#openheritagescholarship Thinkathon


Last week, went to Winchester School of Art to meet with some university colleagues to join a couple of facilitators from We Are Open, for a Thinkathon. “What,” I hear you ask “is a Thinkathon?”

I guess in less enlightened times, we might have called it a brainstorm, but it was a tight, friendly discussion/workshop to help us think through some challenges we’d set ourselves about open heritage scholarship, to wit (quoting from Graeme’s brief):

  • The nature and extent of user transitions from one open scholarship mechanism to one or more others e.g. one of the 40 million users who have already seen one of our documentaries following through to ePrints or our Massive Open Online Course, visiting Italy to see the archaeological site via a bespoke tour or paying to visit an exhibition.
  • The impact of our improved system on user engagements with each mechanism e.g. reading and commenting on Arkivum or ePrints datasets; public sharing of related content via social media. This will identify the opportunities for monetising activities in open scholarship
  • The impact of the design of the open scholarship ecosystem on these user journeys, building on previous work including video annotation, navigation via 3d content, interactive mapping, and timelines and multimedia navigation.

One thing that set it apart from your more traditional brainstorming session was the presence of Bryan from We Are Open, who constantly drew as we (and he) talked, projecting his doodlings up onto a screen so we could watch our ideas take shape as we came up them. Some of his sketches illustrate this piece.

So what did we conclude? Well the second half of the day went down a credentials rabbit hole, which was fun (and interesting) but I think, probably not yet where we are in the project. The Portus MOOC which in the new year will have its fifth intake, has been a great experiment in open education, and more Heritage Organisations are taking their first steps into those waters. But the challenge (I think) is to test the willingness of heritage organisations to think “open” (at least in the digital world) rather than strictly controlled and moderated. I’d like to get these guys from We Are Open into a room with my professional colleagues, and with others from Historic Royal Palaces, English Heritage etc. I learned that week that John from We Are Open actually started is working life with the National Trust, before moving on to organisations like Mozilla, so it would be fun to join the circle and get him involved again.

Can the PORTUS project afford it though?

P.O.R.T.U.S is go!

A week or two back, I had an interesting conversation with my supervisor, which I didn’t think I should mention on-line until, today, he invoked the “inverse fight club rule”. So I can now reveal that P.O.R.T.U.S stands for Portus Open Research Technologies User Study – yes, I know, as Graeme said “recursive-acronym-me-up baby.” This isn’t the Portus Project, but but it does ride on the back of that work, and (we hope) it will also work to the Portus Project’s benefit.

P.O.R.T.U.S is a small pilot project to explore better signposting to open research, so (for example) people interested in the BBC Documentary Rome’s Lost Empire, (which coincidentally is repeated TONIGHT folks, hence my urgency in getting this post out) might find their way to the Portus Project website, the FutureLearn MOOC,  the plethora of academics papers available free through ePrints (this one for example) or even raw data.

Though the pilot project will use the Portus Project itself as a test bed, we’re keen to apply the learning to Cultural Heritage of all types. To which end I’m looking to organise a workshop bringing together cultural heritage organisations, the commercial companies that build interpretation and learning for them, and open source data providers like universities.

The research questions include:

  • What are the creative digital business (particularly but not exclusively in cultural heritage context) opportunities provided by aligning diverse open scholarship information?
  • What are the challenges?
  • Does the pilot implementation of this for the Portus Project offer anything to creative digital businesses?

The budget for this pilot project is small, and that means the workshop will have limited places, but if you are working with digital engagement, at or for cultural heritage sites and museums,. and would like to attend, drop me a note in the comments.

The powers of people

I was at Chawton again yesterday (before going to Petworth for yesterday’s mobile fun) to meet with Jane, one of the house’s most experienced volunteers. I’d challenged her to give me a 45 minute tour of her choice. She really wanted me to tell her what I was most interested to hear, but I wouldn’t. I wanted her unbiased perception of what were the most “important” bits of her her encyclopedic knowledge of Chawton and the surrounding area to share, given the 45 minute time limit.

