The Student View section (i.e. this page and its sub-pages) of the LearningWorks site is the learning and support hub for students enrolled on the final-year CI3105 Virtual Reality module at Kingston University, London, UK. If you are an enrolled student, you should bookmark this page now.
The Virtual Reality module has evolved dramatically since it was first offered in 1999 when core topics included inter alia VRML97, MOOs and MUDs, and panoramic VR. Over the past three years, for reasons that a perusal of this site will perhaps make obvious, my teaching interest and focus has shifted away from a more broad-based general VR towards uniquely multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). MUVEs featured in a small way in the very first iteration of the module–classes even took place in ActiveWorlds, for example–but it is only in much more recent years that MUVEs have become mainstream. And by ‘mainstream’ I mean that, with the falling cost of hardware, with the near ubiquity of home broadband, and with hi-spec computers now powerful enough to access graphics-intensive 3D environments, they have reached the consumer desktop in the way that the WorldWideWeb did in the late 1990s.
The consequences of this are, in the first place, that the number of virtual worlds has grown and will continue to grow, market analyst KZero predicting a meteoric growth in user base to almost 2 billion active users worldwide by 2013:
Phenomenally, 61% of all virtual world users are today (mid 2009) between the ages of 8 and 13; and an extraordinary 84% between the ages of 8 and 20 (source: KZero). A further consequence, therefore, is that as the younger users reach adulthood there will increasingly be an expectation that MUVEs will figure prominently in their professional, public, and leisure lives much as the 90s generation held the same expectations for the Web.
At the provider end of the spectrum the past few years have seen business, industry, education, and government investing heavily in building presences in virtual worlds. Many early entrants got it disastrously wrong, and have quit; but, as was the case with the bursting of the Web’s “dot-com bubble” in 2000, quit by and large in virtue of simply not having understood the nature of the medium and its potential. Overall, however, there has been and will continue to be quite enormous growth in the number of new entrants and new purposive activities, in particular in ‘free-form’ worlds such as Second Life in which the fact that all content is user-generated means that developers have the freedom to create exactly the experiences they wish to create, whether these be medical simulations for nurse training, for example, or military exercises, or architectural pre-visualisation, or open and distance learning within the virtual classroom.
It is this that makes the study of virtual worlds such an important and vocationally-relevant subject.
The CI3105 Virtual Reality module will, under constraints of time, focus pre-eminently on Second Life and OpenSim as currently the fore-running platforms, though other platforms will be reviewed during the semester.
If you are still undecided whether or not this course is for you, I recommend that you peruse the following core documents and the caveats at the foot of this page.
- Course structure: an overview of the syllabus
- Software and learning support: a listing of key software and key website for this module
- Code of Conduct: guidelines on how to conduct yourself in multi-user environments
- VR module coursework: a step-by-step guide to the assessment for the module, with detailed guide to how work should be submitted
- Bookshelf: a listing of books and recommended readings relevant to this course
Caveats: please read
A cautionary note (1): This module does require a significant commitment on your part from the very first lecture on. It is hard work, it will require a great deal of reading, reflective thought, and practical work on your part from the very outset; and is thus not a module for the faint-hearted or for those hoping for an easy ride. Unless you are prepared to make that serious commitment, this module is not for you; if you are ready to make that commitment, you will–I hope and believe–find this one of the most rewarding modules you will have taken in the university.
A cautionary note (2): This module is best suited to the hybrid artist-engineer. You will be expected to have proven programming skills and the willingness and aptitude to learning a new language (Linden Scripting Language), and have reasonable mathematical skills. Additionally, you will be expected to demonstrates skills more usually associated with the arts; in the words (and vision) of Eric Gullichsen and Randal Walser, ‘cyberspace architects’ at Autodesk Inc., you must be able to envisage yourself as
… a new kind of professional, a cyberspace architect who designs and orchestrates the construction of cybernetic spaces and scenarios. The talents of a cyberspace architect will be akin to those of traditional architects, film directors, novelists, generals, coaches, playwrights, video game designers. The job of the cyberspace designer will be to make the experience seem real. The job is as artistic as it is technical, for experience is something manufactured spontaneously in the mind and senses, not something that can be built, packaged, and sold like a car or refrigerator.
[Gullichsen and Walser, ‘Cyberspace: Experiential Computing’, 1989]
If you harbour any reservations about either your technical competencies or your artistic aptitudes, then this module is probably not for you.
A cautionary note (3): Students taking this module should not assume that what they will learn in just one semester will be sufficient preparation, in either depth or breadth, for a career in virtual world development, at either a technical or a strategic level. It is not unlikely that the best graduates will, with their portfolio from this module, find employment in the sector should they seek it; for others, this module might best be viewed as a ‘taster’ that may inspire them to proceed to a dedicated Master’s programme.
If you are undeterred by the above cautionary notes, then this module is probably for you … welcome aboard!