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Cover Page Ch 29 Content Design for Virtual Environments Version 7.6 8/9/00 Jerry Isdale, HRL Labs/VRNews, email: jerry@isdale.com web: vr.isdale.com phone: 805 379 2667 Leonard Daly, Daly Realism.com, Phone: (818)785-5118, email: daly@realism.com, Website: http://www.realism.com Clive Fencott, University of Teesside, England email: p.c.fencott@tees.ac.uk Website http://wwwscm.tees.ac.uk/users/p.c.fencott Phone: 44 (0) 1642 342680 Michael Heim, Art Center College of Design, email: mheim@artcenter.edu web: www.mheim.com phone: 310-542-1199 NOTE to Editors: There are several references to other chapters of this book in this text. The chapter numbers may need updating. (eg Presence-Copresence section). These references are NOT included in the reference section.

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM TOC (for author/editor reference only) Cover Page .............................................................................................................................................. 1 1 2 3 3.1 3.2 4 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 5 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 6 6.1 6.2 7 Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 3 Technical Pragmatics ....................................................................................................................... 3 Learning from Other Media ............................................................................................................. 4 Computer Game Design ................................................................................................................. 5 Architectural Design ....................................................................................................................... 6 Church-Murray Aesthetics of VE..................................................................................................... 7 Agency............................................................................................................................................ 7 Narrative Potential .......................................................................................................................... 8 Presence and Co-presence .............................................................................................................. 8 Transformation ............................................................................................................................... 9 Perceptual Opportunities .................................................................................................................. 9 Sureties ..........................................................................................................................................10 Surprises ........................................................................................................................................11 Attractors .......................................................................................................................................11 Connectors .....................................................................................................................................12 Retainers ........................................................................................................................................13 Perceptual Maps ............................................................................................................................13 Deeper Motivation of Design ..........................................................................................................14 The Nature of Being in VR ............................................................................................................15 Transmogrification ........................................................................................................................17 References .......................................................................................................................................19

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM

1

Introduction Content development is the design and construction of the objects and environment that create the virtual experience. This includes the visual, auditory, interaction and narrative aspects of the Virtual Environment (VE). While this new medium of expression has much in common with other media (e.g. computer animation and games), it has its own peculiar aspects distinctive features. These include aspects such as real-time network communications, interactive spaces, multi-user interaction space, avatars, and multi-modal interfaces. VE has the revolutionary capability in human communication akin to that of the moving image in the last century. They may constitute the principal communications media of this century. We are just beginning to learn what it means to create a full sensory experience with control of view and narrative development. Exploring and expanding the limits of the technology requires a background in the technical aspects of world creation. It also requires a background in aesthetic (perception of beauty) and metaphysical (nature of being) issues so as to best stimulate and hold the users attention and effectively communicate ideas. Discovery of proper aesthetics of a medium requires artistic experimentation: learning the technology, finding its limitations and unique aspects and then turning those aspects into assets. Char Davies' Osmose and Ephemere (Davies 1998) and Brenda Laurel's Placeholder (Laurel, Strickland and Tow, 1994) are early examples of artistic exploration of VE. This chapter goes beyond the tools and techniques of content creation to outline an aesthetic and some design patterns that capture the distinguishing features of VE.

2

Technical Pragmatics Many of the pragmatic technical issues of content development for virtual environments are also found in computer animation and game development. 3Dmodelers, textures, sound effects, and behavioral simulators are part of the common toolbox. Craftsmen skilled in their use can easily cross over Page 3 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM between these disciplines. Technical and popular how-to handbooks for these tools are quite plentiful. We leave discussion of most of the pragmatics to those resources. The development process for these media parallels standard engineering processes and benefit from the same techniques (e.g. planning, configuration management, usability testing, etc.) Several aspects of development processes are discussed in several other chapter of this handbook. Rollings and Morris (1999) argue convincingly for the use of these techniques in computer game development. Developers are however cautioned that a strictly engineering approach often shortchanges the content design and development aspects of a VE. It is common for technically oriented developers to underestimate the importance or complexity of the modeling and other content development tasks. One pragmatic issue that does bear mentioning is the fidelity with which environment is modeled. There are major tradeoffs in object and behavior complexity, development effort, rendering time and purpose. Photorealistic rendering, modeling of minute details and exact physical simulation may be unnecessary for many purposes. Developers of the early military VE training system SIMNET, faced with major restrictions on their budgets, came up with the concept of “Selective Fidelity”. They conducted a detailed analysis of the tasks of tank crews and carefully chose which parts of the physical interface and computer models would be recreated in high fidelity and which could be low fidelity or eliminated entirely. Many of the controls in these simulators are simply painted on and multiple levels of detail are used throughout the computer models. Selective Fidelity proved to be highly successful in reducing the cost while preserving the effectiveness of the simulators. This is an important lesson for virtual environment designers.

