A vomiting ferret and a trip to Mars: Computer Science students develop games for customers

At the end of their Bachelor’s studies, Computer Science students do not write a thesis; instead, they work in teams to develop prototypes of serious games or software systems for companies and other organisations. Their final presentation is scheduled for 1 July 2016.

The idea behind the projects is to let students work on a prototype for real-world clients in the most realistic way possible. This helps to prepare them for their later careers and teaches them how to organise a development project, from the design phase to final testing. Research groups or companies that would like to know more about commissioning Computer Science students to develop (serious) games for their research or organisational purposes  can contact the project coordinator Marjan van den Akker, or look at the website.

This year, eight teams will work on projects for a wide range of clients:

1. GATB Research

GATB Research deals with personnel assessments during job applications, and was wondering if its possible to develop the static tests currently used into more dynamic assessments.  The students are working on a game that takes place on a cruise ship. But in the background, the player’s actions are converted into specific skills, such as analytical thinking, alertness, decisiveness, etc. This project is one of the year’s most challenging assignments, because it deals with complex material that until now has only been applied in static assessments. 

2. Veterinary and Human Medicine

Two teams of students have been assigned to develop games for students of the faculties of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, in order to help them learn how to diagnose a condition in a systematic manner (clinical reasoning). At the start of the game, a person or animal appears and the player can click on various organs or parts of the body. For example, when they click on the lungs, the game plays a video of the patient’s breathing. That way, the player can progress through the steps necessary to come to a diagnosis and choose the right treatment based on that diagnosis. The games are based as much as possible on real-life cases. For Veterinary Medicine, the player may be confronted with a vomiting ferret, for example. For Medical students, the game is mainly geared towards infections in human patients. 

3. ProRail

ProRail has asked a team of Computer Science students to develop a game to help policymakers understand what ProRail does, exactly, and how complex the process can be. At the moment, the students are developing a multi-player game in which the players have to design stations, make the trains run on time and solve disruptions on the rails.

4. NLR Netherlands Aerospace Centre

In the near future, pilots at the Netherlands Aerospace Centre will be able to simulate a trip to Mars by means of a serious game. Students are currently working on a prototype in which the pilots are confronted with a wide range of difficult situations on the journey, which they will have to solve in an effective manner.

5. PowerSaver

At the Department of Information and Computer Science, students are creating a game for the research group led by Remco Veltkamp with the goal of helping people reduce their energy consumption. The game is linked to existing household energy systems. Residents will receive regular assignments such as ‘set the thermostat lower’, or ‘turn off the television’. The objective of the game is to help people develop more sustainable lifestyles. 

6. NedTrain

NedTrain (part of NS) is responsible for the maintenance and cleaning of NS trains. The work takes place at a service location, where technicians and cleaners work on the trains at night. This involves a complicated scheduling process, so the students are designing a software system to visualise the schedule and to make it more user-friendly.

7. Learning Analytics

For an education innovation project led by Johan Jeuring, a team of students is creating a tool that can be used within an electronic learning environment in order to help students identify their learning behaviour or progress based on specific activities. The tool should allow the students to identify which learning objectives they have already mastered, and which ones still need work. This is a completely new, innovative project within Utrecht University, and can be tied in with blended learning.

The final presentations of all of the projects will be held on 1 July 2016. During the presentations, the games will be displayed and the clients will be able to speak about the assignments. In the past, clients have benefitted from several games created by Computer Science students. An excellent example is the game The Virtual Patient, which is currently used to train future pharmacists on their communication skills.