One of the issues with the archaeology of synthetic worlds (and especially VR) is communicating the results to the reader. Most readers will not have access to VR hardware, not to mention a gaming console or the game being investigated. In many instances, what the archaeologist finds is unique to that gaming session; the results must be recorded and shared with others who cannot depend on access to the particular event just observed. One goal of using VR tours, 3D models, and recreations of the spaces being studied is to make these comprehensible and available to all, and also allows the landscape to be brought to the viewer instead of the other way around. Lowering that barrier to entry includes exporting data and visualizations to Google Cardboard (or similar VR headsets into which smartphones may be placed, priced under US$10). Publishing the results through WebVR in WordPress or sharing via YouTube VR and similar sites are both free and easy for the public to use and the archaeologist to manage.
For this proof-of-concept, I wanted to allow a guest with a smartphone to watch a VR video filmed via my PlayStation virtual reality (PSVR) headset (including sound) as I walked from the foothills into the Skyrim village of Rorikstead. The viewer would feel immersed in the world and could experience what it was like to approach the town. In the future, technology should become available that will export 360 VR in full motion as opposed to the simulation of VR in a static video. The value of the static video, however, is that the viewer sees what the archaeologist wants the viewer to see. Adding 360 VR video will allow the viewer to then experience a space independently of the archaeologist’s biases, which might contribute to additional information about the space being studied.
The process of recording a video tour and converting it to 3D VR is relatively simple and can be done on consoles and computers for any open world game. For this example, I recorded via PSVR and my PlayStation 4, but the process is similar to completing the same project on a computer.
Step 1: Recording the Walk
Know where the walk will begin and end. Head to the starting point and begin recording video (double-tap of the Share button on the PS4 controller). Conduct the walk, being mindful that any turn of the head will be recorded. Keeping the head still will result in a better and more stable experience for the viewer. Once you reach the end of the walk, pause for a few seconds and then stop the recording. The pause is important so as not to jar the viewer with an abrupt stop to the walk. Save the MP4 video to a USB drive and transfer the file to a computer.
The video below is the original, 2D video of the two-minute walk into town:
Step 2: Converting the Walk from 2D to 3D VR
The MP4 video recorded through the VR headset results in a 2D film that must undergo conversion to regain its immersive, 3D feel. There are several conversion tools available online as well as conversion apps that handle a variety of video formats. For this example, I chose to use PavTube Video Converter and used the free trial version that watermarks the video. [If any of you know of an open source video converter that handles 3D, please leave a comment below.] Its simple interface allowed me to import my MP4 video and then choose “side-by-side 3D video MP4” as an option.
The resulting file contained stereoscopic 3D VR video (with audio) that could then be uploaded to WordPress, YouTube VR, or for Google Cardboard users for free access. Viewers can now experience what I did on my walk, which will help them as they read the associated synthetic text about that particular survey, which will be part of my York PhD thesis. To view the film below in 3D, use Google Cardboard or a free 3D viewer (I use the Homido Player app on my phone):
—Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming