Thinking Worlds: Rapid World Authoring

A constant complaint regarding virtual worlds – especially by educators, who are busy enough already! – is the steep learning curve required to get anything worthwhile up and running. Various companies are addressing this (vastpark, justleapin, et al), so it will be interesting to see what emerges. A strong candidate for frontrunner, at least as far as education goes, is ‘Thinking Worlds‘, from Caspian Learning.
Their authoring system [download it here] uses libraries of templates so that 3d worlds can quickly be put together. Then, especially attractive to educators, they have another whole suite of tools to rapidly embed learning objects, formative assessments, scripts (in the sense of things people say, for easy NPC creation), and so on:

Rapidly create challenges and tests using simple templates for MCQ, Options, Checklists, Image drag and many others.

Build non linear scenarios and branching dialogue using wizards and templates.

Develop entirely new learning interactions by selecting controls and customising the GUI.

Build a library of learning interactions to reuse and share.

Setup 3D Scenes

Add different worlds, characters and objects from libraries – templates, wizards and icons using simple drag and drop.

Place new cameras, triggers and paths with the click of a button.

Use animations, particles and sounds for context.

Story Board

Scene Flow canvas uses visual action nodes and wires to intuitively build interactivity.

Vast array of simple action nodes giving designers the power to create complex scenarios and performance measurement.

Easily test, change, amend and extend your design.

Very flexible yet simple to use – drop down lists, check boxes and simple English.

These worlds can be embedded into websites, or they can be stand-alone applications on your computer. Both of these options are attractive – also is the fact that it is a ‘walled-garden’ approach, keeping out the stranger, more dangerous inhabitants of online worlds (a concern for primary and secondary teachers). Indeed, worlds published with Thinking Worlds are also SCORM compliant, and can be embedded in LMS’s. This is, strategically, a master stroke- you’ve got your LMS set up, why not use Thinking Worlds for your immersive component?

One of the demo worlds is called ‘Rome In Danger‘, and seems to be a jump-back-in-time to save the Romans kind of world.


A tag line on the Thinking Worlds website says ‘build a game in a week’. We shall see…

Just Leap In: Light Embeddable MUVE?

Another day, another MUVE, this one browser based (when the larger predators can’t exploit a niche, smaller, more nimble creatures move in to fill the void). From SLENZ

Canadian-based Leap In Entertainment ( ) thinks it can do what Google couldn’t, and has launched (Mid-January) a brand new virtual world that might actually stand a chance, according to Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch (

So, geek wannabe that I am, I downloaded the wee application to open JLI spaces, and set to work. This is still in beta (is anything ever NOT in beta anymore?).  Because each space is self-contained, the graphics get loaded up quite fast, even on satellite-net. Movement controls are standard, allowing 1st and 3rd person views. Preloaded textures, objects, ‘characters’ (don’t know what these are supposed to do – chatbots maybe?) can be dragged-‘n’-dropped into the space. New spaces can begin with templates, or it appears that you can begin with a tabula rasa – but if building is your thing, this probably isn’t your space. If you want a quick and easy MUVE however…

What might make this a useful environment for education is that audio and video can be uploaded with drag-n-drop into the space – tv frames and projectors are provided (unlike in SL, where you have to search to find one, or build it yourself).  So, you could imagine a group project, where folks are dispersed across the land, meeting in a JLI space, easily bringing in videos etc. Media streams quiet easily. Chatting is text-based.  Spaces can be embedded in blogs or webpages, facebook, the usual gamut. ‘Portals’ can be created (a red British phonebox is one option), networking together the different spaces, so one could easily set up a series of classrooms if one wanted.

I can’t embed the space here, since wordpress strips out iframes etc, but you can go here to see the demo space, with a movie of one of my ABM models as it (the model) runs.

Anyway, this will be one to watch!

Just Leap In!

