TheU Logo  Paper 8
Visual SolSys Sim
Design Document From the Contact Consortium Brainstorming Session of July 1-2, Discussion with Dr. Reed Riner - 1995 Version 1.1: July 9, 1995



Working Papers
Paper 1
Paper 2
Paper 3
Paper 4
Paper 5
Paper 6
Paper 7
Paper 8


The Future

Mailing List


Contact Consortium Home page


I. Brainstorming Inputs to the Design

  1. Discussion with Dr. Reed Riner on his requirements and vision of a visual SolSys.
  2. Round of inputs from attendees on their vision for visual SolSys
  3. Creation of requirements matrix: social/cultural define the space/interface
  4. SolSys Dreams

II. Fundamental Decisions Regarding the Design

  1. Fundamental decision on a single interface metaphor
  2. The Shape of the Sim
  3. Goals of the Sim
  4. High Level Architecture
  5. Attributes of the Sim

I. Brainstorming Inputs to the Design

1. Discussion with Dr. Reed Riner on his requirements and vision of a visual SolSys.

a) Social Features of a Visual SolSys Sim

  • Earth team (alumni)
  • Socio-cultural lego set
  • Self-expression surfaces, i.e. graffiti wall
  • Social isolation of programmers is a problem in MOOs
  • Social interaction is fundamental
  • Everyone has a home
  • Create viable economy
  • '2020 Vision' economy as model?
  • Unemployment?
  • Answer 'impact' questions
  • Pros for 'handicapped' students, i.e. deaf
  • Must deal with subculture prejudice against speech rather than sign language
  • Discuss pros and cons of attempting to involve deaf culture

b) Technical Features of a Visual SolSys Sim

  • Documents in 'file cabinets' in special room for instructors' projects
  • Selective communication by group, i.e. 'page all instructors'
  • Appropriate visual mailbox cues
  • Check out Diversity University for good MOO mail
  • Mail example: mini pine in the sim
  • Group mail
  • Standardized gestures and body language
  • Avatar changes color to show emotion?
  • Customized spaces
  • All inhabitable spaces are buildable
  • Building: on students' systems or as a group?
  • Portable Objects
  • Portable 'hole' (exit) to carry items
  • Robots?
  • Stock market (robotic?)
  • On-line-accessible library with web access
  • Method for keeping 'real' data separate from 'sim' data
  • Removable 'sim' data
  • Personalized Avatars
  • System for tagging permanent vs. transient
  • File possible for good stuff
  • Replay scenarios?
  • Log programs
  • Faster running clock for sim-time
  • Real-time modification of program code and features
  • Must be extremely user-friendly
  • Changeable clock for CONTACT (adjustable time)

c) Administrative Issues of a Visual SolSys Sim

  • Educator as SolSys public figurehead
  • Establish structure for how to do projects in the sim (lead, management, etc.)
  • Every team has the option of completely recreating everything?
  • Old town (historic site), new suburbs, etc.
  • Architectural review board
  • Study of comparative government structures in MOOs and MUDs
  • Hierarchy analysis
  • Build working model of Jim Brown's The Job Market
  • Model UN clubs as Earth/UN teams: potential for funding?
  • Need basic agreements among institutions
  • Dragon and MOO codes available: analyze structures
  • Jen Clodius' paper about DragonMud available on web
  • Gaulledet University for the deaf: funding possible?
  • Talk to 'Sid' in Dragon/SolSys (Josh Knapton)- he's hard of hearing
  • Different worlds possible

2. Round of inputs from attendees on their vision for visual SolSys

a) Socio-cultural

  • social pressure
  • Reminder that the avatar we see is not the R.L. person, and that the body language displayed is conscious, calculated and artificial
  • Sim visuals lull us into a false sense of security around emotional display: R.L. body language is mostly subconscious and therefore truer
  • SolSys is Educational but can be a model for future non-educational sims
  • Critical difference between education that is fun and game that involves learning (attitude and expectations)
  • Don't let available technology drive us: vision should drive tech
  • Develop Earth and history first, then let colonies develop
  • Use '2020 Vision' world?

b) Technical

  • Should we allow future users of similar 'MUDs' to edit out things that we feel are significant, i.e. graffiti walls?
  • Start simple with system that works!
  • Goal for SolSys Sim: visuals ('500 Nations' graphics, 'Dancer' avatar movement, 'WorldsChat' buildings and move-through) connected to an educational framework

c) Administrative

  • Students can't work in a vacuum, so enough structure must be created prior to start of sim for work to be done effectively
  • Must have more than a skeleton
  • Avoid danger of making projects too big in an industry that changes rapidly: try mini-projects, mini-prototyping
  • Connecting SolSys Sim visual goals
  • Integrate new students with previous timeline and world
  • Continuity from semester to semester builds framework: would allow greater freedom and stability simultaneously
  • Packaged start-up kit and manual for instructors
  • Can't live with, can't live without admins

