Reconstructing our hidden past with the eyes of the future

Two University students are helping to show how technology can immerse us into a long-forgotten world

Set with the challenge of recreating a medieval longhouse as part of a computer game, Daniel Howe and Martyna Damrath were bursting with energy to show how our history can be morphed into a interactive 3D experience.
The University gave the two MA Game Design students an opportunity to use specialist tools and the latest digital technology to take on this unique Dartmoor heritage project, with the potential for the process to be used in other historic settings across the UK’s National Parks and protected landscapes.
Daniel and Martyna talk to Jon Bayley and explain how the Higher Uppacott project was born and how they have become part of its 3D space.

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<strong></strong>Daniel Howe<strong> </strong>and<strong>&nbsp;</strong>Martyn&nbsp;Damrath<strong></strong>

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Daniel Howe and Martyna Damrath

How did you both become involved in the Higher Uppacott project?

Daniel: Our lecturer offered us the opportunity to join the Higher Uppacott project team, even though it was originally supposed to be a Masters Studentship role.
Martyna: We were doing a BA in Game Design, but because of our interest in doing a Masters we were able to join the team, which was great news.

Why did you take on the project?

Martyna: The ability to use advanced scanning technology to map out the interior of the house was one of the major attractions of this project. 
We were given the chance to use some expensive equipment and learn a lot. We thought it was a great opportunity and a really interesting subject to collaborate with.
Daniel: This project has also given me the chance to add something really special to my portfolio of work.

How long will the project take to complete?

Daniel: It began in September last year, and the Dartmoor team will view the finished project at the end of the summer. If it needs to run over then I suspect it can.
<p>Higher Uppacott house</p>

The Grade 1 Listed medieval longhouse called Higher Uppacott

Are you going to add any superstitious elements into the game?

Daniel: The building itself had some horseshoes in the wall, which was a belief back then, a protection thing. They also left cats within the walls.
How will everyone be able to see the project, and experience it?

Martyna: Dartmoor National Park Authority wants to use it on their website, so people can just play it, experience it and do whatever they want with it.

<p>Higher Uppacott. Room scan</p>
<p>Higher Uppacott. Room scan 2</p>

What is Higher Uppacott?

The Grade 1 Listed medieval longhouse called Higher Uppacott is owned by Dartmoor National Park Authority and is located close to Widecombe-in-the moor. Higher Uppacott is of important historic value, not least because it has a fully intact shippon, where cattle and other animals were housed during the medieval period.
Higher Uppacott presents several visitor-management challenges. There is limited parking and internal capacity with only small groups of highly skilled volunteer guided visits, meaning numbers are often restricted.
This project, which began in September 2021, aims to make the house more accessible, enabling a wider range of people to increase their understanding and appreciation of Dartmoor’s vernacular architecture and the medieval period.

Take a video tour of Higher Uppacott

<p>Higher Uppacott blueberries<br></p>
<p>Higher Uppacott haystacks<br></p>
<p>Higher Uppacott fire<br></p>

When you’re playing the game, what will it feel like?

Martyna: Right now we have a character walking around the house, picking items up and doing quests. Later on, we’re planning to scan in my arms which will allow you to do things as a game character. I’m going to be the one rigging my own hands, it will be great fun. 

Are you going to utilise any of the University’s VR equipment?

Martyna: I think at the Higher Uppacott exhibition we are going to have a VR system set up for people to play around with. We’re definitely going to have the desktop version there too.
Daniel: I think we could look into incorporating our VR lab in the future.

Why are you scanning the interior of the house?

Daniel: The location of Higher Uppacott is a bit of a challenge, with quite a remote location and no parking so our involvement in the project gives us the chance to bring the interior of the house to people who can’t get there.
Martyna: We’re helping to create a space where people can experience the house in incredible detail whenever they want from the comfort of their laptop.

How is the project progressing so far?

Daniel: The scans are being worked on, and the project is being constructed piece by piece. However, there are still a few issues to iron out, as with most technology.

Have there been many technical hurdles during the project?