(I always recommend that 45 minutes is the absolute maximum for a guided tour. In fact I suggest that half an hour is what people should work to. People who want more will stay behind to chat, but there is some evidence from the National Trust’s monitoring of visitors for conservation, that the average dwell time in a house, whatever it’s size is about 45 minutes.)

In the end she gave me what I’d call an architectural tour of the house, pointing out how the thick exterior walls of the the original manor had become interior walls after Richard Knight’s extensions. It was great, and reminded me about some of the things I’d forgotten about being a tour guide that make guided tours (with the right guide) so entertaining.

I’ve always said that guided tours often offer the best historic house experience. A good paid or volunteer guide can weave a compelling story as s/he escorts you around the house. He or she can reveal things you might otherwise have have missed. They can respond to your interests, and level of expertise, to give you a tailored experience. But Jane reminded me how they can transform the place, by pointing out those thick walls, or turning over a framed note hanging on the wall to reveal the ancient deeds from which the paper had been recycled. A good guide turns their audience into detectives – rather than simply telling them how Montague Knight installed a safe into what once had been an old garderobe chute, they help their audience work it out for themselves – a moment of insight, that emotional trigger where everything that has come before “clicks into place and reveals the shape of the whole” as Tynan Sylvester puts it.

Of course, Jane’s tour also demonstrated that the VERY best historic house experience would be to have the guide all to yourself. Not everyone on a larger tour (and there were a couple running yesterday that we bumped into) could have lifted the framed note from the wall to read the reverse. As I hung it back on the hook, I had conservation alarm bells ringing in my head. Every handling, every movement of this glass framed note (which Montague Knight had hidden beneath the floor for future generations to find) put it at risk. The more people given the opportunity I had, the greater the chance that it might be damaged.

Not everyone can do what I did, arrange a personal tour at a time of my convenience after an email introduction from the Director. For those other tour groups we met, the guided tour experience gets diluted, less personal, less tailored to each individual’s interests.

The technological approach I’m investigating might be able to address some of the personalisation challenges, but can it ever offer the magical moments of insight that Jane offered me?

The Adventurers!

Our postrer for this afternoon
Our poster for this afternoon

Today is the last day of the Opposites Attract challenge, and this afternoon Nashwa and I will present our prototype game and see what the others have done. Nashwa was up until the early hours debugging and tidying up the prototype and we created in MS Visual. But she still had time to record this YouTube runthough, so you can see it in action:

The sound on this isn’t brilliant I’m afraid, and its quite hard to hear Nashwa’s narration. But hopefully you’ll get the gist of what’s going on.

To find out about some of the other collaborations, check out the Opposites Attract blog.

The Community (of Practice)

Hi Nashwa,

I have taken the liberty (and I hope you don’t mind) of trying to be really open about our collaborative process. As I explained when we met, my blog is sort of like my notebook, wherein I reflect on my reading. It’s more often that not off the top of my head – I type and publish, without much editing (which goes some way to explain all the typos) or structure.

We agreed that, due to our various commitments beyond university, most of our collaboration would be on-line. So what I’m typing here might be what I’d written to you in an email, but given the experimental, open and collaborative nature of the Opposites Attract Challenge, I thought it might be fun to share our thoughts and discussions in this public way. Then, even if we fail to produce anything that works in the next six weeks, we’ll at least have a series of posts on this blog to share at the Festival! If you’d prefer not to communicate quite so openly, I totally understand. We can go back to more a private medium like email.

So anyhow, the challenge we set ourselves when we met was:

We are going to prototype an app for tutors and course leaders that will gamify the objective of creating on-line Communities of Practice among their students.

It might be worth catching up on what we mean by “gamification”, and handily, I recently wrote a blog post on that very subject. A paper linked to in that post suggests that gamification uses “motivational affordances” like: Points; Leaderboards; Achievements/Badges; Levels; Story/Theme; Clear goals; Feedback; Rewards; Progress; and, Challenge. Some of the other ludic affordances I’ve encountered in my reading include things like music and presence (the feeling of being in the virtual world) which might be affordances too far in the six weeks we have to complete this project.

