Three video games that should count as second year revision
Sometimes you don’t really want to do some work, but you know you really should be. Solution? Find something to do that’s ever-so-slightly tangentially related to what you should be doing, of course! Over many months of procrastination, I’ve found three games that can provide guilt-free entertainment. to any engineering student. Bonus points available for sneaking mentions of them into exam papers!
Puzzle-based ‘walking simulator’ that explores themes of urban decay
I’ve always found something eerily beautiful in the decaying ruins of once-proud buildings. INFRA takes that feeling and bottles it, placing you in the work boots and hard hat of a structural engineer, exploring various old mines, crumbling dams and shoddily-maintained metro systems. The UK is a country with much of its infrastructure dating back to the Victorian era; in any established urban area the ground underneath our feet is criss-crossed with utility pipes, sewers and subways in various states of repair, a feeling INFRA invokes well. Whilst real-life failures are generally more mundane than those displayed here, it’s always good to have disasters both real and fictional in the back of the mind, in order to prevent their future reoccurance. For this reason, what was for me an optional module is now being made compulsory for civil stream students.
Forensic Engineering was my favourite second year module, mostly for the case studies where we analysed a basket of (mostly civil) engineering failures. INFRA feels like the days and weeks before one of those failures, where the cracks are quite literally beginning to show and the failure is only a matter of time, and the actual proximate cause is the snowflake that starts the avalanche. Only by learning lessons from past failures can we design truly resilient infrastructure – and if a fictional account wedges the issues into the back of your mind, then I’m all for it!
Kerbal Space Program
Semi-realistic rocket science sim
Space physics is a bit weird. You turn your engine on facing one direction, which changes your orbit in another entirely. KSP thankfully simplifies things quite a bit from reality to prevent it all being too overwhelming, but there’s no doubt the game does a semi-decent job of teaching basic orbital dynamics. In designing a huge range of spacecraft from piddly little capsules-on-boosters through to interplanetary monsters, the game naturally leads you the design process as you seek greater and further goals. Through trial, error, and the sacrifice of many brave green astronauts, you too can gain just enough knowledge of rocketry to embarrass yourself in front of someone who actually understands it. My crowning moment was launching an automated probe to another planet on a gigantic transfer stage I’d assembled in orbit – only to have to crash it into the surface at terminal velocity because I’d forgotten to add parachutes.
Factory-building game where the goal is to automate all the hard work
Technical Operations Management
Factorio is a game where, having crash-landed on an alien planet, you must build your means of escape. You start off by laboriously cutting down trees and mining coal by hand, but that’s boring and takes ages – so you build miner drills. But these need fuel to run, so you need conveyor belts. You can make more stuff by hand, but why do so when you can build a machine to do it for you? Factorio is an incredibly addictive game about automation, where you build megacomplexes from nothing – juggling production ratios, laying railways to distant oil fields and wage a one-person eco-disaster against the poor aliens whose planet you’re trampling upon.
Tech Ops followed on from the Business Management module I took in first year, but is more focussed on tools you’d use as part of day-to-day work in a manufacturing environment. I learnt about Just In Time (or ‘JIT’ as it’s so often shortened to), financial accounting (not the most fun bit) and risk assessments, but also had a few lectures about how to set up a factory – how to calculate how many stations you need for a given throughput, high-level models of factory layouts, and where waste and inefficiency can sneak in, and so on. It turns out this is exactly the skillset you need to play Factorio, making it the final word in revision games. You can overlook your megafactory and feel smug satisfaction of a direct application of your lectures – before noticing just one little bottleneck to fix before bed, and then another, and then oh hello it’s 7 in the morning…
Of course, you do have to get some educational value out of your time at uni. Next post, I’ll have a little chat about revision tips, how your first year can set the tone for the rest of your degree, and how much work people actually do in freshers! Until then!