If you keep students happy, they’ll learn – and joust

Should university staff be trained via a giant brain contraption? Ben Huskins explains the thinking behind Two Point Campus, a university simulation game.

Ben Huskins is Design Director at Two Point Studios

In our new console and PC simulation game called Two Point Campus, players build and manage a university campus.

It involves creating various rooms like classrooms, lecture theatres and libraries, as well as organising different cultural events and extra-curricular activities.

But it’s about more than just playing university Estates director or SU entertainments officer. It’s also about non-continuation, completion, graduate outcomes, student mental health and even learning gain.

Players also have to appoint, motivate and retain staff – including lecturers, teaching assistants and cleaning staff.

In our previous game Two Point Hospital, a patient comes in, they get diagnosed, they get treated, and your incentive as a player is to get them through the system as fast as possible.

But in an education setting, these students are on this course for three years (assuming they don’t drop out or fail) so it’s all about how can you get the best out of them in their limited time at university, and how can you give them the best time socially as well as academically.

Where is two point?

Two Point County starts off in a classic kind of rural British countryside location – but as you progress through the county, you go to all sorts of different places that take their influences from places all around the world. As a result, you get different styles of buildings that you can build there.

For gamers, the perception of what student life entails changes depending on where they live. In the UK, a staple of university is Freshers’ week, but when it comes to America, we might instead think of the Greek system of fraternity and sorority houses. Even though Two Point Studios is UK-based, we aimed to make the game universally understandable.

Our artists took inspiration from all different kinds of buildings and things for the accommodation blocks, and they did look at inspiration from American style buildings as well for various different levels. We have kept it quite British as that’s Two Point’s humour, but we do make sure it’s transferable to different areas.

We also spent a lot of time thinking about things like grading systems for the students. Every country uses slightly different systems, but we wanted it to at least be understandable to a lot of people so we’ve got things like the letter grades, which we felt was relatively universal within the world of education, even if it’s not necessarily something you come out of university with, it felt like that’s a fairly universally understood concept. So no firsts here.

A dying art

To be good at the game you need to be good at spinning many plates – you have to make sure your staff and students are happy, that your finances are healthy, and one of the most crucial elements is the planning that goes into your campus layout.

It’s important to think about where your students need to visit, should you put all your classrooms together, where should you put the dormitories and other essential facilities like bathrooms, and also crucially where are they going to have fun.

You need to be good at knowing and providing what’s going to make the students happy, and understanding their needs so you can cater to their every whim – because happy students will work harder, and are more likely to pay their tuition fees!

We really wanted to make sure we didn’t just concentrate on the academic side of things, the life of a student is also very much about all the social elements, so part of these ideas came from our own experiences in education, hanging out with our friends, first loves, joining clubs, going to parties, all the fun stuff. So we wanted that to feel like it was as big a part of the game as the learning elements.

Getting real

In our games nothing is ever super realistic, we tend to have some elements grounded in reality, but we do that so we can layer on the more ridiculous things, and they stand out in contrast to the real world elements.

For example the lecture theatre is relatively normal, but the science lab next to it has over-sized sci-fi-esque equipment, and then you find yourself building duelling rooms for wizards, and you realise you’ve really stepped away from reality.

Two Point Campus really wasn’t designed as a training tool, but it does have certain elements you could learn from as it is at heart a simulation game. So you have to think about the finances in running a successful institution, hiring the appropriate staff, marketing your university to attract more students, all those more business minded elements, but we very much focused on how to make it fun, rather than anything too serious.

Mental health

We were keen to have pastoral care included as a new feature of the game, it was important as it feels like an integral part of the student experience, as being a student involves leaving home and being independent for the first time, living in a new place, making new friends, which is all quite a daunting experience.

We wanted to reflect that by adding it as feature, but then also be as light-hearted as possible to keep it within the style of the game, but it is definitely something you have think about if you’re looking after lots of students – and something you have to consider in two Point Campus to keep your students happy and well-adjusted.

There are quite a few fun surprises, like the Nature Club, which allows students to both enjoy tending to nature as well as the cool air on their backsides. Spy School is a lot of fun, trying to figure out which of your students are moles, not what we expect most university staff have to think about.

The staff training method might also come as a bit of a surprise as it involves knowledge being imparted by a giant brain contraption. We’re not sure that’s an accurate representation of how staff are trained in the real world, but it is the tried and tested method in Two Point County.

I would hope people that actually work in education will see elements of what they encounter in their jobs but with a very ridiculous twist, so they might find it even more amusing than other people playing the game, as they see relatable elements but can enjoy the charming absurdity we’ve sprinkled over everything.

Ben Huskins was talking to Jim Dickinson

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