3

Learning from Other Media Effective design of content for a medium comes from understanding something of its aesthetics. A new medium such as VR will have aesthetic properties that distinguish it from more established media. However, these aesthetic particulars are not readily knowable and designers often start with techniques from prior forms. The first film cameras were propped up immobile before a proscenium to record Page 4 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM theater plays. Then filmmakers discovered that the "camera eye" that could be moved around to pan, dolly, etc. We now have a large body of experience and accumulated theory for filmmaking. A

number of authors (Laurel 1991, Lindley 2000, Clarke & Mitchell 2000) have written on the applicability of film and theatre theory to the design of VE. However, a virtual world is not a broadcast medium like film, TV, or radio where a story unfolds, told by one person to many. Virtual environments are at their heart an interactive medium, one in which the viewer has unprecedented control. The free ranging participant, able to move and modify objects in the world, plays havoc with traditional narrative forms. Even the interactive techniques of multiform narrative (i.e. showing multiple points of view) and branching plotlines fail when the user can wander away from the scripted actions. Interactivity and narration may be more or less important for a VE depending on its purpose. Commerce and design review environments need interaction for manipulation of viewpoint, and the object under review. Narrative control is reduced to predefined viewpoints, collaborative baton

passing and perhaps modification of simulation parameters. A training and educational environment uses narrative control to lead the student to particular places of interest and induce them to undertake tasks. Community environments exist to foster the development and sustainability of virtual

communities. They need to hold the attention and encourage participation of their residents. The architecture or composition of space within the VE plays a part in these more subtle narrative controls. This is an area where we may pick up some lessons from computer game design and architecture.

3.1

Computer Game Design Computer games are a closer media relative than film. Indeed, the line between a VE and a highly interactive computer game may be simply a difference in interface devices. Computer games are a fruitful area of study for those interested in understanding VR as a communications medium for several reasons:

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM 1. 3D computer games are almost certainly the largest and most complex VEs in existence at the moment 2. Because of the commercial nature of the computer games industry a large body of knowledge has been built up concerning what captures and retains player's attention 3. Games are designed to run using standard desktop environment which means low levels of technological immersion. This means games rely on content for their success and not technological sophistication There is, however, little traditional experimental research on computer games. Johnson is one

exception to this though he is not a games developer [Johnson, 1999]. Most of the available material is in the form of accounts of the design process from specific companies and individuals. An interesting source of accounts of the game design process is [Saltzman, 1999] which has a chapter devoted to such accounts from some of the luminaries of the games world. There are some common themes addressed by many of these writers. A particularly rich resource on game design is the Game Developers Magazine and its companion website Gamasutra.com. The magazine has a regular design feature series with highly informative articles. The computer games industry also has its own jargon, which clashes with that of the traditional VR community. For instance immersion refers to what the VR industry calls presence. VR in the games community refers to the technology of immersion, eg. headsets, data gloves, and so on, which is what the VR community understands as immersion or the embodying interface [Biocca, 1997].

