Case Studies IRIS Kanaleneiland

IRIS Light House: System Design

Game design has broad application as design discipline because it must consider the design of underlying systems, interaction with those systems, and must approach everything with design thinking. The purpose of this post is to share insights into the game system design behind the Kanaleneiland box. Keep in mind that the perspectives on our approach have a basis in game design thinking.

System Design Goals

In our approach, we use design goals to focus on results and avoid technology-driven features. Design goals are demonstratable player results driven by a combination of the system, interaction, medium, et. 

  • Our design goals for the Kanaleneiland box was to:
  • Communicate the benefits of Bo-Ex upgrades in cost.
  • Allow children in group 7-8 can play and learn about green energy.
  • Communicate how Bo-Ex upgrades will affect the Kanaleneiland resident’s cost of living.
The second draft of the system flow diagram

The System Breakdown

The formal elements of a game system include time, game space, agency, objects, attributes, rules, objectives, game state, and incentives. 

Formal Elements of a Game System
M. Hrehovcsik, 2011


The time of a single session is 210 seconds divided into three days and two nights and ends with a paused feedback moment. Starting a new session begins with the game state fro the previous session. The design assumes that players will play multiple sessions and estimates that a typical player will play three or more sessions, i.e., about 10 to 15 minutes, before arriving at a meaningful play experience.

Game Space

Space includes the Kanaleneiland box and screen that displays the hologram effect, a.k.a. Pepper’s ghost. The system space consists of the physical control interface, the physical space in the Kanaleneiland box, and the digital space. The HUD (heads-up display) and the declarative layer consisting of the character separate the digital space. The digital area provides the most amount of real-estate to the character, which invites players to take action and undergo actions in response to the player. 


Seven binary setting buttons and a turn-nob determine the player agency. The buttons are organized into two groups 1) core activities; 2) Bo-Ex upgrades. The turn-nob controls the temperature. The core activities allow the player to switch on/off lights, turn on/off the stove, plug-in/out a mobile device, and use hot water. Bo-Ex upgrades allow the players:

  • switch to solar power;
  • switch to USB plugs;
  • change the stove to electric;
  • \use a Toon (i.e., digital thermostat) to regulate temperature;
  • install double glass to minimal temperature regulation;
  • and switch all Bo-ex upgrades on/off altogether. 

Objects and Attributes

The system considers the stove, shower, lights, thermostat, and charging. All these objects have a cost attribute, gas or electricity attribute, or temperature attribute. When the Bo-Ex upgrades are applied, they primarily affect the attributes by slowing down costs, changing gas to electric, or slowing the rate of the temperature change. 

Game State Feedback

The player can interpret the game state by 1) monitoring the accumulative costs displayed by the HUD; 2) during the paused end-session feedback screen(s). The later provides the most in-depth insight into the game state by giving the player with varying degrees of feedback. The primary game state indicator is an aggregated grade between A+ to D, which indicates how well the player balanced the character’s needs and cost of utilities during the previous session. Additionally, individual elements that affect the character’s quality of life are also graded A+ to D to provide further details. The next level of feedback offers an overview of the costs of gas, heating, and electricity. The summary also includes the cost of rent, which never changes. Including the cost of rent demonstrates to the player that Bo-ex upgrades do not increase the rent. The last level of feedback provides an overview of previous game states in terms of final grade and costs. 

System Rules

The system has specific rules to handle the grades given to the player. These rules challenge the player to find the balance between costs and the quality of the character’s life. The system primarily relies on a simplified simulation based on thermal dynamics.

Social Rules 

Because the Box’s interface has multiple interaction points, two people can play at the same time without conflict over the agency. 

The system is designed as a sandbox experience. The sessions allow players to experiment without consequence. While the game state feedback encourages the player to find the optimal configurations.

A system for gaming or playing 

“A game is a synthetic procedural system that stimulates regulated play.” – M. Hrehovcsik, 2010

What is the Kanaleneiland box? Is it a game? An argument for this system being a game is that it grades the player’s result from each session. The grading is a clear indication of how well the player played the game. However, because after each session, the game state remains persistent, i.e., never resets. Because the system it never resets, it misses a recognizable end-state. Many game definitions include the end-state as a requirement for a game. Others only indicate there needs to be a quantifiable outcome. The Kanaleneiland box system becomes a compelling case for thinking about what makes a game. In this post, the formal elements of a game system are used to analyze the Kanaleneiland box system. Based on the breakdown alone, a game system is recognizable. However, the results could still be labeled by some as a simulation or toy.