Design Challenges: Abstract vs Concrete

When using real life data in a game, do you go abstract or concrete?



It’s a difficult question to answer. Every game must wrestle with the need to depict realistic aspects, be it the character or world design to the game’s physics engine. Though at the same time a video game must create a flexible environment that doesn’t restrict or hinder the player from being able to fully control and enjoy the experience.

One of the greatest challenges to occur during the conceptualisation and early prototyping phase of Jacob has been the very fact that the game is based on the CLS’s cohort studies data. When creating a game that deals with serious subject matter it is always important to consider how far a game must go to deliver that data to its target audience.

On one hand, when drawing inspiration from real life data it is crucial to realise that if you stray too far away from the subject material then the objective of the project loses all meaning.

But on the other hand, drawing too closely to realism can ruin the play experience. For example, think of the many games you have played in a real world setting that have forgone very simple day to day necessities such as sleeping, eating, drinking and using the toilet.

For Jacob however we decided to take the more abstract route for two very important reasons. Firstly we wanted to avoid the risk of making broad generalisations; just like life, everyone’s journey throughout the game will be different and so it would be unwise to unnecessarily pigeon hole people into caricatures or stereotypes.

Secondly, and most importantly, is that the game must serve a purpose to the player. Striving for realism is sometimes necessary, as mentioned previously, but going too far in that direction may restrict the player to the point where the game loses their attention.

Though what is important to understand is that this decision to go more abstract is far from a simple compromise. Once the more abstract route is taken different challenges immediately occur.  The greatest challenge is that the game must adequately tie back to the data.

To achieve this aim we will be working closely with the team at CLS. The development team at Duck Duck Zeus have already had the pleasure of meeting them to discuss the proposed idea and the early prototype, and will continue to work with them to ensure that the balance between engaging gameplay and accurate subject matter is carried out.


Longitudinal Studies Video Game To Be Launched Later This Year

Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) are currently working with game developers, Duck Duck Zeus, to create a video game which explores findings from the UK’s cohort studies.

Using information from the 1958 National Child Development Study, 1970 British Cohort Study, Millennium Cohort Study and Next Steps, ‘Jacob’ (working title) will give players an interactive opportunity to follow hypothetical individuals as they make their way through life.

Dr David Bann, of CLS, and Professor Andrew Burn, of the UCL Institute of Education, are leading the collaborative project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Video games are an extremely promising avenue for public engagement with science – they are used by many millions around the world and even simple games can tackle serious and complicated themes,” explains Dr Bann.

“The game will enable members of the public to engage with quantitative research findings from longitudinal studies, and become familiar with concepts important to social science such as risk and variance.”

The 2D puzzle game, which will be available for PC, tablet and mobile in the spring, will challenge players to assemble ladder-like objects out of a number of different pieces. Players need to build upwards while avoiding or overcoming different obstacles. Unlike most video games, players will not start off equally – the game difficulty will depend on both random variation and on the early life socioeconomic conditions selected at the beginning of the game.

The more challenging the circumstances, the more difficult it will be on average to assemble the pieces to get to the top of the ladder and complete the game.

At the end of each game, players will be able to find out more about the possible influence of different socioeconomic conditions, through the published findings from peer-reviewed journal articles, which have used data from the cohort studies housed at CLS.

You can follow the frequent development updates of ‘Jacob’ on this blog site, on our Twitter and our Facebook Page

It Always Beings With An Engine

Every game begins with an engine.


A video game like any complex machine requires an engine at the heart of its system and without a good engine your machine can easily fall apart in no time at all.

The question is which engine is the right one to use?

The answer however is a little more difficult to answer. There are many good game engines currently available for both private and commercial use and they offer a diverse range of strengths and weaknesses.

The question that should really be asked is what do we require this engine to do?

As this game is being released for free, and explores CLS’s cohort studies, we want as many people as possible to find out about the findings of the research. The best way to make it available to everyone is to have the ability to port Jacob to as many different devices and systems as feasibly possible.

That is why the team at Duck Duck Zeus have chosen Unity 5 as their game engine for this project. In addition to the team’s familiarity with the engine, Unity also allows an easier means of porting the game to other systems.


As you can see Unity already has a proven track record of success releases across a variety of platforms. If you would like to know more about Unity or (or even try it yourself as there is a free version) you can download it from the Unity website