3.2

Architectural Design Architects deal with freely moving visitors as they strive to create an experience in their design of spaces. Benedikt [1992] was an early exploration of the architectural aesthetics of VE. Beckmann (1998) is a more recent collection of articles relating architecture, aesthetics and VR. Theme park designers are especially tasked with telling a story through the experience of a physical space. The colors, architecture, and sounds of a space can strongly effect the audiences' emotions. One technique Page 6 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM of these designers is to infuse the story into all elements of the environment, from the textures of the walls to the scripts of the theme park guides. The rules by which the imagined universe exists are very broad and violating them will destroy the visitor's experience. Don Carson (2000a,b) discussed the application of lessons from theme park design to computer games. The convergence of theme park and VE design is evident in the work of the OZ Entertainment Company. They are developing both an international tourist destination and a web-based virtual world based on "The Wonderful World of OZ" (http://www.worldofoz.com). [E3D, 2000]

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Church-Murray Aesthetics of VE The previous section discussed lessons from some other media. We now turn to an emerging aesthetic particular to virtual environments, which might be called the Church-Murray Aesthetics of VEs. It started as a combination of Janet Murray's aesthetics for interactive media (Murray, 1996) and Doug Church's 'Formal Abstract Design Tools' (FADTs) for games (Church, 1999). It also draws from Mel Slater et al on co-presence (chapter 17 of this handbook), and Mike Heim’s "Transmogrification" (Heim, 1999). The Church-Murray aesthetics of VR are characterized as agency, narrative potential, presence and co-presence, and transformation.

4.1

Agency The term Agency is used by Murray to describe the pleasure of being, or appearing to be in control through interacting with a medium as opposed to being a passive recipient. Church gives agency two components:  Intention - Making an implementable plan in response to the current situation in the game VE and an understanding of the available options.  Perceivable Consequence - A clear reaction from the VE to the actions of the user.

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM Agency is a lot more than just firing a gun or opening a door. Agency is about users constructing links between cognitive responses to VE content and the way in which the consequences of their virtual actions match mental model of what they thought would happen.

4.2

Narrative Potential Traditional media designers invariably underestimate the way agency subverts traditional narrative forms. Agency gives the user the freedom to ignore some or all of the wonderful things the designer has so painstakingly built into the world. There are design tricks that entice users to follow the paths set for them and undertake the activities planned for them. If this is done well, users will come away from the VE being able to tell appropriate stories that show the experiences they gained in the VE were more or less the ones designed in for them. This narrative potential is the glue that binds together the set of experiences offered through agency.

4.3

Presence and Co-presence Presence is the mental state of a user of a VE not noticing or choosing not to notice that the world, which they perceive, is artificially generated. It is thus the sense of being mentally transported to the place of the VE. Presence is thus an aesthetic pleasure of oral story telling, painting, novels, television and film as well as VR. A comprehensive discussion of research into presence can be found in another chapter of this handbook. Presence cannot be directly coded into a VE but arises from appropriately designed agency and narrative potential. The related concept of co-presence, being present with others is also of interest. By others we mean both animals and alien races as well as humans some or all of whom may be intelligent agents. Copresence has been shown to be one of the primary aesthetic pleasures of digital media from e-mail to MUDs, MOOs and networked computer games

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM 4.4 Transformation In this context, Heim (Transmorgrification - last section of this chapter; Heim 1999) positions avatar design at the heart of VE design and relates this strongly to the pleasures of transmogrification (to change shape or form, particularly into one that is bizarre or fantastic.) We use Murray's related term of transformation as the change is often mundane. Transformation is a further by-product of agency, narrative potential and on the ability of the VE to allow players to feel themselves part of the mediated environment. As a result of interacting with a VE, users may temporarily become someone else or maybe even another species either terrestrial or alien. But transformation is not just about taking on another character. It is about being able to do things you can't normally do, having skills you don't normally have, having power and authority you don't have and so on. This is very apparent in game and chat worlds where nobody wants to look like themselves in these fantasy worlds -- they choose non-realistic avatars that project idealized self-images The Hubble VTE (Loftin & Kenney, 1994) is a good example of a less fantastical transformation experience. The flight team could become astronauts for a while even thought none of them, except the person that communicates directly with the flight crew, were likely to go into space themselves. Even grown up boys and girls might want to pretend to be astronauts.

