Saturday, November 17, 2007
Avatars in First Life
This video illustrates what real life might be like if we were limited to the avatar capabilities/interactions presently available in virtual worlds such as Second Life. It very much underscores the limitations in the ways we are able to represent ourselves within today's 3D gaming and chat environments. If we are going to leverage virtual environments to support interactions between people, then we need far better ways of representing ourselves within them. Our representations should ideally be able to project as fully as possible the broadest range of human cues and capabilities. Clearly, 3D virtual worlds have a long way to go in this regard. As a first step, we need to get past the dress-up doll house metaphor that appears to have emerged for interaction within these environments.
The static avatars presently made available as placeholders in the Croquet SDK are far less capable than those of Second Life. Still, the Croquet SDK offers developers an opportunity to change whatever they need about the way people are represented with virtual environments. Opportunities for avatar experimentation are huge. Just imagine avatars that contain action triggers, link buttons, or even multiple on-board virtual environments. The possibilities through Croquet are as limitless as the imaginations brought to bear on the problem (and of course the resources expended in implementing them). The flexibility and efficiency of the Croquet programming environment gives researchers and other creatives far more capability in exploring how best to represent presence in virtual environments than is available with today's commercial 3D world technologies.
I should point out that all of the .mdl avatars that the Croquet SDK now uses actually came from an early version of the Alice project and from Squeak's Wonderland. However, the Croquet team at the University of Minnesota is working on some nicer avatars that will likely be made available in the next version of the Croquet SDK. A preview of the Minnesota avatars can be seen briefly on the Croquet video in a previous post. Also, Matt Schmidt and his team in Missouri are also beginning to experiment with avatar improvements and it will be interesting to see what they come up with.