Design Professor Creates Computer Game That Explores St. Croix River History

By Andy Soth | November 3, 2016


A sleepy cabin atop a river bluff seems an unlikely inspiration for a videogame. But it was there as an artist-in-residence for the Science Museum of Minnesota that Dave Beck dreamed up “Tombeaux.”

“Riviere Tombeaux means river of the graves,” says Beck, citing an early French explorer’s name for what we now know as the St. Croix River.

It is a surprisingly apt name for the work that Beck has created–an interactive trip through centuries of history along the river that forms much of the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“I am trying to represent and talk about death to a certain degree on this river that seems to be full of life,” says Beck.

While it may not be obvious today, Indian battles and the denuding of the landscape by lumbermen had a tremendous impact on the waterway.

“Three hundred years ago, pine trees were seventy-five to a hundred-and-fifty feet tall,” says Beck. “As far as you could see.”

Players of “Tombeaux” can see it once again when they begin the interactive experience.  As users explore the virtual heavily-forested space they will soon find the cabin based on the one where Beck did his artist residency.

“It’s very obviously some sort of settler that is here that is starting to kind of track and collect objects,” notes Beck as he lays the groundwork for the adventure his game players will begin. Eventually, through recorded narration, players are invited back outside and discover themselves in the same place but in a later era. There they can’t help but notice the radical changes to the environment.

It’s an unusual way to explore a real place through a more virtual reality. “There’s a great deal of irony in what i’m doing. I’m using digital technology and creating virtual worlds about a place that people can go to today,” says Beck.

And Beck encourages everyone to visit the St. Croix and appreciate its beauty.  But that appreciation can also be enhanced through the unique experience of playing “Tombeaux.”  As Beck puts it, “I want to be able to create something that you would never be able to experience in any other way.”

Andy Soth

Andy Soth

Andy Soth is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project who grew up in a neighboring state but now loves Wisconsin because it’s like Minnesota without the smugness. 
2019-02-18T16:39:34-06:00Tags: , |

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