Digital Zaraka

My first experience of field archaeology was in ’94, at the site of the Cistercian Monastery of Zaraka, in Greece (next door to Lake Stymphalos, of Herculian fame). Shelia Campbell of the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto was the director. I am pleased to see that new architectural survey work is taking place there, along with a 3d  reconstruction.

Zaraka was an amazing site, not least for the skeletons we found (I was a teenager: skeletons were always the most cool thing, ever). Hector Williams, directing the nearby work on the ancient city of Stymphalia, casually noted, ‘oh yes, that’s how they bury vampires around here’… How could I not sign up for the BA in archaeology after that?!

So I owe a debt to Peter Rahn, Shelia Campbell, and Hector Williams for getting me into this line of work… (or maybe I should just send them my student loan bills).

Virtual Excavation in Second Life Has Found a New Home

My thanks to Colleen Morgan, who has found a lovely corner of Anteater Island, an island in SL associated with the AAA/American Anthropologist and UC Irvine, for me to re-establish my virtual excavation.

I hope to have it up and running within the next month, at which point I’ll give the exact  slurl and invite feedback and criticism.

Thank you very much Colleen!

Excavating Second Life

When I was a grad student, I remember coming to the common room to find a friend of mine, tearing out his hair. Apparently, someone in his native Norway had just published a substantial article on the exact subject of his MA thesis, meaning he had to change his direction.

I was reminded of him when I opened my in-box this morning to discover that somebody has beaten me to the punch re the archaeology of second life. This is, actually, a good thing. For one, it shows that I’m not out to lunch with this project, and two, that archaeological journals (or at least, the Journal of Material Culture) will publish such work.

So congratulations to Rodney Harrison of the Open University, for his paper:

Excavating Second Life

Cyber-Archaeologies, Heritage and Virtual Communities

Rodney Harrison The Open University, UK,

While the anthropology of online communities has emerged as a significant area of research, there has been little discussion of the possibilities of the archaeology of virtual settlements, defined here as interactive synthetic environments in which users are sensually immersed and which respond to user input. Bartle (in Designing Virtual Worlds, 2003: 1) has described such virtual settlements as `places where the imaginary meets the real’. In this sense, an examination of the role of heritage in virtual settlements has the potential to shed light on the role of heritage in both `real’ and `imagined’ communities more generally. This article develops the concept of `cyberarchaeology’ (originally devised by Jones in his 1997 article, `Virtual Communities’) to study the virtual material culture of the settlement Second Life, and in particular, its explicit programme of heritage conservation. A survey of heritage places in Second Life suggests that the functions of heritage in virtual settlements may be far more limited than in the actual world, functioning primarily as a structure of governance and control through the establishment of the rationale for (virtual) land ownership and the production of a sense of community through memorials which produce a sense of `rootedness’ and materialize social memory. Such functions of heritage are consistent with recent discussion of the role of heritage in western societies. Nonetheless, this study of heritage and cyber-archaeology provides insights into the ways in which the notions of heritage are transforming in the early 21st century in connection with the proliferation of virtual environments, and the challenge this provides to contemporary society.

Key Words: community • cyber-archaeology • heritage • Second Life • virtual settlements

I look forward to reading this!

Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age

If you’re going to be anywhere near Trondheim in the next while, you might want to take in ‘Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age‘. If you go, steal all the handouts & powerpoints you can, and send them to me…

I’ve had the pleasure of correspondence with some of the presenters, so I know it’ll be a stimulating programme; I note that Caesar IV is under discussion too – I play way too much of that game… I have mused elsewhere on its possibilities as a counterfactual approach to Roman economics. Ah to be in Trondheim in February…


FRIDAY 20th – SATURDAY 21st of February at Campus Dragvoll, Trondheim, Norway


Auditorium DL33 (’Låven’)

10-10.20 Welcome address and introduction by Dean Kathrine Skretting and Staffan Wahlgren

