Course structure

The course is structured around, and partly delivered through, the Second Life and OpenSimulator multi-user virtual environments (MUVE). This is not because we have any special commitment to using Second Life, but rather because Second Life–and the derivative OpenSim-based grids–has for some years become the most popular and most widely used platform. Alternative platforms will be viewed and evaluated in the course of the semester.

The intensive 10-week teaching schedule is partitioned into ‘blocks’, as below. For each week there is an associated workshop schedule, which you should read in tandem with this course structure overview.  Click here to view the Workshops.

It is unlikely that we’ll have the time to cover all the topics and try all the software listed; hyperlinks are therefore provided to encourage you to explore further.

Block 1: Background

  1. Introduction to desktop VR; a review of applications and application areas for desktop VR; introduction to MUVEs in general and to Second Life and OpenSim in particular. Basic end-user knowledge and skills (walking and flying, changing appearance, objects, the inventory, rezzing, etc) required for using Second Life and OpenSim-based grids. Comparison of viewers; the SL Viewer 2 interface; the Phoenix and Firestorm interfaces; managing inventory, copying vs linking. A review of OpenSim-based and Aurora-based grids and their uses (Osgrid, New World Grid, ScienceSim, 3Dmee (formerly OpenLife), Avination, ReactionGrid, Jokaydia, InWorldz, Kitely, etc). Case studies might include: St George’s University paramedic training simulations, Heritage Key and Western Front 1917.
  2. Overviews of other world-building technologies: Unity3D, 3DExplorer, Forterra Olive, Oracle Open Wonderland, Croquet, Web 3D (using X3D), etc; 3D data visualisation. A review of their deployment in training, military, business, government, and industrial contexts; and a consideration of the factors that might determine platform choice.
  3. The history of virtual reality from the caves of Lascaux, through VRML and the emergence of social virtual worlds, to the transhumanist visions of Raymond Kurzweil, Hans Moravec (Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute), Anders Sandberg (Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute), et al, focusing on the emergence of desktop VR from the 1980s (MOOs, MUDs, and MUSEs; VirtualPlaces, WorldsAway, the Palace, Flux X3D, ActiveWorlds, InterSpace, Superscape and DO3D, Adobe Atmosphere, Worlds Inc, There, Blaxxun, Twinity, Cult3D, Flatland, Kaneva, Freewalk, Moove, Sear, OnLive Traveller, O3D, Sony Playstation Home, etc). Why platforms fail: a critical examination of InterSpace, Superscape, and Atmospheres. The Metaverse Roadmap.

Block 2: Core technical knowledge and content-creation skill

  1. Basic building in Second Life and OpenSim. Primitive objects (‘prims’), prim size, and why you should be concerned about ‘prim counts’; the box, prism, cylinder, tube, torus, ring and sphere. Gene Replacement’s notorious ‘megaprims‘ (you can get them from, for example, here or here). Controlling perspective with alt-zoom and ctrl-alt-zoom. What the coloured arrows mean: the ‘object (move, rotate, and stretch) handles’; moving, rotating, resizing, and copying objects. Editing object parameters in the Object tab; using the grid; snap to grid with the triangles for accurate alignment. The Edit window and its tabs; linear and radial extrusion; hollowing shapes, path cuts, linking and unlinking groups of objects, the ‘root’ prim, editing linked parts. Applying textures. Second Life physics. In-world building tools (for example, Prim.Docker, ShapeGen, Cadroe Lathe, Virtual Builder Studio Pack, etc)
  2. Advanced building skills. Overview of textures and sounds. Creating and editing textures using GIMP. Semi-transparent textures. Creating and editing sounds in Audacity. Streaming media.
  3. Extending the user experience: HUDs, animations, gadgets, interfacing SL with the 2D web, etc
  4. Basic scripting in Second Life and OpenSim; introduction to Linden Scripting Language.
  5. Installing, configuring, and managing an OpenSim region in standalone and grid mode. Adding and configuring modules (voice, currency, etc)
  6. Estate management in Second Life and OpenSim
  7. Hands-on introduction to alternative MUVE technologies: Unity3D and 3DExplorer.

Block 3: Modeling and terraforming with external editors

  1. Terraforming. 3D GIS and terrain visualisation (using Terragen); RAW files and height maps; terraforming with Terragen and Bailiwick; using the whole region terrain editor Backhoe; other terraforming tools including Freeworld3D, Height Map Editor, L3DT, etc).
  2. Panoramic (photographic) desktop VR (using Hugin); Second Life panoramas (Panogames, etc); holodecks in Second Life
  3. 3D modeling. Modeling sculpted prims (‘sculpties’) for Second Life using Wings 3D, Blender (with prim.blender), PloppSL, SculptyPaint, Art of Illusion, and Rokuro/Tokoroten; an extensive annotated list of other 3D modeling packages is published in the Sculpted Prims: 3d Software Guide on the Second Life wiki. MakeHuman for avatar creation and QAvimator for animation in Second Life.  Mesh.

Block 4: Understanding and designing the user experience

  1. HCI and human factors; the ’social life of avatars’, presence, identity, digital personhood. Legal issues.
  2. MUVEs in business. Trade shows, events management. Running a business in Second Life
  3. MUVEs in government. Case studies: the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds, the National Defense University, vGov
  4. MUVEs in education and research. Case studies: ScienceSim. Virtual universities (Rockcliffe, St Leo, etc)
  5. MUVEs in the arts and entertainment. Case studies: virtual worlds in therapy and psychiatry, etc
  6. Virtual museums, virtual history, virtual archaeology.
  7. Frontiers. Web 3.0: from the 3D desktop to the 3D Internet

More extensive documentation of each topic may be found elsewhere on this web site. The module guide may be downloaded from StudySpace.