Rapid prototyping of virtual environments using computer game development tools

This project investigated the reuse of computer game development tools to rapidly prototype virtual environments (VE). We explored how reusing game development technology can simplify the 3D modelling of virtual buildings and the generation of effects that are difficult to program, such as fire and smoke. A training-based VE was constructed and evaluated to test fire evacuation procedures of a simulated real world building.


  • S.P. Smith and D. Trenholme, Rapid prototyping a virtual fire drill environment using computer game technology, Fire Safety Journal 44:4 (May 2009) 559-569, Elsevier.
  • Abstract
    Conducting fire evacuation drills in modern buildings under realistic fire conditions can be difficult. Typical fire drills do not feature dynamic events such as smoke filled corridors, fires in unexpected places or blocked fire exits that require on the spot decisions from evacuees. One alternative is the use of virtual environments. Virtual environments can support the training and observation of fire evacuee behaviours in 3D virtual buildings. However complex virtual environments can be difficult to build.
    This paper explores how the reuse of computer game technology can aid in the rapid prototyping of virtual environments which can be populated with fire drill evacuation scenarios. Over a three week period, a single developer constructed a realistic model of a real world building to support virtual fire drill evaluations. While participants in a user study found the simulated environment realistic, performance metrics indicated clustering in the results based on participants’ previous gaming experience.
    Keywords: Virtual reality; Virtual fire drill; Fire evacuation; Game engines; Rapid prototyping; Evaluation, Half-life2, Source Engine

  • D. Trenholme and S.P. Smith, Computer game engines for developing first-person virtual environments, Virtual Reality 12 (2008), pg 181-187, Springer.
  • Selected news coverage

  • Durham University News
  • BBC NEWS | Technology | Video game helps with fire drill
  • guardian.co.uk: Violent videogames can help in an emergency
  • Stills from the Half-life 2 mod - JPG - click on images for larger versions


    This work was funded in part by the Nuffield Foundation (grant URB/34118).