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«Comparative Content Analysis of Virtual Environments Using Perceptual Opportunities CLIVE FENCOTT Virtual Reality Applications Research Centre, ...»

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• junctions make natural choice points as do side turns, alleyways, entrances to underground car parks etc. The choices at junctions are particularly dramatic, as you don't know where the traffic will be in front of you.

• Other choice points are which side to overtake traffic, dodge on-coming traffic and traffic crossing in front of you at junctions etc.

• Deflectors - none identified so far.

NB. The map and arrows (bottom right of screen) provides the necessary additional external resources to navigate to banks and lockups etc. You can plan ahead to a certain extent for choice points and axes on the way to your objective.

Retainers

• driving the car (peripatetic) basic retainer of the game

• staying on the road,

• trying to loose the police car,

• avoiding other traffic, buildings and street furniture, including trees that could impede your escape

• changing direction, particularly negotiating junctions etc.

• trying to get out of collision situations with police car ramming you (dynamic localised)

• avoiding being seen breaking the law by police cars which essentially means trying to drive slowly and object traffic laws (very difficult in driver) 4.4.3. A GENERIC, PARTIAL PERCEPTUAL MAP FOR DRIVER

–  –  –

4.4.4. OBSERVATIONS There is a strong narrative component both in the game itself and in each level. For example, in the bank job you have to get to the bank and then get the gang to their lockup. Being able to revisit the effects of previous actions, eg. crashed vehicles, tyre marks in grass verges, broken street furniture etc. reinforces your sense of presence through past sureties and also heightens the narrative creation possibilities.

Co-presence would seem to be quite strong in Driver. There is the obvious behavioural co-presence of pedestrians who usually have co-presence sureties in that they jump out of the way of speeding cars.

There are also other people sounding horns in anger and sounds of police radio messages about you.

The localised retainers in Driver are dynamically reconfiguring in the sense that it all depends on whether or not you manage to avoid collisions caused by your own driving or as a result of being rammed by a police car. Collision situations are very exciting because your tend to be trapped to some extent and rammed and hemmed in by the police car. In such a situation you are very close to failing the level so you get very involved with and aroused at such points. It is hypothesised that such dynamically configured local retainers are more presence inducing than retainers localised to a particular place. Such retainers are also not tied just to the state of the controls but to the general state of the system much of which is not in the control of the player which can only add to the excitement. Because of all this Driver is very definitely a form of labyrinth which is no doubt why it is often more fun to prolong the car chase around crowded streets than to race off down the highway and achieve the purpose of the mission.

The 2D map in Driver is a connector and attractor. At the beginning of the level, on the first run through, it is an attractor and helps formulate the principal goal for the level. Having formulated an objective, the map then functions as a connector by offering suggestions as to how to achieve that goal.

Essentially the map provides resources to allow you to identify possible connectors, choice points and axes, that you can configure in order to plan your way to the goal. Connectors can be figuratively represented as avenues and junctions, in this case, or they can be analogously represented as in the 2D map which here provides future planing or the configuration of choice points and axes. Notice the role of repeated level play here. In a first run of the level the player uses goal matching [Smith et al,1999] to try to find their way to the geographical location which is the objective of the level. In successive runs of the level the user formulates an internal plan of the way to attain the objective, plan formation [Smith et al,1999]. Eventually, the user will use plan following to finally achieve the level's objective. Of course it is possible to achieve the objective the first time and thus only use goal matching. Again Driver would seem to be making extensive use of attractor/connector relationships as well as retainers.

4.5. THIEF A third person sneak-em-up game by Eidos. You play a member of a criminal/dissident gang in a steam punk VE. The whole game is very atmospheric and moody in a film noir sense. The locations are modelled in a great deal of detail and there are many things, boxes, incidental objects, scrolls, doors, etc, to interact with. As this is a sneak-em-up you will loose if you thrash around in a mindlessly violent fashion.

For this reason planning, taking your time and problem solving become important.

4.5.1. SURETIES

• Vection - Street furniture, building fronts, furniture, carpets, textures for walls etc. all give realistic sensation of appropriate speed.

• Depth Sureties - mainly interiors of houses, palaces, dungeons etc. so no real depth is often present but in the abandoned mine in level 2 the long narrow galleries with intersections, rail tracks and rising and falling ground give good depth sureties. Noise of people singing and whistling, machines humming etc. also give good depth sureties...





• Perceptual Notice - a lot of detail in the buildings, people, furniture, ornaments, people moving, shadows, sign posts etc.

• Degraded Reality - very little, some doors don't open etc.

• Limit Sureties - confined interior spaces so no need for limit sureties.

• Self Image - you can only see the weapon you are currently using etc.

• Past - if you take things they will not be there again, people stay where they fall, doors stay open or shut as you last left them.

• Physics - you can't move furniture - its fixed in position, the flight of arrows from the longbow is quite convincing, when you throw things away they fall quite convincingly if they are small, throwing people away is less convincing.

Sureties for Co-presence

• Appearance - people appear quite convincing, this is helped because the guards wear helmets and visors etc. so the modelling can be quite simple and yet effective. The prisoners released towards the end of level 2 are quite convincing - again hoods and cowls help as the faces are largely obscured. Ghouls etc. are quite convincing

• Behaviour - guards and other people react with surprise fear, aggression in your presence, voice reactions are good

• Ghouls are menacing but slow to move etc. which seems about right

• prisoners panic and react with fear to your presence

• Communication - not much in the way of real communication but the guards react verbally as well as physically quite well. Sometimes the people say hello as you pass if you are not where you shouldn't be.

