The goal for my summer research project is to build an interactive virtual environment that showcases the landscape and daily life of a pre-Columbian Bolivian Amazon village. The project was created on Unreal Engine 4, a powerful game engine that supports blueprint programming. Since the project was first introduced to the Computer Science and Anthropology departments two years ago, there are plentiful documents on the history of the civilization and 3d models of artifacts built by students. We interpreted the landscape of Pre-Columbian Bolivian Amazon and the lifestyle of the inhabitants from scholarship, and we incorporated the existing models into the game. By the end of the project, we have produced an interactive game in virtual reality that allows players to explore the village and converse with non-player characters. The game is a great tool for the players to learn about the history of the civilization, exemplifying the educational potential of virtual technology.
The research project is a great learning experience for me. Unfamiliar with Unreal Engine 4 before the summer, I self-studied the software from documentation and tutorials online for the first week, and I kept expanding my knowledge as the project progressed. In addition to Unreal Engine 4, I learned basic 3d-modeling techniques in Maya as I populate the world with a variety of assets, and I learned facial rigging in Maya to produce facial animations for the talking characters. Making a game from scratch inspired me to dive deeper into the field of game development, and connecting computer graphics and anthropology, I am exposed to and intrigued by the field of digital humanities. Overall, the summer research is an enriching experience that enhances my technical skills and opens my career to new possibilities.