I am very interested in using games to improve the teaching of astrophysics at high-school and university levels. Here is one recent experiment - using text adventure games to teach the theory of the Big Bang. It was trialed in 2004, in a course called "The Big Questions".

For more of my games, click here.

An Experiment

One of the goals of "The Big Questions" course is to try out experimental teaching methods. This course pioneered the use of such innovations as an on-line bulletin board, WebCT and many other things at the ANU.

This year is no exception - you are about to be guinea pigs in the trial of a very different teaching technique.

In the last two weeks of this course, instead of using lectures, we're going to let you run a computer game. This game is designed to teach you about how the universe began. But instead of being told about this in a lecture, or reading notes, you'll work it out for yourselves as you play the game.

This is an experiment - we hope you will enjoy the experience and learn a lot from it, but nothing like this game has ever been tried before. So please help us - tell us when things go wrong, and we will fix them. Tell us what you like about it, and we will expand these bits. And please be patient, as there are almost certainly lots of bugs in the game which will need to be ironed out.

The Game

Imagine that you are a bright young astronomer, newly appointed to the prestigious Mt Stromlo Observatory. Your job is to figure out how the universe began. This is the role you will play in the game.

It is a text adventure game. You type commands (eg "ask dr winkle about the telescope") and the computer will answer. You will wander around Mt Stromlo, make observations with its telescopes, analyse the data, chat with other staff members over morning tea, read books in the Stromlo library and attend seminars. Slowly you will accumulate the clues which will allow you to solve the mystery and win the game.

The game is set in Mt Stromlo as it will be a few years from now, when the post-fire rebuilding is complete. The science is all real science (slightly simplified) and the conclusions you will draw are true ones.


This game is designed to replace lectures and/or reading notes. On Tuesday 19th October I will introduce the game in person in the usual lecture theatre. You are welcome to skip this if these notes are sufficient. I will also closely monitor the bulletin board and help with any queries about running the game. I will also give a lecture on 28th October to debrief you on the game and answer questions about the real science of the beginning of our universe.

How to Play

You will need to download the game onto some computer to play it. It runs on pretty well every known form of computer (ie. Windows, Macs, Linux, even Palm Pilots). The game is much too big to run in one sitting - I estimate that it will take several hours playing for anyone to win this game. You may choose to run it on a computer at home (it should work on even very slow and elderly computers) or on an ANU computer. You can even move it from one to another - starting playing on one machine and moving the half-played game to another.

The game was written using the TADS language. To run it, you will need to download two (small) files:

Here are the programs you need to run stromlo.gam (the game file).

The game produces a log file (stromlo_log.txt) and also, whenever you stop playing for a bit, you save your current location to a file, so you do not need to go all the way back to the start next time you play. To move the game to another computer, you'll need to take this save file and the log file, along with the game. Then it should run fine anywhere.

The game is quite challenging, so share hints/ideas with each other on the bulletin board.

On-line Version

If you really have trouble installing the game on a computer, you can play it on-line without installing anything. This on-line version has a few shortcomings, but should run easily on any computer with a web browser. Click on the title or here to run this on-line version.

The Manual

Here is the manual describing this game and how to play it, once it's installed.

The Manual

You will probably need to take notes while you play, to remember all the clues and details you find while exploring Mt Stromlo.


There will be no quizzes for the weeks of 18-29th October. Instead, you should submit the log file that this game produces (stromlo_log.txt). This file will be used as evidence that you actually used the game, and will tell us how much progress you made. Roughly speaking, the score you achieve (out of 40 points) in the game will be the mark you get. Submit it through the WebCT assignment submission system.

You should submit it twice. Submit the incomplete log file (whatever you've done by then) on or before 24th October, and the complete one on 31st October. This is to make sure that you don't leave playing this rather complex game 'till the last moment.

We'd also love your comments on this experiment. There wll be a special quiz at the end of these two weeks which simply asks for your feedback on this game. This will tell us if it was an experiment worth repeating, and how to improve it.

Last Modified: 11th March 2005

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