5

Perceptual Opportunities This discussion of Church-Murray aesthetics has demonstrated that content for VEs is not just scene graphs nodes, objects or audio assets. Content is about stimulating perceptions, which give rise to meanings in the mind of the user and stimulate action, which in turn leads to further meaningful insights. Perceptual Opportunities (POs) offer a generic means of talking about VE content (Fencott, 1999b). They can also be used to look at the relationship between objects’ various meanings and the way these affect users’ behavior. Some objects seem to attract our attention to the possibility of danger, reward, and so on. Identifying such objects offers opportunities to establish goals to further our progress Page 9 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM through the VE. Other objects, or combinations of objects, are useful in helping us plan and achieve goals. Intense patterns of such objects form mini-missions and retain our focus of activity in the cause of larger objectives. The keyword here is opportunity. Part of the art of VE design is providing users with carefully structured opportunities to allow them to explore, strategize, formulate and solve problems, and plan for and attain goals. This in turn allows them to feel some degree of control over what they are doing, allows them to creatively unfold the plot, feel present, and maybe become transformed in terms of skills and/or persona. Insert Figure 1: Characterizing Perceptual Opportunities The PO model is a characterization of the roles objects are intended to play in establishing purposive experience. Figure 1 shows how POs may be broken down into three principal forms, each of which focuses on different kinds of meaning that objects may offer. Sureties deliver denotative meaning and collectively try to establish basic believability. Surprises seek to deliver connotative meaning and thus collectively seek to deliver purpose. Shocks are perceptual bugs that tend to negate the other two forms by breaking the illusion. We will not pursue shocks here. The relationships between POs can be documented using perceptual maps, which are a sort of grammatical structuring that seeks to ensure that users construct an appropriate temporal ordering over their attentions and activities within the VE.

5.1

Sureties Sureties provide certain kinds of basic information that support the main purpose of a VE. They are mundane details that are somehow highly predictable - their attraction is their predictability. They should appear to arise quite naturally and are concerned with the logic of the environment unconsciously accepted. Sureties deliver denotative meaning and thus help users to accept the fundamental nature of the world or level. Recent research shows that much of what we know about the world we know unconsciously and that it is this knowledge that allows us to function from second to second. Page 10 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM Sureties should inform the user of such things as; How big am I?, How fast am I moving? What do I look like? Have I been here before? And so on. Sureties also provide other reassuring information to do with such things as the physics of the world and the believability of other beings in terms of their avatars and behaviors. Furthermore, we are used to the real world being complex and cluttered so it helps if the virtual world is as well. We call this redundant complexity perceptual noise. A useful aphorism is that in interacting with the real world we are trying to make sense of too much information whereas in VR we are trying to make sense of too little. Sureties succeed by not being noticed when they are there but would be missed if they weren’t. They are thus the basis on which the designer seeks to achieve the willing suspension of disbelief in the mind of the user. If sureties are the basis of this then surprises are what really deliver the goods.

5.2

Surprises Surprises are non-mundane details that are not always predictable but they do arise, however surprisingly, from the consciously accepted logic of the space. Surprises therefore are intended to deliver the memorable pleasures of the world by allowing users to accumulate conscious experience. Surprises are concerned with the connotative meaning of VE content. Surprises can be implausible but beneficial or totally plausible but unexpected, and there are three basic types: attractors, connectors and retainers. POs can be both sureties and surprises depending on the context in which they are offered - there is no mutual exclusivity between them. A fire escape can be both a surety – familiar objects that provide sureties for scale etc. - and can also be surprises – access to rooftops etc. Some things will be more or less surprising than others.

5.3

Attractors Attractors are POs that seek to draw the attention of a user directly to areas of interest or to situations that require action. Attractors are the means by which users are stimulated into setting goals for

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM themselves. It is thus important that major attractors are associated with retainers, which reward users with things to do, remember, excite, puzzle over, etc. and which will allow them to feel they have attained the goal they set themselves as a result of the attractor. Attractors may be characterized according to the reasons they draw attention to themselves in several ways. First of all there is the way they stimulate humans natural curiosity through mystery, movement, strangeness, and so on. An attractor may exhibit a combination of such characteristics. However, although attractors rely on peoples' natural curiosity they are also directly related to the user’s emotional involvement with the world. A second and very useful characterization concerns the

connotative meaning users attach to attractors. Two of these that are important for computer games, for instance, are:   Objects of desire - have some benign significance to the user and to the task at hand Objects of fear - have some malign significance to the user and to the task at hand

The purpose of attractors is to stimulate goal formation. Very often an attractor might have several possible goals associated with it and thus becomes a choice point - a source of great dramatic potential. When we talk about attractors we will therefore always suggest goals associated with it. Attractors are thus the means by which users are coaxed into following a particular course, choosing between possible courses, or changing course.

