Games are increasingly being used in education as a method to get children engaged with their studies. Craig Chapple speaks to d3t about it’s recreation of the Battle of Bannockburn

Engaging in battle: How d3t is teaching history with video games

Despite being outnumbered two-to-one during the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Scottish defeated the English in what was the First War of Scottish Independence. The Scots, led by King Robert Bruce, had been holding King Edward II’s English under siege in Stirling castle, and though there were attempts to relieve the castle, Bruce fought off his enemy.

Now 700 years later, IT company d3t has brought the famous battle back to life in the form of a collaborative game for up to 30 people at the Bannockburn Visitor Centre in Stirling. Teams clash in what d3t co-founder Jamie Campbell describes as ‘asynchronous turn-based’ gameplay.

“Turn-based sometimes means people getting bored while waiting – but our action continues to play out between turns,” he states. “Many of our 15-strong team are fans of simulation, so we put a lot of time into making the experience a lot of fun.”

The experience was developed with design consultancy Bright White, Historic Scotland and the National Trust of Scotland. It has been designed to teach visitors about the battle and its importance in history. Players will also learn about the tactics of the two opposing kings, by witnessing their own version of the battle, and how it compared to reports of the real thing. 

Prepped for battle

The project was built using open source games development tool suite Cocos2d-x. The Battlemaster, meanwhile, facilitates game sessions using two 24-inch touchscreens connected to a Battlemaster PC, which controls all networking within the system for things such as DMX lighting controllers, 30 player inputs, ticketing databases and videos projected on the walls.

“We render to a 1920×2560 frame buffer and this is output to two HD projectors,” explains Campbell.

“We use nVidia Quadro cards and implemented blending, morphing and stitching to create a totally seamless image that is projected onto a giant 3D relief map of the battleground. 

“We render around 2,000 animated characters to give a real sense of action. All these characters leave muddy and bloody trails as the battle continues. You will see flights of longbow arrows streaking across the map and finding their mark against the enemy.”

What better way is there of learning about a historic event than by taking part in it?

Jamie Campbell, d3t

The project has proven successful, winning the 2015 Museums and Heritage Award for Innovation for the Bannockburn Visitor Centre. The complex experience is an example of how games are increasingly being used to either educate or get people interested in something that exists outside the industry.

“The centerpiece of the Bannockburn Visitor Centre at Stirling is a fine example of what state-of-the-art technology can be effectively used for in the education sector,” says Campbell. “What better way is there of learning about a historic event than by taking part in it?

“After a game, we use alternative imagery such as heat maps to show where deaths occurred, and present-day satellite imagery so players can relate local modern landmarks to historic events.”

Bringing history to life

Campbell describes d3t’s work on the Battle of Bannockburn as like being left with a “museum without artefacts”, given there is no physical evidence of the famous battle left. But through games, the firm was able to bring the fight back to life based on the research of expert academics.

Once players have engaged in their own battle, they can watch the Battle Show, narrated by academics Fiona Watson and Tony Pollard, to learn about how events panned out in real life.

“When the game is over the brave volunteers who agreed to take part in the historic clash between powerful Scottish and English armies queue up to witness themselves in action on the immersive, virtual battlefield,” explains Campbell, before adding: “This is a dramatic and captivating three-dimensional history
lesson that will remain in the memory for life for those youngsters and adults who took part.”

Image credit: Katie Blake from Bright White ltd

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