Slide 1 : Notes on Hugh Fisher presentation on VR, Cyberspace, MUD and MOOs
Slide 2 : NVEs and MUDs
This is not a full set of notes: it is an outline of what will be/was discussed in the lectures. The topics here are not covered in the unit textbook or indeed any one book.
These two lectures take a high level look at Internetworked Virtual Reality: where it comes from, what people do with the system, and how they behave to each other.
The textbook, and most of the lecture content and unit assessment, is concerned with how Internetworked Virtual Reality systems are implemented. This is a fascinating topic. But it is important to think about why anyone would want one in the first place. And since you can't have an internetworked VR without at least one other person involved, it is also important to consider what they will do with it.
A Networked Virtual Environment, or NVE, is what we build with Internetworked Virtual Reality technology.
NVEs are themselves a subset of what is called groupware or CSCW (Computer Supported Collaborative Work) software.
LAN parties to play Quake or similar
Massively Multiplayer Online Games such as Ultima Online, Everquest
SIMNET/DIS based military simulators used for training.
Text based virtual environments.
AKA virtual reality, artificial reality, cyberspace. Visible and tangible to participants.
Not VE: augmented reality, telepresence
Action/response whenever you choose. The illusion of meaningful choice: actions have consequences. Range: movie is completely non-interactive, book or video largely non (you can flip back or forth), web sites more interactive, games very.
"Interactive TV" isn't. What it means is being able to buy the stuff on screen by pressing buttons on your remote.
CMC: computer mediated communication. Online communities (mostly) communicate via their computer systems.
Online communities need a reason for being. Can form around real world content, eg TV show fans; or purely virtual content, eg an NVE.
transmedia: same content, different context. Disney make movies, books and theme parks based on the same content/characters.
convergence: Internet Protocol (IP) is becoming underlying transport mechanism for email, telephone, movies...
divergence: at the same time diversifying number of platforms: TV set, home computer, PDA, cell phone...
What you access NVE with: computer, phone, PDA
Where: portable devices, public spaces.
Who/Why: social/cultural frame
Computer Supported Collaborative Work, more commonly known as "groupware."
The four-way classification by time and place.
|Time||same||Quake party, eScience lab||NVE, MUD, MMOG|
|different||Some art installations|
The WWW is persistent: doesn't go away when you log out.
MUDs, MOOs, and MMOGs are persistent, as are the cyberspaces found in books and movies.
Most military NVEs are not: these sessional virtual worlds are set up for an exercise lasting hours or a few days at most, then thrown away.
environment is content
same time, different place
persistent or sessional
D&D is the archetype from early 70's
Cooperative game: multiple players sit around a table, exploring dungeons and fighting dragons, using only words and their imaginations.
A text based game written by Crowther & Woods in the early 70's, based on D&D. Led to Zork and the Infocom range popular late 70's, early 80's. These were all single player games.
MUD is Multi User Dungeon. Adventure extended to handle multiple players at once. Unlike original D&D, frequently hostile to each other.
MOO is MUD Object Orientated, referring to the new scripting language used to implement them.
MOOs are (mostly) more sociable and non-aggressive than MUDs, although over time many MUDs have also become peaceful places.
The best known is LambdaMOO, founded at Xerox PARC by Pavel Curtis more than ten years ago and with a population over ten thousand.
Been there, done that. MUDs and MOOs have been in existence for many years, and the social aspects of how people behave in these NVEs are therefore well studied.
Stable systems. In most NVEs the focus is on the technical details of getting the thing to work at all: bandwidth, resolution, crashes... MUDs and MOOs are very reliable well-tested systems that let us concentrate on what people do.
Text is extremely compact. It is not low resolution: text descriptions generate qualia, mental images, in the readers mind; and these are often more detailed than any current VR system.
Text descriptions are much easier to create than 2D or 3D graphical images.
MUDs/MOOs require only low bandwidth communication links and small amounts of storage space.
Simple phrases or sentences.
First parsers accepted only two word phrases: verb object
MOO parsers can understand more complex statements such as put the box on the shelf
Major advantages of CLI: slow to type, so participants cannot generate too much input, and the expected response time is within a second or so, not within milliseconds as would be expected of a mouse/pointer interface.
Complex parsers seem like a good idea...but they increase user expectations as how how intelligent the system is. Users become frustrated when they cannot work out how to phrase commands so that the parser will accept them.
Important aspect of all NVEs: who is allowed in?
