The Royal Ontario Museum gave local software developers three days to whip up history-themed video games.
“Your pot is looking kind of…short,” Josh Mohan said tactfully as he looked at the monitor. And he was right—instead of a willowy vase or sturdy Grecian urn, we had sculpted a dumpy ashtray thing reminiscent of third-grade art class. No matter. With a few clicks of the mouse, we added some distinctive motifs, fired up the kiln, tucked the pot inside, and watched as the glaze shimmered in the intense heat.
Josh was part of Team ROMCOM, a group of software developers responsible for A Potter’s Tale, a beautifully rendered simulation of the ceramics process used by the ancient Greeks. The game was the team’s contribution to the ROM Game Jam, a game-making intensive co-organized by Gamercamp, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the University of Toronto. More than 20 teams of developers (some from start-ups and established studios, others from the University of Toronto and other schools) gathered at the museum in August for three long days of brainstorming and coding. In that short period of time, they created computer and video games inspired by the ROM’s Ancient Culture collection. After two months of additional refining and polishing, the games were presented to the public for play-testing on Saturday, which happened to be International Archaeology Day.
The developers made a conscious effort to incorporate visual and thematic elements from the objects in the collection. During the August session, the teams had access to two of the museum’s archaeologists, Robert Mason and Kay Sunahara, and so flashes of verisimilitude were in evidence throughout the games. Along with the previously mentioned A Potter’s Tale, we were particularly taken with Culture Capers, which entails chasing thieves through the museum and seizing and returning stolen artifacts to their exhibits. Also interesting was Relic Ravage, a feisty, fast-paced two-stage multiplayer game with battling Egyptian gods and archaeologists. Team Capy created a lively pixel-art game, Pyramid Party. We also liked the tablet-based Chinese writing game Calligrapher and the frenetic spear-shooting fighting game Rise and Fall.
The ROM Game Jam is just one of many activities the museum is using to engage visitors, particularly children, in new and innovative ways. Even as kids played at digging out treasures in a virtual pyramid at one end of the room, Rae Ostman, managing director for ROM Ancient Cultures, led us to a display with a computer-based virtual excavation site—the result of a 3D-scanning effort involving several museums around the world.
As dozens of young patrons rushed in and began checking out the games, Gamercamp organizer Jaime Woo noted the arcade-like feel of the play area. Arcades are almost entirely gone now, he said, and with them the opportunity to play games in a social and collaborative space. “I think it’s important to bring some of that back, through events like this and through Gamercamp,” he added. “And it’s amazing to have kids come and play games alongside the developers who actually made them, to see the tools and the inspiration, and have them both learn from the experience.”
For those who missed their chance to try out these games, fear not: the Ancient Arcade will be part of this year’s Gamercamp, on November 2 and 3.
Images courtesy of Jaime Woo.