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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Here’s a some of my personal favourite artworks from 2018! 🎉 Thank you to everyone for the constant support + encouragement throughout the year and I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing my artworks as much as I’ve enjoyed making them! ❤️😊 #sciart#NewYearsEvepic.twitter.com/Bj1DmwjeKF
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.
We have had a fantastic and extremely busy 2018. Definite highlights have been the redevelopment of Flash Flood!, exhibiting in the Natural History Museum, and obviously, launching the Earth Arcade. In fact we have been so busy, we’re going to show you our highlights month-by-month.
We had over 80 school pupils from Newland St John’s visit us and try Flash Flood! and River in a Box as they learnt about flooding.
Our founder and SeriousGeoGamer, Chris Skinner, was awarded a University of Hull Research Excellency Award for Outstanding Impact, Outreach or Engagement, for his work with SeriousGeoGames.
In March we took Flash Flood! along to demonstrate at the Flood and Coast conference. We were part of a stand promoting our new home, the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull.
The Energy and Environment Institute stand at Flood and Coast 2018.
2018 saw the first ever, unofficial, Games Day at the European Geoscience Union‘s General Assembly in Vienna, Austria. Chris Skinner convened a full science session sharing how researchers use games to research, teach, or share geosciences, and then in the evening over 200 scientists came together to play the games.
Promotional image made for the EGU Games Day 2018.
Articles featuring Flash Flood! were published in Teaching Geography and Geographical Review magazines.
In May we started putting together the kit and branding for the Earth Arcade, and its fist outing was supporting a visit of a delegation from the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). We even featured on the front page of their newsletter.
Chris Skinner demonstrating the Earth Arcade interactive touchtable.
The kit we put together includes five full VR stations and a large interactive touchscreen table.
Later in the month we spoke to over 500 members of the public at the Natural History Museum, as we were joined by colleagues from the University of Reading to demonstrate Flash Flood!. The event was part of the Museum’s half-term programme supporting NERC’s Operation Earth.
Demonstrating Flash Flood! at the Natural History Museum.
Chris Skinner shared Flash Flood! at the Natural History Museum with a Nature Live talk.
We were invited to participate in the Living with Water project’s Hulltimate Challenge event, and we took a copy of Flash Flood! down to Queen Victoria Square, central Hull, to support the press launch of the event. This was the first time we used the branded Earth Arcade kit in public.
We launched the Earth Arcade officially to colleagues within the University of Hull with an event held in the Map Library of the Cohen Building.
Setting up the Earth Arcade branding for the first time in the Map Library.
In September things got really busy! We started by once again teaming up with BetaJester to redevelop Flash Flood! for our new Earth Arcade kit – Vol.2 features sound effects, voice overs, improved graphics, and greater realism.
As part of the British Science Festival, hosted at the University of Hull, we took three activities down to Humber Street for an evening science street party. We demoed Flash Flood!, Humber in a Box, and our touchscreen table.
Earth Arcade assets at the British Science Festival.
At the Hull Science Festival we officially launched the Earth Arcade to the public and exhibited a mini-festival within the festival itself. In our Earth Arcade we showed the Flash Flood! Vol.2 for the first time, Plastic Ocean Fishing, Flood City – Hull, Humber in a Box, and a collection of Top Trump card games.
The first ever Earth Arcade at Hull Science Festival.
For the second time we were nominated for the HEY Digital Award for Best Use of Technology in Education, but lost out to the excellent Ron Dearing UTC.
We collaborated with colleagues across the University to use our games and research to help with teaching students, including assisting with modules in Drama, Digital Media, and Computer Science.
A delegation of flood risk practitioners from Sweden were visiting Hull to learn from the local City Council and the Living with Water project. We were invited to share Flash Flood! Vol.2 with them, and even got a tour of the Hull Tidal Barrier.
At the end of the month, Chris Skinner spoke to over 50 City of Culture volunteers about the University of Hull’s research into plastic pollution and the #MyPlasticPledge project as part of a masterclass for the launch of the Hull Refill scheme.
The big event of October was the Living with Water’s Hulltimate Challenge – a huge 10 km assault course around the centre of Hull. The Earth Arcade was a sponsor, we exhibited Flash Flood Vol.2 and Ocean Plastic Fishing, and large team from the Energy and Environment Institute successfully completed the course.
Team EEI and the Earth Arcade at the Hulltimate Challenge.
We were invited to bring the Earth Arcade to the Manchester Science Festival via a Platform for Investigation at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. This was our first ever plastic pollution focused event.
PI – The Problem with Plastics at Manchester Science Festival.
The University of Hull stand at Scarborough Science and Engineering Week won an award for Most Informative Exhibit, and we were pleased to be part of this stand with Flash Flood! Vol.2.
November saw Flash Flood! come home. The original Flash Flood! was produced for and funded by the NERC Flooding from Intense Rainfall (FFIR) research programme, and with the programme coming to a conclusion we were invited to provide a Games Room at the final showcase for the event at the Royal Society, London. We brought along the full set of Flash Flood Vol.2, Flood City – Hull, and were joined by games from University of Reading and Sam Illingworth of Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exhibits and the Earth Arcade at the NERC-FFIR Showcase.
The final public event of the year for us was using Flash Flood! Vol.2 to promote the Energy and Environment Institute at the Scarborough Business Day, where the keynote speaker was former Deputy Prime Minister, Lord John Prescott.
The EEI stand at Scarborough Business Day
We ended the year as we begun with a visit from pupils from local schools who used Flash Flood! Vol.2 as part of a workshop looking at flooding and geomorphology.
Finally, we were part of a team including #MyPlasticPledge and Kids Against Plastic looking at how we can all reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce at Christmas, with the 12 Days if Plastic-free Christmas.
2019 promises to be an equally busy and exciting year and will see the development of new games, including Inundation Street (an urban-based VR flood simulator), and Resilience (a collectible card game). It is also sad as we say farewell and good luck to SeriousGeoGame veteran, Chloe Morris, as she travels to Australia to start the next stage of her career – we will miss you Chloe!
Good bye Chloe… 🙁
Thank you everybody who has supported us in 2018, and a special thank you to all the volunteers who have helped us bring our games to the public – we really couldn’t do it without you.
You might have noticed that we love virtual reality (VR for short). We also love football (you have to if you want to lead Scunthorpe United to the Champion’s League on Football Manager). As you’d expect then, we are very excited about the news that the BBC will be showing games from the 2018 World Cup in VR.
The easiest way to do this is using your smartphone and downloading the BBC’s App. You turn your phone into a VR headset using a Cardboard-style device. We have given away hundreds of these during events, including given one to every delegate at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the British Society for Geomorphology, so now is the time to dig it out.
Image by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
If you don’t have one you can pick them up for a few pound on line – just search Cardboard VR headset and shop around.
With the World Cup still a little while off, why not try some of the 360 videos on our YouTube channel, including our new tour of the Humber (remember to view via the YouTube App on smartphones and tablets!).
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.
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.
There are three camera modes featured in the current build: the visitor camera, the table camera and the floating camera.
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.
The table camera prevents user movement but allows them to toggle between various preset positions that overlook important and key areas of the simulation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
#NERCIntoTheBlue – A Science Festival under the wings of Concorde!