You’ve already got a “game metaphor” going for your research work, and that’s a board-game, like Snakes and Ladders, wherein course leaders work their way up to a winning square. So in gamification terms, you’ve already been thinking about affordances like Acheivement and Levels, Clear Goals and (on squares 5 and 11) Feedback. What we are looking to add (I think – but stop me if you disagree) are some of the other affordances, like Story, Rewards and Badges.

So, I thought I’d share with you, to kick off the discussion, some cuttings from my sketchbook, and my thoughts so far. Our clear objective is the creation of a Community of Practice, and a story that I’ve been playing with (but I’m not committed to) comes in three acts: Gathering the Tribe; Settling the Farmland, and Founding the City, which correspond with the three levels of your original game metaphor.

So, for example, the first part of Gathering the Tribe, is the first square of your game board. (Actually, no, the very first thing our player does is came his/her course and input the number of students on it, on a simple screen I’ve sketched above, with some ideas for badges won for simply adding classes – the proportion of returns s/he gets from students will very likely be the trigger for badges as you will see later.) The first square of your gameboard is about getting students to do a self-assessment learning preferences test. As the cohort share their results, I imagined the tutor inputting them into the app – not as individuals (likely to be all sorts of DPA issues around that) but simply number of students of each type in the class. Of course, s/he could input them as Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinaesthetic and Multimodal, but I thought it might be fun instead to represent them as characters within the story or theme, thus:

  Quite why our tribe needs safe-crackers, I have not yet worked out, there may well be a better role to represent those with the Auditory learning preference. Here’s a question for you, does the VARK test return simply these four types plus multi-modal? Or are there other results that we’d need to find character classes for?

I thought of a couple of other badges the tutor might win during this process, which have no real impact on the game result, but may well act as motivators. When the tutor first gets one student of each type, s/he might win a “Full House” badge:  

 And when the total number of students of each type matches (or exceeds) the number in the class, s/he wins a 100%! badge (this might be a badge that appears, possibly in variant form for other challenges too):

 Maybe on completion of this first challenge, s/he also gets a “Behaviorist” badge:

   (A rather poor rendition of a jug of knowledge, about to be pours into an empty vessel.) Of course our tutor might offended by being called a behaviorist, but if they understand that they can win a “Constructivist” badge by completing more of the quest, this might be a very effective motivator 🙂

Your squares 2 and 3 appear in my level 2, Finding the Way. As they complete the tasks set by your recommendations, the path to a place to settle becomes clearer. And our tutor might win Explorer and Map Maker badges too:


With Pedgogical and Technical plans completed and the Wiki Framework in place, we are into Act Two, Settling the Farmland (your square 5). I’m less certain about what the tutor’s tasks should be for these next few squares on your board, and thus the rewards, but for some reason I thought this “Dib Dib Dib” badge would be a good idea (it probably isn’t):

   I did think though, that we should reward those disgruntled behavioursists with a shiny new Constructivist badge as soon as they’ve completed your square 5:

  And square 9 should be when they get their Socio-constructivist (or should that be Connectivist? I’m a bit confused) badge:  

 Between those two levels, I was floundering a bit:  

 I thought that at square eight is might be fun to reward our tutor with a role/grade according to what proportion of their students are suggesting topics and resources. Using a corporate metaphor for example, just 10% of your students suggesting topics would earn you the lowest Team Leader rank, 100% would make you Chairman of the Board, and in between you might become Assistant Manager; Manager; Head of Department; VP; President; or CEO. The whole corporate metaphor doesn’t fit very well with my Tribal story, but I’m nervous of making up ranks in a tribal society for fear of being too “orientalist”, and I already discarded a military one from Cadet to General. Given that by square 8 we’re about to move in Act 3 of our story Founding the City, a civic ranking system, with Mayor at the top might be more appropriate. What do you think?

By your level 10, I was feeling more confident suggesting  an “Architect” badge:

  And on your square 11, the tutor earns a “Wise Old One” badge, because at this point we are preparing the tutor to let go of his/her community building, and let the Community of Practice that they help create survive on its own terms (I think? Am I right?).
  And that’s about as far as got. How about you?

