A virtual world is the representation and simultaneous perception of the totality of a world of objects of apparent objectivity in three-dimensional space in a computer-generated, interactive virtual environment in real time. They are not synonymous with virtual reality and augmented reality, although the technologies can be used.
The user accesses a computer-simulated world consisting of visual impressions of artificiality, which presents perceptual stimuli to the user, who in turn can manipulate elements of the modeled world and thus experience a certain presence. Such modeled worlds and their rules can draw from reality or fantasy worlds. Example rules are gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions, and communication. Communication between users can be through text, graphic symbols, visual gestures, sounds, and, less commonly, touch, voice control, and balance change.
Virtual worlds are not limited to games, but can also include various simple web applications such as computer conferences or text-based chat rooms, depending on the degree of immediacy. Sometimes emoticons are available to show feelings or facial expressions. Emoticons often have a keyboard shortcut. Some argue that “synthetic worlds” is a better term for these cyberspaces, but this term has not been universally accepted.
Second Life is an examples of “Multi User Virtual Environment” (“MUVEs”). In these virtual worlds, the focus is not on playing, nor is the user forced to take on a role other than that of his own person, as is the case with many games. With the Google Lively platform, Google wanted to implement something in the same direction as the aforementioned MUVE implementations, but the project in question has since been abandoned.
In order to create a so-called “virtual reality”, an attempt is made to take the concept of the virtual world to the extreme: with a high level of computer technology, the aim is to give the virtual world and in particular the objects that are generated in it the highest degree of technical perfection. For this purpose, computers with high-performance graphics hardware and software of the highest image resolution quality are used. Such a claim of generating “virtual reality” is not cherished in the computer-graphic development of ordinary virtual worlds.
Games and Characters in Virtual Worlds
For a while, it seemed that graphical modeling languages such as VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language) could become a viable tool for generating virtual worlds. At the end of the 1990s, VRML was at its peak, with VRML being a standard in its own right. The VRML standard has been inherited by X3D (Extensible 3D), but the latter has not yet fully established itself on the market. At the same time, it looks like many computer graphics software companies have developed their own core computer graphics modules, which are often used as a starting point for developing virtual world applications.
There is a particular interest in this topic in architecture and construction informatics. The aim is to visualize architectural and structural engineering ideas. But the computer game industry is also constantly “on it” on this topic.
A virtual world is a computerized simulated environment that can be populated by many users who can create a personal avatar and at the same time and independently explore the virtual world, participate in its activities and communicate with others. These avatars can be textual, two- or three-dimensional graphical representations, or live video avatars with auditory and tactile sensations. In general, virtual worlds allow for multiple participants, but single-player computer games, such as Skyrim, can also be considered a type of virtual world.
Massively multiplayer online games (MMORPG) represent a wide range of worlds, including those based on science fiction, the real world, superheroes, sports, horror, and historical milieus. The most common form of such games are fantasy worlds, while those based on the real world are relatively rare. Most MMORPGs have real-time actions and communication. Players each create a character who travels between buildings, cities, and worlds for business or personal activities. Communication usually takes place in text form, but real-time voice communication is also possible. The form of communication used can significantly affect the players’ experience in the game.
Apart from the fact that basically everything is based on the game engine, there are two ways to implement a virtual world. The first option is that of the single player. Here, only one person can join the virtual world. The second option is multiplayer. Virtual worlds, in which several people can join, have the server software and the client software. The server software is usually operated on servers located in data centers. When it comes to client software, it’s different. Often, the software needs to be installed. However, it can also be used as a browser plug-in, such as early Flash content, directly from the Internet.
Each visitor is represented by an avatar. This can be observed and controlled from the first-person perspective, third-person perspective or bird’s-eye view.
Currently, it is not possible to travel between the different virtual worlds with your own avatar. The only exceptions are virtual worlds based on the Opensim software, which use the so-called HyperGrid protocol, as well as teleports between the Second Life Beta Grid and Opensim worlds.
This software also describes the physical laws of the virtual world. How fast an avatar can move, whether it can fly, how far something flies when you throw it, whether light is refracted in window panes and trees cast shadows. However, since the designers of the virtual world can determine all this, it often happens that the physical laws of a virtual world are quite different from those of the earthly physical laws. The best example is flying and casting avatars in World of Warcraft.