Session 1: Chair: Marek Kretschmer

10.20-11.00 Martin Dinter, (King’s College London, Classics): ‘Ludological Approaches to Virtual Gaming’

11.00-11.40 Frank Furtwängler, (Universität Konstanz, Media): ‘”God of War” and the Mythology of New Media’

11.40-12.00 Coffee break

12.00-12.40 Stephen Kidd, (New York University, Classics): ‘Herodotus and the New Historiography of Virtual Gaming’

12.40-13.20 Dunstan Lowe, (Reading University, Classics): ‘Always Already Ancient. Ruins in the Virtual World’

13.40-14.20 Lunch

Session 2: Chair: Jan Frode Hatlen

14.20-15.30 Richard Beacham, (King’s College London, School of Theatre Studies) and Hugh Denard, (King’s College London, Computing in the Humanities): ‘Observations on Staging the Ludi Virtuales’

15.30-16.10 Thea Selliaas Thorsen, (NTNU, Classics): ‘Virtually There? Women in Ovid, Tatian and the 3D Theatre of Pompey’

16.10-16.30 Coffee break

16.30-17.10 Gian Paolo Castelli, (Rome, Classics): ‘The Emperor’s Seal. On Producing a Roman Computer Game’

17.10-17.50 Adam Lindhagen, (University of Lund, Archaeology): ‘Constructing and Governing a Province – between Fact and Fiction in Caesar IV’

20.00 Dinner


Auditorium D3

Session 3: Chair: Thea Selliaas Thorsen

10.00-10.40 Andrew Gardner, (University College London, Archaeology): ‘Entertainment and Empire. A Critical Engagement with Roman Themed Strategy Games’

10.40-11.20 Leif Inge Petersen, (NTNU, History): ‘Siege Warfare in Computer Games. Problems and Possibilities’

11.20-11.40 Coffee break

11.40-12.20 Kristine Ask, (NTNU, Technological Studies): ‘Technology in Games and Games of Technology’

12.20-13.00 Jan Frode Hatlen, (NTNU, History): ‘Students of Rome: Total War. A Socio-Educational Approach’

13.00-14.00 Lunch

Session 4: Chair: Staffan Wahlgren

14.00-15.00 Daniel Jung, (University of Bergen, Computing in the Humanities) and Barbara McManus, (The College of New Rochelle, NY, Classics): ‘Latina Ludens. Educational Gaming in VRoma’

15.00-15.40 Andrew Reinhard, (Bolchazy-Carducci, eLearning, USA): ‘eLearning Latin’

15.40 ConcLVSIOns (Thea Sellias Thorsen)

17.00 Guided Tour of the City Centre

Native Language and Culture through 3d Gaming

On a similar vein to an earlier post (Path of the Elders) concerning game-based learning for native and first-nations culture, the Escapist this week has a piece on a game used for teaching Cherokee to native youth:

At first glance, Don Thornton’s virtual world looks like many others. It’s when you listen that you notice the big difference: All of the characters speak Cherokee, and if you want to succeed in this world, you have to learn to speak the language, too.

To create this unique program, Thornton combined his background in native language education with a technology developed to teach Arabic to American soldiers in Iraq. Called RezWorld, the game blends a Second Life-style presentation with advanced artificial intelligence, speech recognition and self-adapting instruction. By immersing Native Americans in their traditional languages and customs, Thornton hopes to teach them how to preserve parts of their culture in danger of dying out.

Video from RezWorld site:

I would love to get my hands on the innards of this, ramp it up for Greek & Latin…

Note also the comments in the video regarding the agency of the non-player characters, and then read Colleen’s post here.

