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Staffs Uni computer game encourages children to think green

Staffordshire University has created a computer game to help teach children about protecting the planet.

Ecopolis is made by Bulldog Studios, the student agency operated by the Staffordshire University Games Institute (SUGI).

A small team of placement students and recent graduates from the games department have developed a simulation to help school children consider the environmental impact of town building.

It is the brainchild of musician, environmentalist and recent Staffordshire University honorary doctor, John Robb, and Eric Cresswell from local company Popcorn Learning, who initially approached Staffordshire University with the idea.

Targeting the 12 to 16 age group, the game requires players to build and maintain a virtual town over 200 years of technological change.

With the ability to place and upgrade city blocks including housing, industry and leisure, players can monitor the impact of their choices in terms of population, happiness, wealth and, importantly, pollution.

While the game is easy to play, it is difficult to master. The relationship between building types and their energy needs and levels of pollution is complex and inter-relational. Decisions that seem sensible in the moment, can prove damaging over time. For example, coal fired power stations provide a massive boost to productivity increasing wealth and happiness but are a long term environmental disaster.

SUGI director Professor Carlton Reeve and senior lecturer in games programming Davin Ward have been supervising the project.

Professor Reeve said, ‘This has been a great project to work on. It has brought together local businesses, environmental experts and our students to create a fun game that really encourages young people to think about the relationship between economics and the environment. As well making an important learning game, Ecopolis has given our placement students unique and valuable work experience which will improve their studies and boost their employment prospects when they graduate.’

Local animation company, Carse & Waterman, and YMCA North Staffordshire are also supporting the project and recently hosted an opportunity for local children to test Ecopolis and provide feedback.

BSc (Hons) computer games design and programming student Jo Habbeshaw, who led the play testing day, said: ‘It was a pleasure to take part in the YMCA Go 'Intro to Gaming' session hosted by Framescape and Cyber Kiln. Everyone was enthusiastic about having a look at our new project and start playing. The playtest was an amazing success with a lot of interaction with the game and myself, and there was great insight regarding feedback for us to take forward into future development.

‘Hopefully this session helped the young adults see that games design is a potential pathway available to them for the future and has provided some insight into another aspect of games development.’

Lecturer Davin Ward added, ‘This is our first year running Bulldog Studios and it has been a wonderful experience that has enabled us to provide students and recent graduates with real world experience working on commercial products. We are committed to providing the best experience to our students and to ensure they are ready for employment once they graduate. Going forward Bulldog Studios has many other projects we are working and will continue to work with our students, the local communities and the games industry.’

Ecopolis will be released commercially later this year on PC and mobile and offered to students of The Green Britain Academy.


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