The problems with game-based history

I’m still enjoying Eric Champion’s Critical Gaming: Interactive history and virtual heritage. I wanted to write today about his chapter four, which lots at the problems of learning history through games. There’s all sorts of things I like in here, and only one thing I take a different view on.

The first thing I like is that he quotes this blog, from Thomas Grip. Especially this line:

It is very common that you change a story like this depending on your audience. If the people listening do not seem impressed by the hero’s strength, you add more details, more events, descriptions and dialog. Your goal when telling the story is not be give an exact replication of how the story was told to you. What you are trying to do is to copy the impact the story had on you and any change you can do in order to accomplish this is a valid one.

Stories, Champion agrees “work independently” of facts. But that’s a challenge for games:

If you wish the audience to see a deeper truth beyond the words (of, say, a historical text), what are you aiming for and how do you know whether the audience has understood the meaning the the designer has attempted to convey?

A very good warning. He also quotes Tynan Sylvester, about how the story is actually always in the player’s head, whatever cues the game designer might create. Having set out these and other problems with games as pedagogy, he of course suggests ways in which game mechanics might be helpful in learning:

  • Using games discursively, a group can play a game and then discuss it afterwards
  • Student’s can emulate the performative aspect of games, roleplaying game characters
  • He discusses thesis-based kikset visualisation machines, simulations of cities or empires with students can mod to see the impact of decisions on the virtual “history”. (Champion mentions that Historian Neil Ferguson doesn’t think much of the likes of Civilisation, but does endorse the Making History series.
  • Games can be designed to use real or interpreted media – I’m think here of the Versailles 1685 art references. Champion conflates this with game mechanics used in VR in actual places, and mentions the work of CHESS.
  • Champion also gove numerous examples of building computer game mechanics into the physical word, objects in a real sand-pit with RFID tags that can like on virtual media, for example. Or moving tokens about an a phyiscal table that allows access to Point of View cameras on  actor’s (or in the example he gives, reindeer’s) heads.

There’s only one point I take issue with. Drawing from this blog, he says:

Playing in a digitally simulated world can leave the feeling that the virtual world’s entire causal mechanics rotate around the player

…as thought that’s a Bad Thing. Which I guess it might be if you are primarily seeking immersion or presence, as the VR guys call it. But in fact I’m coming to the conclusion that that feeling (which I’ve dubbed in a couple of presentations “the Apotheosis Moment”) is something special about games, which in a way, I’m trying to recreate in physical cultural heritage environments.

Champion returns to the idea later in the chapter challenging readers with the question “how can a god or a character with extraordinary powers communicate and interact meaningfully with NPCs?” He goes on to answer his own question with ten suggestions:

  • Ritual “we could allow actors a myriad of actions, as long as their behaviour and actions acheived the right results, or their decisions were made at the right time or place”;
  • Memetic Cause and Effect: Guns, Germs and Steel – Champion cites Dawkin’s meme model of cultural transmission (which earns him a million points from me) here;
  • Counterfactual Histories “while fascinating from the ‘what if’ scenario point of view, it is not likely to be a worthwhile avenue for virtual heritage environments as players would concentrate on creating imaginative fictions rather than uncovering historical knowledge or different cultural perspectives”;
  • Progress Through Truth-finding – like many adventure games (and the movie Groundhog Day), keep being forced to replay the scene until you do the right thing to move on;
  • Reversed Time Travel – Champions argues that most games’ chronological narratives move forwards in time, but archaeologists uncovering of the past is about thinking backwards in time. Some games, like Her Story and Gone Home use that technique;
  • Virtual Words Augmented with Historical or Current Media – again , like Versailles 1685;
  • Role-playing without Affecting History  – take on the roles of ancillary characters, to witness the historical figure take action;
  • Observe the Character Development of NPCs – similar to above but not playing a role in the scene, rather “becoming the self-appointed scribes of history”;
  • Extrapolate Clues from NPC Dialogue; and,
  • Mimic NPCs – Champion’s “Reverse Cultural Turing Test” as mentioned in a previous post.

Fundamentally the biggest problem of recreating the past through game design is that we weren’t there. “…we may be to gain a good idea of explorers from their diaries and records of their encounters either by the records of the explorers themselves or by the documentation of their associates. However, diaries, records, tax statements, paintings, photographs, and artefacts will not give us a complete picture of how people actually behaved, and the full range of conscious and subconscious motives and desires.”

