Ghost in the machine haunts historic sites


A new interactive location-based game by an Irish software company can bring startling histories to life, writes CLAIRE O'CONNELL

A TOUR of a castle or historical area can be a pretty tame affair – so how much more fun would it be to learn about the history by capturing ghosts at the site who then tell you their tales?

That’s the idea behind a new interactive location-based game being developed by Irish company Haunted Planet Studios.

The game, which grew out of research by Prof Mads Haahr at Trinity College Dublin, is being developed with the support of the National Digital Research Centre.

Trials are due to start in Scotland this month at Falkland Palace, where Mary Queen of Scots used to spend leisure time.

Guests will use specially kitted out handsets to “find” Queen Mary and various other ghosts of the castle, learning about the history as they go.

“Our goal is to bring a new tourism experience to attractions,” says Alan Duggan, chief executive of Haunted Planet Studios. “You would be able to rent a handset and have a quite different experience, because we overlay the game narrative video and audio on top of the streetscape that is around you.

“Then the game is based around the idea of you reuniting ghosts with fragments from their past lives to release them.” In practice, that means you use the device like a digital camera, but as you move it around, extra features are overlain so they appear “real”.

“It’s essentially blurring the lines between the reality around you and the game you are playing,” says Duggan, adding that two years of work went into developing the software. “And with the audio side, we want it to be such that you are not quite sure whether the noises you are hearing are real or not, because that heightens the tension.”

At Falkland, guests will be introduced to Queen Mary’s head – she met her death at the executioner’s axe – and their initial grisly quest will be to reunite it with her body.

“So, rather than seeing pictures hung on the wall in this historic house, your introduction to Mary is that you find her head,” explains Duggan. “Then you go around the grounds and find different ghost characters from the Palace, including a boy who was ravaged by hounds at the castle.”

To help you complete the quests, the touch-screen handset offers a number of clues based on location.

“There’s a map that gives you an overview of where you are in the site on which you are playing. There’s also a radar which looks like one you would have seen on old war movies and that allows you to see where there may be ghost activity, then as you get closer to those locations you can either tune in with a frequency scanner to listen in on an audio ghost or you can use a camera to see the manifestation.

“When you capture a ghost by listening or photographing, you get narrative that takes you on to the next step in the game.”

At the moment the location-based software uses GPS and so works outside and on provided handsets. But Duggan says the company will look into more indoor-based technology as it becomes available, and eventually the game may be delivered through a downloadable app for personal mobile devices.

So why Scotland for the trials? “We are planning to do a trial in the Christchurch area of Dublin based around Viking heritage, and in the meantime an opportunity has come up for this trial with the National Trust for Scotland,” says Duggan, who adds that they are also starting to look into other sites around Ireland.

He hopes the gaming approach will stimulate an interest in historical sites among users and encourage people to move around and get exercise as they play.