Flood Defender – Developer Report

A few weeks ago we heard from the SEED Masters students working on developing TideBox. This post hears from another group developing Flood Defender, a gamified version of a long-standing flood risk management practical used in the Geohazards module at the University of Hull. Flood Defender will merge our hydraulic model with the Unreal 3D gaming engine and allow people to test their own flood defence schemes – can they stop the Uncanny Valley city from flooding, and can they do it within budget? Let’s hear how they are getting on – 

Flood Practical Gamification also known as Flood Defender is a flood simulation that takes place in the fictional Uncanny Valley city (but is based on the real city of Carlisle) which implements a simplified CAESAR-Lisflood model. The project presents many challenges and within this blog post we the developers of Flood Defender would like to talk about these challenges and experiences.

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The first challenge as a team was to familiarise ourselves with Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) which is the chosen games engine the project had previously been developed on. None of us had any prior experience and this is a constant on-going learning experience for the team throughout the development.

Another challenge the team faced was to understand the existing project as we inherited it, making improvements to the existing implementation where necessary, and continuing the progress. This is made more complicated due to a lack of design and technical documentation being passed on from previous project.

Each member of the team had different primary responsibility which they spearheaded and collaborate with fellow members to accomplish; we have Adam that works on the UI (User Interface), Christopher whom works on the flood defences, and Alex who is working on the flood model. Despite these roles each of us worked closely together to ensure each member is moving forward and is remained informed on recent changes as part of our team development strategies.

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“Working on the flood game has been an exciting new challenge for me. I was attracted to this project due the fact it was using the Unreal engine. It was a chance for me to learn a new engine and have the responsibilities of working in a team. My main responsibilities has been UI development and Zoning cost calculations. I’ve enjoyed my role in the project and look forward to future development on this.”  – Adam Davies

“The only single word I could use to describe my time on this project would be ‘Experience’, working with unreal challenged me, as my previous experience was using libraries such as DirectX and openGL. Having the chance to work using a full environment game engine was exciting to say the least.

My main responsibilities on the project began as fixing issues which existed from the previous project. This mainly consisted of limited implemented features and completely broken implemented features, most of which were associated with reset functionality of the application.

Further into the project my role changed, I began implementing features relating to flood defences. To gain a good idea of the client’s needs, multiple methods which may be used were prototyped and demonstrated, and the preferred method is being further developed into a fully implemented feature.” – Christopher Atkinson

“My main responsibility is the CAESAR-Lisflood model and this is an extremely challenging endeavour for me as I have no experience in this field. It has however been extremely satisfying for me to research this topic, reviewing existing implementations and trying to adapt the model code correctly into the flood game” – Alex Dos Santos

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We’ve been given the fortunate experience on working on such a great project and we’ve always focused on delivering the best we can to the development of the project. We have aimed from day one to leave the project in a much better state then when we initially received it and we feel as a team that we have and continue to do this. This experience has taught us, as developers, many valuable lessons that we will go on to take to our future careers.

Thank you for reading,

Adam Davies, Christopher Atkinson and Alex Dos Santos – Flood game developer team of 17-18

TideBox Developer Report

TideBox is one of several development projects we have ongoing. It is being developed by Seed Software students in Computer Science, University of Hull, and they are currently working in a ‘sprint’ period where they dedicate a chunk of their time to the project. They sent us a report for the blog to summarise their progress, but first, check out the video they send showing the development scene –

TideBox (Humber in a Box 2) is a user-interactive application designed for demonstration purposes to simulate the Lisflood hydrodynamic model in real-time using Unreal Engine 4, C++ and Blueprints.

The current build features the use of a custom built data parser that allows us to take real-world DEM terrain and hydrological data of the Humber area and convert it into a .csv format that can be easily imported into Unreal Engine 4 and read into the application at run-time using Blueprints.

TideBox Screenshot 3

The heightmap data is then mapped onto a procedural mesh during a process in which each vertex’s position is deformed in the Z-direction (up) in order to generate a realistic terrain mesh that stands as a recreation of the imported data.

The data pipeline that enables this to happen has been purposely designed to be highly flexible and should allow for a wide range of data domains to be imported without issue.