Despite all these problems, Champion doesn’t believe we should stop trying to explore history though games. Indeed he argues that some of the limitations that games might have, working with them allows us to experiment with history in ways we might not have considered, and maybe, just maybe gain insights that we might have missed. Which is just as well, as he has written a whole book on the subject.

A final thought I’m having as I re-read this post. Champion’s  book is about creating virtual environments, but there’s some interesting philosophy here that historical re-enactors and costumed interpreters might also benefit from.

Cultural Agents

I’ve been reading Eric Champion’s Critical Gaming: Interactive history and virtual heritage. Eric asked his publishers to send me a review copy, but none was forthcoming, and I can’t wait for the library to get hold of a copy – I think I was to quote it in a paper I’m proposing –  so I splashed out on the Kindle edition. I think of it as a late birthday present to myself, and I’m not disappointed.

One thing that has struck me so far is a little thing (its a word Champion uses only three times) but it seems so useful I’m surprised it isn’t used more widely, especially in the heritage interpretation context. That word is “multimodality”. As Wikipedia says (today at least) “Multimodality describes communication practices in terms of the textual, aural, linguistic, spatial, and visual resources – or modes – used to compose messages.” But its not just about multimedia, “mode” involves social and cultural making of meaning as well. Champion says:

Multimodality can help to provide multiple narratives and different types of evidence. Narrative fragments can be threaded and buried through an environment, coaxing people to explore, reflect and integrate their personal exploration into what they have uncovered.

Which is surely what all curated cultural heritage spaces are trying to achieve, isn’t it? (Some with more success than others, I’ll admit.) Champion is referring to the multimodality of games and virtual environments, but it strikes me that museums and heritage sites are inherently multi-modal.

It sent me off looking for specific references to multimodality in museums and heritage sites, and indeed, I found a few, this working paper for example, and this blog, but there are not many.

But I digress. I’ve started Eric’s book with Chapter 8 (all the best readers start in the middle) Intelligent Agents, Drama and Cinematic Narrative, in which he examines various pre-digital theories of drama (Aristotle’s Poetics, Propp’s Formalism (with a nod in the direction of Bartle and Yee) and Campbell’s monomyth), before crunching the gears to explore decidedly-digital intelligent agents as dramatic characters. Along the way, he touches upon “storyspaces” – the virtual worlds of games which are by necessity incomplete, yet create an illusion of completeness.

His argument is that there is a need for what he calls “Cultural Agents” representing, recognising, adding to, or transmitting cultural behaviours. Such agents would be programmed to demonstrate the “correct cultural behaviors given specific event or situations” and recognise correct (and incorrect!) cultural behaviours. For example, I’m imagining here characters in an Elizabethan game that greet you or other agents in the game with a bow of the correct depth for each other’s relative ranks, and admonishes you if (in a virtual reality sim) you don’t bow low enough when the Queen walks by.

Which leads on to what he calls the “Cultural Turing Test […] in order to satisfy the NPCs [non-player characters] that the players is a ‘local’, the player has to satisfy questions and perform like the actual local characters (the scripted NPCs). Hence, the player has to observe and mimic these artificial agents for fear of being discovered.” (As he points out, this is in fact a reversal of the Turing test.)

Then he shifts gear again to look at Machinema (the creation of short films using game engines, which I learned about back in Rochester) as a method for users to reflect on their experience in-game, and edit it into an interpretation of the culture the game was designed to explore. Its a worthy suggestion, and could be excellent practice in formal learning, but I fear it undermines the game-play itself, if it becomes a requirement of the player to edit their virtual experiences before comprehending them as a coherent narrative.

Also in all though, I can already see that the book will be an enjoyable and rewarding read.


Mapping four different emotional models

I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this, or indeed if I’m going anywhere at all, but I wanted the give it a try.

