“Newfoundland and Labrador Grid (NLGrid) is a teaching and learning platform using the 3D virtual world, Open Sim. The immersive nature of 3D virtual worlds provides opportunities in which people can learn, work and play. Participants can interact with others, create simulation where people can role-play and create teaching/learning environments where learners can explore, discover and interact with others and engage in activity.”
For the past year and a half, I have worked remotely with Memorial University on their NL Grid Project. A new development in the University’s distance education program, the NL Grid was conceived to bring new learning opportunities to students across Newfoundland and Labrador. For more information about the NL Grid and Immersive Technologies, please visit the website.
My role in creating the NL Grid was to design a welcome area that would provide users with information and activities to help them navigate the Open Sim World and use the tools they are provided by the software. This included, meeting with the team to discuss the needs of the welcome area and then deciding how to layout the different sections. Afterwards a specific design theme had been decided on for each area, I had the task of creating the assets required for them. To do this I modeled many of the objects and decor items seen in the world. I used 3D Studio Max for more complex objects, such as boats and rocks, while some of the assets were generated using OpenSims’ built in building tools. The end result, was the welcome area boiled down into four distinct areas; Avatar Island, Welcome Island 1 and 2 and the NL Grid Plaza.
Avatar Island was developed as a starter area for new users (students) to select the basic appearance of their character or avatar. A simple area, I kept it confined from the main parts of the grid to make sure it was private. Users started out as a non-gender specific character or “drone” as I called them. Afterwards, they were then directed to stations where they could select a new appearance.
I created a wide selection of Avatars for both male and female students. I was also instructed to make animal avatars for younger students. The NLGrid was planning on branching out beyond just college and university students and wanted some avatars that were more fun than the standard ones. Thus these athromorphic animal avatars were developed.
Once new users have selected their avatar’s appearance, they are directed to a portal to take them to Welcome Island to officially begin their NLGrid adventure.
Welcome Island 1: Orientation Tower
On Welcome Island 1, Users will find themselves on top of Orientation Tower; here they are immediately directed to one of three learning stations in which they can go over the basic controls and tools of the Open Sim environment. These include basic movement, moving and editing objects, as well as information on editing their avatar’s appearance and profile. These of course are just a few of the tools. There was a fair bit for them to go over, but it was important to condense it as much as possible. Many people can be overwhelmed when the see walls and walls of text. Hence I created visual guides whenever possible.
Orientation Tower also serves as the central Hub for both Welcome Island 1 and 2. A station with Hypergates (teleporters) sits on top of the tower, ready to transport users to several destinations in an instant.
Welcome Island 1: A & B Fishing Village
After completing the basic functions guide on Orientation Tower, users are advised to travel to the fishing village area to practice these skills through a few fun activities.
The Fishing village, consists of several cabins and boats, and contains some optional items users can obtain to decorate their avatar, such as rubber boots and a fishing rod.
Hidden somewhere off shore is also a secret cave for users to find. Within it are two hidden Lobster themed avatar outfits that can be worn. These were the first of an idea I developed to reward users for exploring the unseen parts of the Grid. More of these would follow as I continued to build the Welcome Areas.
Welcome Island 1: Teacher and Project Lead Resources
This area was designed to guide teachers and project leads through the process of developing a project for the NLGrid. Designed as a hedge maze, six different stations would provide users with information on each step of the development plan. Each station of the maze was designed with a distinct appearance.
Welcome Island 2: Construction Cave
Welcome Island 2 is where users will learn more about the advanced controls of the Open Sim software. This includes building, texturing and scripting. After teleporting to the second island from Orientation Tower, users find themselves inside Construction Cave. This area has access to tutorial videos that will give users their first lessons in the previously mentioned three topics. After viewing them, they are directed outside the cave To the Building Zone.
Welcome Island 2: Builder’s Volcano
Set inside of a volcanic area, the Building Zone provides new users with activities to test a develop what they have learned about the Open Sim building tools. The activities have three stages with each stage increasing in difficulty. Stage 1 had users build a simple chair or couch, and by the time users reached stage 3, they were building masks for the avatars to wear.
Welcome Island 2: Texturer’s Village
The texturing zone is set in an islander styled village, complete with palm trees and bamboo huts. Here, users could learn the basics of the texturing system by applying textures to pre-made objects or the objects they made in the building zone. The final activity showing the how to use textures to create new looks for your avatar, in this case an islander costume.
Welcome Island 2: Scripter’s Reef
Here in this underwater zone, users were given several basic scripts and then taught how to use them. Scripts are essentially lines of code that can be used to make objects created in world do something specific. This can range from allowing an avatar to sit on something, like a chair to transporting users across distances like a hypergate.
Welcome Island 2: Hidden Avatars
After to positive feedback I received for developing the hidden Lobsterman costumes, I decided to continue this trend on Welcome Island 2. Scattered around the island, users can find hidden objects which will transport them to one of three Hidden caverns. Here they will find one of the Golem costumes. Available in Rock, Lava, and Ice versions, the Golems are beings made of rock and make use of the software’s alpha items to hide the main avatar body so only the floating rocks of the costume can be seen.
Also hidden on Welcome Island 2 are the Merfolk costumes. Users can find these through a hidden cave near the Texturer’s Village.
NL Grid Plaza
Finally, we come to the last section of the NL Grid I was tasked with creating. The NLGrid Plaza is designed to be a warehouse or store of objects, textures, scripts and other items for users to take copies of and use as they please. It was also designed to allow other users to contribute items to the store. From a design standpoint, the plaza was conceived with a space age look. Its is also referred to as the Intergalactic Plaza. The store is divided into several sections for objects, textures, scripts etc. Each area with room for expansion. An extra area, set apart from the main complex is where users can drop off their own contributions to the Plaza.
To wrap it all up, hidden items in the Plaza will allow users to find the Alien Costumes for their Avatars.
It was a big undertaking building these first few sections of the NL Grid. I had a great team working with me on the programing and promotional sides. Our team leader was great at co-coordinating us and providing feedback whenever we needed it. It was great opportunity and the tools and learning activities I put in place are already helping new users to navigate and work within the NL Grid. These students ranging from college level all the way to 7th graders. Its has truly been a great experience and I look forward to my next endeavors.
***All images used with the permission of Memorial University, D.E.T.L.S and the NL Grid Team