Towards Serious Gaming for Archaeoastronomical Simulation

Abstract

Virtual reconstruction of ancient buildings has become a widely used medium for visualizing archaeological discoveries and models for research purposes, and for disseminating results to a wider audience. For archaeoastronomical visualization, we have to combine virtual architecture with a sky model. An extension for displaying and exploring virtual architecture with a patch of surrounding landscape inside a desktop planetarium has been presented earlier (Zotti and Neubauer, 2012). Increasingly, not only single artifacts or buildings can be studied, but larger building complexes and whole cities can be explored in virtual space. The availability of affordable game engines that deliver attractive simulated environments opens up possibilities to model whole landscapes based on digital topography data and to add complex building structures into the correct location and enrich the scene with lots of ambient decoration like plants. While accurately placing the sun or other celestial objects is usually not a standard feature of game engines, it can be added by the developer, so the whole system can be used to study or demonstrate astronomical orientation of building structures and their possible appearance in earlier time, including the possible important effects of shadows (Frischer and Fillwalk, 2012). The model can be enriched by astronomical information usually available in desktop planetaria (e.g., coordinate systems, solstice pointers, $łdots$). Typically such game environments cover several km viewing distance, therefore far mountains may require the inclusion of a background horizon that can either be made from a panorama photo (Zotti and Neubauer, to appear) or computed from a digital terrain model (Smith 2012). Such a simulation has been created with the Unity3D game engine for demonstrating the astronomically most convincing site of two adjacent Neolithic circular ditch systems in Lower Austria (Zotti and Neubauer, 2013). The main purpose of game engines is however computer games, so from here we could envision further development to reach not only experts but a broader audience, like context-sensitive information panels for a self-paced exploration of the reconstructed landscape, or, alternately, animated characters interacting in a role-player game, or multi-player excursions. All this may, during the game, also teach some astronomical basics and raise awareness about the presented piece of astronomical cultural heritage.

Georg Zotti
Georg Zotti
Researcher