3. Creation of requirements matrix: social/cultural define the space/interface

  • Free self expression
  • Avatar construction kit
  • Customizable rooms, personalized home-building kit
  • Who am I and what do I do?
  • Total list of jobs, bios
  • Personal resources (library, tools, money)
  • What is my relationship to the community?
  • Unique characters
  • Mechanism to limit anonymity
  • List matching R.L. to avatar names
  • History or biography that others can access
  • Groups and affiliations
  • Community rewards and punishments
  • Thank you notes that all admins know about
  • Acknowledgment for actions (praise or admonishment)
  • Uniqueness
  • Only one name and avatar available (no duplications)
  • Password
  • What spaces and services does my community provide?
  • Janitors
  • Bouncers
  • Complaint and Help desk
  • Mail
  • Media
  • Walls for public expression
  • Meeting spaces
  • Social spaces
  • Private spaces
  • Transportation
  • Customizable people-movers
  • Inter-colony communication
  • How do I tell time?
  • Sim clock
  • Real time clock
  • Task oriented "telescope" clock
  • How do I perceive my avatar's world?
  • Stay in the metaphor
  • No abstraction outside the avatar
  • See the room my avatar occupies at all times
  • Maps (scales) "you are here"
  • Mirror: see myself (avatar)
  • No "godlike" views
  • No disappearing: home is the only teleport
  • Are there metapeople (gods/wizards)?
  • Two characters for alums and admins (one with no power to be in the sim, and one with power who is invisible and voiceless)
  • Angels?

4. SolSys Dreams

  • A world already existing but somewhat modifiable
  • Dynamic, living world
  • 'Play it again Sam' mode
  • Real-time model, very sophisticated
  • SolSys now:
    1. Anthropology/Engineering course
    2. Utilizes communication by e-mail and MUD
    3. Build and inhabit virtual space
    4. Explore communication and cultural problems
    5. Use of networking in education
  • Anthro goals for V-SolSys:
    1. How does a community work? (best way to find out is to build it)
    2. Multi-disciplinary learning experience
    3. Theoretical aspects of building electronic community: transition of past to present to future communities that no longer depend on physical presence
    4. How do new communities perform positively for their members?
    5. How have we adapted to the telephone/etc. and how will we adapt to the newest innovations?
    6. How can technology enable communities previously based on physical presence to move toward not relying on physical presence?
  • What does it mean to be a virtual person?
  • Laws of physics must be followed
  • Built-in system of explanation: "You can't do this and here's why"
  • Library of NASA images, history, legend, mythos, technical stuff, etc.
  • Make it attractive to all disciplines, including availability of any subject matter that a class or instructor may lack.
  • Expert system
  • Limits on on-line time (you must sleep!)
  • Emphasize distance learning and Sim as excellent learning tool
  • Sim within a sim for experimentation and building purposes
  • Vehicle for teaching a variety of things (physics, astronomy, etc.)
  • Keep it charming: something more or deeper than glitz
  • Need for storytellers
  • Visual and auditory aesthetic
  • Make experiences truer to reality: journey to mars is a journey and takes time (stuck in ship if traveling, with notice beforehand)
  • A story needs to be told (2020 Vision?)
  • Selectable stories, history?
  • Use rooms for actual purpose: experiment rooms, labs, etc.
  • Jail? Aggression rooms?
  • Media, virtual security cameras, roving reporters, group photos, historians
  • Stay in character
  • Job assignments and descriptions
  • Social pressure to accomplish these assignments
  • Social interaction (jobs) to maintain things in sim world
  • Multiple levels of contact
  • Off-sim room for out of character interaction, with time limit
  • Rooms with clearly defined purposes: social pressure to keep people in line (work/play)
  • Undersim = Administration, Oversim = Player
  • System of social approval and social control
  • Emphasize that sociopathic behavior can occur, but is not normal primate behavior
  • SolSys needs a system of normal social pressures because it lacks the normal consequences of real life
  • On-line ethics through storytelling, starter kits, etc. (elders?)
  • People need to know what others have done (good and bad)
  • No switching avatars or names
  • Bouncer gorillas
  • Golden rule
  • Teach by example
  • Emphasize that the main advantage of a society is cooperation
  • Encourage care for the community
  • Decay cycle?
  • Chore chalkboard
  • Breakable things that know who broke them
  • Give people means to do the right thing
  • Reward honesty, volunteer help, etc. with public acknowledgment/thank-you notes
  • Welcome new neighbors
  • Wheelchair with choice of colors (faster?)
  • careful about people's cynicism with rewards and punishment
  • Emphasis on internationally oriented outlook (multicultural)
  • Reward people who are responsible by giving them more trust/responsibility?
  • Computer screen/window/film/etc. = 2-D: CD-ROM for higher resolution stuff
  • Random generator
  • Statistical information, i.e. how much time do students spend in the sim
  • Brief weekly overview of events available for instructors, etc.

