Making the game
We worked with multiple subject matter experts to ensure that the content of the game reflects reality. The choices the player can make to the impact of those choices are based on what’s actually possible in practice.
Students from Sheridan College’s Game Design Bachelor’s Program designed and built the game. Both the student and subject expert teams were made up of a diverse set of people; we found that by having so many people contribute to the game we were able to capture a positive tone that appeals to more people within the game.
When making a game about a real world issue meant to make a difference on the way people think one must ask: why should this be a game?
An educational goal for the project was to show how short-term actions can make long-term impacts. A simulation game provides space for players to make to conceptualize decades of time in a short amount of real time.
As game designers we made conscious decision to include certain mechanics in the game. The core actions the players can take are broken into micro and macro decisions. The majority of the game is played at the micro level managing volunteer resources; the macro level part of the game is manifested in key decisions which occur once per year.
To convert the intent of the game, we think the following mechanics convey the game’s meaning to the players.
During the summer months of the game players manage a team of volunteers. They place the volunteers in specific areas and can give them specific tasks. The mere presence of a volunteer improves the ecological performance of the tile they are on, which automatically flows down the watershed thanks to the ecosystem design.
Placing the volunteers is the tactical level (or micro) part of the game which provides some action to keep players engaged. It’s also the more human aspect of the game as the players are assigning representation of people to do what volunteers would do in real life.
At the end of every in game year the player is presented with three options which can all benefit the redside dace. Players can only pick one of the three options, thus making it a key decision point. There are no “bad” decisions that will set the player back, only a limit on what potential the options have to make positive change.
These decisions reflect higher-level change that is possible to protect watersheds. This is the strategic layer of the game where player decision compound over the length of the game. Meaning even seemingly small decisions at the start of the game can have huge impacts at the end. Our team of experts suggested many of the decisions that the player is confronted with. They also advised to not make decision consequences not backed by ecological data.
Procedural ecosystem generation
Many game designers (especially level designers) cringe at the thought of procedural generation in games. We chose this approach for two reasons: we wanted the game to be different every time a person plays it; and the other reason is that it’s an easy way to change difficulty settings for players by tweaking variables. Plus, once the system is activated it continual updates to ensure an ongoing and ever changing ecosystem simulation of the watershed.
Creating the generation system was by far the most complex and challenging part of making the game. If it wasn’t for working with experts and having skilled programmers this would not have been possible. The simulation system alone requires its own post.
Bonus rationale for procedural watershed generation included players could reload the map until they found a watershed close to theirs. We can use specific seeds for learning content and guided experiences. It also provides a minor incentive to replay the game. Of course, having a small team made procedural generation even more appealing.