The Lost Manuscript 2 : The Summer Palace Cipher

Mixed-reality environment and learning game (unreleased)

Year: 2013

Lee Sheldon: PI,Lead Writer

Ben Chang: Co-PI, Lead Developer

Mei Si: Co-PI, AI team lead

Helen Zhou: Instructional design, translation, integration of narrative and pedagogy; “Mrs. Ling.”

Jianling Yue: Instructional design, translation, language and culture reference

Silvia Ruzanka: Animation

Shawn Lawson: Animation

Marc Destefano: VR software architecture

Graduate students:

Anton Hand: Environment modeling, art team leading

Michael Garber Barron: Programming

Undergraduate students: Nick Cesare, Gabriel Violette, Tom Weithers, Kevin Zheng, Reginald Franklin III, Stephen Jiang, Kevin Fung, Kai Van Drunen, Conor Sjogren, Victor Cortes, Kevin Chang, David Strohl, Jessica Falk, Doug Miller, Randy Sabella

The Lost Manuscript is a game designed to incorporate immersive environments, alternate reality strategies, and extended narrative into a college-level Chinese language course.  The game was written by Lee Sheldon using his “multiplayer classroom” method, in which all aspects of a course are integrated into a game.  In the design for The Lost Manuscript, students travel to Beijing for the semester, with each class taking them to different locations in search of a mysterious lost book. These episodes take place in the CAVE, combining VR with real props to create a mixed-reality environment.  Students use their language skills to navigate the city, find clues, interact with characters in the game, some of whom have their own ulterior motives.  

There are three versions of the game using different formats.  The Lost Manuscript (2011) was first run as a live-action roleplaying game across half a semester of a class.  The Lost Manuscript 2: The Summer Palace Cipher (2013) extends the story to a full semester and is built around virtual reality environments rather than a cast of live actors.  Finally, The Lost Manuscript 3 (2015) is a simplified version designed as a standalone PC game. 


The most complete realization of the game and its incorporation of immersive environments and virtual characters is The Lost Manuscript 2.  Though the full 15 episodes of are as yet unfinished, in 2013 we completed and demonstrated a full vertical slice of the game using the CAVE at RPI’s Emergent Reality Lab.

In this episode, students visit a teahouse with “Mrs. Ling,” a character who reappears throughout the semester with both helpful advice and secrets of her own.  Mrs. Ling teaches them the gongfu tea ceremony, a ritualized way of preparing and serving tea.  The students ask and answer questions in Chinese, and follow her demonstration by performing the tea ceremony, using the CAVE’s Wand interface to make tea in VR. 

The class are seated at restaurant tables in the middle of the CAVE, creating a mixed-reality setting for the episode.  Students use the wand to select dialog choices, with options that can be enabled based on learner level for English subtitles for Mrs. Ling’s dialog as well as pinyin or English translation for the player’s dialog choices.  Students also use the wand to perform the steps of the tea ceremony: filling the teapot, pouring water over the teapot, brewing the tea, discarding the first pour, and pouring and presenting the finished tea.