Sustainablitz First Iteration

Sustainablitz began as a class project. At Ball State University, instructors are encouraged to develop new classroom experiences, called Immersion Courses. These courses are intended on giving the students a hands-on opportunity with the material. One instructor, Chris Marlow, designed an immersive learning course for the Landscape Architecture (LA) department. In this course, students work in teams to develop games about LA. In the process, they learn about the basic concepts of LA.

My class came together to create Sustainablitz. Sustainablitz is influenced by grid-like mobile games such as Plants vs. Zombies. Rather than creating a defense against enemies, the goal is to build a sustainable project while protecting it against evil robot goats. The goats are able to spawn anywhere on the game grid and will attempt to undo the work the player has done in each grid space. The game is set to a timer, indicating limited resources. Players are scored based on how many spaces have been developed. Our acting client during development was the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The original version of the game was developed using the game engine Game Salad. The intention was to use a game engine that required as little coding knowledge as possible. The engine worked for the early parts of development, but once the team attempted to include more complex elements, especially the goat AI, the engine had a difficult time compiling without errors. Additionally, Game Salad was unable to successfully compile a standalone version of the game.

The final implementation of the game for the class included one complete level, one partial level, and the design concept for a third level. See the Game Design Document.

Sustainablitz Redesign

After the completion of the class, I returned to working on Sustainablitz as an independent project. I corresponded with Chris on my progress. Instead of attempting to resurrect the game from Game Salad, I learned how to use Game Maker. Game Maker includes an internal programing language called Game Maker Language (GML) that is very similar in effect to JavaScript. I ported over some of the assets, built new ones where needed, and completely rebuilt the internal engine of the game’s mechanic.

Though I redesigned some of the graphics, my time with the project was limited to 40 hours. I prioritized that time on the functional elements rather than the graphical side, game balance, or story. As it stands, the game has a single playable level.

The biggest change I made was to the functionality of the game’s chief henchman: the mechanical goat. Whereas the previous version’s goat moved in a completely random pattern, the new version’s goat moves randomly only if there are no fully developed spaces on the grid. When fully developed spaces are present, the goat prioritizes movement towards those spaces. More than one goat may also spawn now. Additionally, if a goat is already on a developed space, the other goats will ignore that space and prioritize other developed spaces.

Sustainablitz has a long way to go before it is a fully functional game, but the groundwork has been laid. It may one day serve as a fun educational tool to teach the basics of sustainable development used in Landscape Architecture.