Freedom Festival 2020 – By Tide of Humber

This weekend is Freedom Festival. Last year we were having an amazing time running the largest ever Earth Arcade in a big tent in the centre of Hull, talking to hundreds, if not thousands, of people about the environment and the research of the Energy and Environment Institute. It seems such a long time ago now and it seems even longer before we’ll be able to run our Earth Arcade again.

Part of our Earth Arcade at Freedom Festival 2020

We love Freedom Festival and have run our virtual reality activities during the Festival in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Honestly, it doesn’t feel right when we don’t get to play. This year’s Freedom Festival is fully online and even though we don’t have an Earth Arcade or are able to place headsets on people, we still have been involved in some of the activities for the Festival.

On Saturday 9th September, watch out for a cameo by Chris Skinner as a “real scientist”, as part of The Reset Lab’s Crazy Ideas programme, 3-5pm BST.

However, our main involvement has been behind the scenes of By Rising Tide of Humber. This brand new 360 video experience has been created by the University of Hull (led by Stewart Mottram) and BetaJester Ltd, funded by XR Stories. In the experience you meet poet Andrew Marvell in streets of 17th Century Hull, witnessing the flooding that he described within his works. The video can be viewed below and you can read more about the project here.

The view of 17th Century Hull, created by BetaJester using our computer model.

Unusually for us, we were not involved in the creation of the 360 experience itself, instead we used our expertise in using computer models to simulate flooding to recreate the descriptions within Andrew Marvell’s poetry. The flooding you see in the experience has been created using the outputs of our model.

To be able to do this, we needed to recreate 17th Century Hull to use in our model. The most difficult part was actually creating the land the city sits on, with our data coming from the present day and many changes having occurred in nearly 400 years, including building forward into the Estuary. Another issue was that although the data we used had been processed to show land surfaces only, the footprints of buildings and roads were still present and we needed to filter these out. Using this data along with historic maps of the city, we created contour lines for the 17th Century and produced our land surface from this.

The surface data for modern Hull. You can clearly still see the footprints of buildings and roads but we needed a smooth surface. The blue lines show the position of the waterfront during the 17th Century, further inland than the present day waterfront. The red lines show the 17th Century fortifications, an imprint still seen in the modern city, around the docks and Old Town.

The next step was to create the city itself. We added building, walls, roads, drains, and moats using a historical map that had been ‘georeferenced’ by research assistant, Helen Manning. She used identifiable features, such as road junctions and buildings that still exist, to stretch the image over a modern map. Working with Briony McDonagh, we used the map and historical records to add the heights and depths of these features to the land surface we had created.

Finally, we needed a flood. For this we used data for the 2013 storm surge taken from our Humber model. As sea levels were a little lower in the 17th Century we adjusted the water levels down slightly to account for this. We combined all the data together to produce the model in the video below. We then passed all this on to Betajester Ltd and they did their usual VR magic!

Crabby’s Reef – Out now!

Today is World Oceans Day, a day to reflect on the importance of the oceans and marine life. Sadly, it is also a day to reflect upon the damage we are doing them. We are all aware of the dumping of plastics into the ocean and the spread of micro-plastics, however, most of us are probably not aware of the hidden impacts of climate change on the oceans – ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is caused when CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. The CO2 reacts with sea water creating carbonic acid. The large quantities of CO2 human activity is dumping into the atmosphere is increasing the amount absorbed by the oceans, causing the ocean waters to become more acidic over time. This all has impacts on ocean environments, like reefs, and can cause marine mammals difficulties in finding food and shelter.

Despite the potentially devastating impacts of ocean acidification, a study found that almost 75 % of the British public had never even heard of it.

Dr Christina Roggatz is a researcher at the Energy and Environment Institute and her work has been highlighting the impacts ocean acidification has on marine life, such as crabs. She has been taking her research into schools and providing students the opportunity to conduct their own experiments to better understand the issue. We worked together, supported by our friends at BetaJester, to produce our new game, Crabby’s Reef.