4.5.2. SURPRISES Attractors

• General - people moving, doors to open, in level 1 the coat of arms hanging on walls signifies proximity to the owners living quarters where the object you are to steal is located, also in this context the floor and sumptuous decorations, books, ornate furniture all tell you that you are in the right part of the building and must be getting close ( these might well thus be a subtle form of connectors, see below)

• Objects of Desire - gold and other valuables, holy water, keys, books and manuscripts to read, in this game shadows are desirable attractors because they offer places to hid and be relatively safe,

• Objects of Fear - the hammerers, ghouls, exploding skeletons etc.

• No obvious alien attractors to date.

Connectors

• Axes

• corridors, underground passageways etc.

• Choice Points doors to enter, rooms with multiple exits/entrances, branching corridors,

• choosing paths through shadows to avoid enemies

• choosing where and how to confront enemies

• choosing to stop and collect valuables

• Deflectors - the change of decoration and floor coverings etc. indicates you are getting to the owners apartments, going back less well decorated rooms and corridors is a choice but a loaded one, the sumptuous apartments are the ones to choose on level 1.

NB. Additional external resources are provided in the form of signposts etc. and the 2D analogues of the things you have collected and the weapons you have at your disposal. Simple map is provided at the beginning to give you some very general clues but you can't plan a complete strategy for the level from it.

Retainers

These are mainly, though not always, interactions with other people:

• fighting with hammers and ghouls etc., dynamic as the same combat and combatant could occur in quite a wide range, although perhaps less so than Driver, for instance.

• clever use of shadows to avoid combat in intense situations such as the control room of the jail in level2, localised/static

• getting the key to open the guards room in the 4 cellblocks where 'Cutty', a colleague, is being held, there are various ways to do this, eg. shooting the spy camera at the entrance to the prison, or trying to get the guard out of his room and then shooting him before he gets to you, dynamic/multiple

• puzzle sequences, eg. trying to open Cutty's cell on level two.

4.5.3. A PARTIAL, GENERIC PERCEPTUAL MAP FOR THIEF

–  –  –

4.5.4. OBSERVATIONS There is no need of the 2D map that is indispensable in Driver, for instance. In fact, the suspense in Thief comes from not quite knowing where you are supposed to be going unlike Driver where the overall goal is pointed at from the beginning of the level and you can start putting together a configuration of lower level goals with which to attain your main objective. In Thief, mystery, or the mysterious is the key to the drama and you have to apply stealth and strategy in order to succeed. Knowing in advance where you have to get to would spoil the fun.

There is a lot of connecting play (use of connectors) in this game, probably because it is largely a stealth game. Is this a characterisation of a stealth game - that there is a lot of preparation and manoeuvring and less major interaction sequences, retainers/ mini-missions, etc. In this respect it helps if you are very observant and remember such things as the sign to the barracks in prison block 1of level 2 as this will be useful to you when you realise that freeing your accomplice is not all you have to do. Being part of game culture is important here. Seeing the prison control room and its occupant and sensing that it is worth finding out if there is anything to be gained here comes with understanding the culture of such games. You can just creep past but this will mean a more difficult task ahead of you later - without the key you will have to fight one of the guards to free Cutty.

5. COMPARTIVE CONTENT ANALYSIS

Interestingly, the three games studied are desktop, PC based and non-immersive, while the other two VEs are highly immersive HMD based. We are analysing the content and not technology of VEs. Using POs as the basis to undertake comparative content analysis is a fairly recent enterprise but we are in a position to start to make the kinds of constructive comparisons between diverse VEs that Doug Church calls for (Church, 1999).

For instance, we can see that all the VEs studied with the exception perhaps of Hubble VTE make extensive use of peripatetic retainers, ie. additional controls that follow the user around. Interaction is not just about specific affordances such as opening doors or pulling levers. Peripatetic retainers are directly related to a users ability to feel part of the world, they are the users specific interaction in the VE and are thus conducive to agency and presence in particular.

Perceptual realism, the internal consistency of worlds, appears more important than adherence to the real world. We see this particularly in Osmose, which does not model aspects of everyday life, social realism (Lombart and Ditton,1997), in any real sense. However, all the VEs studied have a range of sureties that seek to convince the user of the internal consistency of that particular VE. Yet their approaches in this respect differ markedly even though three of them Hubble, Sincity and Driver all purport to model aspects at least of the real world. There is no co-presence in the high-end VEs whereas co-presence is important to all the game VEs. Being present with others is a major presence factor and particularly useful in desktop VEs where the immersive capacity of the technology is low. In the three games sureties for presence have been carefully thought through yet again they differ markedly from appropriate car horns to highly alert prison guards.

Hubble, Sincity, Driver and Osmose all make use of alien attractors without apparently detracting from presence. In Hubble there is the red pointer on the space suit glove which can be used for accurate selection of components as well as objects which can be indicated with green dots by the help system. In Driver we have the red dots, arrows and exclamation marks all indicating variations on the end of a level.

In Sincity we have floating guns and boxes of health. In Osmose we have partially obscured objects from adjacent worlds which can seem incongruous as well as mysterious. Alien attractors in Hubble and Driver are used as help in an informative way. Whereas those in Sincity are direct help in the sense that they represent resource users need to complete levels. In Osmose the appearance of partially obscured text, for instance, at the edge of an organic world could be construed as an alien attractor very similar to the punctuation marks in Driver and acts similarly as a way finder.



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