Cornucopia was an educational game I designed and built with Caitlyn Crites and Jordan Santell.

Initially, we competed in the California Academy of Science’s Climate Game Jam, and won a contract to develop the prototype into a full game. The initial prototype was a Javascript game with Jordan as the primary engineer. The idea behind the prototype was to create a simulation game where the player had to balance the growth of a city with its growing demand on its water supply. The game specifically focused on how food production factored into the system. As the city grew in population, its citizens demanded both more water and more food, which required water to produce. If the water supply ran low, however, the city would shrink in population. Players had the ability to change the types of food the city demanded and the farming techniques that could be used to produce the food, both of which affected the city’s water usage. Ultimately it proved to be an effective demonstration on how population growth and food production affect (and are affected by) droughts caused by climate change.

For the full game, I rewrote our simulation in Unity, and then worked with Cal Academy staff to design game mechanics that better suited their educational goals. We shifted the focus away from how population growth interacts with climate change, and focused specifically on food production and food choices. The goal was to teach players to make more climate-conscious decisions about the food that they eat, and to show them how farmers can become more resilient against droughts. To help encourage more strategic, considered play, I made the game turn-based. Instead of growing a city by changing its food preferences, the player filled food orders by placing and “harvesting” farms of different varieties. Orders typically asked for volumes of “Protein” and “Veggies”: generic resources that farms produced at varying rates. Players could chose which types of crops to grow based on the amount of time, water, and land they all needed. Each type of farm was modeled after a basic crop grown in the Central Valley of California, and I worked with the Cal Academy staff to balance the costs and payouts to reflect the real world.

You can play Cornucopia at the Cal Academy website, or on my Github.