Fumbling towards Virtuality

With apologies to Sarah.

So the Oculus Rift arrived some time ago. What with conferences and illness, I didn’t really get to play with it until today. I followed all directions, and eventually got the damned thing wired to my 5 yr old Windows 7 machine.

I know, I know.


I have dual monitors. Dual VGA monitors. My box does not have VGA ports. Or rather, it does but they don’t hook to anything (curse you pimplyfaced Best Buy salesman). So, five years ago, I had to hunt high and low for dvi and display port adaptors. At the time, dvi and dp monitors were more than I had coin for. I tell you this to explain part of this morning shennanigans; hooking the Rift up to the hdmi port upset the delicate balance that keeps my monitors working (seriously – there’s  wire loose somewhere, which happened after I had to replace the power supply).

I know, I know.

Anyway, once everything was hooked up, the cool blue light of the Rift’s eyepieces beckoned me to put the thing on. Did I mention I have astigmatism in both eyes?

I know, I know.

Behold – my desktop upside down, and my two monitors no longer in position left and right. They inverted. So all alerts, buttons, windows etc were in the Rift view. I should mention that when I went to download the SDK & the runtime, my antivirus freaked right out about trojans (thank you, 360 total security). False alarm. But the auto-quarantine thing had the effect of buggering up the download, so I had to figure out what was going on there before I could get it all downloaded. Anyway, after much futzing, I got the desktop to display correctly in the Rift, even though it would no longer mirror to my monitors. ‘I can work with this’, I thought.

I know, I know.

When I tried the demo, I started getting all sorts of error messages. After more futzing and googling, I arrived at that point that all of us eventually get to:

…and I reinstalled the bloody sdk, and the runtime. And lo! the demo ran, appearing on my screen. The headtracker appeared to work as well, for on the screen as I moved the Rift around the ceiling of the tuscan villa would appear, then the walls, then the floor… except, not within the bloody Rift itself. No, the Rift was showing an orange ‘trouble’ light.

And then the viewer crashed, and the graphics all buggered up, and… and… I blame my graphics card & its software (whether rightly or wrongly, something’s gonna take the blame). It’s an AMD Radeon HD5570, but yeah, something’s up. And I’ve lost the better part of this morning futzing with this.

Things are getting dire.

Why I’m doing this: I want to do something like what these folks are doing, immersive network viz & navigation.

Anyway, it’s probably time to replace my box and when I do, surely most (all?) of my issues will automagically disappear.

(Well, this issue here is probably the culprit and I need to run in extended desktop mode, but still).

Update: I switched it to extended desktop mode; nothing. Back to normal mode. Then hot damn, the thing works! So I am now fully oculus rift’d.

Let’s do something cool.


Blue Mars

The topic of virtual worlds for archaeology and history seems to have hit a bit of a lull in recent months; on the other hand, that could simply be because I haven’t been looking. This morning, in preparing for my talk to the WAGenesis developer community, I came across Blue Mars, an online virtual world whose tools would appear to be more useful than those in Second Life, in that you can import your meshes, grids, etc from common 3d modeling programs. For archaeologists with a lot of 3d CAD reconstructions, this could be quite a boon. You can even import topographic maps into Blue Mars, and so recreate not just the buildings, but the landscapes. Virtual Landscape Archaeology, anyone?

In the film below, the builder has imported the topographic map of Mars…

It’s the part of Mars that has the four large volcanoes,” he tells me, “roughly what’s in this photo.” Daniel imported NASA satellite imagery of the Tharsis Montes area of Mars where Olympus Mons resides, which is about 2400 x 2400 kilometers, and scaled that down to fit into the Blue Mars terrain map, which is 8 x 8 km. As he explains, “You can import terrain maps (both height and color texture) into a Blue Mars city. They need to be greyscale and color bitmap (.bmp) files respectively, and the correct size… But you can import any real world map as a base

Meanwhile, at Ball State, they’re recreating parts of the Panama 1915 World’s Fair in Blue Mars, for explicitly historical immersive education. Stay tuned!

Virtual Worlds: and the most powerful graphics engine there is

Virtual worlds are not all about stunning immersive 3d graphics. No, to riff on the old Infocom advertisement, it’s your brain that matters most.  That’s right folks, the text adventure. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have experimented with this kind of immersive virtual world building for archaeological and historical purposes. But, with one thing and another, that all got put on a back shelf.

Today, I discover via Jeremiah McCall’s Historical Simulations / Serious Games in the Classroom site Interactive Fiction (text adventure) games about Viking Sagas – part of Christopher Fee’s English 401 course at Gettysburg College.

Yes, complete interactive fictions about various parts of the Viking world! (see the list below). I’m downloading these to my netbook to play on my next plane journey.

Now, interactive fiction can be quite complex, with interactions and artificial intelligence as compelling as anything generated in 3d – see the work of Emily Short. And while creating immersive 3d can be quite complex and costly in hardware/software, Inform 7 allows its generation quite easily (AND as a bonus teaches a lot about effective world building!)

