The final battle has begun!

Perhaps the title sounds a bit dramatic, but certainly this week has been and is, the final battle of our video-game. After an exhaustive collection of data and images in Malton, and taking pictures of really impressive objects everywhere, the fateful week arrived.

We didn’t just talk about ideas or possible stories that could take place in our game. We had reached a point where we had to make final decisions and certainly, I was a bit stressed because of that. At the beginning of the first week everything seemed very distant, we had time, there was no need to look to the sky for ancestral inspiration that never came. So on Monday, after discussing what would be the exciting life of our characters, and after having received all the instruction we would need, we got to start on the real work.

We distributed the tasks so that everyone could do a little of everything. (Although, at the time of deciding who would take care of the Photoshop task, the room was silent and I think that I could hear my own contained breathing.) However, none of us got rid of that part of the work. The truth is that before, I  had never had to do anything with Photoshop and if I needed it, I just asked someone else. This time I would have to get into it completely, there was no escape. So I decided to choose what I thought it would be the simplest task, the starting image. However, how naive I was for  believing that something in this tricky program would be easy.

There is a wall of sticky notes.
The page of to-do tasks we had ahead on Monday (Photo: Tara Copplestone)

After an hour of trying to change the gray and cloudy sky that appeared in the original image (I think it was an hour but it seemed to me endless) I finally got a bright sky that invited to enter the Roman fortress I managed to find. But to my surprise I saw that nature was making his own trouble in the photo, spoiling it with some bare and rare branches on the top of the image. So after declaring in my heart an eternal hatred of Photoshop, I decided to look for another image. But as my “mastery” in Photoshop had improved after my infinite practice, it was shorter.

Later we decided to create in a definitive way the history that our characters would have to go through, which, I have to say, was quite interesting. So we put in the video-game everything we had ready. Although I, with my chameleonic abilities, had avoided the disaster of taking care of that part of the work as much as possible, the truth is that I was impressed with what we had achieved in one morning, it seemed like a real game. I could not help feeling in my inner self relief because everything sounded very good when we put it into words, but from there to become reality was something else.

So once the first part of the programming was done, the next day we continued doing the second part. This time I chose to make the narrator’s Photoshop that although was not as complex as that impossible sky, it seemed to want to make fun of me, as every time I put it in the game there was a little white dot that had escaped from my sight. At least we almost have it, I just hope I do not have to duel again with Photoshop.

***

Quizás el título suene un poco dramático, pero sin duda esta semana ha sido y es la batalla final de nuestro videojuego. Tras realizar una exhaustiva recolección de datos e imágenes en Malton sacando fotos por doquier de objetos realmente impresionantes, llegó la fatídica semana.

Ya no solo hablábamos de ideas o de posibles historias que podían tener lugar en nuestro juego, habíamos llegado a un punto en que debíamos tomar decisiones y ciertamente me estresaba un poco. Al empezar la primera semana todo parecía muy lejano, teníamos tiempo, no había necesidad de mirar al cielo en busca de inspiración ancestral que no llegaba nunca. Por lo que el lunes tras discutir  cual sería la emocionante vida de nuestros personajes y tras haber recibido toda la instrucción que podíamos necesitar, nos pusimos manos a la obra.

Tara Copplestone is shown in front of a white board.
Tara helping to organize our game, to make it reality. (Photo :Harald Freidheim)

Nos repartimos las tareas de modo que todo el mundo pudiera hacer un poco de todo. Aunque a la hora de decidir quién se encargaría del Photoshop, la habitación quedó en silencio, hasta creo que se podía oír mi respiración contenida. Sin embargo ninguno nos libramos de  esa parte del trabajo, la verdad nunca había tenido que hacer nada con Photoshop y si lo necesitaba se lo pedía a alguien, pero esta vez iba a tener que mojarme de lleno,no había escapatoria. Por lo que decidí escoger lo que a mi parecer era la más simple, la imagen del inicio. Sin embargo, que ilusa  fui al creer que algo en este engañoso programa sería fácil.

