The ARCH


Architectural Innovation in Immersive Virtual Worlds

This blog has moved – read the full post HERE.  

What a year so far!  Lots of great Unity3D and jibe projects, a pair of OpenSim builds, and even some Unreal and Web Alive work.  This year has been all about platform diversification, and some of the biggest and technologically innovative builds I’ve had the pleasure of working on.

Yet it seems somehow fitting that the ‘dream come true’ project brought me full circle back to Second Life, with a project for a Fortune 500 firm to design and prototype the  firm’s physical retail spaces.  This project truly raised the bar for architectural brainstorming and collaboration around physical architecture and the built environment.  Jena Ball (Startled Cat) and Jeffrey Philips (OVO Innovation) touch on some features of the project, and the advantages of innovation and collaboration in their paper,  “Immersive Virtual Worlds as Innovation Platforms:  http://www.innovationmanagement.se/2011/05/26/immersive-virtual-worlds-as-innovation-platforms/

The full white paper describes the concept in greater detail.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“More recently, the authors of this paper worked with a Fortune 500 firm to design, prototype and model both the look and feel of the firm’s physical retail spaces and the experiences the firm wanted customers to have in retail establishments.  To accomplish this task we immersed the team – clients and consultants – in Second Life, building new retail establishments and interacting with those retail spaces using avatars.  We believed thatworking as avatars in an infinitely malleable 3D environment would not only spark their creativity and encourage experimentation, but be quicker and more cost effective than trying to do the same work in a sterile conference room.

“As we developed the retail spaces, their avatars moved through the spaces, recommending changes and generating ideas on the fly in a setting where rapid prototyping was exceptionally simple.

“Working with trained innovation facilitators and a “real” world architect specializing in virtual world development the firm’s participants generated more ideas, a much larger range of ideas, in far less time, at a fraction of the cost than in previous attempts.  We were also able to create a significant number and wide variety of prototypes for consideration.  The immediate feedback and ability to modify the prototypes in real time while participants watched and commented significantly increased the speed and effectiveness of the prototyping as well. We easily tested dozens of ideas based on the architecture, technology, allotted space, traffic flow, the needs of customers, and the skills of the firm’s retail personnel.  It is important to note that all of this work was done with a team whose members were distributed all across the US and never met face to face. All interaction and prototyping was conducted in Second Life.”

“Immersive technologies force innovators into new experiences and environments. These in turn provide new and/or alternative perspectives, and have the potential to spawn new ways of thinking.”

“Virtual worlds allow rapid, iterative prototyping in three dimensions with little cost.  Architects, for example, can quickly and easily create mini or even full-scale models of homes to show to their clients.  Likewise, it is quick and easy to make adjustments based on client feedback in real time as it is given.  This kind of iterative prototyping not only speeds up the development process, but encourages idea generation and out-of-the-box thinking as well.  Rapid, iterative prototyping is so natural in these spaces that you’d think the virtual worlds were designed for this purpose alone” (bold emphasis mine).



Virtual Architecture 101: Design Fundamentals, Processes and Strategies for Virtual Worlds

Virtual Architecture 101 (SLurl) is a free, interactive, self guided, educational installation in Second Life, designed to provide visitors with a sampling of architectural fundamentals, design processes, strategies and best practices for creating effective virtual world projects.  The installation also includes case studies and offers specific tips, tricks and techniques covering a wide range of virtual world development topics.  It is not intended to be an all-inclusive resource, but to simply provide a sample overview of design basics and strategies.   If you want brush up on some fundamentals, or if you are planning to develop a project in a virtual world, this installation is designed to serve as a starting point and a place to gather ideas and inspiration for making your project a success.

Read the full post on our main site here: http://archvirtual.com/?p=3201

As a design consultant working in virtual worlds for several years, there are quite a few core design habits, techniques and strategies that I keep coming back to.  Since Second Life and OpenSim are primarily user-generated worlds, and not every project has a budget for custom development services, I thought it might be useful to share some of what I’ve learned in a virtual installation in hopes that it might be useful to anyone starting their own projects or building content in a virtual world.  In the weeks ahead, I hope to add several new stations and replace a large portion of the text with more experience-based 3D props, but in the meantime I will post the text portion of the installation as a downloadable pdf to accompany the exhibit in the weeks ahead.
The installation can be accessed by visiting Architecture Island in Second Life here: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Architecture%20Island/97/132/1173
If you have any questions, suggestions, or need assistance developing your own  please send them to info@archvirtual.com