Explore the Sites and Sagas of the Ancient and Medieval North Atlantic through one of Settings of The Secret of Otter’s Ransom IF Adventure Game:The earliest version of the Otter’s Ransom game was designed to be extremely simple, and to illustrate the pedagogical aims of the project as well as the ease of composing with Inform 7 software: In this iteration the game contains no graphics or links, utilizes very little in the way of software functions, tricks, or “bells and whistles,” and contains a number of rooms in each of sixteen different game settings; as the project progresses, more rooms, objects and situations will be added by the students and instructor of English 401, as well as appropriate “bells and whistles” and relevant links to pertinent multimedia objects from the Medieval North Atlantic project.

Using simple, plain English commands such as “go east,” “take spear-head,” “look at sign” and “open door” to navigate, the player may move through each game setting; moreover, as a by-product of playing the game successfully, a player concurrently may learn a great deal about a number of specific historical sites, as well as about such overarching themes as the history of Viking raids on monasteries, the character of several of the main Norse gods, and the volatile mix of paganism and Christianity in Viking Britain. The earliest form of the game is open-ended in each of the sixteen settings, but eventually the complete “meta-game” of The Secret of Otter’s Ransom will end when the player gathers the necessary magical knowledge to break an ancient curse, which concurrently will require that player to piece together enough historical and cultural information to pass an exit quiz.

Play all-text versions of the site games from The Secret of Otter’s Ransom using the Frotz game-playing software.

Play versions of the site games which include relevant images using the Windows Glulxe game-playing software.

In order to view images the player must “take” them, as in “take inscription;” very large images may come up as “[MORE]” which indicates that text will scroll off the screen when the image is displayed. Simply hit the return key once or twice and the image will be displayed.

We hope that you will enjoy engaging in adventure-style exploration of Viking sites and objects from the Ancient and Medieval North Atlantic!

Start by saving one of the following modules onto your desktop; next click the above game-playing software. When you try to open the Frotz software (you may have to click “Run” twice) your computer will ask you to select which game you’d like to play; simply select the module on your desktop to begin your adventure; you may have to search for “All Files.” Each game setting includes a short paragraph describing tips, traps, and techniques of playing:

Andreas Ragnarok Cross

Balladoole Ship Burial

Braaid Farmstead

Broch of Gurness

Brough of Birsay Settlement

Brussels Cross

Chesters Roman Fort

Cronk ny Merriu Fortlet

Cunningsburgh Quarry

Helgafell Settlement

Hvamm Settlement

Hadrian’s Wall

Jarlshof Settlement

Knock y Doonee Ship Burial

Laugar Hot Spring

Lindisfarne Priory

Maes Howe Chambered Cairn

Maughold – Go for a Wild Ride

Maughold- Look for the Sign of the Boar’s Head

Maughold – The Secret of the Otter Stone

Mousa Broch

Ring of Brodgar

Rushen Abbey Christian Lady

Ruthwell Cross

Shetland Magical Adventure

Skara Brae

Stones of Stenness

Sullom Voe Portage

Tap O’Noth Hillfort

Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh

Ting Wall Holm Assembly Place

Tynwald Assembly Place

Yell Boat Burial

Second Life as an Archaeological Tool: Ruth Tringham

A podcast with Ruth Tringham on her work on Okapi Island: listen here ; transcript at http://www.ncptt.nps.gov/second-life-as-an-archaeological-tool/

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast. I am Kevin Ammons. Today I am visiting with Ruth Tringham, one of the founders of the University of California Berkley the People in Multimedia Authoring Center for Teaching in Anthropology at Berkley (MACTiA). As a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkley Ruth uses an online virtual environment called Second Life in her teaching.Kevin Ammons: Welcome Ruth! How did you find yourself at Berkley exploring the notion of Second Life as an archeological tool?

ÇatalhöyükÇatalhöyük (image courtesy of catalhoyuk.com)

Ruth Tringham: Well it sort of developed out of my work with digital forms of visualization things like multimedia 3D modeling and of neolithic archaeological sites in southeast Europe and in Anatolian more recently with Çatalhöyük. I actually did know anything about Second Life. It must of been in the early 2000’s because I had been doing this visualization multimedia stuff for – all through the 90’s – at least the last part of the 90’s. But then I was working with this digital technologist I suppose is not really that he is somebody who worked with museums and digital technology called Noah Whitman. He started working with us on a project called Remixing Çatalhöyük and I can tell you about that a little later but while we were working on that, which was really a method of sharing our Çatalhöyük media database with the public, he introduced me to Second Life. He said, “Have you seen this? You might be interested in this.”


