Now it’s your turn…

The wait is finally over! We can reveal that despite many Photoshop breakdowns, countless gladiatorial debates, and CSS crises; the game is live!

After weeks of design and production, and despite many set-backs right up until the very end, the game we have poured so much time and effort into it is complete. We’d love to hear any and all feedback on what we’ve created – leave us a comment below.

Roman Malton awaits, if you love the game visit Malton Museum, in Malton, North Yorkshire!!

Click the Image to Play
An image of the opening page of our game showing the entrance to a Roman fort with the text "How long would you survive in Roman Malton".
The opening page of our game. (Photo credit: Isobel Christian)

 

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Tackling Photoshop

Now that the actually quite pleasant tasks of discussions and excursions are coming to a close, this week will consist of nothing but production. Instead of adopting a Chamberlain-esque method of simply starting and winging our way through it, it became immediately apparent that the dreaded old ‘organisation’ thing would be at play again. The sticky notes even made a comeback.

One of the main tasks in the production process would be editing the photographs of the museum’s objects that we would be including in the game. Unfortunately, this meant that we’d have to try and get our heads around Photoshop. Indeed, we did have a lengthy Photoshop session last week, which I confidently nodded through. However, my blank expression when I opened up the software afterwards suggested that I wasn’t following it all as much as I thought.

When the group was asked to identify who was most confident with Photoshop, we all sank back deep into our chairs, resulting in us all sharing the burden. Consequently, the others weren’t pleased when I admitted that I used Photoshop for two years in Interactive Media. In my defence, those days were mostly spent placing my friends’ heads on the bodies of dictators (and the occasional phallus). Since Malton Museum didn’t at any point make requests for that sort of material, I think I was justified in concealing my experience.

In fact, what was required was background removal and general tidying-up of images of the museums objects. Perhaps I should have paid more attention in my school days, as my incompetence shone through when I started hacking off chunks of the objects instead of the background.

As punishment for my earlier deceit, I was next allocated a particularly tricky image of a comb on a similar coloured background. Rather than doing the sensible thing and finding the most appropriate tool, I opted for the tedious method of changing the colour of individual pixels one by one. Needless to say, my dishonesty and stupidity meant that I fully deserved the subsequent migraine.

An image of a bone weaving comb
An image of a bone comb that caused a lot of grief (Photo: Isobel)

One major issue I have with the editing process is the fact that nobody will understand the time and effort we put in when they see the final product, yet they would have noticed if we hadn’t. I’m beginning to think that I may have to stand with the game and verbally inform people of what I did to the images.

All in all, the photo editing went pretty well considering I can barely even take a photograph, never mind ‘adjust its colour saturation’- whatever that is. Another bonus is by concentrating on the image side of things, I avoided any ‘CSS work’. I won’t explain what that is, as I’ve been only pretending to know myself for the past two weeks.

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.

How long would you survive in Roman Malton?

Friday saw the birth day for our game, consisting of painfully intense conversations about narratives and object choices. Despite our discussions bordering on gladiatorial combat, we can finally reveal the premise of our game!

How long would you survive in Roman Malton?

You are thrown into Roman Malton, where you must use your historical knowledge, creativity and intuition to survive for as long as possible. Guide our siblings, Lucius and Claudia, to thrive or suffer an early demise based on your decision making! The game follows them through their three main life stages of early life, middle age and old age exploring what it was like to be a real live Roman in Malton. Answer the questions correctly and progress  through the life stages, or get it wrong and start again. Set in and around the Roman fort and town of Malton and inspired by the objects recovered at the site from various excavations, from military to marriage and farming to weaving the game leads you through many aspects of Roman society. See Roman artefacts which have been out of the public eye, in the museum stores, brought back into the spotlight once again.

You’ll need your wits about you to survive..!

Today we leave you with our fantastic game panels. Tune in next week for the launch of the game!

Preparing for the First Meeting

Our main task in this year’s heritage programme is to create a videogame for Malton Museum. Naturally, we needed to first meet with the museum staff to discuss exactly what they wanted, so a meeting was prepared for Tuesday afternoon.

If it were left to me, I would have turned up with a biro and hoped for the best, looking like a lesser known Chuckle Brother, although we fortunately decided to prepare a list of questions.

Harald then whipped out his post-it notes. I presumed he was going to write a small shopping list, but we were shown how to use them to organise notes. All of these good organisational skills terrified me a little, but I went with the flow and we ended the session feeling confident.

