Help Callum 360 Premiere – September 30th 2pm BST

Over the summer we have been working hard with our friends from Lancaster University and the Environment Agency on our latest 360 experience, Help Callum. We are very pleased to announce that it is ready for us to share it with the world but you will have to wait a little longer –

Help Callum will premiere on the SeriousGeoGames Lab’s YouTube channel on September 30th 2020 at 14:00 BST. To make sure you’re amongst the first to try it, head over to the channel now and set a reminder.

Watch Help Callum from 14:00 BST on September 30th.

Help Callum puts you in the shoes of a child navigating their way through flood recovery. It isn’t easy for Callum after his family’s flat was flooded and they had to leave in a hurry. Living away from home, his school, and his friends, he was scared and lonely. Even after he could move back home, he still struggled to overcome these fears.

However, despite all of this, Callum became an agent for change. Helped by the team at Lancaster University, Callum was able to tell his story and campaign for things to be different, for children to be better supported when they are affected by flooding.

A child stands alone in the rain.
“Callum could see that things were not right in his street. How would you help him?”

Our new experience tells this story using his words and through his eyes. We hope the experience will make you more aware of the issues families might face during times of crisis. Most of all, we hope it reminds you of the awesome resilience and capabilities young people have to make the world a better place.

As with all our 360 experiences, they are best viewed on a mobile device via the YouTube App. Help Callum is compatible with Google Cardboard and similar headsets for a more immersive experience.

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!

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.

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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!

Eco-travel and Eco-Scenography for @PQ_2019 #PQ2019

The Prague Quadrennial of Scenography and Design is a conference for theatre makers, unsurprisingly held in Prague every four years. Over 11 days, 15,000 people will attend the conference, making it a huge event. My wife, Amy, is a Lecturer in Theatre and Performance and was chairing a panel at the conference, so I decided to tag along – I did so four years ago and found it inspiring, check out my previous blog from then.

Amy’s first book – Meyerhold and the Cubists – was long-listed by the conference

We have been conscious about our carbon budget so decided we would take the train instead of flying. Unfortunately, unless you pay out for an expensive sleeper train, the journey from Hull to Prague is a little too long to do in one day so we split our journey via Brussels. Our planned route was: Hull – London – Brussels – Frankfurt – Nurnberg – Cheb – Prague.

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Our route plan for Hull to Prague

Day 1 went ok, but our first train on Day 2 inexplicably terminated at Koln. A guard suggested another route and marked our tickets as no longer having restrictions. Our new route involved a near seven hour train from Koln to Dresden, before a train on to Prague. We settled into our new train and enjoyed seeing a cross-section of Germany, including places like Dortmund and Hannover. All was fine until 40 minutes from Dresden when the train suddenly stopped outside Leipzig. We stayed, electric off, in silence for nearly an hour, missing our connection in Dresden, before limping back to Leipzig and being herded onto an overcrowded train to Dresden.

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The view from the train, outside Leipzig

We arrived at Dresden to see the last train to Prague pull out of the station. The nice woman at Passenger Information pointed us towards the coaches and we ended up on a Flix Bus – the bus service for backpackers, we were the oldest ones on there. We arrived in Prague just after midnight. Thankfully, our return journey along the planned route but in reverse went without a hitch, with all six trains on perfect time – a surprise considering the atrocious weather across the UK at that time.

It was stressful and long, but watching the beautiful European countryside whizz by the window was nice, especially across the Czech Republic. The journey took a lot longer than flying and did cost more, so I appreciate that it is a privilege that we were able to travel this way. However, it does allow us to reduce the impact on the environment and society from our travel quite significantly – according to ecopassenger.org we reduced the CO2 we produced by nearly 348 kg, producing less than 24 % than if we flew.

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Calculated travel costs for London to Prague according to ecopassenger.org

The environmental concern did not end once in Prague – the city has excellent public transport and we travelled everywhere by trams and buying tickets via an App was super easy and convenient. Keep-cups and reusable water bottles are popular, and local shops have plastic bottle deposit schemes. We saw school students participating in the climate strikes, and public areas had information boards highlighting water issues in the country and worldwide.

