Pixel Pasts: A Resource for Exploring Cultural Heritage in Videogame Worlds

Pixel Pasts Homepage ScreenshotMy Pixel Pasts project has been in development for over a year now but I am very pleased to announce that I have made the website live!

The project is an online database which acts as a catalogue of real-world art, architecture, places and people recreated in videogame environments. The aim of the catalogue is to be a starting search point for those wanting to begin their research in historical visualisation in games. The catalogue is ever-growing, and one day will include images. If you want to suggest any database entries please let me know via the Pixel Pasts website!

Visitors will be able to search via game title, developer, publisher, historical asset name and type (architecture, art, person, place etc), period, style and location. In addition to the general search bar I am currently working on a more advanced search tool for the “Discover” page.

There will also be an articles feature if anyone interested in videogames and historical visualisation would like to contribute?

There is still a long way to go and lots of coding tweaks to make, however the basic functions of the database are in place- please bear with me whilst I make the site more user friendly!

The idea for the project came about back in early 2014 when I was writing my MSc dissertation on the pedagogic potential of using videogame technologies for exploring architectural history. One thing which would have made my research a lot easier would have been a catalogue of historical buildings recreated in videogames, both accurately or implied by the Developers. So then I started developing Pixel Pasts as a response to both my own research need and a love for historical visualisation in videogames.

My thanks in particular go out to Simon Stamp of Block for his coding expertise and assistance with the database. Look out for updates and I hope that the site will be of use to those interested in historical visualisation.

www.pixelpasts.com   —  Twitter: @PixelPasts


A Video Tour of the Hull History Centre Recreated in Minecraft

Here’s a quick video I made of the Hull History Centre recreated in Minecraft as part of our HullCraft project. My idea behind recreating the centre in the game was so Minecrafters could be introduced to the concept of archives in an immersive and relatable way, the centre being the first building they see on entry to the HullCraft server.

From the searchrooms to the archive strongrooms, Minecrafters can explore the centre before heading through a portal to plots of land where they will recreate historical architecture from one of the archive’s architectural plans.

My video was recorded using the default texture as to be instantly recognisable as a Minecraft build. It gives a simple tour of the archives and (a very brief!) mentioning of some of the collection themes, hopefully providing an introductory overview of what the Hull History Centre has to offer!

Reminder to fill out my gaming & architectural history survey!

Reminder to fill out my gaming & architectural history survey!

My survey is about the use of computer games for exploring historical architecture. My current project is the visualisation of St Mary’s Abbey in York (UK) before the Dissolution of the Monasteries and I hope to eventually make an application that allows the user to “walk around” the grounds to get a sense of what St Mary’s was like pre-1539. I also hope to add interactive elements and a narrative.

Your answers to my survey are valuable to aiding the development of the game side of my project and I appreciate answers from people who have varied opinions on gaming.

Thanks 🙂

Something for you to fill in…

If you have a spare 10 minutes (maybe to procrastinate?) please fill out my survey for my dissertation. It’s about gaming technologies for architectural heritage education, particularly in the experience of “place”. It will help me in designing my York St Mary’s Abbey game.

I would be grateful if you could fill it out, no gaming or heritage experience necessary, thanks in advance!


The historical architecture of the Rook Islands Archipelago- Far Cry 3


Above: Map of Rook Islands (Image source)

The archipelago of the Rook Islands, in the open-world Far Cry game series, are thought to be located near the Mariana Trench region of the Pacific Ocean, between Thailand and Papua New Guiney.

After recently completing Far Cry 3 I found exploring the Asian-Pacific archipelago more interesting than actually doing the main story-line. I think Ubisoft may have done this intentionally, as during the story Jason Brody (the protagonist) starts to believe that the hostile Rook Islands are where he should remain, instead of escaping back home to safety. The beauty of the Islands lured me in too, especially the scattered architectural remains.

citratempleDuring the game you encounter several variations of historical ruins: the WW2 bunker and fortification ruins built by the Japanese, 15th century Chinese temple ruins and the native tribe ruins of the Rakyat, however, Citra’s Rakyat temple, above image source, is still mostly intact.

BUNKERThe WW2 bunker ruins are evocative of the period where Japanese soldiers controlled the island, and during the game are either abandoned (sometimes when you explore these ruins you can hear shouting and gunfire as though the ruins are haunted…) or occupied by Vaas’ pirates as bases scattered across the edges of the Islands. (bunker image source)

841262_10152534486495290_1292801574_oOn the other hand, there are Chinese temple ruins from the Islands’ occupation of a warlord, Zheng He. As it was in WW2, the Islands were controlled by soldiers enslaving the native Rakyat people and forcing them to build shrines in the name of Zheng He. These ruins are quite difficult to find as they are located in the cave systems, however are instantly distinguishable from the rest of the architectural remains on the two islands from their Chinese architectural style (image, author’s own in-game screenshot).

