Following the Do It Yourself Virtual Environments (DIYVE) workshop, where non-experts modeled their own virtual environments using SweetHome3D, the final step in the first case study of Sub Project B is to look at ‘Behaviour Modeling’ of virtual environments. By now we have seen that even non-experts are able to create realistic virtual use contexts. The next step, Behvaiour Modeling, is done by a more dedicated designer who is more experienced with programming and modeling (refered to as ‘prototyper’). Consequently we can try to use advanced tools to achieve higher levels of complexity, flexibility and interactivity in virtual environments.
Unlike the DIYVE workshop, where participants were guided through the tool and worked on an assignment during the workshop, the advanced modeling tool is introduced to the dedicated designer in a one-on-one meeting. It was decided to use Blender as a starting point for this part of the case study. Blender was also used for developing the VR demonstration projects, as well as the more advanced prototype shown during the Interactive Demonstration Session for the company. As such, it has prooven itself as a versatile tool for modeling and real-time virtual environments, it is an open piece of software, and well-known to the researcher.
The tool was introduced to the prototyper by starting with one of the virtual environments created during the DIYVE workshop. The virtual environment was imported to Blender, after which the tool was used to add ‘interactivity’. We decided to implement
- A ‘first person shooter’ perspective (e.g. so you can walk around in the environment)
- A working door, so the user can open and close a door, and
- The ability to pick up virtual objects, move them and put them back
These exercises are considered feasible and relevant for behaviour modeling and are a good way to get to know the modeling tool. While working on these topics the prototyper noticed several positive and negative aspects of the tool, it’s user interface and the overall ‘way of working’. In general, it was concluded that Blender offers a lot of (and probably too much) functionality, but has quite a threshold for new users. Despite the experience of the prototyper in the field of programming, gaming and modelling, it was still difficult to grasp the modeling concepts that are used in Blender. Nevertheless, the above functionality could succesfully be added to the scene, with the exception of the third one.
After the introductory session the prototyper worked with Blender individually over a period of several weeks (as a ‘friday afternoon’ activity). Spending more time on using the tool, the aforementioned conclusion was confirmed. The tool offers a lot of functionality, but fails to do this intuitively. Especially if such tools would be used once every other month or so, it is important to quickly (re)grasp the use of the tool rather than having to spend a week of training on it each time you use it.
There are several ways to address the challenges that emerged during this period of use. Firstly, the user interface of the tool could be adapted to the specific tasks of VR modeling (e.g. leave out unused functions, or hide them in deeper ‘UI layers’). The prototyper suggested to look at visual programming solutions; simple ‘if-then-else’ statements could be used to define the behaviour of a VR scene. Secondly, additional training could be provided to properly explain the prototyper the basics of the tool before diving into the complexity of VR modeling.
With plenty of solutions for any of these directions available, the real question is how do designers (or the company as a whole) treat the trade-off between investements in time and tools (e.g. training, specific UI’s) and the benefits of using VR they gain in return. In order to understand this trade-off, the company (and its designers) first need to experience the use of VR as prescribed during the case study. This experience should clarify the benefits of applying VR, and add insights about the use of tools (e.g. see where additional investements are required and/or justified).