Oblivion, London, and Archaeological VR: All for $50!

In an earlier post, I mentioned the Rome Reborn project, and some criticisms of it: namely, that it was too antiseptic, and it was lacking people. An alternative approach being used by the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL is to employ game engines instead – see this article at The Escapist Magazine. So, download your free copy of SketchUp, buy a $50 game from your local mall, and you’re ready to create immersive, first-person environments for building your archaeological VR: no more movies to watch, but spaces to explore!

Here is the blog from the CASA folks, and I believe I once heard mention from some archaeologists at one of the Computer Applications in Archaeology conferences of a similar approach. The CASA people though provide you with step-by-step instructions. Here is one of their final videos showing the process:

From The Escapist:


Much of today’s practice of architecture, then, is 3-D modeling. Sites like CGArchitect (“The Global Community for Architectural Visualization Professionals”) show how the profession is becoming, not a subsidiary, but a component specialty of digital visualization, the sprawling, hyperactive industry that encompasses manufacturing, illustration, special effects, animation and, incidentally, computer games.

You’d think this would encourage a marriage of architecture and gaming. In comparison to game engines, architectural packages need heavy hardware, aren’t optimized for real-time walkthroughs, and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. As the Fallingwater map shows, a good game engine can achieve many effects seen in the high-end packages, in real time. It also brings bonuses like weather effects, and it costs $50 or less. […]
[…] To recreate historic battles, the BBC documentary series Time Commanders (2003) and The History Channel’s Decisive Battles (2004) both used a retuned Rome: Total War engine. (Don’t confuse the shows’ tweaked engine with Rome‘s most popular mod, Total Realism.) The History Channel also used Brothers in Arms for World War II battle scenes in its eponymous 2005 documentary.

Likewise, some architects and designers are using conventional visualization software to reconstruct archaeological sites. For instance, sponsored by the Colgate University (NY) Department of Anthropology and Sociology, the Honduran Ministry of Culture and a slew of government agencies, freelance digital designer Clement Valla is visualizing the ruined Mayan city of Copan. Valla scans hand-drawn plans into the high-end 3-D modeling package Rhinoceros ($995) and photos into PhotoModeler photogrammetry software ($995).

In this area, game engines could play strong. A gamer could quickly work up buildings in SketchUp, then texture and light them in Oblivion or Source. Leaving aside research time, a full-featured tour of Copan – or the Great Pyramids, or Pompeii – could require little more effort than a good Counter-Strike map. You could run it on mid-range desktop hardware, with non-player characters in period dress as your tour guides. And hey, if you don’t like the guides, you can blow them away with grenades! Match that, Honduran Ministry of Culture!

Another possibility: in-engine city guides. After seeing City 17 in Half-Life 2, you can easily imagine a similar map of, say, Amsterdam. Planet PSP already publishes PlayStation PSP travel guides for several European cities, but game-engine guides could actually show you the place. If you could turn on in-engine, user-defined data layers, as in Google Earth, text bubbles would appear as you wander the virtual streets, offering tourist info, restaurant reviews, slides and video clips.

Oh, and here is the video showing how to go from Sketchup into Oblivion: