In a move that seems designed to provide Chinese historians with even more ways to torture their poor students (I know at least one thing I'm forcing my sections to do next quarter), IBM and the Palace Museum have teamed up to offer a virtual, immersive, and interactive version of the Forbidden Palace of Beijing. In contrast to the more typical 3D 'tours' that abound, the "Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time" is sort of Second Life meets the Qing dynasty and eunuchs (minus advertising, a virtual economy, and sex). It's running like a snail on my computer, but is certainly a very neat idea — and in the future, we'll perhaps being seeing more creative uses of virtual worlds for 'cultural' purposes? Full release after the jump:
IBM and Palace Museum Announce Opening of The Forbidden City Virtual World Celebrating 600 Years of Chinese Culture
"The Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time" Recreates Historical Treasure as a Fully Immersive 3D-Internet Experience
BEIJING, Oct 10, 2008 — Today, some 600 years after construction began on the 178-acre site that would become the centre of unrivalled imperial power known as China's Forbidden City, the Palace Museum and IBM will open the walled fortress — and hundreds of years of history and culture — to the world.
Three years in the making, IBM has meticulously built a virtual recreation of the architecture and artifacts of the former palace grounds, enabling online visitors to get a first-hand view into imperial China as embodied in the intricate design, history and storied culture of this newly accessible Forbidden City.
"The Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time" ( www.beyondspaceandtime.org) is a first-of-a-kind, fully immersive, three-dimensional virtual world that recreates a visceral sense of space and time of this Chinese cultural treasure — as it was centuries ago during the height of the Ming and Qing dynasties — for most anyone with access to the Internet.
"The rich cultural heritage of China's imperial past, embodied in the Forbidden City for over five centuries, is now brought to life and accessible to all through a virtual world created by IBM and the Palace Museum," said Henry Chow, Chairman, Greater China Group, IBM. "This initiative takes the online experience to a new level of innovation with rich content, educational storytelling, community and social networking features that represent the next generation of 3D-Internet applications.
"What makes me proud is that IBM now has opened the door to a cultural treasure and rich heritage to everyone, everywhere which in the past was only available to relatively few."
Originally, the Forbidden City was constructed to embody the idea of the emperor as the centre of the universe with a series of dramatic courtyards and gates, buildings and landings underscoring a design built to reinforce security and power. This huge palace complex was completed in 1420, about twelve years after construction began, and contains hundreds of exquisite buildings and historic artifacts, and on October 10th, celebrates its 83rd anniversary as a museum and one of China's major cultural attractions.
Now, using virtual world technology, visitors can experience the awe inspired by this vast and amazing space. Rather than experiencing its wonders in isolation, the virtual Forbidden City allows you to see and interact with other users and a range of helpful automated characters. As you explore the virtual Forbidden City, you can choose to simply observe the buzz of activity, or you can take tours and participate in activities that provide insights into important aspects of Qing culture.
Visitors to the virtual Forbidden City will be able to take tours that correspond to major historical topics and stories from the Forbidden City, such as Dragons of the Forbidden City, the Supreme Golden Halls of the Forbidden City, the Imperial Garden, and the Symbolic Animals in the Forbidden City.
"'The Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time' is a program that combines China's world-class cultural heritage with state-of-the-art information technology. Three years in the making, the Palace Museum worked closely with IBM in jointly engineering the program. Both parties have been deeply touched by the profound and dazzling ancient Chinese culture," said Zheng Xinmiao, the Director-General of The Palace Museum. "Meanwhile, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to IBM for its full investment and devotion and its strategy of applying innovative technology to social and cultural promotion. This program is only a start, which, as we believe, will have an unlimited future to explore China's traditional culture."
Visitors to the virtual Forbidden City may also engage in activities in which their avatars take an active role in the culture of the period. For example, avatars can take part in activities such as archery, cricket fighting, and playing the ancient game of Weiqi, the "board game of surrounding" now popularized as GO. Visitors may also view and inspect artifacts and scenes such as "The Emperor Having Dinner" and "Court Painting."
The recreation of the Forbidden City represents how 3D technology can be used to educate and provide cultural experiences on a large scale. At the Forbidden City in Beijing, local visitors can also use a kiosk to interact with the virtual world. It is the first virtual world to be built using SOA architecture and includes open source components such as Linux.
IBM's BladeCenters with Linux Blade Servers are at the heart of this virtual world — supporting robustness with the capability to enable thousands of concurrent users and the scalability comparable to that of massive multiplayer online games. IBM built the application using WebSphere Application Server, Tivoli, ESB (Message Broker), DB2 Viper, and IBM BladeCenters. The virtual world runs on Linux, Windows and Mac operating environments.
IBM has dedicated more than a decade to creating successful cultural heritage projects, including the Vatican Library, the Pieta, Hermitage Museum, Eternal Egypt, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.