Red Deer’s Peter Fiala has done the next best thing to building a time machine.
He’s brought a slice of Alberta history to life — with the assistance of some of his Red Deer College colleagues and students — through an interactive, immersive digital game called Edmonton Trolley Car.
The RDC program developer and former visual effects film artist (Invictus, Blades of Glory, Tropic Thunder), decided a few years back to stop creating other people’s cinematic worlds, and to instead bring his own digital visions before viewers.
He formed a company, Gametrip, and began developing a free game app for smartphones. His Edmonton Trolley Car game has since been picked up by several app stores, and has an HTC Vive virtual-reality version sold by Steam.
Fiala picked a unique setting for the game — Edmonton in 1915. He figured there were enough shoot-‘em-up games, why not serve up something different?
Impressed by the historic trolleys that cross the High Level Bridge in Fiala’s hometown of Edmonton, he thought: What if a digital game could effectively allow players to travel back to the early days of this province?
Fiala became mesmerized by archival photos of ornamented buildings, people in old-time dress, and horses pulling carts through dusty streets, concluding “it was a different world” a century ago.
“It was very important for me to get the history as accurate as I can,” he said — so Fiala researched historic Alberta and newsy topics from 1915. He also travelled on Edmonton’s trolley car no. 33, taking photos of the interior, as well as historic buildings still visible between Old Strathcona and the Edmonton legislature.
“It took me a long time to make the models in my spare time,” said Fiala, who took the animation arts program designer job at Red Deer College in 2015.
Not only did he have to capture detailed old buildings, such as the Princess Theatre and Strathcona Hotel, his human characters had to be seen from all sides. Players can approach them while riding on the trolley or walk by on the street, to find out about the city’s history.
A passerby might reveal that the clock on the old post office on Whyte Avenue was built in Derby, England, for example. Players collect points and advance to different levels, based on the information collected, said Fiala, who’s had interest in the game from schools.
Some RDC colleagues — Thomas Bradshaw, Lynda Adams, Megan Bylsma, Carrie Hamilton, Paul Boultbee and Simon Dobbs — provided voice-overs for his digital characters, while RDC students Alicia Maedel, Trysten Luck and Meegan Sweet assisted with motion-capture work. They performed movements that Fiala captured digitally and replicated for his digital characters.
He remains grateful for this help — and valuable feedback Edmonton Trolley Car received at the RDC Mini Maker Faire last spring. “There was a lot of interest… it made me realize that a game without spaceships or zombies can still have a viable niche.”
Although he’s invested much time and money in the project (also financed with an Edmonton Arts Council Grant), Fiala hopes to access more funding for his next game.
Ideas being considered include the history of the Cronquist House (now at Bower Ponds) “and the family behind it…”