11 Predictions for 2011 (and beyond)
January 3, 2011, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

This is the first time I’ve made New Year’s predictions, but I so enjoy reading what others predict that I couldn’t resist jotting down a few of my own.  Find those predictions on my new, main blog site here http://archvirtual.com/?p=3074 – and for pete’s sake, update your feed with the new site’s address already!  =)  I stopped actively using this blog almost 2 years ago!  Update your feed’s folks… seriously!  Make it a New Year’s resolution.  Put it on your Google Calendar.  Better yet, just do it right now!  Whatever it takes.. just update your link to the new blog!!!  http://www.archvirtual.com

Thanks, and Happy New Year!



Worlds merging: A video response from X3D

A few weeks ago, I posted a video showing how my Revit model was imported into realxtend by Visibuild.  It generated lots of interest and traffic, suggesting to me that model interoperability is an important priority for lots of us.

Shortly after posting that my friend Damon Hernandez, always a spirited supporter of X3D, asked if I would send him that same Revit model so he could demonstrate the capabilities of X3D.  The closest I had ever come to seeing some of the more current X3D applications in action is while exploring Vivaty or ExitReality, and I was excited to see what he could do with it.  24 hours later, he sent me this video showing that same model in several X3D based environments.  What an impressive and entirely convincing demonstration!  I had no idea X3D had come so far.

This is by no means an exhaustive demonstration of everything X3D can do, and is only intended to serve as an introduction.  But what I find most compelling is the fact that this model can retain its metadata, and theoretically retain its BIM data.  If we were to develop a fully interactive model of a building, visitors could drill through this metadata, clicking any material or product in the home and discovering specific information about each building component.  I’m told it could even be useful as a CAM model, whereby manufacturers could interpret this data and use robots to assemble the home in real life.

So, here I have a seemingly limitless range of opportunities at my fingertips, yet this model – even if it were fully textured and polished – would not be useful to me in real-life practice.  The design is far from final, and we are still ironing out several key features such as the living room ceiling, the front entry, and the fireplace/hearth.  If I’m working with X3D, I have the option of either 1.) waiting until the model is final before sending it to be imported  2.)  send several batches of different design ideas and have them all imported  3.) become an X3D geek, and figure out how to import it myself, so I can do so on-the-fly as we develop new ideas.

No matter how I approach it, it isn’t useful to me as a schematic design tool – nor is it necessarily intended, or ready to be used that way (yet).  So, we really are comparing apples to oranges.  It isn’t that one platform is necessarily better than another, but that they each hold value in different phases of the design process.  As you could see in the realxtend demo included in my first post, I was able to simply exclude parts of the design weren’t finalized yet, then use the in-world modeling tools to mock up several options to share with our clients.  Those elements can be edited in realtime, while the client is present – and we can cycle through lots of different material and color options.

When my model was first imported into Visibuild, it looked exactly like it does on this video – raw and unedited.  But the difference is that with Visibuild, I was personally able to log in and continue designing and testing new ideas.  Using prims to build really does feel like sketching to me, only better, and within the context of my Revit model that contained room sizes and plan layout that had already been approved.  I can also build the entourage myself, exactly the way I want it.  I can import 3D Warehouse models if I want, or from any range of stock 3D entourage resources available.  The key is that I can easily do it myself, and the learning curve is nowhere as steep as it would be if I wanted to do the same in X3D.

That doesn’t take anything away from X3D as an incredibly powerful technology.  In fact, it could be that it’s far too powerful for what I primarily use virtual worlds for.  As an open standard  ‘simulation level’ technology, its actually reaching down to enable multi-user and simple representation of geometry.  Its power lies in the ability to eventually attain things like simulation-level physics, and retention of  metadata.  This is surely the new frontier for architecture and virtual environments.  Once we achieve seamless interoperability of geometry, our next major priority will be seamless data interoperability so our ‘smart’ BIM models don’t have to become ‘dumb’ each time they enter or leave a virtual environment.

Until then, it seems there might be an opportunity for collaboration here.  I know nothing about the core technology at work behind all of this, but I do know that one of these world is currently best for pre-design and design development, and the other is better for final design visualization and post-design.  Could they ever meet half way?  Will X3D eventually include in-world modeling and collaboration tools?  Will realxtend models someday become simulation level technology and retain metadata?  If geometry and data become fluidly interoperable, will it even matter?