Tras una hora de intentar cambiar el cielo nublado y grisáceo que venía con  la imagen original( creo que fue una hora pero a mi se me hizo eterna) por fin conseguí un cielo brillante que invitaba a entrar en la fortaleza romana que había conseguido encontrar. Pero cual fue mi sorpresa al ver que la naturaleza estaba haciendo de las suyas en la foto, estropeándomela con unas ramas desnudas y raras en la parte de arriba de la imagen. Así que tras declarar en mi fuero interno odio eterno a Photoshop, decidí buscar otra imagen. Además como mi “maestría” en Photoshop había mejorado tras mi infinita práctica se hizo más corto.

Más tarde, decidimos crear de manera definitiva la historia  por la que tendrían que pasar nuestros personajes, lo cual he de decir quedaron bastante interesantes. Así que nos dispusimos a poner en el videojuego todo lo que teníamos listo. Aunque yo, con mis habilidades camaleónicas, había evitado el desastre de hacerme cargo de esa parte del trabajo en todo lo posible. Pero  la verdad es que quedé impresionada con lo que habíamos conseguido en una mañana, parecía un juego de verdad. No pude evitar sentir en mi fuero interno alivio, porque todo sonaba muy bien cuando lo exponíamos en palabras, pero de ahi a que se hiciera realidad era otra cosa.

Por lo que una vez realizado la primera parte de la programación, al día siguiente continuamos haciendo la segunda parte. Esta vez elegí hacer el photoshop del narrador que aunque no fue tan complejo como aquel cielo imposible, parecía querer burlarse de mí porque cada vez que lo poníamos en el juego había un algún puntito blanco que se me había escapado. Al menos ya casi lo tenemos, solo espero no tener que batirme en duelo otra vez con Photoshop.

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STRESS STRESS STRESS

Production week has finally descended on our small group of four, and as anticipated, there have been several moments within the past two days where I have wanted to take the University owned laptop I was working on and throw it off the top of the Minster.

The reason behind this irrational thought, Photoshop. Before this week I had naively thought that our short crash course in Photoshop would be more than enough to cover the Photoshopping we would need for our game. I was wrong. So very, very, wrong.

Monday morning I had a great time working on the CSS for the game with Tara, which basically consisted of changing the colours and making the game look pretty. CSS was something I felt confident with, I knew what I was doing provided Tara was next to me the entire time in case I messed up! However, this is a group project and so my stress-free morning did not last as I took up the new task of using Photoshop to edit one of the images we needed for the game.

After I had opened up the image in Photoshop, something I did with great ease, I

A image of the Twine software, and mechanics of our game.
A screenshot of the mechanics of the game in Twine.

knew I had misjudged what I was getting myself into. It was in that moment as I stared blankly at the screen before me, I had no idea what I was doing. What followed was what I can confidently say one of the most frustrating and painful experiences of my life. Whenever I stopped to look at how Hayden was managing to do everything that I couldn’t, I imagined running away from King’s Manor very quickly and never returning. Somehow though, I managed to remain in my seat and through what can only be described as a miracle I managed to muddle my way through and edit the image to something we could actually use.

Tuesday morning dawned and all I could think was that if I had to use Photoshop ever again I might actually just break down on the spot. My first job was indeed to use Photoshop again. Tuesday was off to a great start.

However, to my surprise and probably the surprise of everyone else, I quickly managed to crop my image and resize it to the correct dimensions. In hindsight, it’s no surprise I managed it as it was probably one of the simplest jobs I could possibly need to do. The next image though was definitely going to test my meager abilities, but thankfully Tom from the University’s IT department was in and managed to explain to me exactly what I needed to do in order to sort out my image.

Ironically, this afternoon I cruised through the rest of my Photoshop work, and to my immense disbelief even managed to enjoy myself. This was an unexpected turn of events, and I’m convinced I must have hit my head at some point, either that or Photoshop isn’t as bad as I thought, but I’m not convinced.

Being more than archaeologists

After our short tour of the village of Malton and our meeting with the volunteers  of the museum, we found an avalanche of ideas that had emerged from our brainstorming. All of this was overwhelming, due to the fact that we actually have to put all those ideas in a video game. It may seem attractive to design a videogame that will be played by real people, but taking into account that none of us has any experience in this, the prospect was no longer so appealing. So in our first seminar on Thursday, our faces of confusion and perplexity seemed to had been recorded in our professors’ retinas, since at the end of the session they looked really concerned about us. This was not surprising because the ideas that came out were so different from each other that practically were impossible to put all of them together. Between our antagonistic ideas we went from a time traveler, to a soldier who had to survive in the “Roman jungle”.

