, 3) a customer is being particular picky about the drinks

Bartending 101 will be available on iPads and other tablets. The minimum requirement is IOS system 9.0 with available storage space of 500MB. This is because we want to simulate certain cocktail-making hand motions (such as shaking) while still make the game accessible through widely used platforms and devices.

Aesthetic Design & Storyboards
Aesthetic Design
The aesthetic theme for the game is pixel art.

1. Ethan opens Bartending 101 for the first time on his iPad. He landed on the opening page and enjoyed the pixel graphics. He tapped “start” and began a new game.

2. The senior bartender, Matt, came to guide Ethan through the basics of the game.

3. Ethan learned what equipment/ingredients are at his disposal and mixed his first drink: a gin and tonic for Matt. He also learned two other recipes.

4. After level two, Ethan learned the skill of shaking cocktails, and 3 new recipes.

5. After level three, Ethan learned the skill of stirring cocktails, and 3 new recipes.

6. After levels 4 and 5, Ethan learned 6 more cocktails. Ethan also became more familiar with the workflow of bartending and understood the potential situations he may encounter at a bar

7. Ethan was also able to put together custom cocktails that he found online and put them into the game to continue to be a better, creative bartender.

8. After playing the game for 20 levels, Ethan became confident enough to start applying for bartending jobs.

Game Mechanics (User Interactions) with Wireframes

Description of Player Experience (Walk-through)
  1. Player taps Bartending 101 icon on their tablet
  2. Player taps “Start” to begin a new game./ taps “Continue” to continue their progress
  3. Player taps yellow exclamation mark to start conversing with the character on screen.
  4. Player taps option “take order”
  5. Player chooses to tap once on each bar item to read more about their name/descriptions.
  6. Player taps on yellow recipe book icon to read
  7. Player drags equipment and ingredients onto bar mat
    1. Player drag and hold to add ingredients
    2. Player taps and shake tablet to shake the drinks
    3. Player move finger in a circular motion to stir the drinks
    4. Player taps fast repeatedly to muddle the ingredients
  8. Player drags garnishes to glass on bar mat
  9. Player drags the final drink to character
  10. Player taps on character and taps on option “offer check”
  11. Player taps on money icon on bar table to receive tips

Link to Bartending 101 prototype.

Incentive System
The game has several ways to provide incentives for the player:

To build situated interest of the player, the game mimics a bartender’s workflow and provides immediate feedback of the player’s actions. For example, the player shaking their device will in turn, shake the drinks in game. The pixel art aesthetic of the game may also be an attraction for the player as it builds up the situated interest. The player can be immersed in the roleplaying

The narrative design can also be an incentive for the player. The player will be able to build a rapport with the customers through conversation options. They can get to know the customers and their stories by constant engagement.

For goal-oriented players, they can be incentivized by the scoring system, aka the cumulative tips they receive. They may also be encouraged by the competition through the online leaderboard. They will hope to maximize their performance to achieve a better score.

Player may also feel a sense of achievement by completing a level of gameplay, especially after a good challenge where a number of customers are presented at the same time and the player manages to maintain customer satisfaction.


Based on Evidence-Centered Design and Theory of Change, we defined our learners as having no prior or limited knowledge of bartending and cocktail-making,

Learner Model
Evidence Model
Task Model
Presentation Model
Familiarity of common 15 cocktail recipes & process of making them
Remembering recipes and being able to follow the process of making the drinks
Making the drinks according to recipes and repeat the practice
Recipe book, ingredients and equipment are provided. Each has an icon where player can tap or drag to interact with
Basic workflow of bartending
Understanding what to do at a certain time, such as knowing when to take a customer’s order and when to cut them off from drinking
Given limited time, decide what to do at a given time
Customer characters will show up on screen and their emotions will be displayed. A satisfaction bar will be displayed for each. Players will pick from interaction and conversation options
Emotional intelligence to deal with unforeseen situation among customers
Respond to situations while maintaining customer satisfaction in general
Give a situation, and provide limited options for the player to decide what to do next
Player will pick from interaction and conversations options with the customers that will diverge the outcome

Cognitive Design
Bartending 101 situates learners in a risk-free environment that stimulates a real bartending situation. Feedback is provided for every user action. With greater performance, comes better rewards in tips.

Using cognitive apprenticeship theory and cognitive load theory, the game gradually teaches recipes and limit the amount to basic 15 common recipes. The techniques to make the drinks are also being taught gradually from simple mixing to shaking and eventually to stirring more complex drinks. But the player has the options to learn custom/community generated recipes at their own pace  depending on how much information they want to take in. The game also gradually introduces the game rules/mechanics among the first 5 levels, from basic workflow to teaching the player to cater to customized customer demand.

