Simulators and video games have long been used to simulate real life, war situations like in America's Army; scientists at the Durham University have now adapted video games for more peaceful purposes.
By using the Source engine, which is the 3D Game platform used to power popular first person shooter Half-Life 2, the group managed to create part of the university and used it to access how people react during a fire.
Building what amounted to a virtual fire drill simulator became much easier by using available tools; previously, 3D modelling software like Maya or 3D Studio Max had to be used which were costly, time consuming and did not always produce end results that were up to the scratch,
By adapting existing games engine like The Source Engine, Dr Shamus Smith and his team were able to train people in "good practice" in a fire in a virtual environment that took only a few weeks to assemble.
Smith added that “Although virtual environment toolkits are available, they usually only provide a subset of the tools needed to build complete virtual worlds. Although you can create fire and smoke for example, it is not very straightforward."
The study was partly funded by the Nuffield foundation.
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The source engine is a four year old engine developed by Valve that is starting to show its age. It would probably have been better to get Intel's Havoc Physics engine onboard. As its name implies, a Physics Engine can replicate the likeliness of physical interactions between bodies in real time.