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Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Creating Virtual Worlds One User Made Tree At A Time
6:00 AM | Cord Kruse | 4 comments

Ars Technica has posted an article detailing the efforts of the Virtual Worlds research group at Stanford University. The researchers are examining ways to allow players to participate in the creation of online virtual worlds. This "crowdsourcing" would give everyday players the chance to create visual items for the gameworld, saving time and expense for developers. The team's current proof of concept software called Dryad focuses on creating trees using an easy to use set of controls.

It may not be completely obvious why research like this is so important, so we'll spell it out at the risk of over-simplifying matters. If virtual words are to proliferate, one major bottleneck to that proliferation will be visual design. Let's face it: few of us can draw something as simple as a tree well in two dimensions, let alone three. However, if a system could be devised that would allow everyday people to participate in the crowd-sourced construction of virtual worlds, then that particular bottleneck could be done away with.

Ars spoke with Professor Vladlen Koltun of Stanford about the Virtual Words research group's first software release, Dryad. A proof-of-concept, Dryad lets anyone contribute realistic-looking trees to a virtual world by navigating a "tree space" that's refined by each and every user contribution. It's a technique that Koltun believes can be used to help build entire virtual worlds.

If this were a narrowly-purposed tool, it clearly wouldn't be worth this much verbiage. But the same math should be applicable to a variety of design problems. "Variants of this approach work for all design spaces that can be represented as normed vector space," Kotun said, "We are still investigating which design spaces can be effectively represented this way, but it is clear that many can be. We are currently working on humans, animals, architecture, and more general plant models."

So, why start with trees? "We looked at work that was done in the US Army in the mid-90s—they went through tree manuals and encyclopedias and cataloged ways in which trees differ from each other," said Koltun. "We probably should have created 'the Stanford tree,' but instead we found a nice Christmas tree, which is the default tree that Dryad currently starts with."
To read the full article follow the link provided below.

Ars Technica: Enabling Crowdsourcing Of Virtual Worlds

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