3D Launch Point

3D Launch Point

Arriving at the new 3D Launch Point, I am immediately greeted by the first thing anyone new to virtual worlds needs to know: how to make my avatar move about, and thus explore this new environment.

Of course, as a volunteer mentor I already have some experience with most of the things the new training environment will be aiming to teach me, and have even customised my viewer in ways the guidance likely will not touch on.  Nonetheless, I have resolved to explore with the mind-set of a new user.  Who knows?  Perhaps I will even learn something I didn’t know before; or at least get the chance to brush up and get a better perspective for the people I might be helping in the future.

The ‘landing pad’ has a crisp, slightly futuristic feel.  Coloured, shaded, but texture-less structures and frame the more organic-looking elements, and together with faintly illuminated lines naturally guide the eye where it needs to go, first from the boards with their instructions and then on down the path ahead.  This use of un-textured elements and strong colours compliments well the capabilities of the platform, as well as keeping visual distraction under control without seeming sterile or unfriendly.

As I take my first steps into the ‘Walking Zone’, a helpful voice from one of the local objects sends me a message, requesting that I make sure to read the boards as I explore the maze, and challenging me to find a series of hidden boxes to unlock a code.

My first encounter in the maze is a cube which, upon clicking, tenders up a video link that while sadly incompatible with the viewer’s internal browser, is nonetheless easily viewed my browser alongside.  A short instructional video on health and safety at the computer later, I am once more on my way – and in possession of the first letter of my passcode for later.  Four more discovered cubes and a series of code locks later, and I am met with a congratulation sign from the ‘Running Zone’ to confirm my knowledge of the basics of movement within the virtual world.

Unlike the Walking Zone with its glowing lines and foliage walls, the Running Zone presents me with a wide open sports field, and the welcoming primitive suggests that I try racing my mentor once I’m comfortable with the new way of moving.  A quick experimental lap, and I am on my way past the Congratulations Signboard and into the ‘Build Zone’.

The Build Zone presents another change of environment.  The glowing lines have returned, but now they are orange, and within the wooden-floored confines of this new structure are far more ‘cosy future’ than the almost Star Trek-like sensation of the landing pad.  Each signboard presents an explanation, or instructions of various elements of the simulation’s building functionality, starting from how to call on the build menu and place a simple primitive in the world, then moving on to the various ways in which that primitive can be deformed and coloured, and finishing with visual effects such as applying transparency or luminance.

The next section of the build zone presents me with instructions on how to put together something more complex: a table, constructed from five variously stretched cubes, textured in wood, and then linked to form a single object within the simulation.  This leads into the final section, a suggestion that I try using the principles I have learned to assemble a chair to go with my table.

With my chair assembled and sadly no mentor of my own to brandish it at for praise, next up is the ‘Photography Zone’, which takes the form of a nature trail; a board-walk through pine woodland with a variety of animals to capture in images.  Here I am presented with instructions on how to take pictures in-world; how to call the viewer’s Snapshot function and with it save pictures of what I am seeing either to my computer or to my avatar’s inventory within the simulation.

Throughout the zone I am further instructed in how to manipulate (my perception of) the very elements to my will through the viewer’s Sun Position and Environment Settings controls, and thus create both a time of day and an atmosphere for my photography.  A signboard at the end of the zone offers me the opportunity to pose alongside my masterpiece beside the zone’s final display board.

Through a waterfall, and my next stop is the Teleport Zone, a return to the science fiction sensation of before in neon purples and cylinders whose animating textures lend a nice touch to the area’s teleportation pods.  With these objects, I am instructed in the concept of teleporting rapidly around a region rather than merely walking about.  A puzzle involving working out the correct pods to use, in what order, makes certain that I am thoroughly acquainted with the idea before finally depositing me at the beginning of the next zone: the Flying Zone.

Here I am presented with the various methods by which I can use the simulation’s final and perhaps most liberating form of locomotion: flight.  Be it through the on-screen controls called via the viewer’s various buttons or the keyboard, I am instructed first in how to hover, and then how to move around in all three possible dimensions.  Finally, an obstacle course comprised first of cubes, and then a series of tubes, ensures my understanding of the basics of flight before sending me on my way into the 3D Launch Point’s final zone – the Chat Zone!

Here, the finer points of communications within the simulation are explained, and while a visiting learner will by this point almost certainly have experienced at least one of the ways in which users can communicate with one another, no potential chat medium is left out.

Beginning with ‘Instant Message’ chat, both to people around you within the world and in a private form to an individual user, I once more find myself saddened to be without a mentor of my own as the zone suggests striking up a conversation with whoever is supervising me about my interests.  Having dismissed the idea of attempting to bore one of the walls to death instead, I continue to read through the signboards, receiving instruction in direct text communication with friends and then in the use of the simulations voice chat function.  The final pair of signboards’ instructions discuss the creation of notecards, and their use as trade-able objects after the fashion of writing another user a letter.

This is not the end of the chat zone, however.  Signboards around the opposite side of the zone provide information about Autus and Hao2, including interesting facts about its various members of staff.  I was unaware that one of the team was a member of a popular band in the 80’s, or that another was a pilot!  The zone also presented me with the opportunity to have a go at dancing, before finally offering a podium on which a mentor can take a snapshot of a successful learner.

With only a pelican and a tortoise for company however, I was sadly forced to play my own, lonely photographer to create this image, commemorating my triumph over the guidance and challenges of the new 3D Launch Point.