Tourism & Insect Cruelty: Virtual Forbidden City

By Alec Meer on October 13th, 2008 at 4:55 pm.

Izzat Patrick Stewart?

Here’s a wonderful concept. Yeah, the execution’s pretty rock-bottom, but it doesn’t stop it from being a great idea. It’s The Forbidden City in China, presented as a free MMO, of sorts. No grinding the Terracotta army or hiding dragons here though – it’s strictly a tourism/educational toy. An Oriental Second Life with tour guides and no unicorn-humping, in a way.

This being the Forbidden City and not the Lego city, there’s no construction, and barely any interaction beyond navigation – it’s simply sight-seeing and information-gathering, but you’re able to wander and stare at your leisure. It looks desperately low-rent, but does nevertheless convey a certain sense of grandeur: it’s certainly a huge step on from the sort of rubbish ‘interactive CD-ROMs’ you tend to find in tourist gift shops.

There are a few attempts at something braver, too. Have an explore and you’ll stumble across a couple of remarkably odd mini-games – like training crickets to fight. All in the name of historical authenticity and too low-fidelity to be horrific, but God. Quite the departure from staring at Qing era architecture.

The really interesting element is the MMO side of it. You’re visiting in real-time, alongside anyone else who happens to log in. You can chat, you can join tours together – an MMO party designed for learning, not experience points – or you can even host a tour yourself. Again: a wonderful idea. So, it’s a shame it looks like Tomb Raider 1, but with the right technology a project like this could be an incredible tool for schools and for penniless tourists alike. I love the idea of whiling away a bored Sunday roaming around a high-detail online Taj Mahal or Chicago skyline. Clearly nothing like the same as being there, but as a shortcut to getting a sense of architectural wonders, an MMO system seems ideal. Google maps, the MMO? Oooh.

Oh, and it’s free. But please, don’t complain at me about the graphics and the interface: again, it’s the concept rather than the execution that I’m so intrigued by.

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7 Comments »

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  1. Malagate says:

    That doesn’t look half bad actually, especially interesting in that there seems to be a mini-game based around “Go”, which is pretty much the most popular board game ever.

    Probably nicer than actually visiting there, when I went it was hard to move for tourists, also lots of little barriers like in every other museum.

    Also there was pheonix humping and some dragon humping going on, but you were right in there not really being any unicorn humping.

  2. Klaus says:

    Oh? Do you get thrown in Chinese prisons?

  3. Idle Threats and Bad Poetry says:

    China for the win!

    I live in northeast China and plan to go to Beijing one of these days. It would be incredible exciting in my humble opinion to tour the virtual Forbidden City and then see the real thing. As an American, it’s hard to conceive China’s amazing, millenia-old cultural heritage. I will download it later and be sure to tell my friends about it. Maybe some of them will be able to tear themselves away from WoW and Counter-Strike long enough to try it.

  4. lah says:

    Yes, not half bad!
    Having been there around 15 times since I m here in Beijing (working as a tourguide, or for my own pleasure), I can say it does convey the right feeling. At work ATM, but I ll check it out and talk about it to others for sure.

  5. Empty=IRL= says:

    Imagine if this had been done in Cry engine… Now that would be really impressive!

  6. terry says:

    I downloaded it but I am not allowed in :(

  7. no says:

    “Oriental”….?!