GOLD

Eco Skylines

A video game innovation project designed to bring the player into a fictional city where they have to plan and build a more sustainable future.
Oliver Johnson
Grade 9

Problem

Abstract

The purpose of this project was to create a video game that could have a real-world effect on the climate change crisis. The question was asked: How can technological skills be used to assist in the movement to protect our planet? Can a video game be created with the purpose of raising awareness on the climate crisis? How can it be designed to be fun and entertaining while at the same time inform the player of the next steps in climate action? The intent is that by giving young people a fun and interesting game to play, that also teaches them new ways of thinking for our future, they will be armed with the knowledge that not only does something need to be done but with informed ideas on how to do it. A simulation game designed to bring the player into a fictional city where they have to plan and build a more sustainable future. The research resulted in the Unity gaming platform being chosen for the final design. Modeling for the Eco Skylines city was developed and programming was executed in the C# coding language. Beta testing was conducted and results were analyzed to study the effectiveness of the game.

 

Problem Statement

How can technological skills be used to assist in the movement to protect our planet? Can a video game be created with the purpose of raising awareness on the climate change crisis?  Can an innovation project be designed to be fun and entertaining while at the same time inform the player of the next steps in climate action?

 

Background

In order to create a video game that would raise awareness of the climate crisis, research needed to be done on climate change, global warming, and climate action. Several studies over recent years have found a consensus among climate scientists that humans are causing global warming and climate change. It is not a natural warming, it is much more rapid, and greenhouse gases are the leading cause. Climate scientists agree that it is not too late to respond to the climate crisis. We will have to without question, reduce the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and adapt to the already changing climate. A United Nations group of climate scientists has said that in order to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by half by the year 2030. The research found that this is a difficult goal, however, the higher the awareness, the more everyone as a community can contribute to meet this goal. An inquiry was done on what ways we as individuals can most effectively make changes in our everyday lives, as well as on the community level, to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Innovations were researched and selected that have real-world effects on lowering or eliminating the use of fossil fuels. 

   Inquiry into previous climate change games was necessary in order to decide if it would be a useful innovation to create a video game to raise awareness on climate change. It was also necessary to research what user it would be focused on. One of the more well-known games that had a climate element in it was a game called SimEarth, created by Will Wright and Fred Haslam in 1990, in this game the player controls the development of a planet and can affect climate change on that planet. Civilization, created in 1991 by Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley, has climate change as a consequence of too much pollution within the empire you build. There have been others created since then, so research was done on what type of game was not well represented. It was decided that a simulation game with more of an urgent nature was required, a game with the perspective - this is what we have done to our world, what can we do to repair and reverse it? Inquiry needed to be done on what user would be most appropriate for this game. The video game industry has a captive audience of approximately 2.5 billion people. Many of these gamers are under the age of 18. When researching climate change, it was apparent that a global youth movement for climate change has been extremely effective at raising awareness. This was a leading factor in why it was so important to make a game that would appeal to youth. The younger that kids are exposed to the effects as well as the solutions for climate change, the more they can be a factor in change. 

Once the research was complete on climate change, analysis needed to be done on the best platforms to design the game. Scratch, a block coding platform, was initially chosen to create a beta version of the game. This allowed for a prototype of the game to be created which was tested and edited. Once that was complete, research was done on which game engine would be used to design a more sophisticated game, with a new and challenging code. Unity was chosen due to its popularity as well as usability. When researching Unity, many tutorials were available, making it the right choice for the gaming engine. Once Unity was chosen, the appropriate coding language needed to be selected. Unity supports three scripting languages, C#, UnityScript, also known as JavaScript, and Boo. The clear choice upon further investigation was C#. It was the most popular of the Unity scripting languages and the largest number of tutorials, as well as books, were found on the subject. This coding language was not known previous to this project, so a great amount of research and learning needed to be done. Investigation and experimenting on modeling, within the Unity platform, also needed to be completed.

 

Method

Once a majority of the research was complete on the innovation project, the design and programming were started. The basic concept for the Unity game Eco Skylines was created: The player is a city planner tasked with adding innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The player has three main areas of focus within their task, waste, energy, and food. These categories were researched, discussed, and finally chosen as the main contributors to a significant amount of fossil fuel energy consumption in the Eco Skylines city. The player has to use energy-efficient innovations in all areas of the city, residential, commercial, and industrial, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, reducing climate change. 

Modeling within the Unity platform was researched and then the design of the city and building prototypes began. The Eco skylines city was planned and executed with commercial, industrial, and residential areas within. Modeling began on all innovation upgrades. Each innovation was researched and modeled carefully to give a realistic feel for the sustainable upgrade.  All of the 15 residential innovation enhancements were included in empty game objects. A code was placed into each object to detect when to position it in the house. All of the upgrades were then moved out of the map, unseen to the player until game dependant. Terrain such as rocks and trees were placed throughout the city to create a lively and full environment for the player to explore. A sphere was placed in the environment to act as sun, and as the player raises their sustainability level, the simulated world atmosphere appears to clear and become brighter.

