General Discussion > Other Aspects of Mapping of One-Place Studies

Visualising Maps using Game Engines

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I recently watched a google hangout for OOPS about visualising places, and as Peter described some of his ideas about visualising places I realised that he was talking about the same things I'd been quietly working away at.

One thing that he hadn't brought up, and which I thought might be of interest to people is using Game Engines.

If you imagine a computer game, you walk through an environment, interact with objects and characters, and when you select some objects, an onscreen display brings up information about them.

Those capabilities can be utilised to display information about a place in a sort of game where the object is not to kill the bad guys, but to learn something new.

I am by no means an expert on creating games, but I have spent some time playing with an open source 3d program called Blender, and am slowly learning my way around a free program called Unity which can be used to create games.

Games can be georeferenced so that for example you could wander the streets of a village with your phone, press "More information" when your phone is pointing at an existing building and call up its history.

For those who can't visit a village in person, a First Person Shooter Game format could be used to wander a virtual version of a village. Anything could be created, although the time taken to do so would always be a factor.

The beauty of a game engine is that a lot of the visual representations can be generated on the fly. It is definitely possible to use, for example a Lidar map to generate a 3D version of the ground. If you have traced the Tithe map into a GIS program like QGIS, it's fairly simple to link that data to the information regarding cultivation.

Within a Game Engine you can decide that any field with a cultivation of 'pasture' has a grass texture, of 'Woodland' should be populated by trees, and of 'arable' should have rows of wheat (for example). Auto generating in this manner is called 'Procedural Generation."

You could also label fields by Tithe numbers and link information from a CSV that lists any associated information in a pop up.

I am slowly finding my way towards making an online game version of my particular village of interest. At the moment I am still mapping and gathering data, but I think it would be possible to procedurally generate the above information, as well as buildings if floor plans and some brief descriptive information is supplied in a database (such as could be derived rom the 1910 Valuation).

Is this of interest to anyone else?

If so, I could share what I've learnt so far.

Some of what I know is still only in the "I know this is possible" stage, but I do already have some experience in overlaying maps on LIDAR to create 3D representations if people are interested in learning what I have picked up.

Hi sunnylew, and welcome to our project on Mapping for One-Place Studies, and this forum.

I love what you have been doing on mapping your village, both as you mention in your blog at Our Family Plot, and in the Game Engine area you have mention here.  I am encouraged to find that you are thinking about the history of your place of study in a similar way to the way I have been, even if with different technologies.

I would love to hear more, in whatever way you feel you could share. I would also be very happy to share with you more about what I have been doing, the prototype mapping system I have developed, and the ideas I have. (I think I am scheduled sometime in the early part of next year to do a hangout about mapping.

Thanks so much for your welcome.

I've had a brief look at the mapping system but will need to look more closely.

My own (long term) plan is to map and visualise the changes in the Village of Hethersett from just before Enclosure in 1799 through to the beginning of WW1.

Unfortunately it's a rather large parish and hence perhaps a rather large bite to chew, but you can't always choose what takes your interest  :)

My blog post has an 1847 Tithe Map, and I've spent my time since then drawing the 1907 OS Ordnance Map in to QGIS and transcribing the 1910 Valuation (which is based on the 1907 map) into my Filemaker Database. I hope that with the Census every ten years, and various Land Taxes and Poor Rates etc I can track most people's paths through the properties.

This is an interesting tutorial on how to put GIS data into the 3D program called Blender in order to visualise it:

You'll see that they're actually using LIDAR data, which you discussed the difficulties of visualising in the Hangout.

Another aspect of using a game engine to visualise a town is that you can progressively add seemingly mundane details that flesh out what life really was like.


Game engines use a sort of programming called Wayfinding which is similar to what happens when you ask googlemaps for directions.

You can put a character in one place and then tell it that it has to be in another place by a certain time. It will then navigate its way to that point. Similarly to googlemaps, if you need to move from one point via other points, you can tell it to do that as well.

No imagine what you can do with this capability if you look up a county directory and know when the postman makes his rounds. Automatically, you can have him do his round however many times he works his way around town each day.

More speculatively, you could make every member of the C of E leave their place of residence in time for the Sunday service. Now you can't know whether every member attended that particular service, but as a way of visualising the bustle of a village, it can be a great indicator.

On work days, if it's known where someone lives, and where their place of work is, you can have them leave and walk their way to their work, school children can go to school at the appropriate time, and the local train or coach along the turnpike can pass through.

Another idea is that if you know when a burial, baptism or marriage takes place, it should be possible to have the game engine automatically have anyone within - for example - a kinship of three degrees make their way to the ceremony.

I don't just highlight this because it would be cool to watch - which I think it would be.

Using Wayfinding, you could discover how far people were from their place of work or worship - individually or on average. You could also determine, which butcher or grocer was probably the one they used because it was on the way home, or maybe discover that future husband passed future wife's home every day on the way two and from the fields.


If you know when and where you are looking at in a study of a village, there are preprogrammed assets that will calculate the location of the sun, moon and stars.

I haven't come across any of these that are free, but there are some that are not too expensive.

The rising of the sun may dictate when some people go to work, and as I recently heard on a Google Hangout, the phase of the moon may dictate when religious meetings occur (so that people can find their way across the moors by its light).

I have in the past picked up one or two references to Minecraft mapping - which you can find by entering Minecraft into the search box top right (and Entire forum in the drop-down).  Some interesting aspects there, although I do not know Minecraft myself.


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