WordPress + Moodle (not equal to) Online University

A long time ago, I made a post about combining WordPress with Moodle, to help run dear old RWU. Were I at that point again, today, I think I might dispense with Moodle altogether.  Some folks are doing it all through WordPress alone! See http://wpmu.org/wordpress-as-a-learning-management-system-move-over-blackboard/

And here’s a fellow who’s trying it out, and he’s carefully specified exactly how he makes it all work, rationale, privacy concerns (he lets the students themselves pick the privacy settings on some of their work; other stuff is in private and secure dropboxes) etc :


and part II


And the class website itself is at

If I were designing an LMS for an online institution, I think I’d try for an ‘ecologies’ approach: mashing together many different kinds of services, rather than searching for one overarching one. I’d frame it all around a ‘personal learning environment’ for the student, and a ‘personal teaching environment’ for the instructor, both of which would involve the individual actively pulling in the different components desired. I’d want social networking for both faculty and students… the social aspect of learning is underplayed and not well served in current LMS models, I think. I’m creating a VUE map that somewhat captures my thoughts, but wordpress.com won’t let me upload it here.

Rebuilding Catalhoyuk

On my reading list:

Colleen Morgan, Rebuilding Catalhoyuk (full text)

Building virtual models of archaeological sites has been seen as a legitimate mode of representing the past, yet these models are too often the end product of a process in which archaeologists have relatively limited engagement. Instead of building static, isolated, uncanny, and authorless reconstructions, I argue for a more active role for archaeologists in virtual reconstruction and address issues of representational accuracy, personal expression in avatars and peopling the virtual past. Interactive virtual worlds such as Second Life provide tools and an environment that archaeologists can use to challenge static modes of representation and increases access to non-expert participants and audiences. The virtual model of Catalhoyuk in Second Life is discussed as an ongoing, multivocal experiment in building, re- building, and representing the past and present realities of the physical site.

Digital Media and Learning Competition, HASTAC, archaeological entries

Some archaeological entries in this year’s competition:

The heritage sites of the Mississippi Delta are important cultural monuments. This project brings three key Arkansas heritage sites into Second Life, allowing direct access to those sites for students and the general public. This virtual learning platform will be designed to allow a direct engagement with historic material.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is planning a new exhibit called Treasures of the Earth. The goal is to create an adventure in archaeology featuring three major archeological discoveries and a lab where families can use technology to learn about science and uncover clues to the past.
Dive a hundred feet below sea level and take a voyage back hundreds of years in a virtual simulation game to learn how scientific archaeological methods are used to survey, explore, excavate and interpret submerged cultural resources.
Stone Mirror introduces archaeology via participation in a 3-D “virtual dig” of Çatalhöyük, Central Anatolia (southern Turkey). Based on Swigart’s Stone Mirror: A Novel of the Neolithic, students experience both past and present to create a “path of inference” from discovering objects to creating narratives describing their historical meaning.
The goal is to create a system of virtual collaborative environments able to teach how to virtually reconstruct ancient worlds in 3D, involving a community of young users. The system is based on the following archaeological case studies: Roman imperial Villas, ancient Chinese tombs and Mayan sites.

Masters and Doctoral Theses on Serious Games

A list maintained by Katrin Becker at SFU, ‘Serious Games Pathfinder‘:

The following is a list of Master’s and Doctoral theses that have been completed that have to do with serious games (and in some cases more broadly with digital games). Doctoral Theses are marked in bold. You can get more info on each thesis by clicking on the associated ‘details’ link.

Note: I am just starting to develop this list. So far, almost all the theses are Canadian ones. If anyone has a thesis they would like me to add, please let me know the following:

Name, Title, Year, Degree, Country, Institution, Department, Abstract, URL to the thesis (If you are willing, I’d like your nationality too).

Please send info on theses that are about DIGITAL GAMES ONLY (I am not interested in theses about Game Theory (i.e. math), ELearning, Virtual Spaces, Social Websites, Blogging, Graphics, AI, … UNLESS they specifically focus on applications to or for digital games)

I reproduce below the listing she has for 2008:


details Applications of CSP solving in computer games (camera control) Ali, Mohammed Liakat
details The invention of good games: understanding learning design in commercial video games Becker, Katrin
details Gamers as learners: Emergent culture, enculturation, and informal learning in massively multiplayer online games Chu, Sarah
details Consistency Maintenance for Multiplayer Video Games Fletcher, Robert D. S
details Homeless: It’s No Game – Measuring the Effectiveness of a Persuasive Videogame Lavender, Terrance
details The “Heat Game”: an augmented reality game for scientific literacy Rees, Carol
details Beyond Fun and Games: 
Interactive Theatre and Serious Videogames with Social Impact Shyba, Lori
details Believability, Adaptivity, and Performativity: Three Lenses for the Analysis of Interactive Storytelling. Tanenbaum, Joshua Glen
details Adolescent problem gambling: relationship with affect regulation, Internet addiction, and problematic video game playing Taylor, Robyn N
details Video game expertise and visual search and discrimination Wu, Sijing
details Computer-aided exercise Yim, Jeffrey W.H