Tygron for Scientific Research

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Use-case 4: “the Virtual River Game”

A PhD candidate at the University of Twente was assigned to create a serious gaming environment for river interventions as a tool that facilitates stakeholder engagement. The research was one among 15 projects as part of the RiverCare research program. The researcher is a human-centered interface designer, and is not an expert in river interventions. After developing and testing several prototypes, the researcher created the virtual river game, a unique board-game that is digitally connected to the Tygron platform. To simulate river interventions, players can move the pieces on the board, and immediately see the changes on the Tygron screen including the new map, as well as numerical calculations and graphs corresponding to the board changes.

The board component of the Virtual River Game, (Photo: Ryan d’Souza)

Content of the Research

General information

Background of the researcher

  • Prior to this PhD, the researcher had a Masters in Industrial Design Engineering from the University of Twente.
  • He had experience in design methods.
  • The researcher did not have any prior experience in GIS, geo-design or coding.
  • He had a limited programming base and he was pursuing a coding course along with his research.
  • On the practical side, the researcher had tools and skills such as laser cutting and CAD drawing, which played a role while making the board.

Objectives and desired outcome

The main objective of this research was to create a virtual game that allows players to interact with an imaginary river section.

The game would allow different stakeholder groups to:

  • learn about each others' perspectives regarding river management
  • take better decisions of river interventions
  • reflect upon the potential effects of those interventions

To do that, the researcher was expected to:

  1. develop and test a serious virtual game where players experience how river systems function.
  2. draft and publish a dissertation paper.

Research process

Research phases and time distribution

  • The research meant to take 4 years to be completed.
  • Because the researcher was employed by the university 1 day/week, it took him 5 years to complete the research on a 4-days a week basis.
  • That being said, the research started at the end of 2014 and ended at the end of 2019.

The research was developed based on a need-driven approach, therefore it consisted of:

  1. An initial research phase:
    • this phase was very time-intensive, taking up to 3 years.
    • it included intermediate prototypes.
  2. The development phase, taking up to 2 years:
    • the researcher prototyped different games
    • the researcher tested the prototypes with stakeholders.
    • three prototypes were formally tested.
  3. A final testing phase at the end of the research:
    • during this phase, 5 sessions were organized.
    • all these sessions took place within 6 weeks.
    • Although more sessions were to take place, they had to be cancelled due to the Covid-lockdown.

Resources & guidance

The Virtual River Game's hardware and software (source: The Virtual River Game)

As mentioned earlier, the researcher did not have any prior knowledge in rivers, coding or the Tygron platform.

That is why it is important to mention those who have helped the researcher create the river game:

  1. Mascha van der Voort (Professor in Human-centered Design) and Suzanne Hulscher (Professor in Hydraulic Engineering), as supervisors of the research project.
  2. Fedor Baart (one of the co-authors) from Deltares, contributed with his coding and modelling expertise.
  3. The Tygron team, who assisted the researcher in the following:
    • Learning the Tygron platform.
    • The connection of the board to the Tygron interface (API).
    • Feedback regarding the game itself.
  4. Other researchers and stakeholders who were involved in the discussions and the sessions throughout the process.

Learning and using Tygron

  • The researcher has looked at several toolkits for game design, however, he has chosen the Tygron platform as it seemed the most applicable for his vision.
  • Therefore, he had to learn how to use the Tygron platform.
  • The researcher also involved the Tygron team from the start.
  • To do that, he visited Tygron's office for 2 full days in the very beginning so that he could:
    1. receive training on how to use the platform.
    2. discuss with the team about what can and cannot be done using the Tygron platform.
  • The researcher heavily relied on the web-based form of the API (Application Programmers Interface) as well as the support wiki.
  • After that, he went back to Tygron to discuss the linkage between the platform and the board game.
  • To create the game, the researcher used the following data sources:
    1. Delft3D Flexible Mesh hydrodynamic model
    2. the BIOSAFE biodiversity model
    3. a self-developed "cost model" based on price estimation from research.
The physical game board of the Virtual River game as a representation of a Dutch river segment.
Virtual River game interface in the Tygron Geodesign platform.