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Climate protests in Prague

Information boards in central Prague showcasing water’s importance to society

At the Prague Quadrennial, or PQ, countries (and regions, like Quebec) are invited to exhibit the best in their scenography and design over the past four years in about a 6m x 6m space. How they choose to do this is up to each country and there is a lot of variance and creativity on display. I was pleased to see several of the exhibits making use of VR but was a little disappointed that most did little more than show flat, low resolution, 360 videos on them – Ireland’s was notable as using high resolution, stereoscopic video, interlaced with graphics (including a creepy eyeball) to show the work of some of their best designers.

Several of the exhibits featured virtual reality, including some with modified headsets

Several of the exhibits chose environmental themes. I was taken by China’s exhibit as it revolved around a long distance train journey Chinese designers travelled to get to past PQ’s – in contrast to today, it was more expensive to fly so had to go by train.

China’s exhibit used lighting, projection, and mobile phones to showcase design inspired by a long distance train journey from China to Prague

Quebec explored whether reducing our use of resources was at odds with creative freedom, and asked whether the performing arts holds the key to renewed environmentalism. They showcased the best in eco-scenography and invited visitors to complete a questionnaire whilst powering a pedal-powered propeller.

Quebec’s exhibited highlighted their designs and use of eco-scenography

Switzerland used a ski-lift carriage and a canvas held on hydraulic rods to visualise snow depth data in three dimensions, responding dynamically as the data changed resolution on the screen – you had a different perspective whether you were on the ground or one the lift.

Switzerland’s ski-lift could visualise environmental data dynamically and in three dimensions

France was one of the winning exhibits and several I spoke to said that it had moved them to tears. On the outside, harsh lights displayed the warning “No Nature, No Future” and on the other side a smoke-filled room with haunting piano music was inhabited by shaking and shivering figures made of the waste of man-made materials. It was bleak and dystopian.

The conference itself engaged with environmentalism, with espresso-sized Keep Cups for sale, and an awesome scheme where if you bought a plastic bottle then Soda Stream, one of the sponsors, would refill it for free with fizzy, flavoured water – this was 200 czk (about £7) well spent, and I really want to buy a Soda Stream now!

The way the exhibits are put together is really inspiring and I have come away with lots of ideas which I will try and use in the Earth Arcade. Portugal’s exhibit, Windows, featured mirrored metal boxes with small holes to peer through – inside were lit up models of stage designs. I would love to use this to hide away scenes of possible futures based on climate scenarios – dare you look inside?

Portugal invited you to spy on miniature design scenes through small windows

Cyprus featured a board room table with a bubbling pool of water in the middle – what about hosting a dinner around this where the water rises and falls, occasionally floods, and dinner guests can choose to purchase food, wooden blocks to hold back water, or extra place mats to raise their dinner?

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A board room with a risk of flooding, from Cyprus

In Hungary’s student exhibit you had to walk through hanging plastic sticks and as they cascaded against each other it sounded like rain – through the clear floor beneath your feet were examples of design, details you cannot see outside of the ‘storm’. This was so simple, yet so effective.

I was sad to leave Prague and PQ. It’s a shame it comes around only every four years and I’ll have to wait until 2023 to go again – maybe this artists’ conference wants a resident scientist?

Chris (@FloodSkinner)

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.

The World Cup in VR!

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.

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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!).

We’re bringing Flash Flood! to the @NHM_London for #OperationEarth 29-31 May 2018

We are super-super-super excited to tell you we will be bringing our Flash Flood! VR game to the Natural History Museum in London. We will be joining a series of other exhibits as part of the Museum’s half-term Operation Earth showcase, and we will be there from the 29th of May until the 31st of May, 11am to 4pm each day. To find out more about this event, click here.

In the last couple of years we have been at the Science Showcases for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – Into the Blue and Unearthed. This year, NERC are doing something a little different, working with museums and science centres to bring their Operation Earth family science show to people up and down the country. To learn more about Operation Earth and to find an event near you, click here.

We are also very excited that we’ll be joined by our friends from the University of Reading, and the NERC-funded Flooding from Intense Rainfall project (FFIR) – the project for which Flash Flood! was designed. At the event you can play Flash Flood! and meet the scientists whose research inspired it, both from Reading but also the Energy and Environment Institute (EEI) at the University of Hull.

We look forward to meeting you there!

Image Credit: NERC

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)