The Future is Here: Full-Scale Architectural Model from Revit Imported into a Virtual World

For more information, visit the ARCH Network.

It happened exactly 1 year, to the day I first contacted Jani Pirkola former project manager of the Realxtend team. I heard rumors late in 2007 that they had goals to accelerate the development of the ‘opensim‘ platform, and one of their priorities was 3D model imports. The conversation continued until a few weeks ago, when I received an e-mail from Jules Vos, founder of Visibuild, a company he founded aimed at leveraging and improving the capabilities of Realxtend, specifically targeting his efforts at architecture and the built environment.

He asked for an exported file from one of my Revit models, and the next day he sent me a log-in and password to the Visibuild sim where the model was hosted.  Needless to say, after all these years of waiting, I was skeptical, yet hopeful. I logged in, and there I was – standing on the front porch of our client’s soon-to-be new home we had designed!  It was exactly as I had left it during my last Save As!  This was a dream come true, that had been 10 years in the making.  I was absolutely blown away.  My Revit model was virtual!  Here it is shortly after import:

Before long I had the model populated with tables, chairs, sofa, stove, a Jenn-Air appliances, Kohler fixtures and more – all imported from Google’s 3D Warehouse, most of which are exact or near-perfect matches to the ones specified.  Google’s 3d warehouse is very extensive, and carries one of the largest collection of free 3d models available.  Thanks to Peter Quirk for the Sketchup import tutorial!



I left parts of the design out of the imported mesh that we were still designing, and was able to enjoy the best of both worlds by building those pieces with primitive objects using the in-world building tools.  This way, I could make immediate use of the model as a collaboration tool with our clients by testing, for example, ceiling options in the living room, and trying out an alternate arrangement of the porch and entry area.  There is no limitation to the size of primitive objects here (the limit is 10 meters in Second Life), so it becomes much easier to model without always having to bandage the model to work around size limitations.

The client’s first reaction after seeing a teaser was “I want more!” so I think we can safely say the value of a virtual model was immediately evident.

Even a quick proof-of-concept study of imported buildings that surrounded a project site in Manhattan was fruitful.  When almost any model format can be imported, it feels like the whole world has opened up – and the possibilities are truly without limit.

The combined 3-part effect of being able to import contextual structures shared by others and import professionally built CAD or BIM-derived models and model bits and pieces using the familiar in-world building tools is a pretty astonishing new opportunity.  Of course there are still kinks to be ironed out, and some parts of the work-flow that would benefit from further optimization, but that’s where Visibuild’s value becomes most apparent.  They have the capability of streamlining that process for you, and serving as a one-stop service and hosting environment  for architects, urban planners, realtors, city governments and anyone else with a vested interest interest in architecture and the built environment.

 

Another key feature of this environment is the dynamic shade and shadows.  You need a decent graphics card to experience it, but its nice to know that the feature is available when you’re ready for it.  One common complaint for architects exploring the use of Second Life in professional practice was the plasticness of the builds, and the inability to convey the way light and shadow will effect the architecture.  The code for dynamic shadows has been available for some time now, but has yet to be implemented in any of the newest viewer releases. This is surely a key fundamental to an architect’s concern in design development, and experiencing a building without light and shade doesn’t as accurately reflect the experience you will get in real life.

Since most modern architectural software automatically generates 3D models anyway, the gap between your model and a virtual environment is no longer treacherous or time consuming – but relatively simple (or cost effective if you’d rather have someone else import it for you).  If you already model in SketchUp, for example – you’re only a few clicks away from enjoying the benefits of experiencing the model virtually and inviting others to experience it with you in realtime.  The bottom line is, most architects utilize 3D models at some point in the design development process anyway.  With Visibuild, you’re just one ‘save as’ away from leveraging the value of that model, and enjoying all of the many benefits a virtual environment affords.