5.4

Connectors Connectors are POs that help users by supporting planning to achieve goals stimulated by attractors. Connectors are thus the means by which users make connections, both mental and 'physical', between attractors and associated retainers, which allow users to achieve their goals and deliver objectives specific to the purpose of the world. The actual objective of a retainer might well be hidden or not clear from the point of view of its attractor(s) but lower level goal formation should lead users into situations where objectives can be realized

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM 5.5 Retainers Retainers are activities that seek to deliver the specific objectives and rewards of the world and collectively therefore its purpose. The activity might be simply walking over some treasure to collect it or it might be whole mini-mission such as a firefight. Retainers come in three forms: local, dynamic and peripatetic. Local retainers seek to keep users in a particular place in the game. Users encounter dynamic retainers unexpectedly within the world. Peripatetic retainers are offered wherever users are in the world.

5.6

Perceptual Maps Attractors, connectors and retainers function together to deliver the aesthetics pleasures of the virtual experience. Surprises should work together in patterns to form possible temporal orders on retainers and thus the coherent set of purposive experiences that are intended to deliver the purpose of the world. We call these patterns Perceptual Maps and they can be seen as a sort of invisible but comprehensible labyrinth that users will want to discover through their own agency (Murray,1996). Perceptual maps have much in common with the way painters arrange the composition of a work so as to catch the viewers attention and lead it around the canvas in a particular way. This leads to the purposive accumulation of experience. A perceptual map is the framework within which narrative potential can be designed. The simplest way of documenting a perceptual map is by way of a table with three columns, which relate attractor/connector/retainer triples. Rows indicate the suggested relationships left to right and cells give brief descriptions. For a hypothetical game, a partial table – just three of many entries - of surprises looks something like that shown in Table 1. INSERT TABLE 1 HERE Of course, users might have a number of goals at any one time and will be taking notice of a host of attractors as they execute one or more of their current plans. Notice that the second two attractors are

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM the same except for the goal. This is what Murray refers to as a choice point and identifies such as one of the most important dramatics structures in VEs. Comparative content analysis of VEs can be conducted using their perceptual maps (Fencott, 2000). Perceptual opportunities and maps can also be used to good advantage as part of a content development methodology (Fencott, 1999a). Attractors should draw attention to sites of retainers and, if properly designed, lead users around the world in a meaningful way using connectors. Attractors may also themselves be retainers. Seen from a distance an animated object may act as an attractor but when experienced close up the object may be some sort of vehicle to ride in and control thus becoming a retainer. Retainers are actually localized patterns of attractors and connectors. Early computer games, such as Viper and Breakout, can be viewed as retainers in this sense. Some general rules govern the relationships between surprises: users should be rewarded if they follow attractors, retainers don't have to have attractors, retainers can be their own attractors, retainers can have multiple attractors, connectors should lead to an attractor or directly to a retainer. Thus connectors, like attractors, should be rewarded if followed. Sureties and surprises should be designed to work together. If a perceptual map constitutes Murray’s comprehensible labyrinth then sureties are the means by which this is grounded, virtually, in a believable world. In this section we have seen that the aesthetics of VR are significantly different from the conventional aesthetics of media such as film and TV. This stems largely from agency through which users and intelligent agents are empowered. The way we approach VE content development must take account of this. However, VR, perhaps more than any other media, offers us the possibility to investigate the very nature of being.

