VR Aztecs

Historical Visualization

Andrea Carver

All aspects

VR Aztecs began with a curiosity of how virtual reality technology could enhance early education. I read research papers about education theory and previous VR studies, finding the field of historical visualization to be ripe with opportunities. Observing the Eurocentric focus of existing historical VR experiences, I chose to showcase a slice of Mesoamerican history.

During the summer of 2017, I spent approximately 600 hours architecting an immersive Aztec open world. Drawing heavily from the archeological works of José Luis De Rojas and Michael E. Smith, I made educated guesses of city layout to imagine 0.25 square miles of the capital city, Tenochtitlan.

Stylized rendering of VR Aztecs city map.

Long after civilizations have vanished, virtual reality can revive an approximated experience of their daily life.

Immersing myself in the study of Aztec culture, I studied Aztec social classes, economics, agriculture, fashion, and language. I 3D-modeled tools, gardens, modular architecture components, and animals, learning Substance Painter to texture them.

One of my core goals with the project was to gain experience in designing and implementing VR game mechanics. I designed mechanics for locomotion, object interaction, inventory, NPC interaction, and canoeing. Thus far, I have implemented the most important locomotion and object interaction mechanics.

An Aztec shovel, hoe, and axe.
Various single-person Aztec canoes.

A heavily detailed world requires heavy optimization.

Contrary to my creative hopes, I spent the majority of my time implementing optimization strategies. Early techniques included aggressive LOD’s and rendering tricks. More advanced strategies, like reducing bus time between the CPU and GPU, yielded a 56 fps boost.

Click to zoom

As a full-time student with other obligations, VR Aztecs is an ongoing project of passion. My hope is to finish VR Aztecs one day as a team at a virtual reality production company.