These are some of the qualities of this environment I find most powerful:

  • The capacity to import 3D Models from just about any industry standard 3D package
  • Its accessible – there is very little mystery around how this works, and it isn’t terribly complicated or expensive.
  • It is built on an open source platform, and with a little experimentation you can roll up your sleeves and tinker with it.  You still have the option of hiring others to get everything set up for you.  The choice is yours.
  • User-generated content.  I can’t modify the imported mesh in-world, but I can leave off parts of the build that aren’t finalized and use the simple in-world building tools to test ideas on the fly.
  • Multi-user.  I can create an account for each of my clients and project stakeholders (builders, subs, etc.)  We can all occupy the building at the same time, from our own computers, wherever we happen to be in the world.  I can also customize their accounts ahead of time – so their avatars look good, and they appear right at the front door.
  • Realtime.  Unlike an prescriptive illustration or animation, you get to choose how, when and where your avatar moves.  This is much closer to the way people actually experience architecture.
  • Collaborative.  Multiple users can work together on a single group of objects to explore ideas – this capability is at the heart of what Studio Wikitecture is exploring.
  • Shade and Shadows, and the ability to cycle through any day/night setting and customize the sky to whatever settings you like
  • The incorporation of avatars.  I think this provides an enhanced sense of immersion and a feeling of actually being in the space.

This is truly a defining moment in the story of virtual worlds and architecture!

I’ll be working with Jules and the Visibuild team in the months ahead to help out with some exciting new projects, so if you’re interested in being an early adopter and want to be a part of the private beta, you can find contact information on the Visibuild website here: http://visibuild3d.com


Hanging up the old shoehorn: Stunning realtime multi-user architectural visualization in a web browser

Are browser-based virtual environments the way of the future for virtual design visualization?   Here is a brief overview of 4 of the many emerging platforms or related services to watch, and some thoughts about how they fit into the bigger picture of virtual worlds and architecture.

I’ll start with MellaniuM.  I’ve been following MellaniuM’s work with the Unreal platform for quite a while now, and continue to be impressed,  especially with some of their newest demos using Nortel’s web.alive platform.    In addition to architectural visualization, they offer many additional application areas including GIS, education, medicine, entertainment, archeology, film making and more.

MellaniuM can take CAD models, and import them into the Unreal game engine where they tweak and refine the build to satisfaction.  Unreal includes a built-in editor (I found a video of that editor here), but it isn’t anything like SL’s building tools and probably not very useful as a modeling environment.  After they’ve situated the build properly inside of Unreal, they turn it over to Nortel – who then enables browser-based realtime access to the model.  Here is a case study of an apartment building imported by MellaniuM:

I was very impressed with my first experience inside the web.alive platform after visiting one of their first builds.  It was eLounge for Lenovo (accessed here).  Before my visit, I had to install a plug-in, and download the environment (totaling over 80 mb – not exactly ‘thin’), but found the installation process to be relatively seamless.  It did freeze my browser twice before I got it to work, and I had to close my other apps so it would run faster, but it wasn’t a show stopper by any means.

Soon I was standing inside the eLounge, and a sales person walked over to me and asked if I needed any help – in crystal clear voice!  I had yet to go through any voice setup, so I doubted my own voice would be heard, but it came through very clearly – with no hassle whatsoever.  I probed around the build, asking the sales staff about the architecture of the space (which was quite interesting, actually!).  There were at least 6 others there with me, and more were dropping in every few minutes.  This was the day after they launched, so it may not be typical of daily traffic.  Here is a video showing a preview of the space – though I strongly recommend checking it out in person:

Here is another example from MellaniuM – this one showing the Theatre of Pompey and the Titanic:

There are some questions around whether or not the web.alive team can survive the rounds of Nortel layoffs, after they filed for bankruptcy protection last month.   But industry confidence in this platform is strong, so perhaps there is reason to believe it will remain a viable (although you never can tell).

The experience offered by web.alive is comparable to what 3Dxplorer offers, which uses Java (already installed on many computers) to enable a virtual experience inside a browser.  I had similar experiences in both platforms, with a few browser crashes and a plug-in to download (I didn’t have the most current version of Java installed)- but the experiences were equally impressive.  I have also been following the work of Dave Elchoness with great interest for the past few years – since meeting him in Second Life at his impressive VRWorkplace build, and subsequently on to his work with GoWeb3D using 3Dxplorer.  Here is a brief demo of 3Dxplorer:

Unity3D is another player in this arena, offering what might be the most stunning graphics and easiest loading.  It has yet to crash my browser, and only took a few minutes to load.  They do seem focused almost exclusively on games, and game-like environments – but some of the demos like the one seen HERE certainly makes it seem viable as a tool for architectural visualization.  This short video describes a few of the additional features built into the Unity3D platform.

