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

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.

SeriousGeoGames’ 2018 Review

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.

January

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.

February

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.

March

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.

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The Energy and Environment Institute stand at Flood and Coast 2018.

April

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.

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Promotional image made for the EGU Games Day 2018.

Articles featuring Flash Flood! were published in Teaching Geography and Geographical Review magazines.

May

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.nepad.png

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.

June

Chris Skinner shared Flash Flood! at the Natural History Museum with a Nature Live talk.

July

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.

August

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.

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Setting up the Earth Arcade branding for the first time in the Map Library.

September

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.

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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.

October

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

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

December

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

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.

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.

defendcity1

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

defendcity5

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)

#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.