Making the game

How can we make history games appeal to non-traditional audiences? History as a genre of gaming is in many ways quite set in how it is portrayed. Male-dominated, violent, drab in its aesthetics, or concerned with minutiae of equipment specifications far more than how people in the past actually lived. Having found a niche in boys and young men, by and large history games seem to have no interest in capturing the attention of anyone else. History as a discipline, by contrast, should have appeal to all of us. It offers us a glimpse at the unparalleled depth and broadness of human taste, of stories accumulated through the collective experience of millions. That interactive media so often captures only a sliver of this is a great shame, to say the least, and something we hope to play a part in redressing.

Our approach to this has been threefold: a different kind of subject, a more accessible control scheme, and a different audience. In telling the story of Korean palace servant women, we hope to shed light on a subject whose lives were no less meaningful than the more commonly told stories of those they served. While to seasoned gamers, calling a virtual reality game more accessible than more traditional control schemes might sound backwards, to those new to gaming, its physical movement-based controllers offer a less intrusive disconnect from reality. Finally, but most importantly, we wanted to appeal to an audience that was explicitly not the traditional one for history games (i.e. boys and young men). History is the story of all of our pasts, not only the past of men, in spite of the monopolization of what got written down; there’s something in it for everyone to find appeal in, and we wanted to show that. Impetus

Games have an incredible potential as a means of education, at least in certain subjects. Throughout my game studies, I’ve been paying particular attention to the writers we’ve covered that have gone into this, like Ian Bogost’s concept of “Procedural Rhetoric,” and James Paul Gee’s Good Learning Principles in Video Games. For myself, I have an immense personal interest in history, and the fact that for so many it’s considered a deeply unappealing subject is something I’ve found unfortunate, and so the idea of a history game created as a means of learning – whether by sparking an interest, or including actively didactic elements – was something I had an interest in creating from the moment I started my studies. This project is, perhaps quite naturally, the end result of that; my attempt at helping to expose a period of history I love and think is deeply underserved, through a medium I believe very much has the power to do so. Audience

Our eventual goal with Neungsohwa VR is for this project to go beyond this class, and to publish it on an online store as a more finalized game with both Korean and English-language versions. We’d like it to appeal to everyone of course, and ideally in the West as well, but our core target audience for that stage is Korean women aged from around 15 to 35, who likely have only a cursory interest in history, but one that we’d be able to foster.

For the project as it is right now though, our more immediate concern is to apply for grants, and so that more particular target audience has dictated the state of the game as it is now, much more focused around a brief exhibition experience that can hopefully show off what we can create as a team, while leaving us lots of room to expand on our concept. Context

In addition to the research we conducted at museums (the National Palace Museum, National Folk Museum, and National Museum of Korea), trips to both Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung palaces in person, a number of readings we went through are included in the bibliography. Aside from explicit historical research, we looked a great deal at existing Joseon-period history media. Korean historical dramas featuring the life of the royals in the palace are extensive, while ones that cover more lowly figures like gungnyeo are rarer, and their tendency (albeit not universal) to portray these lowly figures as foolish comic relief to the lead (noble) character was one of our motivations for focusing our game on servants. As it so happened though, in the middle of production, one of the biggest historical dramas in a number of years – The Red Sleeve Cuff – came out, centering nearly entirely on the lives of gungnyeo in exactly the nuanced manner we felt was sorely lacking. It’s ended up becoming a major reference for us in terms of depiction.

Methodology + Prototyping

Queen’s Chamber Prototype

Created over the course of Thesis I, this game’s first major prototype was centered solely around the queen’s chambers, with minimal functional gameplay. It was more a test of how our workflow might look, and the kinds of things that could be created within certain time constraints. There was an emphasis on taking visuals and interactivity to a developed level – not at all in the same way as the final product would look (and in fact, everything was built over from scratch, and on a different platform entirely), but rather in how long it might take to create an asset, so we could get a sense of how much we might be able to bite off with our final product.

Gameplay from the first prototype.

In addition to that, we also created the space and furnishings from historical references, so we could get a better sense of how the space might look, as well as to trial certain things we were unsure about like user locomotion.

The palace environment of the first prototype.

Interaction Prototype

We built the first prototype using Oculus’ own VR plugin for Unity (OVR), but running into some issues with it, as well as realizing we wanted to potentially open the game up to other platforms, made us realize the worth in starting over from scratch for the start of Thesis II using Unity’s own VR package, XR Interaction Toolkit instead.

This was also the point in the project where the other team members, Dabin Lee and Hyejin Jang, joined Xander Thornborough to create the game as a group project, and so our interaction prototype was a test both of getting interaction working with the new VR package, as well as how our workflow might work as a team.

An interaction test.

We also created the palace environment again from scratch, having learned from the initial prototype a workflow for the buildings that would allow us to add to them better later down the line, and creating a much wider environment, and allowing us to start considering and testing the user flow better around the space.

The new, more expansive palace environment.

Narrative Storyboard

After blocking out the space and experimenting with a few layouts, we started to better envisage the flow of the story for this section. Unfortunately, this more explicit narrative element had to be cut for what we’re showing during this thesis exhibition, but our hope is to reimplement it in future versions.

A storyboard for the as-yet unimplemented narrative.

Thesis II Prototype

Perhaps I shouldn’t be calling this a prototype, but it’s how we’ve been conceiving of it as a team, since we all want to keep working on this even after the thesis exhibition. For this final prototype for this class, we’ve placed an emphasis on a realized layout, audio design (including a composer we hired for music), interaction, and semi-finalized aesthetics like shaders. We wanted to take the game to a point where an English-speaking ‘exhibitee’ can explore the palace, and uncover information about the historical environment and objects around them, and in general create a foundation we might be able to start marketing for more funding.

An interior of the version of the game for the thesis exhibition.

Addendum: Research

As a historically rooted game, doing justice to our subjects was an utmost priority, and so especially at the outset, a lot of research went into what we created. See the bibliography for a sample of the works that were read. We also went on a number of trips to museums, including Korea’s National Palace Museum, as well as several visits to the palaces themselves in person.

As the project went on and we became busier and more entrenched in what we were making, keeping up with the background readings for the project did end up falling down the list of tasks and not getting enough attention, much to my shame. Going forward for this project and ones like it, organizing time to keep the research as a continuous priority is something I’d like to do.


It’s always hard to evaluate yourself, and I feel like for a project like this – the culmination of all of my studies – it’s harder than ever. I’ve been anticipating and creating expectations around this project since my sophomore year, and yet now that the time actually came, other priorities (most of which I should really have better anticipated) came up and meant I couldn’t designate as much time as I was initially hoping to. The professors of course warned about this at the start of the semester, a warning that I didn’t heed at the time. Yet at the same time, I’m not unhappy with how the work has turned out, even if it hasn’t yet met my unmeetable expectations. I think we’ve created something that’s already special in a particular way, and to my mind largely succeeds in shining light on a different aspect of history in a way different to most history games. We as a team are explicitly planning on taking the project further at least over this summer, and depending on where it goes perhaps beyond that. I think as a foundation for that, what we have has worked.



Game-making and Theory

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Laurel, Brenda. Computers as Theatre. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley, 2014.
Nystrom, Robert. Game Programming Patterns. Genever Benning, 2014.


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