On Tuesday, we’d allowed a little time to explore and assess the presentation of the Roman fort site. Inquisitive visitors can wallow in education provided by four information boards, yet we were distraught when we found the third board to be completely absent. Seeing a crude rope swing hanging from a tree branch, we deduced that the local youths must be responsible.

Meghan and Sara observing an information panel
Analysing the first sign (Photo: Isobel Christian)

Thankfully, these vandals clearly had some sense of decency, as they respectfully left their ill-gotten gains resting against the fourth information board. We revelled at the opportunity of learning more about the history of the Roman fort, though the only thing we learned from the latter half of the boards was that lichen clings to plastic panels rather well.

Cursing the shenanigans of the sign-spoiling hooligans, we then paid a visit to our pals on the excavation site. Unsurprisingly, mine didn’t seem too pleased when I turned up in my Chelsea boots, after I seemingly blagged myself an early exit from the excavation.

Hayden analysing a lichen covered information panel
Deciphering the lichen (Photo: Emily Pearson)

Matters didn’t improve when one friend laid out her jacket for me to sit on whilst I ate my Nutrigrains, since I refused to sit on the soil. After receiving a complete roasting over my degree choice (and general nambypamby-ness), I made a slightly smug retreat and headed off to meet my appointment at the museum.

I don’t remember Tony Robinson ever being subjected to such grief when he checked up on the man with the colourful jumpers and the bloke with the hat.

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.

Mattocks and Misery

The prospect of physically being involved in archaeological excavation proved to be the source of much concern on my part. Indeed, one major cause of anticipation was the unpleasant weather every archaeologist seems to reference when discussing excavations in Britain. I can withstand rain and sleet as much as the next man, but this usually entails a short walk down the street, and certainly not spending the better part of the day kneeling in a ditch.

To my obvious ‘delight’, the road to Malton wound its way under a titanic rain cloud- and with it, the prospect of cold and misery. Finally on site, my first experience of field excavation consisted of me standing in a field being battered by relentless rain, whilst I attempted to hear a man in an anorak pointing the way to a pair of portaloos. He then pointed to a series of Roman earthworks. One would expect this to be more interesting than the portaloos, but when you’re surrounded by friends laughing at the miserable look on your face, interest is not something that comes easily.

Mr Steve Roskams then appeared, who looked frustratingly optimistic. After a rough overview of the site, he then instructed us to join our specified groups. Fortunately, nobody appeared too more excited than me, and after attempting to sign a very soggy sheet of paper (probably originally a risk assessment), we made our way to the trench.

I was genuinely delighted to find that the initial work we would be undertaking would be basic manual labour. This was something I could get fully on board with, as I could not perceive any possible mistake I could make which would jeopardise the dig (other than mattocking somebody’s toes off, which I managed to avoid). The first task involved working in pairs; with one person using a mattock to create a nice straight edge to the trench, whilst the other shovelled away the spoil. Fortunately, my partner preferred the shovel whilst I favoured the mattock, so I was able to work away merrily until the sun at last appeared, and with it I realised that I was actually enjoying the experience.

Annoyingly, my friends from earlier were working in a group adjacent to mine, and found amusement in me wielding my tool. I had the last laugh when we stepped back and looked at my clean vertical trench wall, leading on to the absolute pig’s ear they’d made in comparison (At least, that is what I told myself). In their defence, they seemed to spend most of their time screaming with joy as they uncovered what seemed to be actually interesting finds. This reminded me of the purpose of me being in this situation, and I endeavoured to be more observant when working on the opposite side of the trench. This new approach proved quite fruitful, as I uncovered what was deemed to be a fragment of worked flint. I enthusiastically threw this find into the tray of modern pottery sherds, and continued my affair with my mattock.

Of course, any complaints I verbalised were consistently met with the same response- “Stop whining, you’re only doing this for a few days”. This was entirely true, as with me being on the Archaeology and Heritage course, my interests centre around the preservation of history, rather than simply its discovery.

Whilst it may be exciting to be the first person to hold something in thousands of years, I find it impossible to ignore the thousands of years still to come after such a brief moment in an object’s history. Whilst mattocking, I considered the fate of my flint in this regard. If everyone were to simply toss their flints into a plastic tray with no concern of what is to happen to them next, the whole process of trying to discover and understand our heritage would be useless. Much consideration has to be made when deciding the appropriate way of dealing with the flint; How important is it? How should it be preserved? How should it be presented? What can we gain from it? These are questions which are seldom considered, yet are vitally important.

Knowing my luck, my piece of flint probably ended up gravelling the site supervisor’s driveway.

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)