Trying to made up our minds with Twine
Working on Twine ( Screen capture: Isobel Christian)

After a little break, we found ourselves heavily deep into an intensive course to learn game programming with a program called Twine. At the beginning, feeling confident after a week on the “battlefield”, we said to ourselves “this can’t be so difficult”, but the reality was quite different. As we progressed I realized that all my experience playing with Flappy Birds or any other game was useless, and my sketch started to seem like an incomprehensible tangle of hieroglyphics. However my brain and my heart beats returned to normality when I realized that in the notes that they had given to us were all the keys that could prevent the disaster in our video game. But we will have to wait until the end to see what results from our “computer mastery”.

Mission Malton

On the day of the meeting, the museum had been thoughtfully closed so that we would have the opportunity to have a full, in depth discussion with the volunteers at the museum. Myself and Emily strolled down, what seemed to be a busy road in the heart of Malton, in our search for the museum itself, which was identified by the two banners hanging on the outside proclaiming the word ‘Exhibition’. Our time keeping skills were slightly lacking and we were the last to arrive for the meeting, entering the building with slight trepidation hoping we had definitely got the correct building.

The first part of our meeting at the museum, introduced everyone and allowed the museum volunteers to give us an overview of the museum as a whole. The four volunteers who were present at the meeting were Anne, Margaret, Jenny and Roy who represented both the education side of the museum and the collections side. It was then I began to fully understand both the history of the museum, and also the issues and problems which it is currently facing, with funding and visitor numbers. It was hearing this history that instilled in me a great want to put all of my capabilities into making sure the game we develop will meet all of their hopes and expectations; and in an ideal world provide the museum with a longevity that a greater use of technology might provide.

Following a whistle stop tour around both the museum itself and the stores, it was time to get down to business and get to the heart of what the purpose of our visit was. To question the volunteers on what their hopes and aspirations were for the video game and to collect a solid basis of information in order to head back and develop our pitch. A tool we used in order to help with this was using post it notes to create a visual representation of their priorities.

Board which depicts the ideas we came up with at the meeting in Malton
The final product, from our meeting at Malton Museum. (Photo: Sara Perry)

Already I can feel my abilities being pushed by this course, and I hopefully am rising to meet them with the best I can give. All I can say is that our first time at Malton felt like a success, and I am excited for the journey ahead of us.

By Isobel

New Year, New Project

Last summer, halfway through my first year as a PhD candidate, I was asked to help tutor on the University of York’s Digital Heritage Field School, offered through the Department of Archaeology and led by Dr. Sara Perry, my supervisor. The result of the summer term’s work was the Hidden Dale project. It was an incredibly rewarding experience working with undergraduates on their first large-scale heritage interpretation project, and so when I was asked to help out again this year, I didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

This year’s project is quite different — different stakeholders, different institutional partners, different product, different skill set to emphasize in teaching the students. We’re working with Malton Museum, an entirely volunteer-run community museum, and we’re building a video-game to help highlight the museum’s extensive Roman collection. In the course of this project, the students will learn photography and photo editing, audio recording and editing, game design, graphic design, exhibition skills, and will get lots and lots of experience in heritage practice.

For my part, what I’m bringing to the project is help in teaching (alongside my fellow PhD candidate Harald Fredheim) and a background in game design. I worked for several years as a content creator and team leader at a small, independent game studio, and being able to share the lessons I learned in that part of my life with my students, in a practical and implementable way, is something I never expected would happen in the course of my PhD.

Today, after an initial meeting and a lot of back and forth planning, the students will present the pitch for their Twine game idea to the museum. I can’t wait to see how it goes!

 

 

The Power of Pottery

The rain clouds had drawn in when we set foot on the excavation site for the first time early on Monday morning, and there was a steady downpour as we were talked through our initiation into archaeological excavation. It was my first time on an excavation, and at that point, the weather was a perfect match for my mood. Field archaeology had never held much interest for me so the prospect of early mornings and long days didn’t fill me with much joy. To top it all off my group happened to have the only site that hadn’t been machine dug beforehand meaning the hard graft was left entirely in our cold, damp hands. Within no time at all I was intimately familiar with our small 10 x 2 meter  trench.

