Mob Rule

Mob Rule
When Worlds Collide

Howard Wen | 12 Aug 2008 12:40
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TE: Was the choice to use Second Life mainly due to its client code being freely available under open source?

BM: Linden Lab open-sourced the client, and that seemed to make it the right tool at the right time. We'd thought about using everything from Unreal to tools that we developed in my lab over the years. The problem is, how do you create content? How do you support this distributed collaboration, where you might want four or five people controlling avatars and objects at once?

The appeal to Second Life is content. It's very easy to get lots of different artifacts, clones and avatar shapes for this kind of project without having to hire designers to build it. In Second Life, it's so easy to build things.

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We started to consider more deeply how you could use this project for mixed physical-virtual reality performances. Imagine doing a play where some people are real actors and some are avatars. Or doing first-person experiences where I walk into a room and there's virtual characters around me. [We] actually created an augmented reality version of Façade where you would walk with a head-mounted display.

The problem is rich, interactive content is really difficult to build - an infrastructure that would let us explore dramatic things that are something like Façade as opposed to the flat, menu-based interaction you get in most games. I wanted to explore design ideas without having to build these things, because it takes so long to build them.

Have you read The Diamond Age? The main plot device is that there are actors sitting in small rooms taking acting jobs where they're controlling characters in these interactive books around the world. Avatars are being controlled in real-time by people around the world, who happen to be paid to do that for small periods of time. Second Life has the potential to let us do that.

Right now, we're doing performance with avatars using augmented reality: You put on the head-mount, and you see other avatars who are stand-ins for actors. Then on your screen you see the lines you need to deliver and your stage directions.

TE: What were some things the AR Second Life team learned through its research?

BM: A whole bunch of mundane, technical things about what does and doesn't work well in Second Life. And people aren't keen on the idea of head-mounted displays. I think over time that will get better.

People talk about things like, "Wouldn't it be great if we could both put on our head-mounts, and I could see your avatar standing across the room from me and you could see my avatar standing across the room from you?" The problem is, how do you control the avatars? In order to make my avatar do what I'm doing, I need to do motion capture, and that's not going to be possible anytime soon... not for the home user or even for a research lab.

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