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T-723-VIEN, Virtual Environments, Fall 2015

Basic Info


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 Aug 24
PREP2What is “presence”, where do you experience it? Mon Aug 31
PREP3Characters and archetypes that you know Mon Sep 14
PREP4Being an Avatar Online Mon Sep 21
PREP5Procedural Rhetoric Mon Sep 28
PREP6Interactive Art and Information, beyond reality Mon Oct 5
PREP7Textual Worlds Mon Oct 19


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 Aug 26Sun Sep 1310%
PROG2Second Programming Assignment Weeks 1-6Wed Sep 16Sun Oct 1110%
FP-PROPPresentation of Final Project Proposal All - Wed Oct 14 5%
FPFinal Programming Project with Demo All - Wed Nov 04 30%
FP-REPWritten Final Project Report FP - Fri Nov 06 5%
Total 60%


WeekPrepMON: Theoretical Topic WED: Practical Topic FRI: Lab Work Due
01 (AUG 17-21) - Introduction
- Illusion of Reality
Introduction to Unity 3D - LAB1 Playing with Unity  
02 (AUG 24-28) PREP1 - History of VEs
- Current Applications of VEs
Importing an Object from Blender - LAB2 Collect them All
03 (AUG 31-04) PREP2 - Presence and Immersion Outdoor Environments - LAB3 The Great Outdoors
04 (SEP 07-11) - Action
- Cinematography
Unity Scripting in C# - LAB4 Puzzle Room PROG1 (10%)
05 (SEP 14-18) PREP3 - Actors and interaction Basic Animation - LAB5 It Moves!
06 (SEP 21-25) PREP4 - Avatars and levels of control GUI
PROG1 Review
- LAB6 The Interface FP-IDEA
07 (SEP 28-02) PREP5 - Persuasive and Serious Games Visual Effects - LAB7 More Atmosphere
08 (OCT 05-09) PREP6 - Abstract Environments Available Equipment Review No Class (work on PROG2) PROG2 (10%)
09 (OCT 12-16) - Input / Output - FP-PROP Presentations - VR Equipment FP-PROP (5%)
10 (OCT 19-23) PREP7 - Online Virtual Worlds - PROG2 Review - LAB8 Let's Network
11 (OCT 26-30) - Classic Animation - FP Status + Help - Work on Final Project
12 (NOV 02-06) - 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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