Game engines have long been used to power reconstructions and visualisations within the realm of built heritage and archaeology. Without reference to the volumes of examples that have in many ways laid the foundations, in the past few months (and days) a couple of relatively recent developments stood out to me:
1) March 2014 – CryEngine – Digital Digging project (recreating uppsala) http://digitaldigging.net/digital-iron-age-environment-recreating-uppsala-bit-bit/ (see http://www.westergrenart.com/ for more)
2) August 2014 – Unreal Engine 4 – Architectural visualisation example
These projects/examples of currently available technologies show both the real and well-adapted application of these tools to construct, and reconstruct (if you want to make the distinction here) rich environments with a wealth of different tools, shaders, lighting options, etc that have moved this world (visually at least) light-years ahead of this work even half a decade ago. As with the Unreal Engine example, people are excited because the animations and stills produced (in real-time via the game engine) broadly match up with the quality of those produced through long render-times by offline renderers. That isn’t to say that there hasn’t been an investment of time elsewhere, such as baked lighting in gaming, which needs to be taken into account when comparing ‘offline-vs-realtime’ time savings.
Perhaps one of the most enabling and exciting reasons to be inspired by this is that developers such as CryTek and Epic Games have made their high-grade proprietary engines available free for non-commercial use. This is great for those wishing to experiment and opens doors for many to start building their own amazing environments featuring modelled and reality-captured 3D versions of heritage, artefacts and sites, and such as with Daniel Westergren’s Iron Age Uppsala, evidence based reconstructions of historic or prehistoric sites.