A newly upgraded 3D laboratory at the University of Abertay Dundee is bringing the latest audio-visual interface technology to games development in the form of a state-of-the-art virtual reality helmet.
Thanks to a recent £100,000 upgrade, on top of the initial £350,000 investment, the HIVE (Human Interactive Virtual Environment) lab can now present 3-D graphics via its brand new Head-Mounted Display. The helmet allows the gamer to interact with a binocular stereoscopic 3-D environment and for the world they see to move in concert with their head movements. As the technology comes down in price and size, Abertay University’s graduates will be in the perfect place to exploit it– literally ahead of the game.
When users look up, they see up and when they move forward in the room, the virtual world moves towards them in perfect synchrony. This level of immersion is thought to be‘the holy grail’ for first-person gaming experience. Currently, Abertay University is running a project researching the user’s experience of the helmet’s authenticity, immersiveness and physical comfort.
The HIVE, part of Abertay’s Institute for Arts, Media and Computer Games, is also being used as a development platform for 3D TV and 3D cinema. Research students are currently involved in testing the emotional content and effective communication power of film content. To have 3D cinema and 3D head-tracking technology in the UK’s first centre for excellence in computer games puts Abertay University in a world leading position to exploit new technologies and develop world class graduates in the creative industries.
Crucial to the quest for authentic interactive 3D environments is the feedback loop between the visual arts and the visual sciences. By linking the HIVE to the Centre for Psychology, the researchers are able to use state-of-the-art knowledge about emotional expression and facial movements in computer generated animation.
PhD Student Robin Sloan said, ‘With the visual arts we can try to focus attention using artistic principles. But we typically don’t measure this because it is tacit knowledge. Now with the addition of the HIVE’s new eye-tracking technology we can test to see if they are looking where the artist intends them to look. The scene composition‘rules’ learned by the artist as part of their craft are how they try and guide the visuals of a computer game. With eye–tracking equipment we measure observers’ eye movements and compare these with the predictions of the artist. Here the research hypothesis comes from the artist, the evidence from the scientist. This technology bridges the two approaches and accelerates the development process for games. Scenes can be made more effective, and distractions removed.”
The equipment will be used in both teaching and research and, as psychology lecturer Dr Kenneth Scott-Brown explains, the applications are endless.
He said,“Given Abertay University’s reputation for computer game design and technology, this equipment will be used to help inform and develop the layout, design and narrative of the next generation of computer games, but also creative industries in general. For example, are users looking at the highly sophisticated part of the screen which the games designer spent months creating and intended them to be looking at? And, if not, what were they looking at? This data will be invaluable when designing the next generation of games. We have a project where the student is looking to see where precisely in a 3D computer environment is the best place to put advertisements within a game. In another project, the new biometric capabilities of the HIVE coupled with the surround-sound system allow us to create and test emotionally affective soundscapes.”
HIVE is also invaluable for training purposes. Strathclyde Police are helping the facility to develop a fully-fledged arms training system and researchers are also involved in virtually‘drilling’ through the structure of soil which could have applications for a wide range of professions from soil scientists to archaeologists.