Virtual NMU

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Virtual NMU (vNMU) will be an interactive virtual environment of Northern Michigan University's campus to serve initially as a recruiting tool, but also as an academic exercise in and of itself. Virtual NMU: Seaborg Science Complex will serve as the first steppingstone towards completing the full Virtual NMU.

Interested in joining this endeavor?
contact Brian at

[edit] Proposed Features

[edit] Inventory Items

  • Map: Resides in the user's "inventory". Allows for quick, instant transportation to any building on campus.
  • Compass: Select your desitination location from a series of pop-up menus (maybe on a sheet added onto the map GUI) and a floating arrow will guide you from your current location (maybe similar like Natural Selection way-points).
    • This is great for learning your route to class and from class.
    • Also great for telling you which bookshelf a book is in the library.
    • User should be able to print out their destinations on a 2D map
    • This differs from the Map because the Map is an instant transporter; whereas this is just a arrow guide suggesting where you should walk.
  • ThinkPad: The virtual ThinkPad is an in-game web browser (implemented in the virtual environment as an "inventory" item of sorts which the user can use in a modal manner).
    • Virtual space location/area mapped to URL: Spacial zones in the game can be correlated to URLs, and the user can click on a button or something to see the web page (opened up in the virtual ThinkPad) related to where they are in the environment. In addition to the space-to-URL mapping, additional buttons in the virtual environment could bring up web pages in the virtual ThinkPad browser. This utilizes the wealth of existing web content from inside the game.
    • URL mapped to virtual space location: Although not inherently part of the Virtual ThinkPad feature, a related feature for the web content would to be include some sort of URL map to a virtual space location. This could be accessed through a normal web browser (which upon clicking the URL would launch vNMU and go to that spot), or through the Virtual ThinkPad (in which case the user would be "teleported" to the location instantly).
      • Possible example for URL structure (poorly conceived here):
        • nmu://spacial/building/room/
        • nmu://spacial/building/local-coordinate
        • nmu://organizational/department
    • With the virtual ThinkPad, be able to do book searches and then have it be able to take you to the actual bookshelf in the library where that book is (a path can be drawn with the Compass feature).
  • Backpack: The Backpack feature allows one to be able to save PDF forms and online items while in the game into a folder in the user's home folder for later use outside of the virtual environment.

[edit] Interactive Non-Player Characters

  • Tour Guide: Tour guide (interactive) exists to walk a user through campus. But, not in a forced manner—the ability for the user to free-roam/explore as they please remains. ("If you decide to run off, I will remain in my spot until you return to me.")
  • Virtual Professors and Students: Have some professors in their offices (interactive), willing to demonstrate things: e.g. Dr. Mark Jacobs will bring you up to see the telescope; Dr. Jeff Horn will show off robotics.

[edit] Build Your Dorm Room

Have the user be able to create and layout their dorm room in 3D space by letting them choose various objects from a sidebar or something (e.g. various pre-configured lofts, printers, computers, microwave, etc.). Let them actually do it in the room they're assigned to! So they can even see out the virtual window what their real window view will be like.

[edit] Ambient Activity

Fill dorms and classroom with virtual professors and students (non-interactive); record audio of lectures to fill room audio areas; take pictures of whiteboards & blackboards to have unique content on the boards (don't want a "ghost town")

[edit] Character Health

Instead of having player characters in the game be impossible to kill (AKA: God Mode), thus allowing the user to create an utter mess within the game world with no form of penalty, it was decided to indeed allow a health bar (even if not visual). In an effort to keep the game as family friendly as posable however, it was also decided that apon the health bar reaching 0 the character will not "die" but will instead be transported to the Health Center where some form of penalty may be implemented (e.g. money is taken from your virtual account or you drop a level) in return for saving you life.