De-turfing the trench.
Trench D, as we began de-turfing. (Photo: Isobel F. Christian)

 

Trench on my final day
Trench D, at the end of the third day. (Photo: Isobel F. Christian)

Throughout our first day the weather continued to improve and with it so did my mood, my body was aching and sore having not gone through such physical labour before.but the satisfaction when our patch of grass slowly evolved into a trench you might find on Time Team, was not something I had expected to feel. Despite the fact I only spend three days in the on the dig; my entire view of field work definitely did a 180 degree turn.

My first find!
Me with my first archaeological find. (Photo: Jessica Cousen)

The key moment for this I think was the fact that during the first 2 hours of our hard work we found no finds, no pottery, coins, or anything else other than a few worms and some interesting looking stones. But at the end of the first day while cleaning the trench ready to mattock down to the next level I spotted something in the ground. A small insignificant piece of pottery, but honestly in that moment I felt so elated and excited, that the idea of spending my day in the mud and rain didn’t matter anymore because the moment you discover something untouched by human hands for hundreds of years is so enticing I knew I’d had a change of heart.

Despite my unexpected new found love for excavation, the course I have chosen to study at university is Archaeology and Heritage, so my time on the dig was only short as the heritage students began our own digital field school. The idea of studying Heritage is one that I have been wanted to pursue since I was 16 years old, and had my first guided tour around Kings Manor, the archaeology campus at the University of York. History as a subject has always been my favourite, as a child I devoured all kinds of books, tv shows, films to do with anything historical and my parents were constantly taking me on holiday to visit historical buildings, and sites as well as Museums. The one thing I never enjoyed though was the endless displays with boring fonts and language which were inaccessible to anyone who wasn’t well educated and well-read in all areas of the historical and archaeological spectrum. Whenever I found a museum which I could enjoy, it excited me so much; places like Jorvik were my haven. I think my want to study heritage stems from wanting history and archaeology to be something accessible to everyone, as a subject it interests me so much I want to be able to create things which will allow others to experience that same joy and excitement.

Proper Archaeologist

Bright eyed and bushy tailed we turned up to what was for the most of us our first excavation, bags full and hands at the ready to dig. Drastically the smiles faded as we arrived at the site to imminent rain and the chill of a heavy wind, it was not long however until the trenches revealed themselves from behind a corner and the excited buzz grew. Seeing the trench and finally getting stuck into what has felt like a marathon year of lectures on excavation theory was truly thrilling; I finally felt like a ‘proper archaeologist’. I could go home head high and tell all those who had asked me since my first day whether I had been on a dig, that I finally had. Although the dig had not been something I had particularly looked forward to, actually being on a site that held so much information about the past and being the first people to uncover it is a feeling I don’t think will ever go away.

The hard work kicked in as we finished the work the digger had already started, this was a tremendous team effort with jokes and high spirits rife. Turning our attention to the emerging features we looked expectantly from our trowels to the supervisor with the hope of being let loose on them; much to my disappointment the process of ‘cleaning the context’ was broached, and so began the slog of cleaning 1mm of topsoil by hand from a 60m trench. Moreover my disappointment was quashed as I unearthed my first piece of flint; it felt like I had struck gold. After my supervisor told me it may date to 1000-3000BC my excitement could not have been greater as I felt the connection between myself and the human being millenia before me who had deposited it there for me to find. We were like primary school pupils running with their latest drawing to their teacher to show it off, we were instead however running manically across a trench with broken pieces of bone to a supervisor who had seen this a thousand times; still we beamed with our finds. Throughout the following days we continued to clean and more features began to emerge, we identified a possible foundation wall (which with both love and frustration, later took me a day and half to clean between the stones), a possible cremation site and a ditch filled with animal remains. Hearing what was happening in the other trenches I was both relieved and jealous, as my friend had to dig her trench from scratch; my three blisters from digging half a day could not compare to her two solid days of digging. However as possible human remains were uncovered my interest had to be satisfied and I wandered over. Aside from the initial daunting shudder that runs through your body when you first see human remains the after effect of the possibilities this could open was mesmerising.