Around the simulation room are a variety of panels that display useful information about the current scenario. In the first scenario, these include: old maps of Hull and the surrounding area as well as various facts about tidal flow.

TideBox Screenshot 4

There are three camera modes featured in the current build: the visitor camera, the table camera and the floating camera.

  1. The visitor camera acts as the default camera and simulates how a human might view the simulation. For this reason, this camera will be the only camera available in VR mode.
  2. The table camera prevents user movement but allows them to toggle between various preset positions that overlook important and key areas of the simulation.
  3. The floating camera acts as a free camera that is able to fly around and capture the scene from anywhere inside the simulation room.

A day-night cycle has been implemented to act as an indication to the demonstration supervisor that the current demonstration slot is coming to a close.

The current development roadmap seeks to include a full implementation of the Lisflood hydrodynamic model that interacts with the terrain in real-time, the inclusion of various flooding scenarios and full VR support.

Stay tuned for further updates.

Thanks,

Sam Ivill (and the TideBox team)

Our Games at NERC #UnEarthed2017 17-19 November 2017

Last year we took our Flash Flood! game to the NERC Science Showcase, Into the blue. We had an amazing time, and you guys seem to as well as we were voted as one of the most popular exhibits. Read about what we got up to here, and also check out our article in NERC’s magazine Planet Earth.

We are very excited therefore to be returning for this year’s NERC science showcase, UnEarthed, held at the Dynamic Earth centre in Edinburgh. You can find more details on their website – tickets for the public days are free.

The stand this year, Keeping Back the Floods, is organised by the Energy and Environment Institute, University of Hull. It features two of our popular Virtual Reality games – Flash Flood! and TideBox (formerly Humber in a Box) – and will let you get hands on with the cutting-edge of flood risk science and the latest in gaming technology.

 

 

#GuessTheData Answer – 04/10/2017

What is this data? Answer below the Picdynhum

This is the Humber, showing the region immediately north of South Ferriby, with Read’s Island and the Old Warp sandbank.

The background is a visualisation of LiDAR data, a high resolution laser scan of ground heights. It’s made up of several scans over the period 1998 to 2016.

The green dots and red lines show the location of a bathymetric survey performed in 2016. This uses an instrument called a multibeam which scans the surface below water, s the green dots show the location of the channel used by shipping in 2016.

It’s clear from the background data that when the LiDAR scan was taken there was no channel, so at some point the channel in the Humber has shifted and eroded into the sand bank.  The Humber is indeed dynamic, and this causes problems when we try and predict what will happen in estuaries using computer models which do not allow for changes like this.

All data available via the Environment Agency’s Open Government License portal.

A Virtual River-in-a-Box = Problems!

If you’ve been to an event and played one of our games, you will have most likely also seen the River-in-a-Box mini-flume. This is a big box of plastic sand, through which water flows, building miniature rivers.

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Xuxu setting up River-in-a-Box for Hull’s Freedom Festival in 2015

I’ve been trying to recreate this in a computer model called Caesar-Lisflood – the model that is built into TideBox. Caesar-Lisflood not only simulates water flows, but is designed to simulate the movement of sediment (mud, rocks, stuff like that) to show how geomorphology processes – erosion and deposition – change the landscape. My latest attempt is below, and there are many, many problems with it.

Let me explain why this is an issue. Caesar-Lisflood was designed to simulate changes to large areas (eg, whole river basins) over a long time (more than 1000 years often). If it were an athlete, it would be Mo Farah – lean and quick, keeps a steady pace, and although capable of a sprint when required, it’s there for the long-haul. Trying to use it to simulate the River-in-a-Box is like trying to make Mo Farah compete in the 100 m sprint – he is not optimised to do this in way another athlete, say Usain Bolt, is.

The main problem we have is that this video shows nearly two weeks of processing on the computer. That is slow – slower than the time it is trying to simulate (a few hours’ worth of changes in the River-in-a-Box*). One of the purposes of computer models is that they are much quicker than real-life so the fact this is far slower means, scientifically, it isn’t much use.