Yesterday’s post, about Panksepp and the deep instinctive play emotion network in rats (and other mammals and maybe even birds), and taking my kids to see Inside Out a couple of weeks ago (if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it – not as strong as Toy Story, Wall-E or Up) made me want to cross reference his list with Paul Ekman’s list of universal expressions. On his commercial site, Ekman currently seems to be claiming credit for Inside Out, which I guess is why Disgust features as a character. (Damn, now I want to put little pictures of each character in the table as well – which is all the evidence that I must stop mucking about with it and tidy our dining room/study for our approaching guests.)

So I’ve spent most of the day re-reading bits of Panksepp, Ekman, Lazarro and Sylvester and seeing if each of the models lines up to tell me anything interesting. Along the way I’ve made some other notes. For example  – contentment, relief and satisfaction seem like pretty deepseated emotions that should figure, or have equivalents, in Panksepp’s schema. Where should they go? Are they simply Homeostatic? or are they part of the SEEKING network? Also, a number of things that Lazarro calls “emotions” seem really out of place in this table, are the emotions at all? Or are they behaviours? That said what she calls Schadenfreude, really does seem to fit in the Panksepp’s emotional model – though he doesn’t use that word, he does describe the affect as part of “the dark side of human laughter.” Oh, and I need to see in Panksepp has anything to say about flow.

In conclusion I’m not sure if all this work does tell me anything interesting, but you can see the results below and I’m going to sleep on it (after I’ve tidied the dining room).

A table mapping out different “emotion” models (work very much in progress)

Neuroscience >> Psychology >> Games Triggers
Panksepp Ekman Lazarro Sylvester Notes
SEEKING Excitement? Excitement (S, P)

Curiosity (E)

RAGE Anger Frustration (H)


CARE Love, Generosity(P) Character arc


PLAY Amusement Amusement (P)
Homeostatic affects Eg HUNGER THIRST
Sensory affects Disgust

Sensory pleasure

Visceral (S)? Eg DISGUST
Emotional control Mediate (S)?


Schadenfreude (P)? (Play)

Secondary process
Social emotions  




Pride in achievement


Social bonding (P)


Embarrass (P)


Fiero (H), Naches (P)

Gratitude (P)

Ridicule (P)

Learn (S)?

Envy (P)







Tertiary process



Pleasure from work(S) ?(flow)?

Boredom (H)

Wonder (E)


Relax (S)

Elevation (P)

Inspiration (P)





The Van Dyke Vanishments

Photo: Richard Lakos By kind permission The Milo Wladek Co.,
My son helps turn two dimensions into three Photo: Richard Lakos
By kind permission The Milo Wladek Co.

Last weekend I went to Games Expo, East Kent, or GEEK as it’s more commonly known, in “London’s Famous Margate”. What drew me there was The Van Dyke Vanishments. Billed as an immersive experience through “art, theatre and gaming,” how could I not go? With limited availability we snapped up the last tickets for Saturday and drove across to Margate after lunch. At the Turner contemporary, we had just enough time to scout round the Self exhibition gathering clues for the password that we’d need on our adventure, have a cup of tea while we tried to solve the anagram (the answer was sunflower, but I liked slower fun), then head off to the storefront of Endless Horizons Ltd, the art tourism company.

To be honest, they were a bit unprepared. Their TranspARTation machine was still at an experimental stage, so my son and I, and another family, had to sign extensive waivers before we were allowed into the lab. Which was empty. So we waited, but didn’t have that long to admire the photos of the frequent employee of the month winner before something came lumbering up the stairs…

Helmeted, with a mirrored visor and breathing apparatus,  the humanoid creature moved strangely about the lab as it … made a cup of tea. “It” had to take the helmet off to drink the tea of course, and we saw it was a young woman who introduced herself as Smith and after reciting the terms and conditions, led us down into the basement, and the machine…

Which wasn’t working. Of course. So, we had to remind Smith of the password, witness the machine have an existential crisis and shut itself down, rewire it (using the handy artist/colour code we all learned at school – Klimt = yellow apparently), thump it  and literally deface two valuable self portraits (this one, and this one) before we got it working. Then the third painting took us (through quantum mechanics and a brightly painted tunnel) into the very mind of Anthony Van Dyke.

He was somewhat surprised to find us there.