Making the Board Game

  • The following tools or instruments were involved in the creation of the board game:
  1. Coding with Python as well as GIS, however, the researcher relied on others to help with the coding
  2. Interviews with stakeholders who were involved in river management.
  3. Solidworks software to develop the physical board layout as well as visual icons.
  4. A laptop to create the game.

In a later stage, the researcher dedicated a mini desktop computer for the game. That is because during that time, Tygron was still developing its water module, so as mentioned earlier, the researcher used the Delft3D model from Deltares which was CPU intensive.

It is important to mention that:

  1. a student assistant was hired to help with the creation of the board.
  2. the researcher had a dedicated budget that was used for the purchase of the mini-computer, materials for the board, touch screen monitor, projector, webcam, wood material, etc., as well as hiring the student assistant.
The physical set-up of the virtual river game including the physical board, touchscreen monitor, projector, and webcam. (source: The Virtual River Game)

The outcome of the research

The final outcome of the research was a physical game board that represents a fictional and abstract part of the Dutch river.

About the Virtual River Game

As mentioned at the beginning of this use-case, the outcome of the research was already envisioned from the start: To create a virtual river game.

The researcher had in mind the possibility of creating a game that is a combination of physical and digital, however, that was not predetermined.

In the initial prototypes, the researcher worked on translating real river locations into the board, focusing on the rivers on the east of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Those prototypes were simple and made of paper, but with a computer game (in Tygron) in mind.

However, for the final prototype, the research team extracted the characteristic of a typical dutch river, such as its width, slope, depth, height of the levees, etc. and used it as a representation in the game. That being said, the virtual river game is not a representation of a real location.

The Analogue Game Board

  • The game board is a spatial area divided into equal hexagonal locations.
  • Each location is filled with two modular types of game stones: height and land use.
  • For example, there are low stones to form the main channel of the river. Slightly higher stones, together with different land use, form stones as agricultural use, natural grassland and forest the floodplains. Even higher stones form the dikes.

The Digital Interface

  • The researcher developed a game table and software around the game board that makes the physical game board digital.
  • The digital board is used to control the Tygron Platform.
  • Players see the game board as a virtual world on the platform.
  • For example, where the land use is agricultural on the board, players see cows grazing in the virtual world. Where the land use is a forest on the board, the players see trees.

The researcher explains further about the Virtual River Game in the two videos below:

Video 01- An introduction to the virtual river game
Video 02- Explanation of the visualization and how the interventions work

Feedback and recommendations

  • The researcher had run into some obstacles during his research, including:
  1. different visions and expectations of the outcome of the result. There was a gap in expectation among the research partners and what could actually be done. For instance, the researcher was looking at the "need" and at integrating the knowledge from (RiverCare) as a "means", whereas the research consortium had the expectation that the game would integrate all RiverCare knowledge, as a "goal".
  2. connecting the board game to the API of Tygron was a challenge. There was a lot of trial and error involved in the process, especially that some of the things were even new for the Tygron team themselves.
  3. not having a prototype as a baseline due to the long conceptualization phase at the beginning of the research.
  • For successful scientific research using the Tygron platform, the researcher shares the following recommendations:
  1. It is important to involve third parties in the research in order to create added value. This way the outcome will be fulfilling a real need.
  2. It is also important to involve them as they have much expertise and knowledge to share.
  3. Managing expectations at the beginning of the research is an important point.
  4. Spend more time thinking about what should be developed, what could be done, what should not be done, what is possible, etc.
  5. Develop the prototypes at an earlier stage, even if it is only 2 out of 10. Then, use that prototype as a baseline for discussion instead of being stuck in the conceptual phase.

In this research, once the prototype was playable, a baseline was created and discussions finally started.


For more information about this PhD research, you can contact us at:

You can also contact the main researcher Robert-Jan den Haan, researcher at the University of Twente at:

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