The CO2 Connection is Here! 

The cast and crew of The CO2 Connection.

The CO2 Connection is an educational video game developed for Science Alberta. The title centers on building a giant pipeline capable of transporting vast amounts of CO2. This is achieved by exploring numerous areas, gathering resources, smartly planning the pipeline’s route, and completing various minigames.

Here is Science Alberta’s trailer showcasing all these elements in action:

The CO2 Connection was created using Unity3D and can be freely played at the Wonderville website.

Below is a short case study of the project’s development:

The Overview

Following the successful delivery of Kelvin’s Space Ranch, we immediately began production on The CO2 Connection. Its budget was identical to our first work-for-hire project (coming in at just under 100k CAD following taxes), but with a slightly longer timeline of 5 months. The schedule was extended to officially include an iOS port and allow for more extensive prototyping.

The Challenge

The key concepts that needed to be captured in the game were the extraction, compression, transportation and storage of CO2. These were all based on drastically different processes, and in turn needed to expose various educational tid-bits.

Character faces -- even those of animals -- helped to add personality to the dialogue and drive the player forward.

On the technical side of things, we were obligated to create 3 different versions of the game: one for the browser, one for a high-powered PC cabinet, and one for the iPhone/iPod Touch. All these versions included drastically different technical specifications, requiring the game to be very scalable. The PC and the iOS devices also utilized a touch-screen interface, placing further constraints on the design.

The last technical obstacle was the art style itself. A whimsical, 2D look was chosen, but its aesthetics were not supported by Unity’s core feature-set.

Finally, due to Science Alberta’s intension of presenting The CO2 Connection at various public events, the game had to be easy enough for anyone to pick up and play on the show floor.

The Solution

After analyzing the 4 key concepts outlined by the sponsors, we proposed an approach that focused on building a giant pipeline. The main reason for this was that although all the necessary topics required drastically different gameplay, the transportation of CO2 was a common link among them; the CO2 is first extracted from pollutants, then compressed for transportation, and finally delivered to specific sites for storage.

The idea of building a transportation network was deep enough to carry the overall game, and it also lent itself well to either mouse or touch controls. The remaining concepts were then added on top as end-level minigames, and their distribution let us space out all the educational tid-bits.

Each level contains a handful of CO2-producing locations that must be connected to the pipeline.

As the core structure of the game was fleshed out, it became clear that we would have to do some extra work in order to properly capture the desired art style.

Unity is optimized for rendering 3D environments, but its 2D capabilities are rather inefficient and mostly limited to UI. What’s more, we had 3 different builds to worry about, and the iOS platforms were not nearly powerful enough to smoothly render all our 2D objects.

Our solution was to create a custom 2D library that actually utilized Unity’s 3D capabilities. Each map-tile, decoration, pop-up window, etc., became a texture for a flat, dynamically generated mesh, in turn allowing us to draw layers upon layers of static and animated artwork. This wholly 3D approach also made it effortless to change the game’s resolution and aspect ratio for any desired platform.

Periodic upgrades helped to spread out the gameplay elements while providing a steady stream of rewards.

Finally, we worked alongside Heather Desurvire of Behavioristics to make sure The CO2 Connection was as intuitive as possible. This was an ongoing process that touched upon numerous concepts such as clear story-goals, context-sensitive cursors, audio and visual feedback for player actions, self-evident UI icons, and many, many more.

Explicit tutorials were also included and consisted of large image sequences with just a little bit of text. To complement these, an extra “?” button was added to each screen that displayed more thorough instructions.

In the end, the kids tasked with playtesting the game — even some who did not yet know how to read — were able to play it all the way through.

The Results

Much like Kelvin’s Space Ranch, The CO2 Connection was successfully completed on time and applauded by its sponsors. Immediately following its last deliverable, Science Alberta contracted Incubator Games to do a third game in the Kelvin series while laying out a plan for future sequels.

Posted by Radek Koncewicz
@JustRadek, designer at Incubator Games
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