My Attempt at a virtual environment

For our Multimedia project at the University of Pretoria, my lecturer instructed us to build a virtual environment based on any theme we desired. From the images it should be obvious what theme I chose!

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Sonic the Hedgehog!

A lot of care was taken to make the environment feel natural, for instance, every section of fence is rotated slightly so that it does not feel too perfect.

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I tried to achieve a sense of scale here, by having a massive tube like structure in the background, with smaller trees below it and the avatar being the smallest. Yet again, take note of small details such as the rotation of the palm trees. each tree is exactly the same, but just by adjusting the scale, rotation and angling it a bit, the trees take on a life of their own.

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A view from the top. Here I went for a more “structured approach”, making this small bit of environment seem like it was built properly, so the fences are straight, the elevator has straight parts and just a slight bit of foliage growing to show that it has been around for a while. By clicking on the balls in the tube, you could sit in the ball and roll all the way down.

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Just another picture showing the detail from above, even showing flowers on top of the wall. The user might never ever look there, but that kind of detail shows a well planned and thought out environment

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The mystic ruins altar that I built. The limitation of the second life engine is that if an object is just slightly higher than another, the avatar cannot walk over it. So the stairs were a challenge in the beginning. But just by building an invisible platform over the stairs, the user could feel like he was walking up the stairs. Just a bit of trickery to make a user feel comfortable 😉

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I decided to shape the islands themed around the characters. Details people! 😀

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Pollution due to the chemical plants and the Death egg have turned this island a slightly disturbing shade of poisoned pink and purple. To further emphasize that things are wrong, the fences are planted wrong and flowers grow triple their usual size! Even the trees glow with a fresh coat of pollution!

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The Death Egg from a little bit closer. Glowing eyes sold seperately 😛

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The inside of the Death Egg, complete with the Death Egg Robot! Click on his moustache to let a particle generator to set it on fire! The space background also slowly rotates around, giving a feeling of movement.

Sonic the hedgehog and any characters and ideas that are associated with this world is copyrighted to Sega and is used under fair use.

Feel free to ask me questions if you want to learn a bit about virtual environments!

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I am absolutely quite certain that there are a lot of people who are better than me at this field, but due to a class I took this semester, I got to experience the process of creating a virtual environment. It is not as hard as it seems, albeit time consuming!

The very first thing I learned is:
Detail!
Even very low poly objects can look extremely detailed with just a bit of photoshopping and effort! Applying a bump map makes life easy as well! We were lucky enough to use the Second Life derivative, Opensim, for the creation of out projects, so we could apply bump-mapping on the fly by just choosing if you want the light or the dark parts to form the bumps. But either way, bump maps are not hard to create, and there are myriads of tutorials available on the World Wide Web to help guide you in this endeavor. 

The second thing I learned was not how much you create, but how you use it. I noticed this trick early on in Blizzard’s MMORPG, World of Warcraft. Walk into any new area and you will notice that resources are used over and over again, but just in slightly different ways. For instance, a new area might have as 3 slightly different shaped trees with a simple bark texture applied and some leaves, but just by going through the trouble of rotating the tree, scaling it to different sizes and changing the angle to fit the terrain, they can make a tree seem completely different to it’s brethren standing right next to it. 

And Lastly:
The small things matter.
Just by 2D textures of vines to a cliff face, I was able to bring a boring, mundane and utterly dull cliff face to life. Take care to not space them evenly apart though! That is not how nature works! Try and incorporate a feeling of randomness to the placement of objects in your virtual world. 
Scripting a particle generator in most engines is not hard, and it is no exception in Second Life / Opensim. There are yet again tons of scripts ready for use from the internet, and just by adding a simple script to an object to generate black smoke coming out of a chimney, I was able to make a factory that had extremely basic texturing come to life and seem like it was polluting the environment.

So, to recap:
Detail
Use it Wisely
and the Small Things Matter

Until next time! 
Sean