Crabby’s Reef is our first classic arcade-style game. You play as Crabby, a crab, and you need to collect food to keep your health up. You also have to avoid the octopuses that would make you dinner. The game play should be familiar but there is a twist – with each new level the acidification of the water increases a little, dampening your senses, making it harder to find food and avoid predators.

The game is not meant to teach you everything about ocean acidification, although there is more information on our game page, but we hope it will introduce the issue more widely and start some conversations. We also hope you have fun.

Crabby’s Reef is available to play on PC now on our site – visit the game page here.

This World Oceans Day we encourage you to support The Deep. The Deep is an international player in marine conservation, working on pioneering research schemes to protect the future of our oceans. Conservation is at the heart of everything they do. Without visitors during the Covid-19 lockdown, The Deep have lost valuable income required to continue this work. We urge you to please support them in any way you feel appropriate – visit their site – buy from their gift shop – donate directly.

Classic arcade booths (image by Steve Miller, used under license).

We have big plans for Crabby’s Reef. We have secured funding from the European Geoscience Union to construct an arcade booth to house the game so once public events begin once more, we will be able to take Crabby on tour. The aim was always to make a virtual reality game for Crabby, a game that would show you the impact on Crabby’s world first-hand – this is the next step for the project and something we are currently seeking funding for.

Hope you enjoy the game, please don’t beat my high score!

Chris Skinner

Learn from home – modelling sea level rise and flooding video

We hope you are all keeping yourselves as safe as possible during the current period. We are very much missing being out and about and sharing our games and activities with everyone. To help share some of our work, Chris will be making short video tutorials and the first revisits the very beginnings of the SeriousGeoGames Lab and how we model the impacts sea level rise will have on flood risk.

The model used by Chris in the video is the Beta version of Humber in a Box (our first virtual reality activity) as used at Hull SciFest in 2014. The model code and data from this model were used by the developers to build into Unity-3D and add the beautiful, immersive, graphics. Sadly, Humber in a Box can no longer be used but you can get an idea of what it was like in the video below.

To go alongside the new tutorial, we are making the files for Humber in a Box Beta available so you can try it at home. It should run reasonably well on any modern PC. For a guide on how to get it running, skip to 10 minutes through the tutorial. Files can be downloaded from here.

Don’t forget to check out our previous post on how to use Flash Flood! from home too.

Enjoy and stay safe!

Try Flash Flood! at home

We find ourselves in difficult and testing times. We would love to be out there and sharing our games and virtual reality simulations with everyone but we at home doing the right thing. But, that doesn’t mean we cannot share some of games with you and we’ll be sharing these as we can.

Flash Flood

Flash Flood! has been our flagship activity for many years and has seen several iterations. There are several ways you can enjoy it from home, the easiest being the 360 videos available on YouTube. These can be viewed on a Desktop, where you can navigate the direction of view using your mouse, but are best viewed on a Tablet or Phone (via the YouTube app NOT a browser) where you can change the direction of view by moving your device.

There are two versions. One with narration to guide you through –

And one with just sound effects intended for use in classes where someone will guide the group –

If you’re viewing on a phone and have a cardboard headset, click the google icon on the screen and place your phone into the headset for a VR-like experience.

Obviously, the best way to experience Flash Flood! is to play it. You can do this too by downloading the Desktop version. This was designed to work on a reasonably low spec of PC and can be operated with either an XBOX controller or just a keyboard and mouse.

Download the files from SourceForge here. If you have an XBOX controller choose FlashFloodDesktopInstall.exe and FlashFloodDesktopNoRadialsInstall.exe if you do not. Controls can be found in the Flash Flood Quick Start and Controls PDF document.

Whichever method you choose, the Living Manual (also in SourceForge) provides some background information, guidance for using it, and advice for using it in teaching. This document has not been updated for a while and we will be reviewing it in the next few days. We welcome submission of ideas of how to use these simulations to include in the Living Manual, if you’d like to contribute please contact us at seriousgeogames at hull dot ac dot uk.

We’d also love to hear your suggestions for content you’d like to see from us, feel free to ask and we’ll try our best. Keep yourselves safe and happy.

