Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Historical Strategy

Historical Strategy
A look at the application of strategy games

When I was in school there was a particularly popular trend among those of that took history classes. That trend was that we all played historically based strategy games - mainly Age of Empires or Total War. I honestly don't feel it's jump to say that these games had an influence on our interests in history, and influenced our decisions to pursue further study in chosen topic areas.

For those of you not familiar with these titles here's a quick run down of the basics. Age of Empires is a Real Time Strategy game in which players take control of a historical faction after have to manage scenarios in real time. The player must construct buildings, manage economy and workforce and take control of military units to command victory. The game contains a number of historic factions and is set in three games over three periods; prehistory - iron age, dark ages - late medieval, late medieval - enlightenment. Aside from playing against other players and computer AI in random scenarios, there are also historical campaigns which follow real histories and narrate them as the user plays. Such scenarios include the rise of rome, saladin and the crusades, Genghis khan, the ottoman seige of Malta and many many more.

The total war series is similar to Age of Empires in that it's historically focused, however the game lets users manage their Empires on a 'Risk' style board, with the main focus of gameplay being the military encounters which the player fights on a 'battle map' and has to use strategy and military tactics to win. The 'realism' and accuracy of these battle maps inspired a TV series called 'Time Commanders' which aired for two series between 2003-2005.

I think these two games are an example of one of the most obvious and most basic approaches to how video games can be integrated into Archaeology. Showcasing historical societies to the public in ways which lets people take control of their favorite civilizations is a very rewarding and fun experience for the users, and the realism provides a decent level of education which promotes a certain level of further interest. 

For me personally these two game series were a big starting point in my archaeological career and encouraged me to engage in other media like documentaries and museums that were relevant to the histories that I had learnt or encountered during my time playing these games. I think this media should be tied in more with lower level education and also integrate into museums - either with visuals from the games or by selling them in museum shops. By giving the user-base an engaging way to interact with history and archaeology from home it promotes and stimulates further interest.

If you haven't ever played these games, or don't consider yourself much of a 'gamer' I strongly suggest taking an hour to go and experience these titles for yourself. A quick google search for age of empires demo or total war demo will provide you all you need to get started. The full games are also available for cheap at various online retailers. 

I'll leave you with this celebrity edition of Time Commanders, and will later add a video of myself doing a playthrough of one of the Age of Empires historic scenarios.

The problem with video-arch

The problem with video-arch 

Embarking on an adventure is a very exciting process. For those of you that have been to a completely new place or ever played an RPG game, you will know very well that feeling of being completely lost. The liberating feeling of being able to do what you like, the unfamiliar setting, the freedom of being to do whatever you choose; it's very exciting, but very overwhelming.

Starting this blog on video games and archaeology was like being a kid in Toys R Us and being told that I could have everything I wanted. The problem is where do I start? How to choose what to go for first? How do I put all these ideas into something that's useful and interesting and not just an exciting ramble?

I can't - is the short answer. The possibilities of the applications of video games in the wider circle of archaeology is just so vast that there is no way I could possibly write about all of them. I couldn't even list all of the applications. Even under broad titles such as heritage, simulation, education, there's still too much to be covered. Not only is there a quantity of ideas, but these ideas are deep and sometimes complex and it's not just a simple case of "we could use sandbox games to simulate medieval town life, next topic please."

This is why I've found it so difficult to put pen to paper recently (or fingers to keyboard if you like.) Each time I've tried I have been overwhelmed by all the aforementioned issues, and have gone back to widely dreaming about these ideas in the safety of my own mind. 

This post is therefore an apology in two parts. The first apology is for the lack of posts. The second one is an apology in advance for the convoluted mess which will spew forth from my fingers and onto your screen as I try and condense and cover all these ideas in a completely haphazard fashion. 

I think what would be easier is a Q&A style of blog. Give me the seeds of ideas and questions that these posts have brought up, and I'll expand for you. Maybe there's a game you enjoyed as a child and you wonder how that sort of game could be applied. Maybe it's your sector of archaeology, or perhaps you've seen something on here and you want to know more. Give me strands and I shall spin them into thread.

Below: Feeling lost? Video archaeology is as straightforward as playing EVE Online *cough*

Thursday, 7 November 2013

VirtArch - Video Games and Archaeology

Hello all,

Today I want to talk to you a little about about my blog; what I'm hoping to do with it and the sort of things I'm going to try and explore. In the coming weeks you can expect videos, text posts, images and possibly some interviews about my chosen topic.