The next step was the code, an initial design on the programming of the first residential home was tested. The groundwork code on the house allowed the player to upgrade innovations without seeing the upgrades on the user interface (UI). Work began on the UI, which involved moving all game object models in order to relocate the city position, and rotation, to match the canvas. The three main upgrades were added to the UI so the player is able to see their current progress in the game. The funds were then added to give the player a real-world feel of the effects of their actions. Work began on the UI menu, programming code on the Tutorial, Play, Backstory and Quit buttons. Menu buttons were programmed into each scene of the UI. Beta house upgrades were removed and replaced with an advanced fully upgradable residential home. Visible statements were added to the UI to inform the player of their upgrade status. Sustainability levels were then added to the user interface as a way of giving players reduction targets and real-world consequences of their actions. 

Work began on an algorithm design that originally consisted of a star system for the player’s sustainability level but was later changed to a number from 0 - 1000. This algorithm was created to give the player a goal to reach by getting the highest level of sustainability possible. Work was done to add the community feature of the game, giving the player the option of adding sustainable communities to their city. Another feature was added where sustainability problems occurred while playing the game, which reduced the player’s sustainability level and informed the player about unsustainable actions. Developmental problems arose with this option, text was not appearing on the UI when the correct number of frames were counted. The code was adjusted several times until the commands were met. 

 The game was ready for beta testing so a platform to download it was researched. Itch.io was found to be the most used and reliable, so it was chosen as a tool to deliver the game to testers. The game was made available for Windows and Mac systems and a questionnaire was created to be sent out alongside it. Problems arose when Mac systems were found to have many different operating systems that did not all allow downloads, fixes were made for some, however, some testers were not able to complete the download. The questionnaire included a climate change information section as well as a gameplay section. Feedback from the gameplay section highlighted new malfunctions and ease of play issues that were addressed and corrected. Several other features were added due to the feedback to further immerse the player within the game. These features included a procedural tutorial that informed the player how to play the game, and camera movement slowdown as well as a stop feature. These improvements have added to the experience of the game and created an interesting and engaging tool to educate.

Analysis

The game was distributed to beta testers to collect data on the effectiveness of information within the game to educate people about climate change and sustainability. A follow-up questionnaire was created to collect the users learning experiences. Some questions included their knowledge of climate change before and after playing the game, their view on climate change, and what they learned from the game on the topic of sustainability. The results showed that before playing the game, the largest percentage of users had some knowledge of climate change. After playing the game, the results went up and the largest percentage of users were knowledgeable on the topic of climate change. The results of this data show that after participants played the game they expanded their knowledge on climate change. When asked if they learned anything new about climate change, 92% of the participants said yes. When asked if they learned anything new about sustainability, 84% said yes. When asked about their overall experience playing the game 70% said they had a great experience, and the remainder had a good experience playing the game. These encouraging results show that the game is entertaining and effective in educating players on climate change, as well as actions that can be taken to create a sustainable environment.

Conclusion

The objective of this innovation project was to create a video game that would have a real-world effect on the climate change crisis. The objective was met after analysis of the data showed that playing Eco Skylines raised awareness of climate change and sustainability. Players had an enjoyable experience, while at the same time, gaining knowledge. In this project, I used technology skills to create awareness, and assist in the movement for climate action, and in the process greatly improved my skills in computational science.  I was able to learn a new coding language, C#, as a result, and I was also able to improve my skills in the area of computer modeling. This project has had a significant effect on the way I view the world around me. I am hyper-aware of issues of waste, energy, and food and how important these factors are in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I have made adjustments in my life in order to contribute to the reduction of these emissions. This work has had a significant effect on my personal views on sustainability and data collected shows that it also has had an effect on my community. The analysis has proven that the project was a success in entertaining the player while also guiding them to the next steps that must be taken in climate change action.

If you would like to play my game the page is here https://mrfunnygamer.itch.io/eco-skylines or you can download it from the attachments.

 

 

 

Citations

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Acknowledgement

I would like to thank Justin Pockar, BSC MARCH LEED AP, for his assistance in coming up with the 3 main factors in climate change for my game. The decision on Energy, Food, and Waste helped to bring focus to the game, and discussions of an algorithm within helped to give the game a strategy concept.  I would like to thank all of the participants who gave me feedback on the game and helped me improve it. I would like to thank my Mom, my Dad, and my sister for helping me with my project in so many ways.