The Archives in Alien: Isolation

2014-11-24_00009I’m really enjoying exploring Sevastopol station in Alien: Isolation, or rather getting brief chances when the alien is out of sight…

Stumbling across the station’s archives was a treat as now working within archives myself it was interesting to see archives from a sci-fi perspective complete with digital mobile shelving in a circular room.

An interesting Sevastolink message (the internal communications system of Sevastopol) below details archiving the born-digital text and audio records of the mail system. The message talks about how the space station has employed a specialist archivist to deal with the task of transferring these under such pressures, from information leaks due to insufficient hardware and the more deadlier threat of the extra-terrestrial. As we progress through the game we see a lot of error messages within the Sevastolink system where Mike the Archivist has either archived the messages or came across computer bugs. Quite a stressful task considering the situation!
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Minecraft and Archives : HullCraft

Do you play Minecraft and want to contribute to a real, community project based on the amazing City of Culture that is Hull?

HullCraft is an exciting new heritage project I have been involved with in my work at the Hull History Centre and the University of Hull using Minecraft. We need lots of players to join our server and recreate real historical buildings from Hull’s history, starting with the beautiful Georgian architecture of Bridlington architect Francis Johnson. All of the buildings you will create will be from the archives based at the Hull History Centre, from simple townhouses to elaborate churches.

My Georgian builds in the HullCraft server
My Georgian builds in the HullCraft server

YOUR builds will be used to create a Minecraft world of Hull’s past periods, enabling you to travel back in time, adventure, learn, collaborate and ultimately have fun!

The project is for all ages and suitable for both newbies and Minecraft experts. Parents- if you would like your child to be involved there is information on our website on safeguarding and getting started.

The HullCraft server will have its official launch at the upcoming Platform Expo event in Hull- how exciting! So if you are in Hull on 14th November come and say hi to Joel, Simon and me on the HullCraft stand, we are always looking for players to join the server.

Check out our website on www.hullcraft.com for more information about taking part.

Meanwhile….. Creeper and Steve cause havoc at the Hull History Centre. Read the latest HullCraft blog post to find out why!

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BioShock Infinite’s Columbia: the ‘Ideal’ City (*no spoilers)

Columbia(All in-game screenshots taken by the author)

After spending many hours playing BioShock Infinite, exploring the air-city of Columbia was the highlight for me. It reminded me of Steampunk fiction, with the air-ships and the idea of a technological revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. I’m also very interested in how Columbia’s environment reflects its ideals, and how it has been inspired by events in real American history to support the game’s narrative.

The in-game Columbia has been inspired by the World’s Columbian Exposition which was “a World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492.” It was designed to make Chicago look like the ‘ideal’ city. The idea of the perfect city is not new to to the BioShock series, as seen in the city of Rapture, but Columbia pushes this notion even further by alluding to the World’s Columbian Exposition architecturally and ideologically.

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Columbia was built by America’s government and was heavily promoted and celebrated as an American utopia. Columbia’s neo-classical architecture, for example, is symbolic of the harmony, order and power of the ruling government. This is reminiscent of Chicago being known as the “White City” due to the classical buildings being clad in stucco, the exceptional amount of street lighting and the moral ideals that the World’s Fair tried to portray.

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Another likeness to Columbia and the World’s Fair at Chicago is the focus on amusement parks. Chicago was the first World’s Fair to have a carnival and sideshow area, with it’s key ride being the ferris wheel. The ferris wheel can be seen to dominate the panorama of Columbia. The Worlds Fair’s heavy use of electricity to power the amusements and exhibits was considered a marvel, as industrial companies displayed their latest inventions that would help improve society.

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The statuary in Columbia, of Columbia herself (the female personification of America) and also of the many powerful figures in the game, are also in the classical style akin to the original “Statue of the Republic” (see image below, source). They not only act as reminders of Columbia’s purpose as a city, but also act as propaganda and a ‘moralising’ watchful eye.

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The purpose of the statuary and architecture is very similar to the artworks displayed around the walls of the buildings. All of them are propaganda for the city, motivating its inhabitants into believing Columbia’s purpose.

On the exterior, Columbia is seen as a utopian city full of celebration and promoting the ideas of exceptionalism (liberty, democracy) as it floats around the globe like a travelling World’s Fair. Though like Rapture, Columbia soon emerges as a dystopia where rivalling factions erupt alongside a corrupt dictatorship and chaos is imminent. Without spoiling the game for those who haven’t played it, it does turn out that the purpose of Columbia was not entirely as a city but as something else… This is the scary element of the game, as beneath the happy, bright outlook and patriotic propaganda there is an unnerving sense of war and corruption.

For more architecture in gaming click here!

