Lost in the Virtual Fog – A diary of my triumphs and travails

Virtual Morgantown Winter SceneI’m sure many of you out there have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as much since the first of the year. I know, I know, no excuses, I should always make time for posting cool geography and geospatial-related content. I’ve been knee-deep in my research stuff, working on my prototype application, and getting a crash course in lots of neat topics (and plenty of boring ones, too!).

I’ve posted a few times about various stages of my project, which is now centered around the development of a prototype game-based engine for displaying and exploring virtual landscapes. It’s been a strange road for me to get to this point, but the more I work on this stuff, the more I find myself really feeling like I’m on to something. However, it hasn’t all been a bed of roses, as they say. I’ve had to teach myself a new programming language (C#), absorb tons of new concepts, like depth buffers, and view frustums, and particle systems, issues related to user interfaces and Human-Computer Interaction, and put all those technical bits together with concepts that are central to Geography and GIS. Now, I have to try to meld all that with EVEN MORE new ideas from the world of game design, and design in general.

Along the way, I’ve been learning a lot not only about the technical aspects of creating virtual worlds, but also have started to confront some of the intellectual and conceptual issues related to this type of work. In the research we’ve done at WVU, we’ve presented various ideas behind virtual landscape reconstruction at conferences and other venues over the last 10 years, and for the most part audiences of academics and others would nod and agree that there was a lot of potential in these technologies. It wasn’t until we started showing actual prototypes and demos, first in ArcScene and now using XNA, that people began to really understand what our research was all about.

Just in the last year, I’ve probably gotten more feedback than for all of our previous projects combined. Most of it has been really positive, and people often want to know how we did it, or how they can do it. There has also been resistance from some in the academic audiences I have presented to, who immediately assume that something with “game” in the title (although I admit I’ve never liked the term ‘serious gaming’ myself either) is not worthy of academic study and is not appropriately scientific, or they don’t see how geovisualization in general is useful. Comments like these, while they frustrate me, do help me to think through what I see as the utility or value in what I’m doing.

So, after this long-winded introduction, I’m going to be posting weekly diary entries with my thoughts on my serious gaming work, from the technical aspects and how I’m working through them, to tips on how you can get a project of your own going, and even my thoughts on some of the issues involved in using gaming technologies for research and applied work.

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