Then there is ExitReality, that claims to bring “the entire web to 3D” by transforming any existing 2D website into 3D.    It appears as though they are focused primarily on offering this 3D website as their core service set, and those environments (to the best of my knowledge) can only be ‘edited’ by everyday users insofar as you can drag and drop content – essentially decorating the space with found or pre-established libraries of objects.  The other part of their offering appears to be customized, developer-driven spaces – like the now famous Carl’s Jr. 3D website.  Here is an example of ExitReality in action:

It doesn’t appear as though they are specifically interested in offering this platform for architectural visualization, but I understand the standards upon which it is built could certainly be applied toward that end.  For example, applications built using the X3D standard can certainly be custom generated, but I still don’t fully understand the workflow, costs or interface between my CAD file and an X3D-based environment.  The good news is that I’ve been told there is an exciting new project coming soon – specifically related to architectural visualization – built on open standards, which I hope to be writing about soon.

So what can we conclude from these examples?

First off, working with platforms like this requires a certain disconnect between the architect and the virtual model.  There are, in almost every case, at least 1 or 2 parties between you and your model, and they each charge some kind of fee for portability beyond hosting.  In many cases, there remains a kind of mystery around the cost and process involved and each project usually requires a new estimate, similar to the way an architectural illustrator works.

This is quite a bit different than the Second Life or openSim based use-cases for architects and designers.  Though it may be far clunkier and more time consuming, the SL environment functions in a way that architects are familiar with – such as sketches, or cardboard study models, where the designer works on it for a while -takes a step back – works on it some more – gets some feedback – modifies it again, rinse repeat.   You can’t ‘sketch’ with these platforms, and you can’t design as you build.

There also isn’t any strong, central, cross-disciplinary and diverse community to speak of.   Not the way we know it in Second Life and in some of the emerging OpenSim-based grids anyway.  Second Life isn’t just a tool – its a place.  In that place, there are hundreds of thousands of real people – from every conceivable profession.  Gathering quality feedback around design ideas, and being able to explore other people’s ideas and share your own has significant value.  Again, I’m not talking about a perfected and polished final model – but a schematic design, or a design concept.  On a moment’s notice, you can teleport in a dozen colleagues from around the world for an on-the-spot critique of an idea – and you can work out criticism and feedback using realtime modeling tools.  You still can’t easily do that anywhere else.

For similar reasons, these platforms aren’t suited as well for the many facets of architectural education either, other than to explore design precedents and existing architectural masterpieces (which I think has huge potential).  But as far as teaching design itself, the elegance of the simple in-world building tools you find in Second Life are ideal for architectural education – requiring a careful examination of the fundamentals of form, space and order.  Realtime modification and collaboration are key to education as well – which you understandably won’t find in these platforms (yet).

There is also something to be said for the browser crashes I experienced in almost every one of these platforms.  They were definitely insignificant, and I got past it quickly – but I tried almost all of them on 2 different computers, and had pretty much the same experience each time.  Please trust that I’ve grown accustomed to crashes and client challenges over the years – but its one thing to have a separate application crash, and another to have your browser crash.  After all these years of wishing SL could run inside a web browser, I’m starting to realize that – unless it can be razor thin and super stable, I don’t want anything tampering with my browser experience!  That’s where my e-mail and blogs are – and a few other tabs I’ve left open for later reading but haven’t bookmarked yet.  Its somehow a lot more disturbing when my browser crashes rather than another application.  Another nice thing is that when SL gets laggy or crashy I can flip back to my browser for a while and read e-mails, etc. while I wait for things to clear up.  When your browser crashes, you’re left with nothing.  Then you restart and realize the same 3D-world tab was auto-saved and trying to restart itself again – bogging down everything else while you wait even longer. This is a petty complaint, I know – but if I have to download 90 mb worth of content and a proprietary plug-in anyway – is it really necessary that it live inside my browser?

I still think there will be certain types of architectural visualization that will be perfectly suited to this kind of technology, but I think it will remain feasible only for more polished presentations of architectural designs – after the design has been finalized and ready for public consumption (for the time being anyway).  As such, this is not necessarily something an architecture firm would want to be continuously porting to as a design development tool.

I also don’t think we can expect to see mass adoption of this technology by the AEC industry, especially architects, given that they tend to be notoriously conservative.  In this tough economic climate that has left the profession gasping for air, with architects being laid off in droves, the profession doesn’t need better visualization tools – it needs to be re-invented.  Architects and designers who are privy to this generation’s new and increasingly open way of practicing are already sharing ideas and collaborating in new and unprecedented ways.   There is a community network within SL and spreading throughout the whole of web 2.0 that is re-molding and re-shaping the future of their profession – whether the profession knows it yet or not.  They aren’t just looking for ways to prototype the buildings they create, they are prototyping the profession itself.