Interacting with Immersive Worlds II – Call for Papers Deadline February 2


Interacting with Immersive Worlds:

Second Brock University Conference on the Interactive Arts & Sciences

Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario

JUNE 15-16, 2009

The first Interacting with Immersive Worlds conference was held in the beautiful Niagara Peninsula at Brock University in June of 2007. Presenters and attendees from a multiplicity of disciplines heard keynote presentations by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Claremont Graduate University), James Gee (Arizona State University), Chris Csikszentmihalyi (MIT Media Laboratory), and Denis Dyack (Silicon Knights). The 2009 conference will be just as provocative, with keynote speakers such as Janet Murray (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Espen Aarseth (IT University of Denmark), so be sure to electronically submit your abstracts to the program committee by February 2, 2009.

The primary focus of the conference is to explore the growing cultural importance of interactive media. All scholarship on, and creation of digital interactive media (including but not limited to computer games and interactive fiction) will be considered in one of four broad conference streams:

The Challenges at the Boundaries of Immersive Worlds stream features creative exploration and innovation in immersive media including ubiquitous computing, telepresence, interactive art and fiction, and alternative reality.

The Critical Approaches to Immersion stream looks at analyses of the cultural and/or psychological impact of immersive worlds, as well as theories of interactivity.

The Immersive Worlds in Education stream examines educational applications of immersive technologies.

The Immersive Worlds in Entertainment stream examines entertainment applications of immersive technologies, such as computer games.
We welcome the submission of abstracts for a 20-minute presentation plus a 10-minute discussion. Send a 500-word abstract plus a brief biographical statement. Please include a separate cover page with the following:

· Author’s name and affiliation

· Email

· Mailing address

· Title of presentation

Since all abstracts will be anonymously reviewed, include the title of the paper on the abstract but not the author’s name, affiliation, email or mailing address. Deadline extended – deadline for receipt of abstracts is February 2, 2009.

Please email your abstract to

Acceptance of your paper for presentation implies a commitment on your part to register and attend the conference. Notification of acceptance will be sent out by February 15, 2009.

Visit the conference web site for details

Organizing Committee:

Jean Bridge, Centre for Digital Humanities, Brock University,

Martin Danahay, Department of English Language and Literature, Brock University,

Denis Dyack, Silicon Knights, Catharines, Ontario,

Barry Grant, Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film,

David Hutchison, Faculty of Education, Brock University,

Kevin Kee, Department of History, Brock University

John Mitterer, Department of Psychology, Brock University,

Michael Winter, Department of Computer Science, Brock University,

Philip Wright, Information Technology Services, Brock University,

Archaeology in, and archaeology of, Second Life

Right now, it’s 6.17 am, EST, which makes it about 11.17 am Dublin time, and 3.17 am Second Life time. No doubt, there’s a wild party going on somewhere in Second Life, but here at the RWU virtual excavation prototype, all is quiet.

I’m waiting to give my presentation to the folks at WAC6 in Dublin, but last I heard, there were some technical issues on their end – so a good thing I made a video of the presentation!

Youtube, in the end, could not handle my video because they have an upper limit of 10 minutes – my talk clocks in at 13. Google video doesn’t have a length restriction, so I went with them (but seeing as how they own Youtube anyway, I wonder why the distinction). It took forever for the thing to upload – I had to leave the computer running over night. I uploaded as an AVI file – Camtasia makes excellent SWF files, but for reasons unknown to me, it truncated my video – after nearly two hours of rendering – to 4 minutes and 32 seconds! Anyway, the quality is a little blurry, but I never said I was Fellini…

The argument of the talk, in brief: SL for archaeology: a place to ‘do’ archaeology’, a place for archaeological VR, and a place for archaeological teaching and outreach.