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Deeper Motivation of Design Metaphysics is the systematic investigation of the nature of being or reality. It can inform and motivate the designer’s aesthetic. VE exposes the nature of reality to direct observation and Page 14 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM experimentation. It is perhaps the first medium to do so and opens up a whole realm of exploration. [Lauria 1997, 2000]

6.1

The Nature of Being in VR Metaphysical questions don't immediately come to mind for someone looking at a medium for the first time. Yet such higher-level questions allow us to experiment outside the box of previous media that rely heavily upon narrative story-telling, one-way broadcasting, and the manipulation of attention (as opposed to interaction). Metaphysics takes us beyond conventional aesthetics, where we might hope to avoid the pitfalls of the early history of photography, film, and television. Those media remained stunted for decades by trying to reproduce the legacy content media of still painting, tripod cameras, and formally staged theater productions. “Content” is not something that can be simply dumped from one medium into another. The artistry in any medium lies in finding a harmony of content and form, something appropriate to the specific medium. Plunging into the depths of metaphysics frees the imagination, but it does not take a big leap to get metaphysical about virtual environments. If metaphysics deals with the nature of Being itself, then the virtual worlds designer faces that question head-on when first confronting virtual space. What does it take to make something "real" or to make it "be"? This is not an airy question when you design a virtual environment. It is a pressing decision. You have to decide what counts as a real thing or entity, and you need to also rank its level of reality (permanence, vivacity, porosity, intelligence, efficacy, agency) relative to other beings. Take "backgrounds," for instance. Is there to be a single, persistent texture that serves as the permanent backdrop for action, movement, and relations? Or should background textures change constantly and flow? If flow, then at what rate? How much permanence, if any, is needed for a particular world's background? When William Bricken first conceived the Virtual Environment Operating System (VEOS), he drew on two main sources: the notion of Sunyata (Emptiness) in Zen Buddhism, and the "Laws of Form" by George Spencer-Brown, who authored a book by that title. The Buddhist "void" or emptiness offers a Page 15 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM metaphysics of virtual space. This space can be understood as a fundamentally non-directional, nonfixed Emptiness rife with fertile possibilities. From the void evoked by VEOS emerge any set of entities, their attributes, the relationships among those entities. No substance precedes the Void. Historically, Spencer-Brown's Laws of Form interpreted the Principia Mathematica written by Bertrand Russell and Albert North Whitehead at the beginning of the Twentieth Century (1912-1915). The Principia did to logic theory what Newton's Principia did to physics. Principia Mathematica laid new foundations for mathematical logic, making possible the later information/noise theory of Claude Shannon. Spencer-Brown interpreted the Principia from a Zen point of view. The initial logical distinctions of the Principia became themselves grounded in void space. "Draw a distinction in empty space" became the first act of creativity. The drawing of a distinction between any X and non-X found sprung from a timeless act from emptiness or openness to all possibilities. By unifying these two intellectual foundations, Zen and the Principia, Bricken's VEOS applied general metaphysics to cyberspace, a synthesis which came to Bricken in the late 1960s. Today, virtual worlds designers still return to the void and the act of creating distinctions from the void as the primal principles of design. The metaphysics of void space "grounds" cyberspace design because conceiving virtual space and creating virtual space are nearly identical. As a phenomenon of human perception, cyberspace requires no material substrate. As a software phenomenon, cyberspace of course requires algorithms, and its software requires a hardware base. For the designer, however, the thought of a distinction becomes the first act of creation. There is no material element to shape or take into consideration outside function and ergonomics, psychology, and the perceptions of the human user. While limitless on a conceptual level, there are the stubborn facts of software engineering and hardware input / output devices. These stubborn facts are less insistent than stone and are yielding to the social confluence between virtual world engineers and virtual world designers. If the designer accepts the challenge of metaphysical design -- i.e., designing from the void and Spencer-Brown's basic laws of form, -- then the designer must also take responsibility for communicating with software engineers. The basic ontology -- the types and ranks of beings that can Page 16 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM exist -- must be designed at the most fundamental level of software design. How should a self be represented? Should avatars be anthropomorphic? How many degrees of freedom should movement have? What kinds of entities (models) should exist, and should they exist as independent entities or as arrays, ephemerals, or more substantive types? Should a world have multiple portals or a single ground zero? How much participation (editing) should be under the control of world participants (users)? All these questions, and many more, will arise if the designer accepts the metaphysical responsibility of working with the software engineer to determine the world's ontology. In previous forms of technology -- probably because of the substrate of expensive, resistant materials -- the engineer maintained a certain distance from the art designer and vice versa. When we consider the conditions of cyberspace design today, however, this role separation becomes a distinction rather than a separation. The two will work together to mine the rich possibilities of the void.