This image consists of two finds trays filled with an assortment of artefacts. The majority are animal bone and pottery with some interesting looking stones mixed in.
Finds from wall and ditch day three (Photo: Emily Pearson)
Trench six on day one with students at different stages of cleaning the context with trowels.
Cleaning the context day one (Photo: Emily Pearson)
In focus is my hand with a piece of flint in it dating from 1000-3000BC. In the background is a finds tray with various pieces of flint and animal bone.
Flint 1000-3000BC (Photo: Emily Pearson)

As my time at the site drew to an end I remarked at my relief to be leaving the site and heading to a museum to which my friend replied “oh you’re so a heritage student”, which I take no shame in. Although I enjoyed my time on site and would relish at the opportunity to return and see how the work progressed, I always found myself thinking about the next stage: what this meant, how were the finds going to be incorporated into an established museum and what this meant for the community, thus yes I am “so heritage”. I fell into this degree switching at the last minute from another course I loved because I couldn’t see myself doing the alternative as a job. However when I changed and imagined my studies and future, as cheesy as it sounds everything fell into place. The National Trust properties I had visited hundreds of times as a child and teenager became the place I wanted to spend all my time and this was the only thing I had ever felt passionate about. The thought of the stories these places held and me screaming them  at anyone who would listen showed me that after a little refinement of screaming to conserving this is what I wanted to study.

Weathering the elements

Archaeology is undoubtedly one of the degrees that everyone idealizes, whilst thinking about characters like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. But nobody really tells you what it really implies. In our short experience in the field we could experience what it really is first hand.

During the whole course,  we were all so excited about doing archaeology that nobody thought how it would be. The first day, as soon as we arrived , it started to rain- quite a different image to what it use to appear on documentaries, but despite of this, we didn’t lose our enthusiasm.

Finally the actual digging started, and we could experience what we had been looking forward to during all those years in which we imagined ourselves doing our dream degree. At the beginning it wasn’t really exciting, we were just trying to handle all the new information and do our best. As the day advanced, we started to see that we actually were improving, as we started to find exciting things, such as a massive tooth and even an animal bone. At last we were really archaeologists (though the mud drowned any glamour that television and the film industry may have sold us). We had actually awakened to authentic archaeology.

So by the end of the day we were proud of ourselves, despite of the fact that all our muscles were sore-even ones we were not previously aware of.

Team returning to the actual excavation with sunny day joining our excavation
the sun finally appeared in our digging (Photo: Marionna Sandin Catacora

The next day, despite  being exhausted and a bit sleepy after the previous day, we were optimistic after the discoveries which meant so much for us. But the weather seemed to hate us,trying to discourage us with not only rain, but hail and wind.. Overall it was a grey and sad day.

Despite that, we carried on with our research, finding not just little pieces of bone or metal, but the remains of an ancient Roman road. This made us feel that we weren’t simply close to something important, but to a real roman settlement,  as we could actually see that we were in the right place, not just following the information that our previous survey revealed to us.  Perhaps it did not seem as exciting as finding roman columns or roman baths, but it was really exciting to think that prior to us, roman people were actually using that road, and after hundreds of years had remained hidden from everybody else. I couldn’t help to feel like we were privileged, as maybe many people would see that road later, but we were the first ones.

Despite all of the issues and the bad weather, we found that all the bad conditions, rain and thousands of worms that seemed to want to join us, it was worthwhile.

Overall, I believe that these kinds of issues make us consider if this is really our vocation, and for me, undoubtedly, it is. Not even the bad weather that sank our morals, the blisters that maliciously reminded us of the hard work we had to carry out, and not even the fruitless hours of looking at an empty and frustrating ground with which you start mimicking after several hours of scratching the floor without any result, managed to undermine my enthusiasm. I chose archaeology and heritage, because I always thought that books don’t really give you what you need to understand a civilization, to understand why did they settle in a certain place. They just give you impersonal information that doesn’t actually reach the hearts and the minds of people. I  have been always told  that history was boring and for that reason I wanted to do heritage because I wanted to show them how I see  archaeology and history, why I find it so interesting why it is worthy, despite my back disagree with me.  

 

During the lunch break, the place is free of activity, oozing peace that soon will be disturbed by the rattling of the volunteers, accompanied by a gray sky that preludes rain
Excavation place during the lunch break (Malton) (Photo: Marionna Sandin Catacora)