  • SL as a place to ‘do’ archaeology: Virtual worlds have always existed – from the caves of Cro-Magnon, to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, to Disneyland, SL just the latest in a long line of virtual worlds. Indeed, since SL is a world of imagination and flights of fancy, it has more in common with the virtual worlds of the past created by historians or archaeologists in their reconstructions. How do we understand SL then? Think of games: what do games teach best? Not what they are ostensbily about, but rather, how to play them. The rules of the game might correspond with various historical epistemologies (think Civilization franchise): the rules of the game make a kind of argument for how the world works: a procedural rhetoric (in Ian Bogost’s felicitous phrase).
  • What are the rules in SL, in this world where ‘anything’ is possible? The rules are best expressed through how SL allows objects and scripts to be built: so to understand the rules and their implications means casting the same kind of archaeological eye over this virtual material culture and landscapes as we would in the ‘real’ world.
  • therefore, if millions of people choose to spend their time and money in SL or other similar worlds, archaeology has a role in uncovering and studying the procedural rhetorics of this new frontier.

That’s strand one. Strand two:

  • traditional archaeological VR: clean, antiseptic, disembodied: you can only experience it by looking at the pretty pictures. In SL, since you are embodied in an avatar, you can explore the experience of the space; space-syntax in the real world explores how interconnected spaces give rise to certain kinds of experiences, so it should be possible to use SL to explore interconnected, re-created ancient spaces with space-syntax tools…. also, SL tends to clean up after itself (if you drop something, it gets returned to you) so in the presentation we take a  side trip to SL dumpster to explore how one artists’ collective uses SL to collect others’ trash to study the lives of residents.

Third strand: SL for teaching

  • if the argument about procedural rhetorics is correct, and that the only thing games teach you is how to play them, then I make that a virtue by translating archaeological metaphors into the basic building blocks of SL. Demonstration of the RWU virtual excavation prototype, integration with Nabonidus on-line recording system.

And so, without further ado, the video which should make much the same argument as above:

Text-based virtual worlds: an archaeological MOO

Who says immersive learning or virtual worlds have to be in 3D? Text-based worlds solve a lot of problems for the designer of a virtual world, since, as the old Infocom advertisement had it, your brain is the best graphics processor out there. From a few words, you can fill in the blanks, making the world as rich as you can imagine it. I mentioned the Like-a-Fishhook MOO in this post, but I didn’t explore it very much.

The Like-a-Fishhook MOO aims to be a representation of an archaeological excavation. You can browse the content without necessarily playing the game.

“This project aims to construct a virtual, immersive, multi-user, spatially oriented, exploratory, “to the inch” simulation of the Fort Berthold and Like-A-Fishhook Village site complex. The reconstruction is based on archeological data and records of the site’s excavation. The first version is text-based, with migration to a 3D graphical interface part of the project plan. Our goal is to create an active and educational space where visitors are engaged in goal-based tasks that promote exploration and problem-solving.
This is NOT intended to be a museum peice where people come to wander around and passively look at things. Visitors will be engaged in learning a) writing, or b) history, or c) anthroplogy, or d) archeology; later modules may incorporate elements of e) geology, or f) botany, or g) nutrition.”

The opening screen looks like this:

“Entrance to 32ML2

Room # 515

The pickup stops and you get out. You are on a road heading west from Fort Stevenson. You see a large, flat, grass-covered plain that extends for about 2000 feet.

To the south, you see that this terrace slopes down toward a body of water.

Far to the west, near the edge of the terrace, you see a some tiny specks that look tents, some even smaller specks that might be people, and several mounds of dirt.

To the north you see a grassy area and north of that a field.”

Now, I copied-and-pasted that description from the ‘Browse the MOO’ popup, since when I tried to create an account, there was mismatch between the domain name of my email, and the domain through which I connect to the net. Wiser minds than mine will have to explain what was going on. Anyway, the text version of this world – in which the player will conduct archaeological research – is supposed to migrate to a 3d world eventually. But having been made motion sick playing Oblivion recently, there’s something to be said for text…

One advantage of having this text-only world (which is of course similar to the text adventures that dominated computer gaming in the 1980s) is best put by the authors of the Wikipedia entry on MOOs:

“One of the most distinguishing features of a MOO is that its users can perform object oriented programming within the server, ultimately expanding and changing how the server behaves to everyone. Examples of such changes include authoring new rooms and objects, creating new generic objects for others to use, and changing the way the MOO interface operates. “

This enables the user, a la Second Life, to make the world around them (more or less)  and differentiates a MOO from a straight-forward text adventure such as you’d create using Inform.

