An interview with designer Scott Chapman about designing the Eskom Energy Planner game
Recently Formula D interactive designed the Eskom Energy Planner Game to educate people on the different power generation technologies in an entertaining way. The online game allows players to take custody of a virtual city’s power plan and seek a balance between the most efficient technologies currently available and the most environmentally friendly ones. Players must also take into account the varying costs of production of the different technologies and face the challenge of maintaining an economically viable mix of all of these elements.
We asked Scott Chapman, multimedia designer at Formula D, who was heading the development team, what it takes to design an educational game like this.
Q: Scott, you have been the lead designer at Formula D of the Energy Planner Game which has just been launched in beta (testing) version. What is the aim of the game?
The aim of the game is to build several power sources throughout the city in order to meet demands, all whilst balancing the costs, environmental impact and citizen happiness thereof, which differ for each type of power source.
One of the main ideas we want the player to take away from the game are the principles of Energy Demand Management, how they can save electricity and money by implementing different energy saving measures, whether it be through replacing old energy inefficient items with more efficient items or by changing certain behaviours at home, work or school.
This is crucial in the game in order to achieve a good balance in the city and thus achieve a high score. And most importantly, we want the player to enjoy playing the game and learning new things.
Q: Who is the target audience of the game?
Our intended target audience is any and every one that is interested in learning more about electricity and all aspects around it like production and alternatives. We have strived to make it as accessible as possible to a host of different audiences and whether one is playing just to learn a few things or aiming for that top score by doing some number-crunching, we feel that it will appeal to you.
Q: What was your role in developing the game and who else was involved?
I project managed the graphics and application development. I was involved in concept development, designing graphics, and primarily doing all the front-end Flash Development. We had a great team on this project, with Warwick de Kock doing some amazing illustrations, Jean-Pierre Nel doing graphics and some Flash work, Hendranus Vermeulen doing the Flash backend system, Mike Schulz doing the PHP backend, and Tobie Nortje, who did the engineering calculations for our model city.
Q: How long did it take to develop the game?
The game has had a number of stages for development over the past two years. This version took approximately 3 months to develop.
Q: What were the biggest challenges when designing the game?
A big challenge was designing a system that takes accurate figures and complicated calculations, and putting these into the game in an easy and understandable way. We also had a vast amount of information about energy saving that needed to be displayed in a fun, interactive way.
Q: What could the game be used for in future?
I think that because the figures of the system can be easily modified, it could be used as a training tool, whether it is for employees of Eskom or Suppliers in the energy trade. We also hope to expand the game further by unlocking different levels, one idea being that of managing various cities and then on a national level. It could also be used as a marketing and recruitment tool and could even be used to crowd source solutions to problems.
Q:How did you work out the logic behind the game?
We created a model city and identified information and situations that we wanted to be part of the gameplay. We then passed this onto an engineer, Tobie Nortje, who then put real world numbers to the game. The game could easily be made to run on an accurate timescale, but for playability purposes, we have made the game run “faster”.
Q:What skills are required to create digital games?
In order to create digital games for computer, online or mobile, there are many different scripting languages and platforms that you can create applications in, but I think most importantly, you need to have a good understanding of how games are played, and what users will be able to take away from it, whether it be a lot of information,
an idea or a smile. For this project we have used Illustrator and Photoshop for design (as well as lots of paper), and Flash, Flash Builder and Actionscript for the programming.
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