«Comparative Content Analysis of Virtual Environments Using Perceptual Opportunities CLIVE FENCOTT Virtual Reality Applications Research Centre, ...»
All the VEs provide strongly identified attractors which offer users plenty of opportunity for goal setting and planning. In Osmose the flows of lights act as attractors in the first instance then act as connectors to guide visitors along to major areas of spectacle and finally as retainers to bathe in. In Sincity the principal attractors are ricocheting bullets and minute patterns of a few pixels moving, usually at a distance, to indicate the location of your opponent(s). In Hubble there is a predetermined pattern of activity to follow in order to complete each maintenance task. In Thief exploration and short term planning are mandated and there are attractors usual to the genre such as doors, branching corridors, valuable objects.
There are also things such as keys, which would be collected by someone who knew the genre but would not be quite to collectable to someone new to it.
Driver and Thief are very similar games despite the fact that their genres are different - one is a driving game while the other is a sneak-em-up. Both use fake endings to prolong levels. Both use analogues as connectors - health indicators, shadow, possession and shadow indicators, etc. are all 2D - as the damage indicator, time indicator, and local map in Driver. There is not a great deal of skill involved in fighting or shooting arrows unlike Driver where you have to have reasonable driving skills in order to complete levels and avoid manic police cars. Both rely on attractor/connector patterns to build suspense and, like Osmose, do not have clearly identified retainers.
Sincity and Hubble both use clearly identified retainers with associated attractors as a means of delivering the purpose of the world. In terms of Sincity, shoot-em-ups rely completely on the intense bouts of fighting to deliver purpose. The patterns of connectors can be used for planning and preparation but drama come from shootouts. In games such as these, unless you get to the retainers on a regular basis the game soon becomes pointless. All the connectors you plan with don't deliver purpose but simply allow you to accumulate weapons and ammo, and set yourself up in a good ambush point. The same is probably true, though in a different way, of VTEs where the objective is conscious learning through executing relevant tasks. One could argue that there are retainers in both Osmose and Driver but they are far more integrated with the patterns of attractors and retainers in the VE and can very often be ignored or missed altogether and yet the user can still achieve purpose Osmose and Sincity have the most open perceptual maps in the sense that there is no right or wrong, complete or incomplete pre-ordering of user activity. In the former case this is because all levels are equally open to visitors and the purpose is for the user to find and/or construct their own interpretation of the meaning of the VE. In the latter case the open structure of the perceptual map is due to the nature of DM levels that require flow concentrated in a relatively limited area to enhance the drama and sense of action. One of the attractions of DM levels is that the patterns of activity are based almost entirely on the behaviour of other humans. In Hubble there is a single route through the perceptual map in order to effect the repairs appropriately. Hubble is also structured in distinct levels much in the way Driver and most other computer games are.
As Driver and Thief are single player games we find that their perceptual maps are more structured than Osmose and Sincity but less structured than Hubble. There are often a variety of routes to follow and tasks can often be undertaken in a variety of ways and in various orders. This is due to the nature of SP levels where agency constrained and enhanced by challenges ahead replaces the excitement of the human interaction, albeit at a distance, of Sincity.
In terms of narrative potential we can make some interesting observations:
• patterns of obvious retainers, as in Hubble and Sincity, can create narrative potential, with attractors and connectors creating suspense and meaningful orderings
• patterns of attractors and connectors, with very subtle retainers, can also create intense narrative potential where suspense is the name of the game.
The outcome of the analyses allows us to suggest that POs are indeed a practical content model for VEs and allow us to compare and contrast VEs from a diverse range of application areas. Comparative
content analysis allows us to:
• see how similar instances of POs are used in different VEs,
• compare the relationship between agency and narrative potential, on the one hand, and their construction through POs on the other,
• get behind the apparent genre to what a VE is actually about
• further investigate the relationship between POs and presence and transformation
5. CONCLUSIONS As a practically oriented model POs are being validated and put to use in a number of ways. From the outset POs were intended as a practical model of VR content to support VE development. One of the roles of a model is to test it against data generated in appropriate manners in order to see how the model correlates with actual experience. The work presented in this paper is part of that process.
Perceptual opportunities arose first out of the direct practise of VE creation and later from VEs viewed as the object of investigation. In a very real sense the mode of investigation was the series of trials and errors the author encountered in learning to build VEs and trying to make sense of why some apparently obvious content inclusions appeared to go largely unnoticed while others perhaps less obvious caught visitors attentions readily. The process of trial and error was made positive through a series of observations of and discussions with some 200 users of the VRML model of the cliff lift discussed in some detail above (Fencott,1999b). POs arose out of a desire to generalise the mistakes and successes of the cliff lifts development process. For several years now the model has been used to teach students, undergraduates and graduates, the principles of VE design. In discussion with students it has become clear that the perceptual map of the cliff lift does indeed achieve it purpose but also that the goals and plans users construct are not as straightforward as the map would like to suggest. For instance, many students do indeed say that they established goals as predicted by the perceptual map but that they put off achieving those goals until they had explored more and found out if there was anything else to do. Through such exploration they would establish a number of goals, prioritise them and then set about planning and achieving them. The results are the desired ones but the process is more complex than simple perceptual maps would suggest.
A different but complementary form of validation is to conduct experiments to ascertain whether the general and particular predictions of a perceptual map for a given VE induce the expected behaviours from users. For each of the various forms of PO there are measures which can be experimentally investigated.
This work is at an early stage but pilot experiments have been run. One early finding is that the power of attractors is easily offset by the effort required to realise goals associated with them. This work is currently proceeding and an experimental investigation to correlate actual user data from interacting with the cliff lift VE, making use of eye tracking technology, with the predictions of the perceptual map for the cliff lift is about to be run.
POs are not a universal panacea for the problems of VE design but focus particularly on designing VEs to communicate effectively. POs along with a variety of other techniques can be correlated to form a design methodology for VEs (Fencott,1999c).
If VR is ever to be more than motor skills training or a generator of visceral thrills we will need to master the more subtle communicative qualities it surely possesses. How can we, for instance: create atmosphere, suspense and drama, trigger appropriate emotional responses, convey concepts and abstract ideas, and facilitate the experiential creation of narrative. It is the purpose of this paper to demonstrate that POs are a basis from which we can go on to achieve such mastery. Work is now afoot to use Pos to undertake a more detailed analysis of the tropes of VR so that we may come to understand more rigorously the communicative potential of the medium.
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