The focus of the blog is  archaeology and video games which is  a topic I'm really keen to explore. The reason I'm drawing attention to this topic is because I believe that not enough is being done to advertise the potential of this amazing form of media and that this is an opportunity that really cannot be missed.
In the video you are watching you can see different examples of current video games which are already themed in historic environments. These are games which already have potential to be explored with regards to historical accuracy, heritage potential, educational potential and other factors. This is also just a tiny tiny example of the huge catalogue of video games which may be of interest to archaeologists, historians, anthropologists and other academic disciplines.

The great thing about this outlet is that there is already a large public community with a vested interest in video games and the future of video games, and having engaged with this community on a regular basis I am certain that the marrying of academia and gaming will be received very positively amongst the consumer base.

The blog will look at a huge array of examples of how links can be established between archaeology and academia, and will not focus on any single genre of video games. Simulations, first person shooters, strategy and adventure games will all be included. I'm also going  to take the time to try and explore the latest developments in virtual reality, which I'll give you a look into now.

I think VR represents one of the more exciting aspects of video games and how they can be tied into academic pursuits and I'm truly passionate about having the opportunity to explore this first-hand.

I hope this video has given you some idea as to what you can expect from my blog and has got you as excited as I am about the potential of video games in an academic environment. If you have any questions or thoughts then please leave a comment.

Scramble! Oculus Rift at 12 o clock!

One awesome thing that video games has over other forms of media is the level of immersion that they can provide. Some of you may be well aware of that experience of connecting with your virtual world and becoming affected by the environment which your avatar is involved in.

Some of you may also be aware of an incredible device called 'Oculus Rift' which is wowing the technological world. For those that don't know about it, here's a quick blurb about what the Rift is and why it's exciting;

Oculus Rift is an upcoming virtual reality head mounted display. It is worn on the users head and provides a monitor close to eye level which splits a virtual vision into left and right eye allowing the brain to create depth perception of a virtual environment. The display also tracks head movement meaning that when you look around with the Rift on, your in world character looks around. 

This obviously adds a whole new level of immersion. Videos of the Dev kit being tested on members of the public shows people reacting physically to their virtual environment. Sweating, stomach dropping, head-jerking and screaming are common reactions to the Roller Coaster demo (NSFW Language). Whilst these results may seem a little undesirable, it's a testament to just how immersive the Rift is.

When game developers Gaijin got wind of the Oculus Rift they were excited to get in on the fun. The video below shows how they've been implementing the Rift into their game "War Thunder" - a WWII simulator game.

The video offers a tantalizing teaser into the potential of the Rift in a game that has already received the "Best Simulation Game" award at Gamescon 2013.

Whilst the results of the Rift in a game like War Thunder have yet to  be seen on a large scale, (the Rift is still in development,) it certainly presents an interesting line of enquiry for those in the archaeological and historic fields.

For the first time ever data could be gathered on the psychological effects of historic combat environments. The public can experience first-hand history in museums and at homes, in a way that is fully immersive and subjective to the individual. People can be educated through experience of historic environments.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind of the potential of such awesome hardware, and there is almost certainly going to be more avenues opened up as the Rift becomes more widely available and these potentials become realised.

So finish your cuppa, hop in the cockpit and chocks away! There's something on the horizon, and it's the Oculus Rift.

You can watch me play War Thunder here. Or click here to skip straight to the action.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Welcome to VirtArch

Welcome to VirtArch.

A blog dedicated to exploring the marvelous opportunities of Archaeology in a Virtual environment. The blog will primarily focus on virtual worlds in gaming, but will also from time to time look at some other examples of virtual archaeology.

There are so many aspects of archaeology in gaming; heritage, education, simulation, and many many more. Hopefully through this blog I can shed light on as many of these aspects as possible and try and broaden the horizons of this topic. Here's a short list of what to expect in the coming weeks;

  • Minecraft and the Minster
  • Chivalry - The human side to conflict
  • Real Time School - RTS games as an education
  • Ancient people in a Modern World, MMORPGs and Archaeology

If you want to know more about what to expect then watch this space for an informative video coming your way soon.

In the meantime see if you can find Wally in this stunning screenshot from the latest Rome Total War game. Click here for larger version