Then there’s the architecture of the natives, the Rakyat people, who believe in their Deities and are set in their tradition and beliefs that Rook Islands are their rightful homelands. The ruins of the island are all that remain, apart from Citra’s temple which is a highly fortified place of worship as well as a testament to the Rakyat culture.

Overall, the layering of each of these three architectural variations, juxtaposing with the contemporary settlements on the Islands, symbolise not only the passage of time but the Islands heritage of ongoing conflict. The game’s architecture give the Rook Islands a vast historical context that links in with the current struggle between the Rakyat and the pirates, as it is not only Jason Brody’s personal struggle to escape but the Rakyat’s ongoing battle to claim back their Islands.


(above, image source)

For more architecture in gaming click here!

Immersive Digital Environments & Gaming Potentials

Just spent a couple of hours in the “3Sixty” which is a room in the Ron Cooke Hub at the University of York (see photo below).


photo source:  http://www.york.ac.uk/ctc/3sixty/

The 3Sixty consists of four walls in which digital images are projected onto from a computer. In my session today myself and peers were immersed actually inside a 3D visualisation of a French Cistercian monastery in Greece (created by Dr Anthony Masinton, University of York) which was based on archaeological data.

Although the room is named the 3Sixty, we actually got a 180-degree view and we could look around us as though we were actually standing inside the monastery. I found this exciting as I could get a real sense of scale of the monastery’s interior though it would have been nice to have had an additional screen on the ceiling to further enhance the immersion. We also listened to some   chant music and found that the use of auralisation in a 3D model enhanced the sense of place compared to being just a representation in “cyberspace”.

This got me thinking- can technologies used in the 3Sixty be utilised for gaming?   Before experiencing immersion in a computer generated environment I would have said “definitely yes”, but with hindsight I left the 3Sixty feeling amazed at what I had just experienced but also very disorientated and a bit nauseous, so now I’m thinking yes but it will need a lot of work into making it more user-friendly. I only spent around two hours in the room, sat down looking at the static image of the monastery that surrounded me.That was fine, until we started “walking” through the monastery like on a computer game, and that’s when the dizziness hit.

It would be amazing if the computer games industry could utilise these technologies so you, as the character, could navigate actually inside another world and fully interact with other players (perhaps in a World of Warcraft style) in a more unencumbered manner, so no peripherals such as a headset, or mouse, keyboard or controller. It may be the future of gaming, or it may not due to motion-sensitive people like me…

Tristram Cathedral- the Virtual Antithesis of Sacred Space

Diablo III

“Stay awhile and listen…” For my research I am interested how computer games can be utilised to explore, interact with and interpret medieval architecture, secular, vernacular and ecclesiastical, and how this technology can hinder, distort or benefit understanding of our heritage.

I am going to start posting a few of my favourite in-game environments which I admire for their artistic merit and how the architecture forms a dialogue with the heritage of the people who occupy the game. I am interested in how this reflects on our ideas of similar locations in the real world and whether our interpretation and appreciation of heritage places are affected, good or bad, by popular culture with computer gaming in particular.

Tristram Cathedral from Blizzard’s action, RPG Diablo series is one of the most beautiful, gothic architectural environments I have seen so far in gaming.

Originally built as a Horadric monastery sometime around 912, the building was later converted to a Zakarum cathedral. Legend has it that the original monastery was built over the vault where the mythical Diablo was imprisoned, and that his supposed release led to the horrors we all now associate with the name Tristram.In order to shed light on the many mysteries of the old cathedral, I sought out an old adventurer who had braved its ancient passageways, which were said to lead to the Hells themselves.”           Abd al-Hazir (a renowned gentleman, historian, and scholar from Caldeum)

Although the Diablo games are not educational or representative of reality, Tristram Cathedral displays architectural vocabulary that can be found in our medieval cathedrals, for example, its stone fabric and high gothic windows demonstrate divine power.

The fantasy of the game comes into play by twisting the once considered sacred architecture to symbolise darkness. There is an iconic quote by Samuel Taylor Coleridge “The principle of the Gothic architecture is infinity made imaginable” yet this environment is contorted to represent the opposite, that gothic architecture can also be apocalyptic. Tristram Cathedral, through its lighting, state of deterioration and possession of Diablo’s monsters  is almost blasphemous in how it contorts this principle into a hellish vision of a corrupted King who makes the Cathedral his seat of rulership. As a result for the people of Sanctuary, the social morale and faith in their religion declines.


When we translate this into the heritage of the real world, medieval churches and cathedrals often display horrific imagery in their stained glass, sculpture and wall painting, for example scenes of the Apocalypse in York Minster’s East window (See below), or grotesques.

apocaypse scene

(Image source

Therefore, it is fascinating how popular culture often represents gothic as a virtual rearrangement of sacred space. It’s vocabulary and characteristics tend to be rendered in an exaggerated, antithetical manner, for Tristram Cathedral in the gaming world is an architectural embodiment of evil and fear, the complete opposite of what a cathedral is traditionally intended to symbolise.

For more architecture in gaming click here!