MUDs/MOOs often allow anyone guest access. Guests are severely restricted in what they can do, and often can be easily identified as such by the residents.
Most MUDs/MOOs have a hierarchy similar to that found in computer operations centres: normal residents (users), residents with programmer status who may modify the behaviour of the NVE, and a few wizards who as system administrators can do anything.
In LambdaMOO the wizards became overworked, and it is now a democracy with proposed changes being voted on by all residents.
Major activity, especially in the more peaceful MUDs/MOOs.
Since MUD/MOO identity is flexible and changeable, judging real world people from online discussion is extremely risky.
The original intent of MUDs. Can be broken into exploring, which is affected by other people, and puzzles, which generally are solved by individuals and have no effect on anyone else.
MUDs and MOOs are fully persistent. How many graphical NVEs have been running for ten years?
What happens to your online identity when you log out? Usually it stays there, "asleep."
Part of the original MUD environment was the capability to attack other people - they were more interesting opponents!
The Player Killer, PK, is anyone who wants to harass and annoy other players. This happens even in supposedly peaceful NVEs: the accepted estimate from commercial MMOG managers is that 10% to 15% of all participants will behave as PKs.
Unlike almost every graphical NVE, the MUD/MOO environment - rooms, objects, even people - is created within the MUD/MOO, by logged in residents. There is no separate authoring software or upload step.
This is a natural consequence of the text based medium. Programmers are accustomed to working with command line interfaces and tools, so it was easy to build them within the MUD/MOO itself.
MUDs and MOOs distinguish between private space, which belongs to the individual, and public spaces, which are open to everyone. Individuals may have their own "miniworlds" which while part of the MUD cannot be reached normally. The public spaces are controlled by the wizards, with "zoning laws" so that new sections can only be linked to the public space with their approval.
(This is a bit simplified: the topology of MUDs/MOOs can be seriously wierd.)
Any resident of a MOO can usually create new places and things, and give them text descriptions. Programmers can change the way the MOO environment interacts and behaves.
MUDs and MOOs are built with an interpreted programming language. Most MUDs have a very similar language, and most MOOs are built with the LambdaMOO language. Since it is interpreted, and the development environment is the MUD/MOO itself, programming is just another activity within the NVE. Again, this is something you just can't do in almost every graphical NVE.
MUDs and MOOs have long experience with PK behaviour, and have developed mechanisms (programming language based) and social conventions in response. Navigation, interaction, and even communication can be controlled or restricted.
The programming capabilities within MUDs/MOOs make it very easy to try out new ways of collaborating in NVEs.
A MUD or MOO has two components: the server and the database.
The server does low level network and file I/O, but is primarily the interpreter for the higher level MOOcode or MUDcode programming language.
The database is not a traditional row/column SQL type database, but more a persistent object store. Every object in the MUD/MOO has a single unique magic number identifier, which is never re-used. Every object also has a number of properties: name, description, interaction code, etc. Everything, including the online personas themselves, is described by an object and code.
The MUD or MOO is divided into rooms, objects which may contain other objects and participants. A park, spaceship, or town square is still a room. Every participant or object is always "in" some room, and navigation in a MUD/MOO is from room to room without your location being tracked to any finer level. Everybody in a room can see and hear each other.
The LambdaMOO server can be downloaded from SourceForge. It is 355K, about 37,700 lines, of C code. The LambdaMOO database, which is really what makes LambdaMOO a distinct place, is about 900,000 lines of MOOcode.
In 1999 LambdaMOO had a population of around 10,000 people, and was running on a host computer with 256M of real RAM and using around 360M of virtual memory. MOOs with a population less than 50 can be run on a Pentium/75 PC.
Written by Hugh Fisher
Slide 3 : Human Factors, Online Identity
Like the first lecture, this is just an outline.
Contrary to say, Jaron Lanier, designers of NVEs have to take into account human factors like any other software designer.
Lots of research has been done into CSCW and CMC (Computer Mediated Communication). Don't ignore it because it isn't VR.
For the same reason, research from the 60's, 70's, 80's is still just as valid today. Your Pentium 4 may be a zillion times faster than the computers back then, but the human beings trying to use your software have the same capabilities.
There is no new generation of computer users with a magical understanding of technology. Kids today may have grown up with computers, and are therefore less or not at all intimidated by them, but that doesn't mean they understand your design any better than anyone else.