Martyna: The technology can be a little messy at times and fixing problems is quite hard with the number of polygons the environment is constructed from, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. 
Daniel: Creating all the assets and filling the environment with many different items which are historically accurate, like animals, has been really fun to create. 
One of our jobs was to scan some of the smaller areas that were important for the building. 
Also, we weren’t allowed to go in the room during the scanning otherwise we’d be in the actual scans. 

How do you power the scanning equipment, considering the remote location?

Martyna: We have five different battery packs charged up and ready to go each time we visit. We can then gather a lot of data in just a few hours. 
Daniel: There have been multiple trips down to Higher Uppacott now, but we don’t go along on every trip. 
<p>Higher Uppacott basket</p>
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Higher Uppacott Chicken<br></p>
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Higher Uppacott leek<br></p>
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Higher Uppacott&nbsp; sheep<br></p>
What do you do with the data once it’s been collected?

Martyna: The data was processed by our lecturer, Musaab Garghouti, using software called Artek. All the models are separate so they have to be used together to create this one big space to be used in the game engine.

What happens to the data, what are you creating with it?

Daniel: The original plan was for it to be transformed into a VR experience. 
For the time being, we’ve been building just the desktop version, so you don’t have to own a VR headset, but the option will be there for the VR experience. 
So if you just want to walk around they’ll be an option to do that and experience it as the house is now.

How realistic will the experience be? 

For the VR side, we’ll certainly be looking at as much realism as possible because that’s how Higher Uppacott is meant to be experienced. You’ll go to Higher Uppacott, virtually, and you’ll see how it is currently. 
We have a game side to it as well where you would live out a day-to-day life as a resident. So that would be how it would have looked in that century because we have multiple centuries to cover and that’s when the house would have been different.
Martyna: Going back to your question about texturing. I am trying to get us as close as we can. It will have a little bit of my own style put in. 

Can you give a brief snapshot of how the game will play out?

Daniel: Yes. You would begin the game awaking in the house and need to start a fire to stay warm, and then forage for food. Basically, you would live out a day in the life of someone living in those times. 
Martyna: Back then, many people were superstitious, so we plan to add pixies as they were believed to inhabit Dartmoor. 
Interestingly, there were burn markings on one of the walls of the house as well as on the upper floor. The burn markings were thought to be protection from the house burning down. 
The concept of burning a house to protect it from burning down is an interesting concept.
<p>Higher Uppacott. Animals</p>
<p>Higher Uppacott. Table</p>
Is this the first time you’ve used technology like this?

Daniel: Scanning is the first technology that I haven’t touched before. I’ve actually used the game engine before and VR headsets.
Martyna: I haven’t made a VR game yet, or used the 3D scans so it was all new to me.

I understand the BBC Time Team is involved.

Martyna: Yes. We’ve had a meeting with them and introduced the project to them, but we should have another update with them soon.
Daniel: We’ll hopefully have some footage for them and it could feature on their YouTube channel.

Have you had any interest in history before this project?

Martyna: This project has taught me that research is useful and the report from our other Master's Student was also helpful.
Do you think you’ll use this technology again?

Martyna: The 3D scanning tech is great. It saves so much time and I would love to use it again if I find a place I want to recreate. Even little bits and bobs you can scan in - will save you so much time in the development process.
How do the scanners work?

Daniel: There are two scanners. The largest one revolves around the room and it fires out lasers and creates a point cloud that generates the environment in real-time. 

How do you manage the scanned data once it’s downloaded?

Martyna: It’s very messy, to begin with, with millions of polys which you have to reduce massively to make it game-ready.

With the resolutions so high, how do you simplify it but retain the detail?

Daniel: That’s what Artek is for. It gets that initial high-resolution scan down to something that is workable. Throwing the scan into modelling software you would require a hugely powerful PC. 
Martyna: We use a high-spec computer which reduces the files down to a manageable size I can use on my gaming laptop. 

How compatible will the final product be with standard computers?

Daniel: The aim is for it to run well on higher-end laptops. It should work smoothly on most computers.