That said, I see browser-based platforms like web.alive, 3Dxplorer, Unity3D and ExitReality as exciting and unprecedented opportunities for visualizing architectural designs from within an easy-to-access web browser application.  However, I don’t really see any of these as as an all-out replacement or competitor to the way architects and designers use Second Life, since it isn’t a valid comparison.   The offerings fit into entirely different phases in the design development timeline.  In its current state, this kind of technology lives at the very end of the design development cycle – at the point where architects must choose the most effective means of unveiling a design concept to their clients – and for clients to unveil a design to the public.  This is generally the province of illustration artists, who would otherwise offer prescriptive 3D illustrations or animations.

Second Life was never designed or intended to be useful as a professional visualization tool for architects, and attempts to shoehorn designs into that platform (one prim at a time) continue to come up short.  Its value becomes most apparent in other facets of professional practice – not just in final design visualization.   We can’t forget that, until now, there were no other options for multi-user, realtime virtual experience of a design concept.  That seems like more of a cause to be grateful than disappointed, imho.  Those who attempted it within SL, did so as a proof of concept when no other option existed – and enjoyed the many benefits it afforded.  Consider Virtual Palomar West as one example:

Like Caleb Booker pointed out in a recent post:

“the hospitals and hotels built in Second Life as proofs of concepts were great and worthwhile. Tangible return on investment in the form of fast prototyping, where designers could solicit large amounts of feedback from a wide range of users, definitely served to improve those projects.”

In sum, I think browser-based visualization platforms have opened 2 exciting new lanes of travel on the bridge between virtual worlds and architecture:  3D model import from CAD, and easy multi-user realtime access to those models within a browser.  However, they did so with a trade-off.  I think architects and designers would do best to leverage the full spectrum of opportunity afforded by virtual environments of all types, and avoid abandoning one set of limitations for another.



“Architecture” in Second Life Covered in AIArchitect

The AIArchitect online resource for members of the American Institute of Architects recently published an excellent story about architecture in Second Life (read it here).

In it, they talk about the work of Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, Assoc. AIA, who is the dean of Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning.  They also mention the work of my good friend Terry Beaubois, AIA, professor at Montana State University’s Creative Research Lab – (aka Tab Scott in SL) covered previously on The Arch here.  

They also covered the work of another friend and colleague – Bonnie Staiger, Hon. AIA (Dakota Dreamscape in SL) who is the exectutive director of the AIA North Dakota chapter – which recently sponsored an architecture design competition (previously posted here).

Is there anything we can do to reach out to newbie architects and designers who want to start exploring SL?  I know there has been a lot of new activity on Architecture Islands, and IM’s from new architects/designers who want to learn more is at an all time high.  It *almost* feels like the good ‘ole days of 2007. ;-)   Is this the resurgence, or re-affirmation we’ve been waiting for?

It certainly seems like quit a few architecture and design professionals have been able to look past the (temporary) inconvenient truth of 3D model ‘un’interoperability – but that bottleneck won’t last long, I hope!



Venice Italy on New World Grid in OpenSim
December 23, 2008, 8:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

“Here’s a photo by Olish Newman of “Venice, Italy”, a region on an OpenSim project called The New World Grid.”

via New World Notes



Machinima Manifesto: *WE* Shape our Virtual Buildings

In this podcast, I review some of the reasons I remain so optimistic about the future of virtual worlds, and describe the fundamental characteristics I believe make user-generated 3D worlds a game changing new standard every organization should be exploring – with or without a budget.

I also touch on another point I intend to write more about, which is the failing premise of expensive, polished, static and exclusive content creation handed down by professional developers as the only means for organizations to build a presence in Second Life.  If you want strictly developer-controlled content, buy an X-Box.  I think we need to focus more on enabling the community of people we hope will actually use these places in a more participatory, dynamic and ongoing design development process.  It’s about being less fearful of change, and more about creating architecture that is dynamic and reflexive, in a sense, to the community or organization’s ever-evolving needs.  It’s a tremendous opportunity we have yet to fully explore.

