Turning city planning into a game

Article by Brian Owens: “…The digital twins that Eicker’s team builds are powerful modelling tools — but, because they are complex and data-intensive, they are generally used only by experts. That’s something Eicker wants to change. “We want more people to use [these tools] in an easier, more accessible and more playful way,” she says.

So the team harnessed the Unity video-game engine, essentially a software-development workspace that is optimized for quickly and easily building interactive video-game environments, to create Future City Playgrounds. This puts their complex scientific models behind the scenes of a computer game, creating a sort of Minecraft for urban design. “You can change the parameters of your simulation models in a game and send that back to the computational engines and then see what that does for your carbon balance,” she says. “It’s still running pretty serious scientific calculations in the back end, but the user doesn’t see that any more.”

In the game, users can play with a digital version of Montreal: they can shape a single building or cluster of buildings to simulate a neighbourhood retrofit project, click on surfaces or streets to modify them, or design buildings in empty lots to see how changing materials or adding clean-energy systems can affect the neighbourhood’s character, energy use and emissions. The goal of the game is to create the most sustainable building with a budget of $1 million — for example, by adding highly insulating but expensive windows, optimizing the arrangement of rooftop solar panels or using rooftop vegetation to moderate demand for heating and cooling.

A larger web-based version of the project that does not use the game engine allows users to see the effects of city-wide changes — such as how retrofitting 50% of all buildings in Montreal built before 1950 would affect the city’s carbon footprint….(More)”.