Relive prehistoric Malta through virtual reality

The creative research time of the computer science department of the Institute of Higher Education (SMI) of Saint Martin worked closely with heritage experts and teachers to develop an educational experience of immersive virtual reality (VR).

The SMI research team has already proven itself by developing an accurate virtual representation of the material cultural heritage (physical site and artefacts) of an underground UNESCO heritage site: the Neolithic Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni. This project, based on a LIDAR scan of the site during its restoration in the 2000s, was completed and launched just before the museums closed due to the pandemic in 2020.

This year Relive the story The project sought to increase the experience with the representation of intangible cultural heritage, i.e. human behavior in these sites, using artifacts found there. Relive the story used virtual reality and motion capture (mocap) technology to introduce an animated character that meets the expectations of realism raised by the site’s faithful depiction.

The research team worked with mocap combinations to create a realistic flow of motion depicted by the avatar working to carve out one of the hypogeum walls as directed by heritage experts and teachers’ suggestions. These were invited to participate in the design specification, development and evaluation of the results with the aim of fostering familiarity and interest in the experiment in order to seek its adoption in teaching.

‘Re-Live History’ used VR technology and motion capture (mocap)

The results obtained illustrated encouraging feedback on the role of VR in the pedagogy of teaching subjects, even outside history, such as digital culture, graphic design and digital art, the digitization of sound and the underlying mathematics.

The St Martin Institute believes that the success of Relive the story is a great opportunity to develop an archive of immersive experiences as teaching aids for present and future generations to learn more about our nation’s cultural roots. This concerns learning outcomes in school curricula that focus on time periods, about which little documentary evidence is available, such as prehistoric cultures.

The research project is funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) Research Excellence Scheme. A short film produced inside the VR experience and through 360 degree editing techniques, can be viewed here.

Relive the story can be experienced at the PlayCon event at MFCC, Ta’ Qali taking place this weekend (Stand D7) or for teacher/student groups via scheduled appointment with SMI via email infodesk@ stmartins.edu.

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