We reveal how cities evolve

We reveal how cities evolve

An epic time travel VR journey through Irish history

We developed an exciting time travel VR experience that lets users explore the ‘Island City’ of Derry as it evolves over 10,000 years.

Featuring pun-filled narration from an omnipotent seafaring guide, our 10 minute time travel VR adventure details the rich and vibrant history of 6 time periods. ‘Island City’ shows how migration shaped the land into the Derry you see today.

For ‘Island City’ we were delighted to reunite the team who collaborated on our previous, award-winning, virtual reality project for the Tower Museum, ‘Afloat and Ashore’.

The sister to this new time travel VR experience, it won ‘Best Use of VR’ at the SPARKies 2023 tech awards, so we’re excited to see what’s in store next for ‘Island City’. Both VR experiences are free to play at Derry’s Tower Museum.






Historic landscapes


Iconic City


Like its sister project, ‘Afloat and Ashore’, ‘Island City’ was kindly funded by the TIDE – or ‘Atlantic Network for Developing Historical Maritime Tourism’ – project.

We worked with curatorial staff from Derry City and Strabane District Council and our long-time collaborators Urban Scale Interventions to bring the historical landscape of Derry to life.

From oak groves and salmon fishing...

Following the success of ‘Afloat and Ashore’ – our initial VR experience created for Derry’s Tower Museum – we were delighted to be given further funding to create a second VR experience.

Whilst ‘Afloat and Ashore’ focuses primarily on the lives of Irish migrants travelling to America, inspired by the 19th century passenger diaries from the Tower Museum’s collection, ‘Island City’ instead details the 10,000 years of Derry’s history through its ever-changing landscape.

Beginning in the Mesolithic era where VR users can see our 3D model of Derry untouched and pre-civilisation, the River Foyle makes a striking impression amid the natural, wooded landscape.

The River Foyle remains the focal point throughout the time travel VR experience, leading users into the 1500s when Derry was home to many religious sites and then into the Siege of 1689 and the construction of Derry’s iconic walls.

As the timeline shifts on into the second half of the experience, our 3D modelled terrain evolves to show the further urbanisation.

From the industrial boom of 1891, to Derry’s role as a naval base during WWII, and of course the erection of the landmark bridges which give continue to provide safe passage to people across the Foyle even today.

We’ve worked with Zubr Curio on two fantastic VR projects: Island City and Afloat and Ashore. They always worked closely with us to think of a way to deliver incredible experiences for users without compromising on the overall message or quality of VR journey.

TIDE Project Officer, Ronan McConnell

We’ve worked with Zubr Curio on two fantastic VR projects: Island City and Afloat and Ashore. They always worked closely with us to think of a way to deliver incredible experiences for users without compromising on the overall message or quality of VR journey.

TIDE Project Officer, Ronan McConnell
Time travel VR for museums
Time travel VR

...through fierce sieges and war...

This time travel VR experience begins in the low-lit, swaying cabin of our naval narrator, ensuring visitors can pin-point the time period with the year boldly displayed just beyond the cabin window.

To ensure the experience is suitable for all ages and technical skillsets, we kept the interactive elements simple to understand but made sure each had a powerful outcome.

The core interactive element is the glowing ‘time wheel’ which allows visitors to control which scene is visible on the tabletop.

By turning the wheel they can fast forward time and unveil a new version of Derry, which appears on the virtual table before them as if by magic.

Designed to mimic a Captain’s map, the 3D models of Derry throughout the ages provide a bird’s eye view of the same area throughout the 10,000 time period, showing the impact of migration on the landscape.

Embracing the maritime theme, we also developed a series of easy-to-use, virtual, tools to help users interact with the evolving landscape:

  • a magnifying glass to allow users to get up close and personal with the 3D model
  • a compass to avoid disorientation and help users identify different areas of the landscape in relation to their present day counterparts
  • brass dividers to measure distances between iconic landmarks

The tools appear one at a time, allowing users to get to grips with that particular function and encouraging greater exploration of the 3D model.

... to the proud city you know and love today!

To support users’ journey through the time travel VR experience we reunited with director and actor Keith O’Grady who played Sullivan, our master of games, in ‘Afloat and Ashore’.

For ‘Island City’ Keith transformed into the mysterious Captain, who’s voice reverberates around the cabin guiding the user through time. He explains how to change scenes, how to use each virtual tool, and provides context to the 3D models which appear on the cabin table.

Our writing team had a whale of time devising a pun-filled but fact-rich script, which summarises the key moments of Derry’s history and explains the impact of migration on the landscape itself.

For those who want to really dive deep into the history of migration to and from Derry, we added virtual labels to some of the iconic landmarks and buildings which pivot with the user so you can read them from any angle.

It was hard to narrow down which of the many historic monuments to highlight with so much history on show at once. To make sure users didn’t miss some of the intricate 3D details we programmed the time travel VR experience so that, with each new time period viewed, a new 3D model would appear on the ‘wooden shelves’ around the table.

We selected the building which best represented the theme of that particular era; for example, the Peace bridge to symbolise modern Derry.

Overall, the compelling combination of detailed 3D modelling, interactive tools and dramatic-yet-insightful narration leaves users with a fresh understanding of Derry’s history.

If you’d like to discuss the possibilities of developing your own museum VR or using virtual reality to increase engagement with your historic site then get in touch via our contact form