How a computer game helped the British Library resurrect forgotten history

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By Creative Media News

Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth is the most recent exhibition created by the British Library, and it uses some unexpected sources to bring to life the tales of a ruler. Among the most prominent is the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise.

The British Library’s latest exhibition is, to say the least, eccentric. It features a Disney comic book starring Scrooge McDuck and an endless reel of footage from India’s most expensive television show.

How a computer game helped the british library resurrect forgotten history
How a computer game helped the british library resurrect forgotten history

This exhibition billed as a monument to Alexander the Great’s legacy, is as much about narrative as it is about one guy, concluding in a demonstration of how technology can bring such legends to life.

Alexander the Great, who was born in Macedon in 356 B.C., actually visited as far as northwest India, his huge empire from Greece to Egypt is depicted here on paintings, tablets, and scriptures that would look quite at home in the finest museums.

Video game helped the british library
How a computer game helped the british library resurrect forgotten history

However, his mythology had no such territorial limitations. Whether he was the son of a serpent wizard (Nectanebo, not Voldemort) or a courageous warrior who confronted a powerful dragon, George-style mythical tales featuring Alexander began during his lifetime and have endured in the years afterward.

The Ebstorf map connects these different adventures. It was the greatest globe map from the Middle Ages until the Second World War when it was destroyed. It was created in Germany in the year 1300.

It contained more than 2,000 entries on more than 30 parchment sheets, hundreds of which were illustrated, and more than a dozen of which were directly about Alexander, including some of his mythical exploits.

Students from the visual effects school Escape Studios, which has produced young talent for films such as Star Wars and video games such as Assassin’s Creed, have created a new interactive version of the book for the library.

It displays sites and milestones from Alexander’s real and imagined lives, just as the original map did, but in 3D, analogous to the opening credits of Game of Thrones.

How a computer game helped the british library resurrect forgotten history
How a computer game helped the british library resurrect forgotten history

Yrja Thorsdottir, the curator of the digital material display at the library, characterizes it as “a mixture of genuine places, physical locations, and pure fiction.”

She explains that the new map exemplifies how technology enables curators to “bring forgotten objects back to life.”

Technology enables us to recover lost history

Possibly the most startling illustration of this is saved until last.

Alexander’s 32-year-old remains were brought from Babylon to Egypt and interred in a long-lost mausoleum in Alexandria upon his death, the probable reason for which continues to dispute historians.

Unafraid to go from ancient manuscripts to films and even anime, the show concludes with a scaled-up, wall-projected reproduction of the tomb from the video game Assassin’s Creed Origins.

We’ve lost the tomb and the map, but technology allows us to bring them back in a sense,” explains Ms. Thorsdottir.

Since its 2007 launch, Assassin’s Creed has made its recreations of the world’s greatest cities a sort of calling card.

From Constantinople to Athens, each decision necessitated a reality that was both more expansive and more specific than the last.

“Our colleagues who created the original Assassin’s Creed (set in the Holy Land during the Crusades) did a fantastic job and paved the path for what it has become,” Ubisoft historian Thierry Noel told.
“However, as the franchise grew in popularity, it became clear that there would be an increasing need to recreate larger worlds, to be more accurate, and to collect more knowledge, and thus the team I lead was formed.”

It is about producing an experience

Origins, launched in 2017 and set in Egypt between 49 and 43 BC, was the first game to benefit from Mr. Noel’s crew, which scours museums, libraries, and historical sites to bring them to life digitally.

“We used everything at our disposal to imagine what the tomb would have looked like,” he explains.

During the creation of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, set in England during the time of the Vikings and scheduled for release in 2020, his team drew inspiration from a previous exhibition of Anglo-Saxon art.

For certain players, such locations may only ever serve as a playground for committing a terrible murder. The concept of such a game being utilized by an institution such as the British Library may appear fantastical to some, similar to the various tales told about Alexander.

But for the organizers of this exhibition, represent the enduring potential for storytelling.

“It’s about engaging people in many ways,” says the director of printed collections, Adrian Edwards.

“Theatre is a component of this exhibition; it is about generating an experience.

“The level of detail they now devote to visualize these historical locations gives you a real sense of what it may have been like.”

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