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T-723-VIEN, Virtual Environments, Spring 2014

Basic Info

  • Contact: Office in Venus floor 2, telephone 559-6323, and email hannes[ ] (open office hours)
  • Theory Lectures: Mondays 10:20-11:55 (M112)
  • Practical Lectures/Demos: Tuesdays 10:20-11:55 (M 108)
  • Labs: Wednesdays 12:20-13:55 (M 112)


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 a scene representation, models, terrain, lights, texturing, physics, animation, heads-up-display and shaders.

Discussion Preparation

For many of the theoretical Monday 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 Mon Jan 20
PREP2What is “presence”, where do you experience it? Mon Jan 27
PREP3Characters and archetypes that you know (just in-class) Mon Feb 10
PREP4Being an Avatar Online Mon Feb 18
PREP5Procedural Rhetoric (just in-class) Mon Feb 24
PREP6Interactive Art and Information, beyond reality Mon Mar 3
PREP7The Future Mon Mar 25


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 1-4Tues Jan 22Sun Feb 910%
PROG2Second Programming Assignment Weeks 1-6Tues Feb 11Sun Mar 910%
FP-PROPPresentation of Final Project Proposal All - Tue Mar 11 5%
FPFinal Programming Project with Demo All - Tue Apr 1 30%
FP-REPWritten Final Project Report FP - Sun Apr 6 5%
Total 60%


WeekPrepMON: Theoretical Topic TUES: Practical Topic WED: Lab Work Due
01 (JAN 13-19) - Introduction
- Illusion of Reality
- Introduction to Unity 3D - Lab 1 Materials  
02 (JAN 20-26) PREP1 - History of VEs
- Current Applications of VEs
- Basic Scene Construction and Lighting - Lab 2 Materials
03 (JAN 27-02) PREP2 - Presence and Immersion - Sky and Terrain - Lab 3 Materials
04 (FEB 03-09) - Action
- Cinematography
- Unity Scripting in C#
- Lab 4 Materials PROG1 (10%)
05 (FEB 10-16) PREP3 - Actors and interaction - Basic Animation and AI - Lab 5 Materials
06 (FEB 17-23) PREP4 - Avatars and levels of control - Heads-Up Display, Input/Output Devices - Lab 6 Materials FP-IDEA
07 (FEB 24-02) PREP5 - Persuasive and Serious Games - Visual Effects - Lab 7 Materials
08 (MAR 03-09) PREP6 - Abstract Environments - PROG1 Review - Students discuss project ideas PROG2 (10%)
09 (MAR 10-16) - Character Animation - FP-PROP Presentations FP-PROP Presentations FP-PROP (5%)
10 (MAR 17-23) - Online Virtual Worlds - PROG2 Review - Final Project Status
- Work on Labs / Final Project
- Lab 8 Materials
11 (MAR 24-30) PREP7 - Input / Output - Work on Final Project - Work on Final Project
12 (MAR 31-06) - Review for Exam - Students Present FP FP(30%)


Please note that there is a 70% attendance requirement for the theoretical topic / discussion classes on Mondays. 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

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