Games developers draw on archives for inspiration

Are you a computer games designer? If so, have you ever considered that archives could inspire your design of new immersive environments?

Last summer, games developers were invited to the Great Steampunk Games Jam hosted by staff from the National Archives and the University of York. They had a little over 24 hours to design and build games inspired by historical collections of visual material from the Victorian and Edwardian periods, with prizes being awarded for the best entries. 

To assist the participants, the hosts presented three different themes: Invention, Spectacle, and Unrest. They provided historical context; wrote stories to act as initial discussion points; and created a selection of documents and images from their collections available for possible use in the games. Fuelled with snacks and pizza, the teams worked late into the night and throughout Sunday to complete their creations.

Three judges assessed the entries on the basis of the playability of their games and their interpretation of the archival material. The top award went to The Great Airship Rescue, which pulled together two themes: an aircraft created to locate Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition had been sabotaged by protesters, with the player being tasked with fixing various ailing machinery to keep it aloft. The winning team worked together well over the weekend and were almost certainly helped by a fantastic presentation, led by a character in full Steampunk gear of long leather jacket and an impressively tall top hat. 

Perhaps there's something in our own archival collections that might inspire you. Why not come along and see?