The game uses scaffolding, where the player is initially guided by a senior bartender who is gradually fading out as the player become more experienced. The player has a recipe book for reference, which they can choose to use or not.

Following Information design and visual design/semiotics, the items within the bar settings in game represent the real-world items, such as liquors, glasses, garnishes etc. For the in-game UI, the reference recipe book is represented by a notebook icon. Players are also prompted to click on the exclamation mark to start conversing with characters or are signaled to deal with random events.

Certain actions in game require the player’s gestures and movements, such as shaking motion require the player to shake their device, and stirring action requires the player to drag their finger on screen in a circular motion. These can reinforce their understanding of the drink-mixing process and techniques.

According to cognitive flexibility, players need to juggle between different tasks such as making drinks while dealing with customers. They will need to use both their technical knowledge of mixing drinks and the emotional intelligent skills to manage customers and deal with random situations.

Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, through Bartending 101, players will experience stages of their learning. They will learn common drink recipes and using the right equipment to prepare the drinks by repeated practice and memorization. Meanwhile, players will understand the basic workflow of bartending by balancing the timing between different tasks managing the bar/customer relationship. Players will apply their knowledge of the recipes and the workflow to real-life situation of bartending. They will analyze the real-life situation they are experiencing and reflect on what they learned through gameplay. They may adopt the tips or suggestions they learned in game to their situation. As players become more experienced in bartending, they may view Bartending 101 critically where they evaluate what in the game resonates with their situation and what doesn’t. Eventually, players have the opportunity to freely create and share their cocktail recipes in game, which can also be facilitated by their real-life practice.

Affective Design
The game provides simple personalization where a name is asked and used throughout the game. As the player becomes more experienced, they can freely create their own cocktail recipes to be used in the game and assign them flavors. Serving their own custom drinks to patrons can be meaningful for the player and offers a sense of achievement.

Expectancy-value principle guides the design that when the player perform well (respond to demand in time, create well-balanced cocktails, and deal with urgent situation gracefully), they will see the customers to be more satisfied, build a relationship, and receive better tips as rewards.

Based on self-determination theory, the game will encourage competence, relatedness and autonomy of the player. Since the recipes and game rules are taught gradually, the player will feel competent enough to move on to greater challenges in a more bustling setting. As the player becomes more familiar with the workflow, they will feel more competent in managing the tasks both technically and socio-emotionally. The player is motivated by both the external reward in the form of tips and their self-interest in the topic of bartending. The player is situated in a simulated bartending environment where they can be related to their real-life experience.

Considering the emotional design, the game has trendy, consistent pixel art visuals and allows for custom music importing. The narrative of the game through the player’s conversations with characters may also establish their emotional connection to the game.

Social Design

The game offers a competition element through online leaderboard, a ranking of cumulative tips. Goal-oriented players may be encouraged to work through more levels and better their performance.

Bartender 101 facilitates the community of practice through the in-game recipe sharing platform. Players can make comments on each other’s recipes regrading how they are using in their own game or relate these creative recipes to real-life cocktail making.

The game can easily be adopted into multiplayer mode with two players. It is also a common practice to have multiple bartenders working together in real-life situations. They can work together, split the tasks and aim to maximize their shared income. This can encourage social facilitation among the two players.

Narrative Design
In Bartending 101, player will role play a newly employed bartender at a small yet bustling NYC bar getting trained by a senior bartender Matt. The player will also encounter a variety of different customers and getting to know their personal stories through conversations.

Senior bartender Matt is the first character the player will encounter. As a guidance character, his tone is friendly and encouraging, for example:
  • “Hey! I’m here to show you the ropes”
  • “You’re really slinging drinks here, good job!”
  • “I really like that custom cocktail, I might just add it to the menu!”

The player will also be in conversations with everyday customers who aren’t quite sure which drink they want:
  • “I’m looking for something light and fruity!”
  • “It’s so hot today, give me something refreshing.”
  • “I’m looking for a nice nightcap, give me something dark and bitter.”

The player will also engage in conversation and learn more about them, particularly people who frequent the bar:
  • “I’m Nick, I’ve been coming here for a few years now. I’m a photographer by day, I take a lot of headshots for actors.”
  • “I’m Dani, I’m a waitress at the restaurant around the corner. I like to come here after my shift to relax.”
  • “I’m Tony, I’ve lived in the neighborhood all my life. I see new places crop up and then close down all the time. I’m glad to see this place has stuck through it all. Always happy to see a new face here carrying the torch.”

The player will also encounter unforeseen situations that require interference:
  • An unprompted advance on another patron: “Hey, you’re looking sexy, let me buy you some drinks.”
  • A customer angry about being cut off: “I’m entitled to be here! You have to serve me drinks!”
  • A customer not satisfied with a drink you make them: “UGH! I said something dark. I don’t like this drink, make me a new one!”