There is also instability – you will see areas in the flow which look like a chequer’s board and this is too much water being moved downstream that the physics in the model then immediately moves it back upstream, and this continues, back and forth. It’s a bit like when you were a kid when you ran down a hill and went so fast your feet couldn’t keep up so you tumbled over – we can help the model to stop doing this by instructing it to slow down in certain areas, such as restricting the amount of water it can move from one place to another in one go.

As it is, this is a pretty (yes, it is pretty) rubbish piece of modelling (my fault, not the model’s), but there is potential here. We use flumes, which are like River-in-a-Box but bigger and more advanced, to better understand how landscape change. We use computer models in a similar way, and the physics we learn from the flumes helps us develop the models. The ability to simulate the flume environments in a computer model would be a useful one as we would learn more about how our experiments work, what their weaknesses are, and how we can make them better. This in turn will improve our ability to simulate the real world and, for example, forecast risks like flooding with better accuracy.

I hope to share more of this experiment with you as it develops. Thanks for reading.

Dr Chris Skinner – @floodskinner

*Actually, technically, it is still quicker than real-life. As Caesar-Lisflood is like Mo Farah, to help it out I made the course more like the 10,000 m. All dimensions and times in the model have been multiplied by 100, so for each centimetre in the River-in-a-Box the model is told it is a metre. Likewise, to simulate an hour the model is simulating 100 hours (the video shows more than 28 days of actual simulated time). The only thing not scaled in this way is the size of the sediment, which is kept at 0.0003 m.

Flash Flood! YouTube Now Online! #Isurvivedtheflashflood

We are very, very excited to be able to unleash our YouTube version of Flash Flood!

You can view this on a PC, but it’s best viewed using a phone or tablet where the motion tracking allows you to easily view the full 360 view. If you have a cardboard headset, such like our #ISurvivedTheFlashFlood VISRs, then hit the goggles icon on the video, stick you phone in and try the Flash Flood! VR experience yourself. It’s even better with headphones.

The #ISurvivedTheFlashFlood VISR VR Headsets – the ideal way to view Flash Flood! on YouTube

Do keep your eyes on our Twitter, Facebook and this blog – we hope to release more YouTube videos like this in the near future, as well as support to use this is the classroom.

If you want a copy of our full game version, it is now free to download on SourceForge.

Finally, thank you NERC for the funding, and thank you BetaJester for the development.

What’s coming up? Lots!

Ok, I’ll admit, we’ve been a little quiet of late. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy working on new games to fascinate and entertain you at future events.

At the NERC science showcase, Into the blue, we won one of the four prizes and this has allowed to develop Flash Flood! further. We’ll be using the prize to make interactive YouTube walk-throughs of the game meaning anyone with an internet connection can try it, and using a cardboard headset can even get a sense of the VR.

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Dr Matt Perks – @catchmentsci – demonstrating Flash Flood! at Into the blue

Last September we began working with students from SEED Software on two (yes, two!) projects. The first is a rebuild of Humber in a Box, making it smoother and more intuitive – this new iteration of the game will be called TideBox, focussing on the science of estuaries more generally than just the Humber (although the Humber still features prominently).

Development shots from Defend the City

The second is our most ambitious project yet – Defend the City. The games uses the CAESAR-Lisflood model to simulate the flooding in our town, Uncanny Valley. The player(s) get to build in their own flood defences on the attractive 3D environment, and then see just how successful they have been. It will be used during workshops, and will convey two key issues of flood defence –

  1. You can never eliminate flood risk completely
  2. Flood Managers have to strike a balance of cost and benefit with any scheme

We hope to debut all three of these projects at Hull Science Festival, April 2-4 2017. It is free but you will need to pre-book some activities.

Finally, if you want learn more about the Humber, its landscape and how it has inspired poetry, you can hear SeriousGeoGamer Chris Skinner on the Radio 4 Seriously… Podcast ‘I, by the Tide of Humber‘.

Grab your copy of Flash Flood! – Register as a SeriousGeoGamer

The goal of SeriousGeoGames is to explore the use of games, and gaming technology, to enhance the teaching, research and communication of earth sciences. As such, we don’t want to keep our games to ourselves, but rather want to share them as widely as possible.

