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T-723-VIEN, Virtual Environments, Spring 2012

Basic Info

  • Contact: Office in Venus floor 2, telephone 559-6323, and email hannes[ ] (open office hours)
  • Theory Lectures: Tuesdays 13:10-14:45 (M108)
  • Practical Lectures/Demos: Wednesdays 12:20-13:55 (M 108)
  • Labs: Wednesdays 14:00-15:40 (M 108)


This is a comprehensive course in both the theory and practice of Virtual Environments (VEs). Virtual Environments are simulations that engage the senses of users through real-time 3D graphics, audio and interaction to create an experience of presence within an artificial world. VEs are used in a variety of settings, including training, education, health, online collaboration, scientific visualization and entertainment. Their use is becoming more and more pervasive as hardware gets more capable of simulating reality in real-time (including graphics, physics and intelligent behavior). As part of the theoretical overview, the course will introduce the history of VEs, what kind of problems VEs have proven to be best at addressing, what are their shown limitations, what models of human-computer interaction apply to VEs and how these models are evolving and pushing the state-of-the-art in interactivity. The technical portion of the course will lead students through the construction and population of VEs in a very hands-on manner, covering topics such as world representation, real-time graphics and simulation issues, networked environments, avatars and interactive characters, event scripting and AI control, special real-time visual and aural effects and intuitive user interfaces.

Learning Outcome

On completion of the course students should:

  • Know what constitutes a virtual environment, why they have been created throughout history and how they are used today.
  • Be able to think critically about virtual environments as a user interface and design effective environments.
  • Understand how humans construct a mental image of their environment using visual cues and how this can be exploited.
  • Know the difference between presence and immersion, and understand how these may be measured.
  • Understand the principles of effective action in virtual environments, including concepts such as flow, implicit constraints, explicit constraints and contextual action.
  • Be familiar with the roles of characters in virtual environments and the common ways to make them autonomous and to animate them.
  • Know what an avatar is and understand the issues that relate to level of control.
  • Be familiar with the several techniques for constructing visual realism in virtual environments.
  • Be able to create an interactive virtual environment in a scripting language and use scene graphs, models, terrain, lights, texturing, collision detection, animation, heads-up-display, shaders and physics.

Discussion Preparation

For many of the theoretical Tuesday sessions, students need to come particularily well prepared. They will need to study certain materials and be ready to participate in exercises or small group discussions during the class. Student contribution to these classes will count towards the participation grade.

MaterialDescriptionBe prepared by
PREP1Exploration of several different 3D environments Tue Jan 17
PREP2What is “presence”, where do you experience it? Tue Jan 24
PREP3Characters and archetypes that you know Tue Feb 7
PREP4Being an Avatar Online Tue Feb 14
PREP5Interactive Art and Information, beyond reality Tue Feb 28


During the semester, students should complete two programming assignments and a final programming project. These are all group projects, but M.Sc. level students can at most be in 2 person groups. Students discuss final project ideas with instructor in week 05, present a proposal to the class in week 08, demonstrate the project in week 12 and turn in a report on the project in the last week. Everything that has to be turned in, should arrive no later than at 23:59 on the due date, or else incur 10% penalty for each additional day, including weekends and holidays.

PROG1First Programming Assignment Weeks 1-4Wed Jan 18Sun Feb 510%
PROG2Second Programming Assignment Weeks 1-6Wed Feb 8Sun Feb 2610%
FP-PROPPresentation of Final Project Proposal All - Wed Feb 295%
FPFinal Programming Project with Demo All - Wed Mar 2830%
FP-REPWritten Final Project Report FP - Fri Mar 30 5%
Total 60%

Online Forum

The course has a dedicated online forum where students can post questions, comments and useful information. Note that everyone should register, in their own name, on this forum before posting (simply go to the address below to register).


WeekPrepTUE: Theoretical Topic WED: Practical Topic WED: Lab Work Due
01 (JAN 09-13) - Introduction
- Illusion of Reality
- Introduction to Python
- Introduction to Panda 3D
- Lab 1 Materials  
02 (JAN 16-20) PREP1 - History of VEs
- Current Applications of VEs
- The Scene Graph
- Lighting
- Demo 1 Files
- Lab 2 Materials
03 (JAN 23-27) PREP2 - Presence and Immersion - Blender Export and UV Texturing
- Texturing
- Intervals for Animation
- Terrain
- Demo 2 Files
- Lab 3 Materials
04 (JAN 30-03) - Action
- Cinematography
- Task and Event Handling
- Collision Detection
- Demo 3 Files
- Lab 4 Materials PROG1 (10%)
05 (FEB 06-10) PREP3 - Actors and interaction - Actors
- Finite State Machines
- Demo 4 Files
- Lab 5 Materials
06 (FEB 13-17) PREP4 - Avatars and levels of control - Text and HUD
- User Interface
- Demo 5 Files
- Lab 6 Materials FP-IDEA
07 (FEB 20-24) - Persuasive and Serious Games - Visual Effects
- Panda Shader Generator
- Demo 6 Files
- Lab 7 Materials PROG2 (10%)
08 (FEB 27-02) PREP5 - Abstract Environments - Creating Textures - Students present FP-PROP FP-PROP (5%)
09 (MAR 05-09) - Character Animation - Animating using Blender [ BWiki ]
- Demo 8 Files
- Lab 8 Materials
10 (MAR 12-16) - Online Virtual Worlds - Advanced GUI Demo - Final Project Status
- Work on Labs / Final Project
11 (MAR 19-23) PREP6 - Alternative input/output devices - Work on Final Project - Work on Final Project
12 (MAR 26-30) - Review for Exam - Students Present FP FP(30%)/FP-REP(5%)


Please note that there is a 70% attendance requirement for the theoretical topic / discussion classes on Tuesdays. You must pass this attendance limit in order to take the exam. Please inform the instructor if this is hard for you for some reason such as scheduling conflicts or sick leave.


Part of CourseTotal Weight
Programming Assignments (x2) 20%
Final Project Proposal 5%
Final Programming Project 30%
Final Project Report 5%
Discussion Prep and Lab Work 10%
Final Written Exam 30%
Total 100%


There is no single textbook for the course. Reading and support materials will be handed out in class or posted on MySchool. These will mostly be in the form of research papers, software and online resources. The course is also to some extent inspired by the following books:

  • Bergeron, B. “Developing Serious Games”, Charles River Media, Inc., 2006.
  • Pimentel, K., Teixeira, K., “Virtual Reality: Through the new looking glass”, Windcrest Books, 1993.
  • Slater, M., Steed, A., Chrysanthou, Y. “Computer Graphics and Virtual Environments”, Addison-Weseley, 2002.
  • Stuart, R., “The Design of Virtual Environments”Barricade Books Inc., 2001.
  • Laurel, B., “Computers as Theatre”, Addison-Wesley,1993
  • Cooper, A., Reimann, R., “About Face 2.0: The Essentials of Interaction Design”, Wiley

Useful Resources

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