Capeverdean Computer Communication Project

Technical Note - April 25, 1997 (DRAFT)

Virtual Worlds - The "Second Web"

Richard Leary, rleary@umassd.edu



Abstract

The purpose of this Technical Note is to provide information on how to enhance one's Internet/Web application suite to be able to view the three-dimensional, multimedia virtual worlds that are beginning to appear on the Internet. Background information is given as well as directions for establishing this capability on one's own personal computer. Links are provided to major VRML resource sites where one can obtain the nececcessary software as well as further tutorial and technical information and tools. Links are also provided to a number of illustrative Virtual Worlds.


Introduction

For those CV cybernauts out there ready to go to the next level, the "Second Web" is here now. First there was the Internet and Email. Then came the Web with its home pages. Now we have virtual worlds - interactive, three-dimensional, animated multimedia worlds which transform the web experience into something more like how we actually experience things and organize our thoughts.

With conventional web sites (home pages), someone creates a home page using HTML, either directly (manual tagging) or indirectly (e.g., Page Mill), and then puts it on a web server connected to the Internet. Anyone in the world can then access that home page. Similarly, using another specialized markup language, VRML, one can create a number of three dimensional objects and combine them into scenes and even worlds. These worlds may be small, simple ones (sometimes deceptively simple) - e.g., a stick-figure dancing - or extremely large and complex - e.g., the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán or the Solar System. These worlds can incorporate animation, sound/speech/music, multimedia effects, motion physics, and can even accommodate real-time, multi-user participation. Once coded, the file(s) consituting a world are then simply uploaded to a web server, as is done with convention HTML pages. The world is then on the Web. An Internet user can then accesses this, or any of the many other virtual worlds that have begun to appear on the Internet, and proceed to experience or explore the world. One is not limited by the normal constraints on travel. One can fly through the solar system, travel back in time to an ancient city, or ride a sea turtle through the ocean as a school of dolphins pass overhead. On a more practical level, one can see how machinery is put together, or practice otherwise dangerous and/or costly procedures using realistic simulations. This new way of presenting information and of using the web is a true leap forward along the path of the computer-communications revolution.

I recently had the pleasure of travelling through a number of virtual worlds on the "second web" via a high-resolution monitor backed up by a Silicon Graphics Onyx visualization supercomputer connected to the Internet by a high-speed link . It was a truly wondeful experience. Many of you can also have the experience I had, albeit at not quite the same degree of fidelity and performance. (With these virtual worlds, as with conventional web sites, the faster the connection and processor power one has, the better the experience.) In order to view a world, a user must have a special plug-in for his/her current browser (Netscape, Explorer). These plug-ins are freely downloadable over the Internet. Just follow the directions given below to begin to experience virtual worlds on the Web.


Terms

Internet
Millions of computers and their users, worldwide, interconnected and able to access, exchange, and even produce information. Huge amounts of information on every conceivable topic available to anyone with an Internet-connected computer.

Electronic Mail
Using the Internet to communicate with others who are also connected to the Internet - to ask questions, to answ
A graphical interface to the Internet as well as a way of structuring data in a decentralized and nonlinear fashion. Made up of millions of home pages, each comparable in some ways to an electronic magazine.

The World Wide Web

HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language)

Browser
The window on the web - the user's interface/control panel. Examples - Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Explorer.

The "Second Web"
Using interactive multimedia, 3D computer graphics, and other techniques and technologies (multimedia, HDTV, high speed Internet connections, high performance computers,..) to make the experience of the Web less like an electronic magazine and more like how
  1. - we experience things (the worlds of reality, conceptualization, memory, and imagination), and
  2. - how we organize our perceptions and ideas.

VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language)

Virtual Worlds
Computer-based simulations of real, historical, conceptual, and imaginary worlds. Virtual worlds are used in education, training, simulation, entertainment, advertising..... anything one wants to use them for.

Groupware
Programs which allow a group of people to work together on the web.

Silicon Graphics, Inc.
One of the world's leaders in the development and production of high-performance, interactive computer systems.


Directions

1. First you need to get a plug-in for your present Web browser. The plug-in I recommend is SGI's Cosmo Player, which works with both Netscape and Microsoft Explorer. Go to the Silicon Graphics VRML web site. Find the

Cosmo Player's Controls (SGI version)

Cosmo Player icon and click on it. This will take you to the Cosmo Player Information Page. Check the System Requirements subpage to make sure your system will support Cosmo Player. If so, download the version of Cosmo Player designed for your system.

(Note: If there is no version of Cosmo Player for your system (e.g., MACs), look for a compatible browser at The VRML Repository)

2. Once you've downloaded Cosmo Player, download Music Box. This is a fairly simple but elegant site that will download in a reasonable time and enable you to check out Cosmo Player.

3. If the Music Box world seems ok, try Ocean Walk ,and then some of the other worlds listed below.


VRML Resource Sites


Selected Virtual Worlds


Music Box

Tenochtitlán


Recommended References

  1. Hartman, Jed and Josie Wernecke, Silicon Graphics, Inc. The VRML 2.0 Handbook. Building Moving Worlds on the Web. Addison-Wesley. 1996.


The CVCCP is an organization of members and friends of the world-wide Capeverdean community working on the promotion of access to, and appropriate use of, computer communications-based technology in Cabo Verde and throughout the Cape Verdean Diaspora.



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