To that end, we are inviting you to become a registered SeriousGeoGamer – simply contact us at seriousgeogames(@)gmail.com and provide us with the following details –

  • Your name
  • Your institution, school, company etc.
  • Your position
  • How you intend to use the applications

In return, we will send you a link from where you can download the software and guidance notes. (Please note, if you wish to use this on a network you will need to get permission to install 3rd-Party software)

By becoming a user, you agree to use it only for non-commercial activities, and we also want to hear from you about how it goes. Any stories or pictures we can share on our Twitter or Facebook Page are particularly welcome.

Living Manual

Next Stop #NERCIntoTheBlue – 25-29 October, Manchester

It’s just a little over two weeks until we’ll be heading to Manchester for the Into the Blue event, organised by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). NERC are major funders of scientific research in the UK, and SeriousGeoGames will be at the event with the NERC-funded project Flash Flooding from Intense Rainfall (the FFIR project).

25-29 October 2016 –nerc-intothebluev2 The Runway Visitor Park, Manchester Airport – more information and tickets here.

 

 

 

 

The FFIR project aims to improve our ability to forecast flash flood events – this is currently difficult as the thunderstorms which typically cause them rapidly form, only cover small areas, and only last a short time. It is important as this type of flooding can be particularly devastating, and by its nature can occur rapidly with little warning.

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At Into the Blue we will be taking three (yes, three!) sets of kit to run virtual reality demonstrations of Flash Flood! – come and see us and explore the virtual river valley, observing just like a real environmental scientist. Witness the destruction that flash flooding can cause, and chat to the research scientists from the FFIR project.

More details about Flash Flood!, its development and the science behind, can be found on its section of the website, here.

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The event is great whatever age you are, but is especially great for school-aged children. It will feature over 40 exhibits of cutting-edge environmental science all under the wings of Concorde. There will also be the chance to win a tour of the FAAM Research Aircraft (Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurement).

FFIR Scientists at Into the Blue – 

Professor Tom Coulthard (Geomorphologist) – University of Hull (@Tom_Coulthard)

Dr Chris Skinner (Geomorphologist) – University of Hull (@CloudSkinner)

Dr Rob Thompson (Meteorologist) – University of Reading (@R0b1et)

Dr Matt Perks (Geomorphologist) – Newcastle University (@CatchmentSci)

David Flack (Meteorologist) – University of Reading (@MetBirder)

Chloe Morris (Geomorphologist) – University of Hull (@ChloeMorris_13)

Latest News – New Rift, Freedom Festival, BSG, Into the Blue, and Digital Awards

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for SeriousGeoGames. A few weeks ago we finally got hold of the brand new Oculus Rift and, thanks to the excellent BetaJester, we have Flash Flood! running in Virtual Reality – we’re biased, of course, but it is truly awesome!

The second bit of news is about your first chance to try it – we’re very happy to have been invited back to Hull’s premier arts and cultural festival, the Freedom Festival, as part of the University of Hull science exhibits in Queen’s Gardens. You will be able to try Flash Flood! VR during the day on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th September 2016. There will be lots of other great exhibits, and speakers for Soapbox Science.

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Chris demonstrating Humber in a Box at Freedom Festival 2015.

We immediately pack up the kit and get on a train to Plymouth for the annual meeting of the British Society for Geomorphology. Chris Skinner will be demonstrating the application and will also be presenting a talk on the science behind Flash Flood!.

Our next event will be the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) event, Into the Blue at the end of October. We’re really looking forward to this and will hopefully have several sets of kit running Flash Flood! underneath the wings of a Concorde – there will be numerous scientists from the Flash Flooding from Intense Rainfall project on hand to talk about their research (as well as the other 47 exhibits and tours of a research aircraft) – we will post more details soon!

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#NERCIntoTheBlue – A Science Festival under the wings of Concorde!

Finally, but by no means least, we are very pleased to say we have been shortlisted for a Hull and East Yorkshire Digital Award in the Best Use of Technology within Education category. Chris Skinner, Chloe Morris and John van Rij have recorded a small piece for the awards ceremony and we hope to show you that in the near future.

Phew! I think you’re up to date now.