In fact, having grown up with smart toys and game consoles with superbly designed user interfaces and interaction, they are likely to be less tolerant of bad design than those who learned to use older and more painful systems.
Essential for CSCW, including NVE, because the impact of each bug or crash is multiplied.
If given application crashes about 1 day in every 100, and lose 5 minutes each time:
Runs every working day, will crash about every 5 months,
= about 15 minutes per year
If group works every day, now crashes 1 in 10, every fortnight.
Each crash loses 50 minutes since failure of one affects whole group.
= 22 hours per year, not two and a half from just multiplying individual loss by number of users.
And this is assuming that it is still as reliable when ten copies are interacting with each other rather than just a single user!
Internet survives component crashes because there is no centralised essential point of failure. Empirical evidence that it is very dangerous to have everyone running the same distributed software:
On Oct 27 1980 (see RFC 789) the entire ARPANET crashed, since every router on the network (then) was identical. One failing router transmitted a corrupt packet that not only crashed all the others, but kept circulating when they rebooted.
On Jan 15 1990 two-thirds of the North American AT&T phone system exchanges crashed due to another software propagation error. The other one third had not been upgraded.
Jonathon Grudin, Microsoft, 1988: In any kind of CSCW, those doing the work should be those who benefit.
Counter example: networked calendars. Everyone had to fill them in, but only senior managers gained any advantage - and they had secretaries to manage their own calendars.
How to persuade people to start using CSCW?
Moving an existing group online is easier. Email started with ARPANET computer scientists, most commercial companies introduced local email before connecting to the Internet, even the WWW started as a local distribution mechanism in the CERN physics centre.
Getting students to use it doesn't count (Frederick Brooks). They tend to be enthusiasts (geeks), or have no choice.
If you can get students in another Faculty to use it, that's a good sign. If you can get staff in another Faculty, even better.
Just because you can create a virtual model of the real world doesn't mean you should.
Good: simulators. Both military and airlines need highly realistic VEs.
Bad: forcing people to walk everywhere in virtual environments. MUDs and MOOs allow teleporting directly and instantaneously to any given location.
Example: signposts in VE.
Real world signposts are often difficult to read due to angle or darkness. In a VE they can be billboarded so the signpost is always facing the user, no matter where they are.
Example: Mac desktop for navigating file system.
Command line interfaces relied on user memory and symbolic commands. The Apple Mac introduced a 2D spatial layout for the filesystem, so users could rely on recognition instead.
This is breaking down for todays huge internal hard disks, and doesn't work for the far more complex WWW.
Lots of companies tried/trying 3D version of WWW, "cyberspace."
Real solution to the unthinkable complexity is Google, which isn't even 2D.
Here we will look at CSCW type software: a team of people who (probably) know each other and who have come together to perform some real world task. The NVE is frequently used for CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) but there may be other tools such as telephones involved.
Task is why people are in NVE.
Channel is how they communicate
Task types: (very broad overview):
How rich a channel is how expressive it is in conveying not just ideas but also emotional context.
The more important the task, the richer channels should be.
Identity and role are the basis of
A real world individual may have multiple online identities, or multiple roles for a single identity depending on the task. Example: brainstorming vs financial meeting.
Online CSCW theoretically removes gender/status imbalances that exist in the real world. Unfortunately, the richer channels put them back! Hope for future (from Donald Norman) is real time special effects generation, which will allow anyone to speak or look how they wish over video/audio.
NVEs are also created for as public access systems, museum/installation art pieces, and in particular MUDs, MOOs, and MMOGs. Often these people have no initial knowledge of each other except through CMC.
It may not be "work", but this does not mean that users will accept an inferior system or be less emotionally involved in tasks. Since they are paying to use the NVE rather than being paid, they often have much higher expectations and commitment in time or money.
Online identity is virtual, "constructed", and very changeable. This can be disconcerting to those used to the real world where identity is fairly stable.
Gender swapping - males online as females or vice versa - is very common in NVEs.
Avatars are the visual/aural/whatever representation of your identity in an NVE. Your avatar need not have any resemblance to your real world appearance, and participants will expect a great deal of control over the appearance of their avatar.
Guidelines, mostly from Brenda Laurel:
Example: Sony EverQuest sale of virtual things.
In traditional RPG games you must struggle and bleed to achieve rank, property, or possessions. This is also how you are "supposed" to behave in EverQuest.
In the real world, you can buy stuff without having to go through all this. So people now buy, with real money, EverQuest virtual property and possessions, even in some cases whole identities.
