Last week, a group of British Library curators descended on Nottingham for the announcement of this year's Off the Map competition winner. The competition, launched earlier in the year, challenged UK Higher Education students to create videogames inspired by items from across the British Library's collections. This was the second year that the library had joined forces with Gamecity and Crytek to run the competition; the bar had already been set incredibly high by last year's winners, Pudding Lane Productions from De Montfort University, who created a 3D reproduction of 17th Century London. An excerpt of this fantastic piece, along with details of this year's three finalists can be seen here.
A gothic theme was specifically chosen for this year's challenge to tie in with the Library's exhibition Terror and Wonder: the gothic imagination. Maps, images, texts, architectural plans and sound recordings were selected by curators across the library in response to the following subthemes: the gothic splendour of Fonthill Abbey, the coastal town of Whitby with its links to Bram Stoker's Dracula and Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Masque of the Red Death.
For the first time, sounds were included alongside the printed material, adding another dimension to the competition and encouraging students to consider more closely the soundtrack as well as the gameplay.
The Flying Buttress team, one of the finalists from De Montfort University, made great use of archival sounds in their Whitby inspired entry. A windy winter soundscape, complete with the harsh cawing of Carrion Crows, helped create the suitably bleak atmosphere for the external environment, while the ear-piercing screams of a Red Fox produced the required "jump out of your skin" effect, essential for any respectable gothic adventure.
After much deliberation, the award for this year's competition went to the Gothulus Rift team (Jackson Rolls-Gray, Sebastian Filby and Faye Allen from the University of South Wales), who created a mystical underwater world where players have to slowly rebuild Fonthill Abbey by collecting hidden and moving glowing orbs. Though sound from the British Library was used in the making of the trailer, the team struggled to find suitable examples for the in-game ambience, largely because of the underwater theme.
Feedback from both the participating students and their lecturers over the past two years has been invaluable in helping us improve content selection and perhaps think a little more creatively ourselves. Preparations are already underway for the third competition, Alice's Adventures Off the Map, which will be launched at the British Library on Monday 8th December - we're really looking forward to seeing (and playing) the entries!