It would be interesting to have students work through both this text simulation of an excavation, and my 3d version in Second Life, and examine the kind of (and if!) learning occurs…

Special issue of Innovate Online

The February/March issue of Innovate Online has a number of articles of interest for readers of this blog. To read these articles, you need to register, which takes about a minute. Then the full text is made available in a variety of formats.

Len Annetta, Marta Klesath, and Shawn Holmes describe how avatars in virtual learning environments (VLEs) can contribute to the learning experience by giving students a sense of social presence and investment in the learning community that may otherwise be difficult to access. VLEs have the potential to become the next generation of instructional tools for online learning. By allowing students to simulate the campus experience online, VLEs offer rich, flexible class environments without compromising their reach to diverse students desiring online courses. Describing studies carried out in the WolfDen VLE, Annetta, Klesath, and Holmes examine how gaming and avatars are engaging online students and the role personality may play in a student’s selection of an avatars.

In this study, Pu-Shih Chen, Robert Gonyea, and George Kuh compare the engagement of distance learners in educationally effective activities with that of their campus-based counterparts and compare the engagement of older distance learners relative to younger online students. Although distance learning is the fastest growing segment of postsecondary education, questions remain about the quality of distance education; a key unresolved issue is the degree to which online learners are engaged in effective educational practices. These results indicate that distance learners are generally as engaged and often more engaged than other students in most educational practices, with the exception of active and collaborative learning activities. Older distance learners report greater gains and are more likely to use higher-order mental processes (e.g., analysis and synthesis) than younger distance learners. Chen, Gonyea, and Kuh discuss the implications of these results for colleges and universities and indicate directions for future work.
Lydia Arnold explores how work-based learners can embrace technology-enabled ways of learning. The case study of the BA (Honours) Learning Technology Research (BA LTR) program at Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom , shows how a unique learning blend that combines online social learning, work-based learning, inquiry-led learning, and high degrees of personalization can be used to enable and empower learners. Additionally, Arnold illustrates the unique characteristics of the BA LTR program and the role that these play in enabling work-based learners to participate fully in learning. The article explores the role of the work-based context as both a source of motivation and an authentic learning environment for BA LTR learners.

Virtual Excavation Update 5

Turns out that ‘digging’ virtually with the land tools in Second Life is emphatically not a good idea. Things get out of control waaaay too easily. I suddenly had an abyss and a Matterhorn side-by-side in the middle of our plot of land, the bits and pieces of the demolished cabin flying violently about the place… yikes. Throw in a bit of lag and some rendering issues, and I had my own personal Bosch going on.

I tried show-hide scripts, which worked well enough, except I could not then excavate what was underneath, though I could see it. That was because of course the original prim was still in position. D’oh.
What I’m trying to do instead – and it seems to be working well – is to put a ‘fly-away’ script into each prim (representing a single context). When the student touches the context, it repositions itself 10m up in the air, revealing the next context underneath. I place internet-linked objects within the contexts as desired. When the context is ‘excavated’ – touched – the object goes into the student’s inventory. The student needs to rename the objects appropriately – cataloging them – so as not to lose them in the inventory. They can then rez the objects to examine them, which opens up a browser window to the Open Context archive. Next thing to think about is the interface with Nabonidus, whether to try to bring it in-world or let the students loose in their own browsers.

Note also my prototype contexts are just wee boxes as of yet. They’ll get better, promise. I suppose I could combine the show/hide with the fly-away, but then I’d have a devil of a time finding them again to reset for the next student.

Picture below shows the current state of affairs. For reasons I cannot fathom, the regular Second Life client is not loading info from the website, but the OnRez viewer works great. Go figure.