Students should spend little time creating timeline because most of the timeline is given; then more social stuff can be added to the timeline like personality of colonies, rivalries, etc. upon which future interaction can be based.

  • Option of signing avatars
  • Project for creating software for sign language
  • Get help on best range and type of gesture from sign language experts

II. Fundamental Decisions Regarding the Design

1. Fundamental decision on a single interface metaphor

Avatar-View of the world
No popping out to menus or use of arcane commands
A long term vision

2. The Shape of the Sim

a) The Off-Sim

time-out for emergencies

a sim within a sim

lab concept

off-sim meeting

b) The Under-Sim:

Artificial Intelligences, backups, programming, expert knowledge:




c) The Over-Sim:

Roles for Admins, Alums, instructors, gods, Virtual Experts:

Goals for the Sim itself

3. Goals of the Sim

a) Educational Goals

  • Social science discussion of how a community works
  • Provide structure to take student from little or no knowledge to understanding
  • Steps with levels for presenting learning (test, essay, etc.)
  • Enjoyable, hands-on lab
  • Provides easy way to move from education to entertainment
  • Must fit requirements and formats that institutions are used to recognizing
  • Also work toward revealing or building a need for this type of education
  • Revolution in education
  • A way to utilize and develop distance learning
  • Allow interaction between students and experts
  • Students must pull, not experts push, information (research)
  • Virtual board?
  • Students can study themselves
  • On-line tutorials and general learning as selling points

    Science, math, history, economics, politics, sociology, engineering, anthropology, etc.

    Personal communication skills
    Critical thinking skills
    Research skills
    Writing skills
    Work in a multidisciplinary team
    Distance learning
    Computer and Internet skills

b) Socio-Cultural Goals

  • Culture as a basic human survival system
  • Human ecology (how the environment is used)
  • Economics (how the resources are used)
  • Social politics (law, social control)
  • Religion (ethics, belief systems)
  • Communication (verbal, body, etc.)
  • Show link between biology, culture, and environment
  • Address the question of what the students become
  • Give students tools to operate within all communities, not just on-line
  • Students must write biography
  • To function in the sim, students will necessarily become part of an on-line community and will learn to communicate effectively therein
  • Allow students to build their own ethical structure (students should learn to be more flexible)
  • Define set of values which will enable one to appreciate diversity, multicultural views, etc.
  • Set up series of universal questions to define sociocultural framework
  • Ethics and values: we do not necessarily have the right to impose our views on the participants of the sim
  • See problems through playing the role
  • Questions for any species, alien or otherwise
  • Worldview
  • Dealing with aliens/being an alien
  • Learn to empathize better with others

4. High Level Architecture

  • General discussion of what the system will do
  • Educational goals and logistics are a priority
  • Writing is required of the students
  • Set up teaching modules: a series of universal questions for a cultural category (ethics, etc.)
  • Interactive database resource: library, on-line tutorials, etc.
  • Major components: people, information (references and expert advice), creation process (labs for testing), actual sim environment (universe), and actual sim process (interaction)
  • Actual sim process:

Plot line beforehand

Food shortages, etc. should be at the colony level, not the individual level

Checklist: if specific list of things is done, then everything is fine; if not, random things go wrong

There should be certain challenges to the individual and the colony as a whole in order to keep people from getting bored

  • Avatar construction set
  • Human interface with machine
  • Library: info backbone which can compensate for lack of instructor information and participation
  • Series of questions in lab to create personalized model
  • Ready-made module will have questions and answers so that student will know who he/she is
  • All info should be in the library (but under various categories, i.e. reference, history, archives, sim-specific, etc.) flagged for levels of permanence
  • Labs or builders' school for the creation process: define and test assumptions
  • What is given and what is built and how the program chooses to run it (including modifications in the lab) = context = universe
  • The universe obeys the known laws of physics

5. Attributes of the Sim

  • Labs
    • Sort of do job of instructor
    • Answer basic questions
    • Use library information
    • Effective for experimentation in social and technical fields
    • Workspace
    • Off-sim and on-sim?
  • Library
    • meta-library vs. sim-library
    • Students and instructors set access according to need (part of instructors' manual)
    • Universe: physical, biological, technological, ecological, ideological, cultural
    • Challenges built in: see GURPS office for bibliography

See Requirements Matrix for additional attributes

Top of Page

Back to Contact Consortium Home Page

Please send any comments on this site to our webster
1998 Contact Consortium, All Rights Reserved.