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Game set in plague-ridden medieval Aberdeen garners global interest

Development images for another work by artist Alana Bell, who has signed up as the artist for the Strange Sickness project.
Development images for another work by artist Alana Bell, who has signed up as the artist for the Strange Sickness project.

Video game enthusiasts from across the world have already signed up to experience Aberdeen at the height of a plague – before the product has even been finished.

More than 160 people have pledged thousands to help bring dreams of translating the city’s rich history, told through world-famous Burgh Records, to the computer screen.

Last night, the Aberdeen University researchers behind Strange Sickness were within £200 of their £5,000 crowdfunding target.

Spurred-on by the popularity of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and existing games like Assassin’s Creed, William Hepburn and Jackson Armstrong came up with the idea of bringing the grizzly history of medieval Aberdeen to life.

The city’s Burgh Records – dating back to the 14th Century – have been recognised by Unesco for their historical significance.

Stored at Aberdeen Town House, the earliest council registers cover the period between 1398 and 1511.

And a worldwide appetite for colourful stories and characters from the period has led to backing for the game from across Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and Jordan.

Using the thousands of pages of historical documents, the developers have set out to let players immerse themselves in medieval Aberdeen, plotting a route through the plague pandemic.

Mr Armstrong, who leads the Aberdeen Burgh Records Project, said: “I think the non-profit aim of this project – to build a historically-rooted game that will also help fundraise for a Covid-19 charity – has resonated with Aberdonians and backers around the world.

“While we have enjoyed support from many countries, we could never have reached this stage without Scottish-based initiatives to advance this type of creative industry.

“Organisations like the Scottish Games Network, ScotlandIS and Opportunity North East have really helped to spread the word and the support we’ve had from ONE CodeBase has been integral.”

All profits from the yet-to-be-built game will be donated to the Lord Provost’s Charitable Trust, helping those worst-affected by the current pandemic.

And the pair have revealed ‘stretch targets’ to try and raise even more money for the game’s development before their fundraising deadline of next Thursday.

Mr Hepburn added: “If we reach £6,000 in pledges this will allow us to add a prologue to the game’s narrative.

“Here the player will be introduced to the late medieval city of Aberdeen and its inhabitants – and will be faced with decisions that shape the main narrative which follows.

“If we can reach £7,000, that will enable us to add an epilogue, set some years after the events of the main narrative showing players the long-term effects of their actions.”

Speaking to The Press and Journal last April, at the beginning of nine months of research within the historic archives for the project, Mr Hepburn said many of the city’s historic characters belonged in the world of fantasy.

“The archive offers a rich portrait of the people who made up the town and some come through really quite strongly.

“There’s Sir John Rutherford, who had six stints as lord provost, who seems to have been a real gangster.

“In the last five or 10 years developers have started to deal with history in a more complex way – it’s no longer just a background decoration, it is the way the game works.”

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