HydroElectrolizer is an educational physics sim developed for the TwoBitCircus Foundation. The player is able to load a variety of maps, dig out rivers, plant dams, and generate energy. The goal of each map is to hit 100% energy creation, displayed by the bars of either side of the screen. This game was built with a custom touch screen arcade cabinet in mind.
I produced HydroElectrolizer during my internship with the TwoBitCircus Foundation, the nonprofit wing of the TwoBitCircus. This project in particular, was actually contract work for the Kern County Children's Museum, and we were tasked with ideating and developing five separate projects, each around a type of energy generation. This project was worked on for around fourteen weeks, with significant time spent polishing it, and tailoring it to the hardware it was to run on.
How Its Played
Owing to its more toy-like nature, Hydroelectrolizer has a relatively simple mode of play. At the top of the map, there is a reservoir of water. The brightly colored terrain can be cut away, in order to create a path for the water to flow through. When water makes contact with the megadam at the bottom of the map, it will begin to generate electricity. The Kilowatts per minute is displayed on the bottom, while an energy bar begins to rise on the sides of the map. The goal on each map is to hit 1000 Kilowatts per minute, represented by the top node on the sides of the map. By double clicking, the player can place a smaller damn onto the map, which will allow water to flow through it at a slow rate. In order to hit that goal of 1000, the player must have all three dams on the map, and insure that each damn is taking in their maximum intake. The player can toggle each dam on and off by clicking them, allowing them to build up water if needed.
Educational games are not every designers first pick, and coming out of a very constricting educational game internship, I was thankful for that TwoBitCircus Foundation were giving us an exciting project. They wanted five games, each themed around one manner of electrical generation: Solar, Water, Air, etc. While I worked on all of them, the water idea became my baby and was solely executed by myself. The general idea was not to make a 'game' per say, but rather a fun toy that kids in the museum could play with. Much like the sand physics flash games of yore, I wanted to make it a sandbox where players could create rivers, place damns, and in general mess with some physics. Below are my original sketches for the cabinet as well as gameplay itself.
Building it Out
With my ideation solidified, I needed to actually start breaking it out into buildable systems. I knew I wanted to have a lot of maps, to support the 'sandbox' idea, but building them by hand would be a pain. Secondly, I would need some way to make those maps actually interesting.
Luckily I was able to leach some wisdom from my teachers. One of them, who had prototyped Where's My Water? A water physics puzzle game was able to clue me in on a few tricks. The first and the coolest of which was actually reading data from .JPEG file and converting that into a player map. I'll spare you the nitty-gritty of it, but in essence the system works by parsing through each pixel of a the image, and then assigning that a type of prefabricated object within the scene. In the case of HydroElectrolizer, that is two types: Cuttable cubes, and Non-Cuttable cubes. This system would only parse black and white, allowing others and myself to rapidly create maps.
Now I had a way of rapidly creating maps, but that wasn't quite enough -- right? They have to look cool, that's half the fun. So I went a step above Where's My Water? in terms of interpreting map data. Each cube as it is built into the map goes through a formula that determines how far away it is from the closest cuttable cube. Using that formula, I was able to create a sort of 'mountain builder' which would place cubes at varying heights determined by the closest cuttable space. From there it was just a matter of creating palette profiles, which would change the color of the cube rendered based on height. We'd go from that sad black and white set of data to something more colorful... Like this!
I would implement a number of different palettes to make even the same map more fun by changing its color. Check out some more of the side by sides.
The Rest of It
Most of the games other systems are a bit too small to talk at length about. Water are actually just circle colliders with a texture that 'blurs' them together to create that water look. The cutting mechanic is as simple as determining what you're clicking on is cuttable, and removing it. Dams are just hitboxes that move the water from one side to the other at a set rate and deliver energy based off of it.
This project was really a test in polish for me. The prototype was done fairly quickly, and in fact all the major systems of it were probably implemented by the 6th week of production. However, there was usability challenges -- and making sure performance was at a place needed for the meager equipment it was going to run on was paramount.
I'm quite proud of this project and I think it accomplished the goals I had set out for it -- despite COVID striking in the middle of development. I really wish I could've gotten more players on it for testing, and seen if it needed to be pushed to be a bit more gameplay focused, or if my sandbox vision was sufficient.
Check out the end product though! Pretty slick, if I do say so myself.