Reality & Myth: the architecture of the Lost Kingdom of Yamatai, Tomb Raider

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Today I completed the story to the new Tomb Raider game! I thought the environments were stunning, the combat quite simple to master (apart from the moment when you need to reload ammo mid-combat) and the storyline very interesting with lots of twists. In the game, Lara and her team set off on an expedition to the Lost Kingdom of Yamatai ruled by Queen Himiko, a real place still debated by historians as to its location. I even felt some of the environments to be a bit diablo-esque when it came to the gore, reminded me of the battle with Ghom the Lord of Gluttony in Diablo III with the rotting flesh, scattered bones and the implied pungent smell.

My studies have always focused on European art and architecture, yet the Oriental fascinates me although I cannot comment on its authenticity in the game. The Yamatai architecture reminded me of what I posted about the architecture in Far Cry 3 (click here for post), with the concept of a variety of layers that each symbolise a period of history and settlement on the Island.

The Shanty town, the monastery, surrounding temples and shrines, and also World War II bunkers each represent the mysterious island from different perspectives: the spiritual, the lost lives of the natives, and also from the invaders who set out to solve the mystery of the storms that prevent them from escaping the island.

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The juxtaposition between the modern bunkers and the ancient temples as  cult locations symbolise the clash between reality and myth, and of course it is down to Lara to solve the mystery by piecing together fragments of knowledge from salvaging and exploring.  The attention to the environment detail is stunning, and I often found the scholar in me gazing at the sculptural figures on the walls and sarcophagi, and the statuary of the shaman Sun Queen (Himiko). Also, the game’s use of lighting and semi-realistic texturing made the temples very atmospheric, particularly with the use of candles and lamps to emphasise the spirituality of the buildings.

From a symbolic point of view, the architecture complements the game’s narrative, however if anyone has any knowledge on Japanese architecture and how authentic it has been represented in the game I would love to hear from you!

For more architecture in gaming click here!

(all in-game screen shots, author’s own)

Learning from Digital Technologies: The “Poetics of Fragmented Narratives” at Heritage Sites

Today I  went to a live-streaming of Matthew Tyler-Jones’ seminar on “Heritage Punk” at the University of Southampton and his talk brought up issues of how the Cultural Heritage sector has been “slow to join the revolution” in participative storytelling through digital technologies.

Not only is it much cheaper (by thousands) for organisations, such as the National Trust where Tyler-Jones works, to use traditional methods of communication to site visitors, such as physical, information signage and room stewards, as opposed to digital technologies, these organisations also need to meet visitor expectations of what the visitor expected the experience and brand to provide. Tyler-Jones’ idea of “Heritage Punk” stems from the need for heritage organisations to engage with new audiences by giving the visitors more freedom to explore, something that is quite radical in the heritage sector where very often routes are choreographed by railings and prescriptive audio guides.

He formed an analogy with computer games, his example was Red Dead Redemption (in game screenshot below) where the gamer is let loose in a Western open-world, non-linear environment. You could also say this for other games such as The Elder Scrolls series or World of Warcraft. I really like Tyler-Jones’ idea of applying an open-world concept as seen in some computer games to real heritage sites, as I personally quite like to wander around on my own accord at heritage sites anyway, but will the general public like this new concept?

He used the term “poetics of fragmented narratives” which I found very insightful for when thinking about heritage, a concept that is built around piecing together those fragmented narratives. So why do organisations mould and present heritage sites as something “whole” when actually they base a lot of their stories and information on fragments from the site’s past? Is it because tourists like the concept of solving mysteries? Or is it to mask how little is known about a place to make it more enticing for visitors and as a result a commercial reason?

Every visitor’s experience of a site is different, so why not give visitors the option of freedom to explore on their own accord and piece together historical narratives themselves, in Tyler-Jones’ words to “choose their own adventure“?

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Above: Red Dead Redemption, open-world game. Image source: http://reddead.wikia.com/wiki/Diez_Coronas

Divinity’s Reach- Epitome of Power

As part of my “Architecture in Gaming” series here is another one of my favourite in-game architectural locations: Divinity’s Reach, from the Guild Wars series.

“Divinity’s Reach is the greatest city in the human nation of Kryta. It is laid out like a giant wheel. Its upper city contains Queen Jennah’s royal palace and the Chamber of Ministers. Six high roads, each dedicated to a god, divide the lower city into districts.” In-game description

In Guild Wars 2, the quality of the architectural rendering makes it stand out in particular from the rest of the locations in the game (my opinion as a castle and cathedral admirer).

Below is my Asura admiring the view.  This screenshot was taken quite early on in the game for my character as I went straight there after completing the Asuran starting area, but I think it is a fantastic example of how much the city impacts on the Kryta landscape.

