Geographic Information Systems are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the analysis of large geospatial data sets. In order to present this data visually in an interactive fashion, Unity, a software package used to create video games, has been utilized to fabricate fully explorable, three-dimensional game levels using real-world geographic data and satellite photography. Unity is freely available for web deployment, which has contributed to its rapid adoption by colleges and universities. In addition to modeling the "realistic" terrain, the Unity game engine can be used to visualize any type of data.
These visuals can be enhanced with the addition of three-dimensional models created in external packages such as Google SketchUp. This open source tool allows for easy creation and texture mapping of buildings and other landmarks. These models can be imported into the Unity environment, bringing a notion of familiarity to the regions being modeled. This NEMAC sponsored research project focuses on flood modeling for areas of the French Broad and Swannanoa River districts. Various river floodplain levels are created and can be interactively manipulated. The rivers' levels are modeled as polygonal meshes based on shapefile image inputs, and displayed using an animated water shader. A shapefile is a widely adopted geospatial vector format that is computationally easier to process than a topological format. This project brings computer environmental modeling to a wider audience, thus allowing for detailed, interactive visuals to be used by decision makers. Utilizing a real time game engine allows changes in the model to be made almost “on the fly”, something which previously was prohibitively expensive in rendered, three-dimensional models