6.2

Transmogrification To “transmogrify” means to change into a different shape or form, especially one that is fantastic or bizarre. Transmogrification might prove to be a valuable style for designing virtual environments and avatar worlds. Virtual reality might succeed not as a replication of the physical world, nor as a direct re-presentation of our personalities. Instead, avatar worlds might inject a touch of fantasy and a sense of fun into conventional activities like business meetings and instructional classes. The "disguise" quality of online virtual worlds suggests a playful attitude that adds a distinct quality to everyday activities. "Avatar" in its Hindu origin means the incarnation of a deity, as in Vishnu taking the identity of Krishna in the Sanskrit poem the Bhagavad-Gita. (The Sanskrit avatârah derives from ava, down and tarati, he crosses, meaning “the crossing down.”) The avatars of virtual worlds are placeholders for real-time human presence. They are not – with the possible exception of "bots" or semi-intelligent surrogates -- empty media receptors like answering machines or phone pagers. They are animistic spirit vessels in a vast system of digitally encoded events. As such, avatars maintain a remnant of fresh Page 17 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM humanistic issues in an age of technical systems. If, as some smart observers suggest, these systems are "not really about people at all," then we can still use avatar presence to pervert the basic trajectory of systems whose teleology is immanent and whose tangential implications are anti-humanistic, or at least hostile to humans insofar as human life becomes yet another artificial life form to assimilate. Avatars are more than subservient system input or maintenance attendants for the auto-poetic network. Avatars tap into the age-old magic of transformation. Humans can, under the right conditions, take what lies immediately in front of them and transform it into something of cosmic significance. This transformative power is at the heart of ritual. The transformative power of the spirit animates avatars and confers on them presence at a distance (telepresence). Likewise, when we put on our avatar, we also put off the habitual self. We accept a moment of transformation, shifting our shape in order to be who we are in different forms. We shed our form like a changeling. We lay aside the illusory fixity of being a hard ego encapsulated in a shell of flesh. Avatars allow us to engage a playful self, a self that does not let it be defined in narrow technical terms. This avatar self is a changeling, a joker-prankster who revives the human capacity to laugh and to laugh at oneself. One day, the Chinese sage Chuang-Tzu had a dream, and he dreamt he was a butterfly. When he awoke, he was not so sure: Was he Chuang-Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly? Or was he a butterfly now dreaming he is Chuang-Tzu? The dreams we have show us the expansive, tenuous quality of our deep self-identity. A related Taoist practice is to go through an entire day nurturing a feeling of inner softness, blurring the outer events of life into a diaphanous, dream-like pattern. In such a state, our usually strongly invested attachment to the outcome of events recedes, and our harsh reaction toward events fades. With the edgy ego momentarily disengaged, we often discover newly rewarding ways of responding to life events. The diffuse ego flies free of being identified fully with either Chuang-Tzu or with the butterfly. Avatars can become the toys of Chuang-Tzu if we use them rightly. Art is often about diffusing the rigid ego so that we can move more freely through time and space. We should not let our pride in the new networks we have built override the inherent powers we have Page 18 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM always enjoyed as natural teleoperatives. The challenges of world and avatar design remind us of the need for art to maintain our proper relationship to technology.

7

References Biocca, Frank, (1997), "Cyborg's Dilema", Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, Volume 3, No 2, September, [Online] Available: http://jcmc.huji.ac.il/vol3/issue2 Carson, D (2000a) “Environmental Storytelling Part 1: Creating Immersive 3D Worlds Using Lessons Learned From The Theme Park Industry” [Online] Available:

http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20000301/carson_01.html Beckmann, J. ed. (1998) The Virtual Dimension, Princeton Architectural Press, New York Benedikt, M. ed (1992) Cyberspace First Steps, MIT Press, Boston Carson, D (2000b) “Environmental Storytelling Part 2: Bringing Theme Park Environment Design Techniques Lessons to the Virtual World” [Online] Available:

http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20000405/carson_01.html Church, D. (1999). Formal Abstract Design Tools. Games Developer Magazine, August 1999,44-50 [Online] Available: http://www.gamasutra.com/features/19990716/design_tools_02.htm. Clarke, A & Mitchell, G. (2000) in Proceedings of Workshop on Computational Semiotics for New Media, [Online] Available: http://www-scm.tees.ac.uk/users/p.c.fencott/newMedia/

