eScience Lectures Notes : Hugh Fisher\'s presentations on VR: Cyberspace, MUD and MOOs

Slide 1 : Notes on Hugh Fisher presentation on VR, Cyberspace, MUD and MOOs

Hugh Fisher's presentations on VR, Cyberspace, MUD and MOOs


Slide 2 : NVEs and MUDs

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.

What is an NVE?

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.

NVE examples


MUDs and MOOs



Text as medium



Implementing a MUD/MOO

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

Human Factors and Online Identity

Like the first lecture, this is just an outline.

Human Factors

Virtual Reality HCI


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:

Build robust or resilient systems.

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.

Grudin Principle

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.

Be better than reality

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.

Online Identity

NVEs for work

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.

Tasks and channels

Task is why people are in NVE.
Channel is how they communicate

Task types: (very broad overview):

Consequences or significance of each task increases from first to last.

How rich a channel is how expressive it is in conveying not just ideas but also emotional context.

Response time matters for more expressive channels. The millisecond delays in long distance video conferencing or phone calls are enough to make those channels less expressive than face to face.

The more important the task, the richer channels should be.

Identity and roles

Identity and role are the basis of

You can't have authorisation without authentication, even if the authentication is no more than "somebody."

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 for play

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:

Written by Hugh Fisher

Slide 4 : Reading/Viewing List

Reading/Viewing List

Short articles

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
Clay Shirky
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.

Virtual Reality
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.

True Names
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.

Snow Crash
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.

Johnny Mnemonic
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.

The Matrix
directed by the Wachowski Brothers, 1999

Caused massive upsurge in leather jacket sales amongst wannabes and made VR trendy again.

Written by Hugh Fisher