Sony try to crack down on this, because they regard it as "cheating." More sensible to set up another virtual world where it is allowed and take their money.
MUD player types from Richard Bartle:
Player behaviour survey from Habitat:
Very close to 25% in each of four possible combinations.
These different perceptions of online identity can cause severe problems. If I regard the avatar (online identity) as me, acting as myself, I will be deeply offended if I am virtually killed by another player who regards avatars as someone else and not bound by real world behaviour. They, however, won't understand what the fuss is about.
Written by Hugh Fisher
Slide 4 : Reading/Viewing List
SunExpert copies are in the DCS library, the others are either available from the ANU library or online. (Often both.)
Playing in the MUD
Michael O'Brien, SunExpert, May 1992
Handout for first lecture. Introduction to MUDs as NVEs.
The Lessons of Lucafilm's Habitat
Chip Morningstart, F. Randall Farmer
in Cyberspace: First Steps, M Benedikt (ed) 1992
Handout for second lecture. One of the first NVEs. Invaluable experience.
The Sopranos Meets EverQuest: Social Networking in
Massively Multiplayer Online Games
Mikael Jakobsson, TL Taylor
Paper presented at the 5th International Digital Arts and Culture Conference, Melbourne 2003
The largest NVEs in use today are the roleplaying games such as Ultima Online and EverQuest. This paper examines how people who may be complete strangers in real life form and maintain social bonds within an NVE.
A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy
Online, April 2003
The behaviour of people in groups, especially computer mediated ones, and how both technological and social design are essential for the group to be a pleasant environment.
Placeholder: Landscape and Narrative in Virtual Environments
Brenda Laurel, Rachel Strickland, Rob Tow
ACM Computer Graphics, May 1994
One of the most interesting public VR systems. Nobody kills anybody, people may take on non human roles, and has same time and different time communication between participants.
Interactive graphic environments was the theme for that entire issue, so there are other articles worth reading as well.
Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players who suit MUDS
Richard Bartle, Journal of Virtual Environments, June 1996
Good overview of how people behave in NVEs, with a useful four way classification of how they will behave towards the world itself and to each other.
Online Justice Systems
Derek Sanderson, Game Developer, April 1999
Ultima Online, EverQuest, etc, are the latest in a long tradition of computer systems that were created by technical types who had no idea what mischief people would get up to. This is a good study of the kinds of problems that occur and how they can be dealt with.
Mr. P. Plays Around
Michael O'Brien, SunExpert, April 1996
Ideas about future of NVE. Brainstorming rather than detailed technology.
Cyber and Steam: The Compleat Victorian
Michael O'Brien, SunExpert, March 1993
A look at relationships between fictional and real world NVEs.
War is Virtual Hell
Bruce Stirling, Wired, March/April 1993
Non technical overview of a military NVE. Good description of why the military are interested, and the implications (then) for future development.
Artificial Reality II
Myron Krueger, 1991
Artist who has built a variety of public VE/NVEs. Examines both theoretical and artistic issues, and practical advice based on his experience.
Hamlet on the Holodeck
Janet Murray, 1997
The past and future possibilities for interactive entertainment. Concentrates on the human side rather than technology.
Howard Rheingold, 1991
Good coverage of the VR field as it was then. He has also written a book on virtual communities.
William Gibson, 1984
The most influential, in terms of vision, VR book.
Vernor Vinge, 1981
Shortish novelette, in collection(s). The other influential VR book, by tech-literate author, and shows how a magical theme for NVEs could work instead of the more common high tech.
Neal Stephenson, 1992
Second generation cyberpunk, lots of ideas for NVEs
Tea From an Empty Cup
Pat Cadigan, 1998
Another counterpoint to the utopians, how people are really likely to behave in NVEs.
Starfire: A Vision of Future Computing
Sun Microsystems 1994
Shows how a collaborative and partly virtual CSCW system could work around 2004. Not a fantasy, serious attempt at prototyping by SunSoft advanced researchers.
directed by Steven Lisberger, 1982
The movie responsible for the look of most NVEs, whether fictional or fact: the "tronnic" style.
directed by Robert Longo, 1995
Sequences showing interaction with the futuristic Internet as NVE appear to have been done by somebody who actually thought about the topic.
directed by the Wachowski Brothers, 1999
Caused massive upsurge in leather jacket sales amongst wannabes and made VR trendy again.
Written by Hugh Fisher