Chris Skinner

Earth Arcade @ Freedom Festival 2019

August 31st and September 1st, 11 am to 6 pm, Queen’s Gardens, Hull

We have some very exciting news! The Earth Arcade is coming to Hull’s Freedom Festival!

Freedom Festival is THE event in Hull. It all began in 2007 in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, an act passed after decades of work by Hull-born independent MP, William Wilberforce. Since 2007 it has grown massively, and in 2018 the festival had over 130,000 visitors.

“Excellent arts and culture can change lives and communities, by transmitting fundamental human values and inspiring all ages to embrace and celebrate freedom. We’ve seen it. It may be no surprise then that our ambition is founded on the legacy of Hull-born freedom advocate, William Wilberforce” – Freedom Festival website.

21219168896_a15fe8155a_b

Chris demoing Humber in a Box at Freedom Festival 2015

SeriousGeoGames has been involved in three previous Freedom Festivals, starting in 2015 when we demoed Humber in a Box, and including 2016 when the virtual reality version of Flash Flood! was demoed to the public for the first time. With the Earth Arcade, we have the perfect opportunity to take things to the next level, and the Earth Arcade at Freedom Festival really will be something special.

The name Earth Arcade is meant to loosely evoke a sense of Arcadia – a mythical utopia where human society and the natural world live together in harmony. This is the future we hope for, the future we are striving to build, and we hope to inspire others to come with us on that journey. To create our mini-Arcadia we have teamed up with colleagues from the University’s School of the Arts to design the exhibit.

We will be exploring the impacts of the world’s most pressing environmental issues through our activities Flash Flood! Vol.2, Plastic Fishing, Top Trumps: Rivers, and small games on our Ipad stations. You will be able to find out how climate change and sea level rise will impact our city, Hull, and the wider Humber through our new and improved Rising Tide game on our big screen.

The forest

Freedom Festival will also see the debut of an exciting new activity space. The Forest is something a bit different to the rest of the Earth Arcade, and sci-comm in general. It is a quieter, reflective, and mindful space where people can sit and think about nature, with a small library of stories and ideas and crafts and workshops to inspire people to engage with nature more. We will be using theatrical and scenographic techniques to help people engage, such as interactive soundscapes.

Finally, we will be offering advice on how people can respond to the environmental issues explored, offering them the chance to sign up to becoming an Earth Arcade Champion by committing to making small changes in their own lives.

It is going to be brilliant and we hope to see you there!

Resilience – Development of a Card Game

I’ve been working on a prototype card game for SeriousGeoGames for a while now. The game, with the working title Resilience, sees players take control of a city and its surrounding area with the aim of staying in that job until the end of the game. The catch is there is another player with their own city also trying to reach that goal. With the ability to make events happen in each other’s cities, you each pose a threat to the other’s political survival.

Although I toyed with the idea of having multiple stresses to deal with, the game just got too unwieldy, so the focused down on flooding as the main hazard. Players can build defences, enact resilience measures, or implement things purely as they are popular – if they want to be aggressive, they can send a storm towards a rival city. Through playing the game, players will learn about the complexity of flood defence from physical, societal, and political perspectives.

360 time lapse of players trying an early version of Resilience at the EGU 18 Games Night.

The game is designed to be a deck builder, so rather than each having the same deck of cards players can choose a pile from their collection allowing them to try different strategies. I’m designing the game to have enough layers – through use of cards, dice, and tokens – that there will be numerous styles of play possible. The main goal of the design is for the game to be fun, with plenty of replay value, yet the deck building aspect adds in a further dimension – collectability.

I still have piles of Pokemon and Star Wars cards from when I was a kid, even though I never played either as a game. When I get free packs of cards in gaming magazines for games I will never play, I keep them. Especially the ‘shinies’. There is something tactile and attractive about a well-designed, crisp, high quality card, and this is something I want to tap into with Resilience.

My rubbish PowerPoint mock up (left), and Kelly’s design to use on the back of the cards (right). A big improvement!