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It made me think back to my undergraduate studies where I was studying the architecture of medieval castles comparing those of King Edward I with his “Iron Ring” of Welsh castles, to that of the academically controversial Bodiam Castle. Are castles built for defensive purposes or are they intended as romantic allusions?

From the exterior, Divinity’s Reach looks strongly fortified with its gargantuan stone outer walls which circle the city, numerous amount of towers and a colossal portcullis.  To an outsider, the fortress is impenetrable and ticks all the boxes for the ultimate military structure. It is an exemplification of human domination over the Krytan landscape.

It is the combination between military stronghold and a fantastical, fairytale-like city that makes Divinity’s Reach stand out as an iconic structure to me. When you enter the interior walls it becomes apparent that despite it’s military mask, the city itself is highly sophisticated displaying a vast range of vernacular medieval-esque buildings.

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The city is divided into districts, as commanded by it’s architectural design. These represent the hierarchy of society, as does a medieval castle, for example the higher up the structure you head the people who inhabit those areas are of higher status, in this case the lower districts are for the everyday citizens and the highest towers are Queen Jennah’s palatial complex.

Before I played the game I previously posted here about how the concept art of Divinity’s Reach reminded me of Mont Saint-Michel. Now I have played the game and explored the city I still agree with that comparison, and I think overall what ArenaNet was trying to portray with this location was the element of strength and power combined with a sophisticated civilisation in a race (in the context of the game- the human race). When compared to the architecture of the  other in-game races (such as Charr, Asura etc) their architecture also represents the ideals of their race.

Lastly, this is very true to architecture from history and to other countries today as our buildings become our identities, representative of the times. It is interesting how we implement these sort of ideals to in-game cultures as well.

For more architecture in gaming click here!

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Visualisation of Ecclesiastic Architecture- Appropriate in Gaming?

It’s been a very busy few months on my masters degree so haven’t had chance to post on here since October, but it has got to the important thinking-about-dissertation-topic stage and it has got me wondering about the benefits and downfalls of representing and exploring heritage locations through computer gaming.

In gaming we encounter many real-life locations, still standing today, lost or even mythologised – when else will we get to free run inside the Santa Maria del Fiore (Assassin’s Creed II), go tomb-raiding at the lost city of Vilcabamba (Tomb Raider (both original and Anniversary) or traverse up Mount Olympus to battle the gods? (God of War III)

It is when we start depicting locations or buildings in games which people today regard as sacred when controversy arises, for example in the depiction of ecclesiastical architecture.

For a seminar I had to select an example of 3D visualisation, contemporary or dated, which I considered to be “iconic” in related to heritage.  I decided to incorporate this with my love for computer gaming environments and I chose the representation of Manchester Cathedral in the 2007 Sci-fi game Resistance: Fall of Man. The representation of the cathedral itself would be considered dated in terms of today’s computer graphics, however to me it was the controversy it caused that made it “iconic.”

The Church of England made a series of legal accusations against Sony (the game’s publishers) that the game desecrated the Cathedral by promoting violence, particularly gun violence, in a city that was trying to lower it’s high gun crime statistics. Sony reacted by stating that the game was a work of fictional entertainment, making comparisons the television series Doctor Who which often incorporated real locations into its story lines. It was defended by one of the game’s designers, Ian Bogost, that the use of an accurate depiction of the monument instead of an anonymous location encourages players to pay attention to it as a structure that “demands respect.”

“Resistance adds a fictional homage to the church’s resolve, this time in an alternate history fraught by an enemy that neither understands nor cares for human practices like religion. And it survives this as well. The Church of England sees their cathedral’s presence in Resistance only as a sordid juxtaposition, the sanctity of worship set against the profanity of violence. But when viewed in the context of the game’s fiction, the cathedral serves a purpose in the game consonant with its role in the world: that of reprieve for the weary and steadfastness in the face of devastation.”                                                    Ian Bogost

The Church of England wanted from Sony an apology, a substantial donation, complete withdrawal of the game or modifying the segment featuring the interior of the cathedral, and financial support of Manchester groups trying to reduce gun crime in the city. Sony pledged to not include the Cathedral in another game.

Despite the Church of England’s reaction to the representation of the Cathedral in the game, the controversy has resulted in a significant increase in its visitor numbers according to David Marshall, director of communications for the Diocese of Manchester. Teachers tell him that teenagers in particular are interested to see a building which they thought was fictional and that tourism has increased since the broadcast of pictures taken inside the Cathedral.

All of this had me wondering whether it is appropriate to depict authentic sacred locations in gaming when placed into a context that would not be acceptable in the real-world? Does the depiction of genuine ecclesiastical heritage have a place in the gaming world? Just some questions to consider…

For more architecture in gaming click here!

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Manchester Cathedral in Resistance: Fall of Man