[edit] Mini-Games

  • Tag, you're it! — A game of tag that the players inside vNMU can engage in together. (Just an idea; probably for multi-player mode only, unless some really good AI for bots is written.)
  • Paintball — A projectile game (unlike the melee action of Tag, you're it!); only you use paintball guns. 3 hits and your out.
  • Snowball Fight — For winter season environment only.
  • Food Fight — Again like Paintball, only this time with pies and other food items. (Note: have paint made so that the splatters on the walls, floors, etc. are visible)
  • Chemicals in the eyes! — You got chemicals blown into your eyes! Better get to the eye wash fountain before you're blind! (It's not a laughing matter; you should know where the eye fountains are and how to operate them.)
  • Fire! Fire! — Chemicals spill in chemistry lab and a fire starts with the gas hose to the bunsen burner! Better find the emergency shut off valve for the gas to the room. Alternatively, a fire could start somewhere else that doesn't involve the gas lines; the fire extinguisher must be retrieved to put it out.
  • PIEF, etc. / Sports — The obvious sports games could be played.
  • Build a Showman! — build your own snowman

[edit] Environment Exploration Player Modes

  • Single-player: For those without Internet access, single-player mode has tour guide and all the virtual professors, etc.
  • Multi-player: Connects to central vNMU server for chat capability (both text and audio). Considerations: Multi-player mode would require an administrator to monitor unwanted user activity. Must have a swear word filter, a warning screen before connecting that "views and expressions of users are not necessarily those of NMU”, etc.
    • Multi-player (central server version) should include dynamic weather updates in real-time from an online weather source such as AccuWeather; the weather data is used to alter the virtual environment in real time. e.g. If it's raining in real life, it'll be raining in the game. If it's snowing in real life, it'll be snowing in the game. Also, the Sun's position will change throughout the day; lighting adjusts as expected.
    • The food in the virtual Marketplace and virtual Den should reflect the actual food items being served during that day and that dining time (i.e. breakfast, lunch, dinner). This could be easily implemented using just the schedule for the days of the week as put out by Dining Services; although it wouldn't necessary be totally accurate for that day per say, it'd be mostly accurate.

[edit] Alternative Input Methods

  • Wireless Position Determination Input for Player Movement: (Note: this feature is in the research/feasbility study phase.) Instead of using the mouse keys, a player can use a wireless (and optional GPS for outside) equipped laptop to physically move around the real campus with their laptop open and move around the avatar in the virtual environment. Unfortunately, due to the fact that GPS needs line of sight, the consumer version is not so accurate, and the update period is long, consumer GPS will not work for this. However, determining position based on the campus' numerous wireless access points may be feasible. Sneaky algorithms would have to be employed to deal with issues such as signal temporary interference, determining what to act on, etc. (Just think of how cool this could be with audio/video chat integrated into it too.)
  • Orientation Sensors in Laptops: Some laptops (like the Apple PowerBook) have orientation sensor. See for more information on using such features as user input.
  • Video Capture: Recognition of hand gestures or even something such as a person leaning to the right or left could be seen by the camera and interpreted into an action, such as moving left or right if the person is leaning left or right.
  • Audio Capture: Speech command recognition (easily available for use under the Mac OS version) or something as simple using the current auditory amplitude to command something is possible (e.g. if quiet, do something; if loud, do something in the other direction) could be used.

[edit] 3D Screenshots

Screenshots around the avatar should be taken to produce a QuickTime VR file.

[edit] Technology Goals

  • Game Engine (Torque Shader Engine)
    • Shaders (Already handled by TSE)
    • Physics (For now, we're just using Torque's included physics; possibly later the physics could be extended through an additional SDK such as PhysX and/or support for something like nVidia's SLI Physics.)
    • Network (Already handled by TSE)
  • WebKit/WebCore (KHTML based; cf. for Virtual ThinkPad

[edit] Visual Quality Goals

  • Models: Should be better than "Unreal 1995," but not as good as "Doom 3" or "Unreal 2005." Realistically, aim for "Half-Life 2" quality polycounts, but within reason.
  • Textures: Take photographs and apply to models within correct proportionality. (Resolution should be high enough—cf. Half-Life 2 textures)

[edit] Previous Work

  • Hedgcock in the A6 engine

[edit] Flexibility for the Future

  • Keep “work” files independent of proprietary formats that lack adequate exporting ability.
  • Future game engine: 3D Game Studio is already kind of old; moving to the Torque Shader Engine, or an in-house creation (maybe based off of existing open source projects) is highly recommended. For the level of professional quality desired, 3D Game Studio is antiquated and most likely insufficient for the intended goals.

[edit] Projected Release Timeline

  • Public alpha or beta by Winter 2009
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