Using games to visualize the past is nothing new, but there are good and bad ways of doing so. There is technology for augmented reality historical vexing (which can be problematic); when mainstream games try their hand at history they also run into issues. I’ve tried my hand at making historically-grounded games (read about mine here) it can be a challenge balancing playability with historical accuracy.

Circa 1948 (App Store) is an interactive story for iOS that captures life in the city of Vancouver in 1948. It’s an NFB project examining two communities in Vancouver that no longer exist. The work is noteworthy as it goes beyond being just an interactive story on the iPad.

Gamesuace interviewed the lead designer, Kelly Richard Fenning, about what it was like making the app from a technical and historical perspective. Their development process was haphazard and chaotic, but hey, they shipped!

In order to make the historical aspects engaging for gameplay they had to make some modifications. Nothing out of the ordinary, but in my experience some teachers fail to realize that sometimes accuracy needs to be sacrificed for engagement (it’s very easy to discuss these accuracies after the game).

As for the characters in the app, nearly all of them are fictitious. That being said, we were able to interview many people who were alive in these communities, and they shared stories about some of the more “colorful and notable” people and events of the time. From these stories, Douglas worked with screen-writer Chris Haddock and playwright Kevin Kerr to create some original characters and situations that were amalgams of these stories.

They were able to get funding (which is not an easy thing to do!) by mixing different art projects into one:

In addition to the app, they wanted to create a multi-contextual experience around it, so the Circa 1948 Storyworld is not just the app, but also a historically informative webpage, a Stan Douglas photo series, the immersive projection-map installation (as featured at TriBeCa and touring major cities), and the stage play of Helen Lawrence itself. (Although not a film as originally intended, Helen Lawrence became a ground-breaking play where stage actors were filmed against blue screen and composited and shown to the audience in real-time into the digital environments we developed for the app).

Thanks to Mike!