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[Online] Available:

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Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM Davies, C., “Landscape, Earth Body, Being, Space and Time in the Immersive Virtual Environments Osmose and Ephemere.”, Women in new media, ed Judy, MIT Press, Boston [Online] http://www.immersence.com Fencott, C. (1999a). Towards a Design Methodology for Virtual Environments. In Proceedings of Workshop on User Centred Design and Implementation of Virtual Environments(pp. 91-98). University of York, England. Fencott, C. (1999b). Content and Creativity in Virtual Environment Design. In Proceedings of Virtual Systems and Multimedia ’99(pp. 308-317). University of Abertay Dundee, Scotland. Available: http://www-scm.tees.ac.uk/users/p.c.fencott/vsmm99 Fencott, C. (2000). Comparative Content Analysis of Virtual Environments Using Perceptual Opportunities. In Proceedings of Digital Content Creation. National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. Bradford, England. Heim, M. (1993) The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality Oxford U. Press Heim, M. (1998) Virtual Realism Oxford U. Press Heim, M. (1999) Transmogrification [online] http://www.mheim.com/html/transmog/transmog.htm Heim, M. (1999). articles on “virtual reality,” “cyberspace,” and “multimedia” In M. Kelly(Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics Oxford U. Press, Heim, M. (2000) [online] http://otal.umd.edu/~rccs/books/heim.html Isdale, J. (1998) “Digitizers”, VRNews August/Sept 1998, [Online] Available: Available:

http://vr.isdale.com/techReview.html Johnson, C. (1999), "Taking Fun Seriously: Using Cognitive Models to Reason about Interaction with Computer Games", Available: http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~johnson/papers/um99/games.htm. Laurel, B, (1991), Computers As Theatre, Adison-Wesley (Paperbound revised 1993), see additional material online: http://www.tauzero.com/Brenda_Laurel Page 20 of 21

Content Development for Virtual Environments 13cbb927-3ceb-4f9d-891d-56983a05e4f7.doc As of 01/31/10 3:44 PM Lauria, R (1997), Virtual Reality: An Empirical-Metaphysical Testbed, Journal of Computer Mediated Communications [Online] Available: http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol3/issue2/lauria.html Lauria, R (2000), Virtuality, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Lindley, C. (2000) “A Computational Semiotic Framework for Interactive Cinematic Virtual Worlds” in Proceedings of Workshop on Computational Semiotics for New Media, [Online] Available: http://www-scm.tees.ac.uk/users/p.c.fencott/newMedia/Lindley.html Loftin, R. B,. & Kenney, P. J. (1994). The Use of Virtual Environments for Training the Hubble Space Telescope Flight Team. [Online]. Available http://www.vetl.uk/edu/Hubble/virtel.html. McConnell, S., (1996) Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules Microsoft Press McConnell, S., (1997) Software Project Survival Guide, Microsoft Press, Murray, J. H. (1998). Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. MIT Press [outline online] Avaliable: http://web.mit.edu/jhmurray/www/HOH.html Rollings, A, and Morris, D (1999) “Game Architecture and Design”, The Coriolis Group Saltzman, Marc, (ed), (1999), "Games Design: Secrets of the Sages", Macmillan. Spencer-Brown, G. (1979). Laws of Form. New York, Dutton. (First edition, London 1969.) Whitehead, A.N., & Russell, B. (1910, 1912, 1913) Principia Mathematica, 3 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Second edition, 1925 (Vol. 1), 1927 (Vols 2, 3). Abridged as Principia Mathematica, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962. Shannon, C. & Weaver, W (1963) The Mathematical Theory of Communication., The University of Illinois Press (first published in two parts in the July and October 1948 editions of the Bell System Technical Journal).

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