Saturday, July 10, 2010

Touring Heritage Key Using Explorer HUDs

Valley of the Kings
Location: Ancient Egypt

For some time, Viv Trafalgar has been after me to come back to a few regions in Heritage Key to see how the HUDs now available enrich an explorer's encounter with the past.

I have to say, these were just what I'd have wished to have for The House of Usher roleplay with my classes last year. The easy-to-master interface, shown here, provides a number of tasks for the adventurer. When all of the tasks are complete in a section, the explorer gets a prize.

Using the HUDs

I began at Amarna, and the HUD told me to visit several sites. For this part of the experience, Viv gave me a primer on the current version of the HUD (here's a sample from the Valley of the Kings):
Quest: Howard Carter

Viv: each tab - uncover - envision - explore
Viv: has a quest attached to it
Viv: the first is finding four clay tablets, another is doing tasks around the household.
Viv: when you do [all the household tasks] you get a ring that lets you dance like an Egyptian

I began at the river's edge, where, upon clicking on the reeds, I began to gather them. This led to my first task's completion, and I learned something about how the ancient Egyptians used the river, as well as its flora, to sustain themselves.

Being the mummy-hunter that I am, I had to send the avatar to Valley of the Kings, where a HUD can be found at Howard Carter's camp. I'd already gotten a mask of Anubis on a prior visit, after figuring out the hieroglyphics in the mural room (with some hints from Viv).

I explored for some time, getting four of Carter's missing journal pages. I also got a stylin' bead necklace.

There's more to the HUDs than prizes, however:

Viv: at the top, there is a map button and a 'small' button
Iggyo Heritage: very nice for a first effort! Having a Web page in the viewer...familiar metaphor
Viv: clicking 'map' will pop up an aerial map

Viv: that will go away when you click it
Viv: click the envision tab so quests are explained
Viv: but they are also logged so visitors can engage in multiple quests simultaneously. There are more suprises on the way, too.

The Valley of the Kings has grown in scope since my last exploration. I found more useful interactive features, like this display about Harry Burton's role in the excavations.

Tuts Tomb Entrance

Other objects loaded web pages (here's an example) from Heritage Key's rich library of 2D Web materials.

Other clues have to be unearthed, and when they do, some of them provide links to videos or other content to help solve the riddles of the architectural site. In this video linked to a clue I dug up, Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon, gives a tour of the recreated tomb of King Tut at Highclere Castle.

How HUDs deepen immersive learning

As much as I love these Web links, it would be richer for students--if the speed of streaming the content permits--to have these materials inside the Heritage Key experience.

Viv and I talked about how the sort of in-world experience (as opposed to popping up Web sites) deepens learning:

Viv: it was important to have a way for people to reflect on what they did - inworld, not just on a webpage ... that breaks the immersion
Iggyo Heritage: this is brilliant

The hard work of many hours by Rezzable's team shows. All in all, I could have spent many more hours just at the Valley of the Kings. It promises to provide the sort of learning about Antiquity that cannot be done with a textbook or film alone; the immersive simulation brings the Tut dig to life.

Heritage Key content rezzes faster than before, though there is still some lag as pages of Carter's journal loaded for me. That would prove frustrating for students, and I was on a hard-wired connection with a very fast and new laptop.

Now I'm laying my plans for bringing some of this technology to my own pet projects.

For Usher, I could see the HUDs being customized so that the friends of the Ushers might each wear a different one, depending on their roles in the story. One of the group might have to look for medical clues, and when finding them all, s/he might discover a text on Chloral Nitrate, a drug that we decided would have been used to treat the sort of narcolepsy Madeline suffers. Then the student would know that Roderick had been giving his sister too much of the substance, sending her into a coma. A different HUD would lead the student to find the hidden passages and passwords that Roderick uses (and forgets, in his madness) to parts of the House that reveal secrets.

Gathering Reeds
In an interview with AJ Brooks that I'll soon publish here, we agreed that virtual worlds, given the current state of higher education, will remain a "niche" technology. Content such as Heritage Key's merits a larger audience, and the company's initiative with Unity's Web-based viewer may get them the audience they want.

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