|Also available as an Acrobat File|
Visual Communication in Urban Planning and Urban Design|
2.3 Proprietary Web Based VR Modelling Software
In addition to the use of VRML for urban modelling on the WWW, a number of commercial vendors have developed their own proprietary modelling software. One of the most widely used of these packages has been produced by Superscape (http://www.superscape.com). Superscape's VRT software has been employed extensively in the development of the company's Virtual World Wide Web (http://www.vwww.com). Figure 6 illustrates an example an easily identifiable "out of town" shopping centre, developed through Superscape software, with the results presented in a standard WWW browser but with need for a proprietary plug-in.
The use of proprietary software often allows the development of innovative, highly realistic urban models on the WWW. However, the production and browsing of these models is often dependent on the purchasing of expensive proprietary pieces of software, as opposed to VRML which is an open standard.
Having discussed ways in which the built environment can be visualised on the WWW, it is useful to explore the concept of Virtual Worlds and their ability to introduce aspects of interaction and social behaviour into the types of models already discussed. By allowing movement within the models we create, users can be presented with the chance to become involved with planning problems - for planners this facilitates consultation and also allows the planning community to interact in a common digital space in the pursuit of a design or planning solution.
Within virtual worlds participants are generally represented in the model by an avatar or digital alter ego, such as that shown in Figure 7. A user's avatar may take any form, although they are usually based on human form. The user is able to control their avatar, which will dynamically update their view of the world and the other participants avatars. The user sees the 3D world through the eyes of their avatar. This allows the user the ability to turn around and look at a fellow avatar, whilst holding a conversation, thus introducing a meaningful level of social interaction. The more advanced avatar systems available on the WWW also allow the use of physical, personal gestures. A prime example is the use of avatar gestures within Alphaworld (http://www.activeworlds.com), which is further explored later in the paper. Alphaworld avatars are capable of basic gestures such as `wave' and 'jump' and gestures to indicate basic emotions such as smiling when `happy' or raising a tantrum when `angry'.
The most advanced virtual worlds on the WWW have the following features (Rockwell 1997):
realm of planning and decision making in the urban environment,or even the
rural environment, these virtual worlds offer the opportunity to practice,
simulate and visualise a design or planning issue in real time in a `dry'
environment. All that is required is a model (a replication of a `real-world'
space) and the ability to serve it to interested clients. A schema of
how a virtual world may be organised is described in Figure 8.
2.4.1 Virtual Worlds - The 5 Stages of Development to Full Interactivity
The creation of Virtual Worlds on the WWW and their ability to be used for
collaborative modelling and design of the built environment may be viewed in
five distinct stages, ranging from a basic HTML Web site to a fully developed
3D collaborative simulated urban environment. Table 1 and Figure
9, adapted from Rockwell 1997, illustrate these stages to full
interactivity in Virtual Worlds.
2.4.2 Virtual World Systems
Following a preliminary survey of the systems on offer, we are carrying out a detailed evaluation of four of the best, these are, Blaxxun Community, Sony's Comumunity Place, ActiveWorlds and Online. These systems offer powerful world servers and good client end applications.
|Stage of Evolution||Description||Level of Use for Collaborative Education/ Design|
|HTML Web Site||No Community Development||Weak - Only Information Available.|
|HTML Site with `Chat' Ability i.e. Internet Relay Chat or Java based Chat||Simple Anonymous Text Chat||Medium - Interaction, ability to communicate in real-time|
|Avatar based Graphical Interface||Personal, organised and structured interactions||Strong - Development of Design/Education Arenas based on property software|
|Avatar based 3D using open standards and interactions||Seamless interconnection of communities and sharing of knowledge across communities||Very Strong - Development of World Wide Design/Education Arenas|
|Avatar based 3D/Open Standards/Real Time Audio Synchronisation||Seamless interconnection of communities with natural communication||Very Strong - Design/Education Arenas further enhanced with real time audio|
1. The Five Stages Towards Full Interactivity in Virtual
126.96.36.199 Blaxxun Community
The illustration above, Figure 10 shows the Blaxxun "virtual
environment" client, called CCPRO, connected to one of Blaxxun's example
worlds. The client is a free web browser plug-in which can be downloaded from
the Blaxxun web site. The client comprises three elements, the 3D view, a chat
window and a control panel (more details on the Blaxxun "multi-user world"
system can be found at http://www.blaxxun.com/). The 3D aspect of the
system uses VRML 1.0 and 2.0. The use of VRML 2.0 allows the ability to
interact with objects within a multi-user three dimensional world. The Blaxxun
CCPRO client also supports environments created using Superscape's proprietary
188.8.131.52 Sony Community Place
The Sony "community place" browser is shown in Figure 11. This
"multi-user world" client can be used as a stand-alone application or a
browser plug-in. The client comprises two windows - the 3D view and the "chat"
window. Further details and software downloaded from the Sony Community Place
web site at http://www.sonypic.com/vs/. (Note - Sony's Community
Place Conductor 2.0 Preview Release 1 has recently been made available. This
tool will allows the creation of VRML97/Java (supporting JDK 1.1.3 or later)
worlds, in real-time, using simple drag-and-drop metaphors).
Activeworlds is a stand-alone client application, again only available for
Windows 95 / NT platform. The client has a large 3D view window, plus a control
panel and the "chat" window. The ActiveWorlds web site is at
http://www.activeworlds.com/ and contains further details on their
multi-user worlds. The largest of the ActiveWorlds Virtual Worlds is called
Alphaworld. Alphaworld currently has over 200,000 "residents" who are able to
build using a simple `copy and paste' system of object placement. Such
activities allow the production of "landuse" maps of alphaworld, illustrating
the `virtual' urban sprawl in the digital environment shown in Figure
Onlive Technologies (http://www.onlive.com) has developed a Virtual World
which moves away from the limitations of text based communications. Onlive
features full voice support, allowing real time voice based communication in
VRML based Virtual Worlds.
Graphics Multimedia Virtual Environments Visualisation Contents