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New VR Sustain-a-city game seeks to ‘edutain’ the masses

Developed by infrastructure consultancy WSP Opus and award-winning creative AR/VR studio M Theory the Sustain-a-city game is about entertaining to educate (edutainment, of course!) by letting even a layperson participate in building a virtual micro-world of the future.

Sustain-a-city is the brainchild of Brent Condon, WSP Opus marketing and events lead, who conceptualised and developed it before enlisting AR/VR innovation studio M Theory to bring the vision to life. (All the components are real-life WSP Opus projects including the Margaret Mahy Family Playground Park, the Justice Precinct and the Daldy Street and Halsey Street Redevelopment.)

“WSP Opus wanted to set out on a path to do something different with new technologies – instead of going down the beaten path of using VR like other large global engineering consultancies, predominantly for project/architectural walk-through tours or health and safety learning modules,” says Condon.

“We saw VR as a great platform for amplifying the storytelling power around showcasing our landmark WSP Opus infrastructure projects and the gaming aspect brought a personal connectivity and interaction for our audience with our flagship projects.”

Players must choose from a selection of infrastructure components which are then put into their miniature, simulated world – to a certain formula. Every game is unique with no one city the same.

“Sustain-a-city was created with a diverse audience in mind,” says Condon, “from white-collar business people, to hard-core gamers to ‘not-so-cool anymore’ mums and dads  – and of course engineering professionals, graduates and students.”

“The one thing that crosses over for all audiences is a simple, engaging game dynamic that is just damn fun and addictive to play. First and foremost if the game was not fun we would have failed to engage or ‘edutain’ anyone.”

“We wanted to create an experience that gave our audience a small insight into the amazing work WSP Opus is doing,” says Sam Ramlu, managing director of VR and AR studio M Theory.

“As in reality – it’s not easy balancing the infrastructure needed to create a resilient yet thriving city. The game is challenging yet lots of fun with everyone eager to have another go at perfecting their city. We’ve racked up a few hours ourselves and not all of them just in testing!”

Ramlu says the game is surprisingly nuanced – and that represented one of the biggest challenges in its creation.

“One of our biggest challenges was to find a clever way to connect the individual ‘tiles’ so users could connect to the correct tiles without making it too difficult but also not too easy,” she says.

“We played a lot with physical tiles to figure out all the different combinations and how we could strategically place roads that made the player think about the perfect configuration.”

“You don’t just put your tiles down and the city’s created, there’s a balance to getting everything in the right order and too much of one type of tile will affect the overall function of the city. This is the best part about the game, it makes you think, it’s challenging but also gives you lots of enjoyment, and leaves you wanting more. Every single person who’s played it has wanted another turn immediately after!”

“One of our favourite parts is the wow-factor at the end, where you can be teleported into street-view and look around your own city – this is a wonderful surprise and delight.”

“We think we’ve created something really unique that hasn’t been done in VR before,” says Ramlu. “There are a lot of city building games and board games, would you believe, that we took inspiration from – games like Catan, Tantrix, good old Sim City – and applied this in a more commercial environment.”  

The tech is now being used predominantly as a marketing tool at sponsored events, internal stakeholder team-building events, expos and a recruitment tool at Student recruitment days. That reinforces WSP Opus’s brand as a progressive and innovative place to work, says Condon.

“Sustain-a-city is built to grow a captive audience of fans as well as data gathering platform bringing people together whom share a passion for building intelligent, sustainable and socially responsible cities.”

Condon says that Sustain-a-city has the potential to go worldwide as a VR marketing and team-building tool.

“So for an innovation cultivated in WSP Opus Auckland, I’m very proud and excited where Sustain-a-city may lead.”

WSP Opus will be previewing Sustain-a-city at a free public Week of Engineering Expo in Auckland on Saturday 18 August. The game will also be available in the Oculus store come September with a mobile phone app also in the works.

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