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focus on multi-modality, easier use and more immediately reactive interfaces. For the cul-
tural heritage field this will mean a broadening of the group of perspective users and
more natural communication between user and computer system.
Virtual Reality for Heritage Access & Understanding
While Virtual Reality (VR) applications depend upon the interpretation of vast
amounts of heritage data, they can be used to allow the general public to visualise the past
in ways that are not feasible with conventional presentations. In theatre studies (e.g. the
THEATRON Project) and archaeological reconstructions of completely or partially
destroyed structures (e.g.The Roman bath complex at Bath) VR technology has been
used to great effect. As it becomes more accessible, it offers great potential for visualisation
of heritage sites, landscapes, and buildings.These visualisations permit the user to "move"
through the environment and see it from various angles. Using archaeological data, data-
bases, static images, and 3D interactive models,VR can bring to life data which are other-
wise difficult to put into context. For example, it can be used to hang a virtual exhibition
or to show how an historic building or landscape has changed over time.
Computing hardware and software have advanced to a point where it is possible to
construct and view models using personal computers. Further technological improvements
will soon enable these models to be immersive, interactive and involving. Developments in
the speed of networks make it feasible to deliver these models over the Internet. For
example,Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) makes interactive navigation
accessible to anyone using the World Wide Web.Thus, users can experience a "virtual"
visit to an historic building, an archaeological site, or a landscape.The same tools can be
used to create an interface for multi-disciplinary presentations of heritage data, making
links between the land, the buildings, the objects in museums, historical documents, and
the environment in a holistic way, rather than the current arbitrary division of information
areas. If there is a shortcoming to the technology it is that the models can appear too real-
istic, as for example they appear in the movie Gladiator. In reality, archaeologists are often
not sure about reconstructions of ancient monuments or at least there are conflicting
interpretations.VR models do not always make these differences apparent to the visitor or
viewer who may as a result gain an inaccurate impression of the historical record. On the
other hand, in VR driven teaching applications the faithfulness of the virtual environment
to the historical record may be of secondary importance if the system improves the speed
and depth at which students learn.
Games for "edutainment"
Play is a fundamental human activity and an important way to learn. Cultural institu-
tions do not take sufficient advantage of games to expand awareness and knowledge of
collections through "edutainment" packages and other strategies. In our discussion of
gaming we concentrate on console and computer games as these presently offer the great-
est number of possibilities for displaying cultural heritage content. Broadly speaking, the
term "gaming" covers a range of applications running on different platforms, from dedi-
cated consoles to personal computers, mobile phones, handheld game units and arcade
gaming machines.The games themselves can be classified by genre, whether they are sin-
gle or multi-user, the type of delivery device they are designed for (e.g. console versus
PC), or whether they can be used online or offline. Improvements in human computer
Introduction
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