Smith had the brilliant idea of getting the old master to restore the damaged portraits (which we’d had the presence of mind to bring with us). Of course he was disgusted by them – the scrawlings of children he said. So the answer was no. But Smith persisted, and suggested, that now the TranspARTation machine was working, she could open another quantum warp into the mind of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and we could all, Van Dyke included, explore the thinking behind his art. Tony (I don’t think he liked me calling him that) was intrigued enough to agree, and so we found ourselves in a cubist hell.

Van Dyke didn’t like it at all, but we found flat panels among the geometric shapes on the wall, and points to thread strings from, and together we built a 3D fish out of 2D shapes, giving Van D (and ourselves) a quick lesson in cubism. Then we were off through the Quantum Wormhole into the very white mind of Patrick Heron. There we constructed a deconstructed picture of St Ives, and in doing so, freed Van Dyke “from the tyranny of reality.”

Thus educated in the modern movement, he agreed to restore the paintings we’d defaced. All was well. Until we got Van Dyke’s own portrait back out of the TranspARTation machine, to find he’d become a Modernist a few hundred years too early…

Overall it was a great experience. My son enjoyed it, and the other family I was with got right into character as we helped Smith smooth over her mishaps. I felt I learned something too which, given I’ve already had four years of art history under my belt, suggests they managed not to dumb-down the learning while making it accessible. I could get picky about the details of Van Dykes clothes, and part of me of a bit disappointed in the “game” element of the experience – apart from solving a few puzzles, the ludic element ran “on rails” and was more of an immersive theatre experience.  But, there was a board-game version on offer, which sadly we didn’t get time to have a go with when we spent the next day at GEEK. There was a digital game version too, which I wasn’t even aware of that until after the event. I’ve found a beta version of it on-line, if you’d like to give it a go. It seems to use the same script, but of course the performances aren’t quite as good 🙂

I follow Van Dyke into a wormhole Photo: Richard Lakos By kind permission The Milo Wladek Co.
I follow Van Dyke into a wormhole
Photo: Richard Lakos
By kind permission The Milo Wladek Co.

Versailles 1685

I ran a session for a group of Masters’ students yesterday, part of the 3D Recording, Modelling and Interpretation module. It was a great afternoon, with a really responsive group of students, who ended up planning  a game around the Mayan city state of Tulum.

I talked for about an hour, beforehand. Riffing off Red Dead Redemption (of course) to discuss Tynan Sylvester’s Engines of Emotion, and look in more detail at Game Narratives, finishing of with the idea of Kernels and Satellites.

On the way, I mentioned Versailles 1685, which I suddenly recalled while pulling my notes together. Twenty years ago, at University, one of my final year projects was a proposal for House of Delight, a game exploring the social and sexual mores of late seventeenth century England. It didn’t get anywhere – well, it got me an interview with a video games company, but not a job. So I was very jealous when this game came out, but never got a chance to play it. That said, the company that didn’t give me a job did go bust a short while afterwards, and the interview led (in a round about way) to meeting my wife, so maybe its all good.

Versailles 1685, also known as A Game of Intrigue, was one of the first games commissioned by a museum authority, in this case Reunion des Musees Nationaux, for the purpose of heritage interpretation. Created in 1996, it sold itself with:

  • 25 hours of gameplay, set in history’s most beautiful palace
  • Featuring OMNI 3D that lets you look and move around freely in an entirely 3D environment
  • Over 30 characters modelled in 3D from period portraits, that bring back to life actual historical figures.
  • A stunning recreation of Versaille in 3D just as it was in 1685
  • Over 200 paintings that you can study close up
  • A soundtrack of 40 minutes of Baroque music, true to the period.

Taking the role of Leland, a junior servant of the King, the player
discovers and eventually foils a plot to burn down the Palace. The
narrative gives the player an opportunity to explore a 3D model of what the palace(possibly) looked like in 1685, and an accompanying encyclopedia detailing Louis VIX’s court and collection.

It was pretty well received, and spawned a sequel, and its almost twenty years old. So looking back, I wonder why we’re not inundated with games from heritage organisations, with specific interpretive objectives.