Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers at Durham University have modified a video game and turned it into a fire drill simulator using the Source engine (the 3D game engine used to drive Half-Life 2), and created a virtual model of one of the university's departments. Dr. Shamus Smith said that although 3D modeling software was available, modifying a video game was faster, more cost effective, and had better special effects. 'We were interested in using game technology over a customized application and the Source Engine, from Half-Life, is very versatile,' said Smith. 'We used the simulation to see how people behaved in an actual fire situation and to train people in "good practice" in a fire.' The team says the virtual environment helped familiarize people with evacuation routines and could also help identify problems with a building's layout. One problem, however, was that while the simulation worked for most people, those who played a lot of video games did some unusual things when using the simulation. 'If a door was on fire, [the gamers] would try and run through it, rather than look for a different exit,' said Smith." This makes me wonder to what extent entertainment software will fill the role of non-entertainment software as the tools and engines become more and more powerful. Ars mentions related news that the US Dept. of Naval Research is dumping millions of dollars into "virtual reality-like simulations of small-scale urban conflicts." It's unclear whether this is related to the US Army's similar program.
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