The VR game that takes you to medieval Visby

14 August 2020

John Ljungkvist draws his bow in a virtual Visby.

Using a VR helmet, you can try your hand at archery in 14th century Visby. This new VR game has been developed by the game company Disir, which was founded by a game developer and three archaeologists, of which two research at Uppsala University.

The game consists of five levels with different degrees of difficulty, inside and outside Visby’s town wall. The player draws the bow and shoots arrows using handheld controls. We find ourselves in medieval Visby with its town wall, buildings, marauding soldiers and lots of period-authentic details. Everything is based on research, to provide a correct picture of what it looked like at the time. The game is loosely based on historical events related to Valdemar Atterdag’s invasion in 1361.

“The vision was to build up medieval Visby in virtual reality and show what it looked like, both for educational and entertainment purposes,” says John Ljungkvist.

The game consists of five levels with different degrees of difficulty, inside and outside Visby’s town wall.

Tested at the Medieval Festival

An early version of the game was tested at Visby’s Medieval Festival last August and the final version was demoed at a medieval Christmas event in Visby at the end of the year. The game is now available to buy for the Oculus platform.

“But additional investments are needed to continue developing the game and for it to become a commercial success,” according to John Ljungkvist.

Ljungkvist and Daniel Löwenborg are researchers at the Department of Archaeology at Uppsala University. In connection with a research project in Old Uppsala, they began researching different digital solutions for visualising history.

“It grew out of research on Old Uppsala, where John had led an archaeological dig and I had worked with digital solutions in archaeology, like GIS (geographic information system) and compiling data. From the start, it was about both expanding our understanding and communicating our interpretation of history,” says Daniel Löwenborg.

Three archaeologists and a game developer

With the help of UU Innovation, they came into contact with various IT companies.

“When we started the company, we were three archaeologists and a game developer, and we do lots of the work. We primarily use existing solutions with modern game engines while incorporating an historical perspective and approach,” says Löwenborg.

The old grave field in Old Uppsala is today grass-covered mounds, but using a mobile app, visitors are aided in visualising what it looked like during Viking times. Using AR (augmented reality), you can see how the place may have looked in the past.

A VR version was later developed that can be used by museum visitors. The company has also developed an AR platform for five historical destinations in Uppsala.

“The basic principle is to use digital technology to communicate an understanding for the history linked to the research and, as much as possible, to make it historically accurate and authentic.”

Immersing yourself in history

The archery game is their first game, and it has allowed them to take another step in bringing history to life.

“Here it is less about facts and knowledge and more about communicating a sense of immersing yourself in history and integrating with it,” says Daniel Löwenborg.

John Ljungkvist sees great potential in using this type of game not only for entertainment but also for teaching. “We are communicating research and can go from playing to learning. Today, VR is used a lot within medical education, and it can also be used for history education.”