Enter Kelly Stanford, Sci Artist. I’d been looking for an artist for a few months and seen some nice work, but no one seemed quite right for the game. Then I came across Kelly’s work on her Twitter and was blown away. She is a specialist in making science-based art and has worked on numerous public engagement projects, working in a range of styles from sculpture, hyper-realistic, and cartoon. She’s also a gamer and after a coffee meeting at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry it was clear she got what I trying to achieve.

I commissioned her at the beginning of the year to develop the designs, and Kelly has wasted no time producing great designs for the cards – nothing like my rubbish PowerPoint efforts! So far we have the awesome logo for the back of the cards, a card template, and some concepts for the card types.

My original card template (left), Kelly’s template design (middle), and Kelly’s concept sketches.

I’m hoping to try out the first full prototype combining game and art designs at the EGU Games Night on April 10th, and after that I’m still not sure where it will go. There are several options to look at for production and dissemination, such as getting funding for a limited run, crowdfunding, getting a commercial backer, or simply releasing the game in a PDF to print your own cards. The game is designed so that additional decks can be added to the initial deck to add further complexity and variety, and I plan on offering bespoke limited edition shiny cards for events and projects.

I’m really excited about this project. I think the game has the potential to not only be fun but really help with the communication of flood risk management and its complexities and challenges. There is nothing quite like a game for putting you in someone else’s shoes. Keep an eye on this blog and Kelly’s blog for further news about Resilience.

Building the Picade – A Raspberry Pi Powered Arcade Machine

By Chris Skinner

The resolutions you make at New Year are very rarely met and even rarer is for a New Year’s resolution to be successfully completed before the year has barely got started. However, my resolution to build my own retro gaming arcade cabinet has been completed way before schedule.

My starting point was a book by John St.Clair ‘Project Arcade: Build Your Own Arcade Machine’. This tome is over 500 pages of essential guidance, advice and plans for how to make your own arcade machine from scratch and comes with a CD containing plans for different cabinet designs. However, after reading a couple of chapters I concluded I would need some more basic skills before I tried making my own.

imag0929

A bit of googling and I came across the answer to my problem – the Picade. This beautiful little thing is a build-yourself mini-arcade cabinet in kit form – just add a Raspberry Pi. I promptly ordered both a Picade and a Pi 3 starter kit and waited impatiently for them to arrive. The Pi arrived first so I got playing, installing an operating system and getting it onto the internet, which surprisingly easy to do.

The Picade arrived in a gorgeous box and the components had been packaged sepaerately based on their function. I had to wait a few days before I had time to build it, so I would occasionally takes bits out and just look at them, waiting for the time to build. I also got a pack of cool stickers which now adorn the Earth Arcade flight cases.

The build took me an evening. The instructions are printed on a poster and you have to take care to follow the separate errata sheet. I found early on I was struggling to follow the written instructions, but the manufacturers have a YouTube video which takes you through the build and I found this extremely helpful.

The artwork which comes with the cabinet is on printed sheets of cards sandwiched between two clear pieces of Perspex. There are three sections – surrounding the screen, and keypad console, and the top section which overhangs the screen. I like this as it would be very easy to customise, for example to add Earth Arcade branding…

The Picade is designed to work with the RetroPie operating system which includes emulators for all sorts of retro consoles – essentially the first Playstation and anything older. The kit comes with a ‘hat’ which is an extra circuit board which sits on top of the Pi, and it has spaces for you to plug all the wires for the controls, buttons and speaker into, and is pre-programmed to be able to use all of these in RetroPie – this is brilliant for novices like myself. Similarly, there’s a piece of kit which sits between the Pi and the screen which sorts out all the magic for you. My only issues were I was little too firm connecting up the speaker and the power button and damaged the connectors – the speaker works fine, but my power button is lightless and lifeless. I got around this last issue by using a chisel to widen the access hole at the back to use the power button on the hat itself.

imag0985

The build was a great challenge and I am dead chuffed with the end result. Getting RetroPie and games onto it was straightforward too once I’d found some instructions online. However, navigating the legal grey areas of abandonware and intellectual property of old games is not so straightforward, and I’m still not sure what I can use and how to obtain game files legally. This won’t be a problem if you made your own games however.

Now, I need a new resolution to keep me going until 2020…