Friday, 11 April 2014

Three Minutes Around Pudding Lane, by Laurie Graham

If, like me, you live in ignorance of video games, happy to leave them to a younger generation, I bring to your attention a project that has used game technology to create something rather brilliant: a fly-through of seventeenth century London. Let me explain.

A competition, called Off the Map, was sponsored last year by a videogame company, Crytek, in conjunction with GameCity and the British Library. The challenge was to take one of three themes  -  17th century London, the Gizeh Pyramids, or Stonehenge  - and to turn maps and old drawings into a 3D experience. The winners were six students from De Montfort University in Leicester. They call themselves Pudding Lane Productions.

You can see their winning entry here. I found it worth watching several times, to catch the painstaking, prizewinning detail. The blacksmith’s tools, the wee loaves of bread, pig carcases complete with flies, the wet mud and yes, the giblets, cabbage stalks and manure, human and animal, that would have been underfoot everywhere. If you're interested in how it was done  -  the craft, not the technology - the group also kept a blog while the work was in progress. When your cobblestones look more like the pebbles on Brighton beach, it’s back to the drawing board.

A fly-through of another era and streets that have changed beyond recognition is something historical novelists try to achieve every time they sit down to write. We may have our maps pinned up above our desks, but a map is just a map. What was it really like in those courts and alleys? Can we even begin to imagine the sounds and smells? Hollywood doesn’t help. The actors still have all their teeth.

The technology used by the Pudding Lane students cannot bring us odours. Not yet, at least.
One of my own rather pointless fears is that if I could suddenly time-travel, even the short distance to my 18th and 19th century creations, I wouldn’t much like it there. It would be too noisy, smelly and brutal for my 21st century sensibilities. A quick look round and I’d want to come home. The past is indeed a foreign country. I'll buy a ticket, but only if it's a guaranteed return. How about you?


Sue Bursztynski said...

Agreed! I love historical fiction, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

It depends on what you believe of course, but I use the services of a psychic to time-travel to my chosen period and study the flora and fauna. I have to say that I've learned more in the 10 years I've been using this kind of research than in the 30 spent studying by conventional means (which I still do as well). A professor of medieval history said to me recently 'You are no longer a tourist, you have become a native speaker.' So yeah, as far as I'm concerned I do have a time machine and can travel back without the worry! How it works don't ask me. I don't know what's under the hood of a car but it still gets me from A-B. And of course your mileage may vary!

michelle lovric said...

Fascinating. And no, I wouldn't enjoy the smells of the 18th century in Venice.

I don't play anything except 'writer' on my computer but I have been quite impressed by the architectural reconstruction graphics for the Venetian scenes in the Assassins Creed games. I was also pleasantly surprised when the developers easily and quickly granted me permission to use some pictures in a power point presentation. That wouldn't happen with a museum.

Sue Purkiss said...

This is wonderful - aren't they clever? I really enjoyed this 'trip' through 17thC London - thank you, Laurie!

Becca McCallum said...

They look amazing! I actually quite enjoy computer games, and I'm always in awe of the amount of work that must go into designing the worlds, writing the storyline, and then all the little details that really make a game stand out.

The blog for the Pudding Lane production looks fascinating - definitely saving that for future reading.