Longhouse 2.2 became a watershed moment during our research primarily due to two seemly inconsequential decisions; a port of the 3D assets to the Unreal game engine and a chance tour of local High School students.
The purpose of the Loyalist College Animation students time at the SA was to help develop a pipeline for the mass scanning of 3D artifacts (see Longhouse 2.0). However, as the co-op students were winding down on their 2 week pre-training project building and rendering a 3D longhouse, there was a delay in the delivery of the 3D scanning equipment. A decision was made to keep the students further enhancing their skills until the scanning technology was available, by attempting to port the longhouse test assets over to a Unreal game engine to see if the interactivity between player and environment would work out. At his time the students decided to include both the new section of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology and Sustainable Archaeology with the actual Lawson archaeological site.
They took the original excavation map and started positioning the 3D test longhouses within a palisaded environment. Although the physical reconstruction of Lawson site on the grounds of the excavation environment was semi-accurate in terms of the front palisade, there was only one fully reconstructed but severely deteriorating longhouse. Thus, the students needed to map out how many longhouses they would represent digitally and the actual palisade sequencing if there was to be any interaction for the users.
Once a rough plan was drawn up, the Unreal gaming environment was then populated with longhouse and accessory assets. The virtual palisade was copied from the existing one and enhanced to what the Museum thought represented an expanded site. Atmospherics, additional assets, land and sky proxies were added to give it a full and all encompassing environment. To also combine their 3D scanning outcomes, virtual activity stations were built and when activated, would inform the player of the material or social importance of the space or artifact. With the test successfully ported over to a gaming environment, the students began their research began on their 3D scanning testing. Although inaccurate in many ways archaeologically, it did provide an interesting approach to non-scientific visualization.
The real “magic” happened after the game was completed. During a random local High School class visit to the Museum of Ontario Archaeology and Sustainable Archaeology, Namir Ahmed the project lead was explaining the work the animation unit was doing. Of course the class wanted to test out the game and so most of the excitement grew around the interactivity within an environment in which all of the High School students were not only accustomed to, but was also the first generation to have been born completely exposed to digital technology. The “a-ha” moment came when the students, after playing the video game, attempted to relive the same virtual experience outside in the partially reconstructed palisade and single longhouse! At that moment did we realize that the research was not about accurately reconstructing longhouses, but connecting stakeholders to the archaeological landscape through real-time, virtual, phenomenological experience.