I’ll admit to the hypocrisy of that challenge, given that I’m a content developer myself, and frequently take on assignments to do the same.  For the most part, we haven’t seen a clear alternative (yet).  But I think there are emerging opportunities on the horizon, and I think we need to move away from this familiar tune:

  1. build it once (pay a developer big bucks – build something way too big, on way too much land)
  2. hope like hell that it works and people visit (calculating success using archaic ROI models)
  3. stand idly by as it stagnates (because the money’s gone…)
  4. shut it down or let it sit vacant, then blame the platform (or even the community) for that failure

This is a mentality we’re naturally dragging into virtual worlds from physical reality, where we have no choice but to be shaped by our buildings, simply because they’re too expensive to modify.  In sum, I think developer-centric practices ignore the fundamental paradigm-shift that user generated virtual worlds afford, and could stand to be re-considered, again and again until we finally do scratch the surface.

Allow me to digress further still, but I think the single, most significant difference between Second Life and other emerging platforms really isn’t all the stuff we hear about daily – I don’t think it will be things like ‘Nautilus‘ or Immersive Workspaces, imho, for lots of  reasons, though I do certainly respect those efforts.  It isn’t even just the idea of ‘user generated content’ – it goes deeper than that.  I think the killer app for Second Life and OpenSIM is lying in wait beneath that deceptively simply little ‘Modify’ button we so often take for granted.

You won’t find a button that works quite like this one in any other immersive, virtual world platform, and it is a significant point of differentiation that needs more attention.  This button is what keeps me from working in any of the competing platforms, and is certainly where the lion’s share of my future involvement with virtual worlds lies.

I hope to follow up on this meandering post and podcast with more fine-tuned thoughts, but wanted to put this out there as food for thought.  If you want to talk more about what I think this all means, how I think it can be done, or why you think I’ve got it all wrong, lets chat it up.  Leave a comment, send me an email (jbrouchoud at gmail) or meet me in-world (Keystone Bouchard).

Here is a summary of the podcast:

  • In real life, as Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us” but does that remain true in a virtual environment where the community of people who actually use the buildings are able to modify them at will?
  • Second Life is the single, largest collective expression of creativity in a single location the world has ever seen – a cultural renaissance (three times the size of Boston?  five times the size of San Francisco? four times the size of Seoul?)
  • Realtime object creation, modification and sharing as a game changer – bigger than we can imagine now
  • Prototype just about anything you can imagine
  • Share those ideas with others, and see what the community thinks about it.
  • Barriers to cross disciplinary sharing and innovation eroding
  • Social component= glue transforming the creativity component from a solo experience into collaborative
  • Inverting the traditional top-down hierarchy of design development – engaging (empowering?) community – employees, or your customers, students, etc.
  • Collaborating in virtual space around 2D documents is overrated
  • 3D-Wiki technology, build the tools that will help take collaborative innovation to the next level
  • VW as arena where Wikinomics and Wisdom of the Crowds principles play out into 3D
  • Replicate physical buildings only if they have iconic value, or if you’re building it for training and orientation.  Different norms and expectations
  • Still need to build on familiar patterns and visual cues – not just floating in space unreferenced (read: ‘On Physical Replication…‘)
  • Virtual environments are more like a liquid than a solid artifact (See ‘We Shape our Virtual Buildings…’
  • Heavy up-front investment with no community input or subsequent updating leads to failure – don’t blame the platform or the community!
  • Lessons and opportunities from web 2.0 being lost in translation from 2D into 3D
  • VW feels more like architecture – habit of thinking it’s permanent, inflexible, expensive
  • Don’t drag that limitation into virtual worlds.  In Second Life, we can shape our virtual buildings and afterwards, we can keep shaping them.
  • We’re only dimly aware we are of the potential virtual worlds hold both now and into the future.
  • We’re just getting started…


LiDAR Generated Sculpties

YouTube video.

Darb Dabney is a veritable whirlwind of energy when it comes to mirroring Berkeley, California in a virtual environment.  If avatars ever walk the streets of virtual Berkeley, there will be a gleeful Darb showing it off and giving tours!  I am increasingly confident that it won’t be long before he achieves this dream.  His most recent effort is a 40-region build in OpenSim using nothing but LiDAR surface sculpties, as shown in the video above, and described on his blog HERE.

“Wow it has been a lot of effort to get the 40 regions built out with their LiDAR surface sculpties….   My priority is to create good graphics for large-format display, but I’ve posted a rush of the first end-to end plod by the Ruth named “UC08 Visitor2″.”

Darb may very well be leading the way to a feasible method of achieving mirror world renditions of physical environments inside virtual space.  This would surely be a game changing opportunity, to say the least.




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