Page last updated at 09:33 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Video game helps with fire drill

Researchers have adapted the first person shooter Half-Life into a fire drill simulator

Researchers at Durham University have modified a video game and turned it into a fire drill simulator.

The team used Valve's Source, the 3D game engine used to drive Half-Life 2, and created a virtual model of one of the university's departments.

Developers plan to use it to examine people's behaviour in a fire and to train people in good fire practice.

The simulator can be adapted to mimic the interior of most buildings, although modification will be needed.

Durham University's Dr Shamus Smith, who helped spearhead the project, told BBC News that that while bespoke 3D modelling software was available, modifying a video game was faster, more cost effective, and had better special effects.

"The video you see is an example of how to escape the Computer Science Department of Durham University.

"We were interested in using game technology over a customised application and The Source Engine, from Half-Life, is very versatile.

"We used the simulation to see how people behaved in an actual fire situation and to train people in 'good practice' in a fire.

Know-how

The team at Durham say the virtual environment helped familiarise people with evacuation routines and could also help identify problems with a building's layout.

By customising a video game, a finished representation of a building could be completed in just a few weeks without needing to learn or develop additional programming skills.

However, while the simulation worked for most people, those who played a lot of video games did rather unusual things.

"If a door was on fire, they [gamers] would try and run through it, rather than look for a different exit," said Dr Smith

Non-gamers treated it as a more serious exercise.

In other studies, gaming technology has also been adapted to simulate lab accidents, teach people about cooking safety, and to help people overcome arachnophobia.

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