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Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000
ACM SIGGRAPH


IceBorg - Between a Rock and a Very Cold Place



Andy Best
MEET Factory



Figure 1: A look over the steaming lava pits in the abandoned industrial core of IceBorg.

Figure 2: Close-up of an old gas tank in Lavaworld.

Figure 3: Close-up of a recycling machine: drop objects into the beam and have them transformed to other things.

Figure 4: A selection of “houses” available on IceBorg, including teepee, igloo, wastetank, crashed rocket and iceblock castle.

Enter an exciting, entertaining and mysterious virtual world, an interactive 3D environment where you meet, compete and socialize in real time with other people logged in from around the world. An artwork where you, the viewer, are able to create, inhabit and explore. An interactive story into which you join. A community in which you are a part. A social artwork, which entertains and educates. IceBorg is all these and more, created by an international team headed by renowned media artists Merja Puustinen and Andy Best from MEET Factory, Helsinki, with core team members Roman Dolgov (Russia), Frank Amos (Germany), Josquin Bernard (France), Hu Jia (China/Japan) and Bernie Roehl (Canada). IceBorg is part of the Helsinki 2000 European City of Culture artistic programme, and is co-produced by MEET Factory, the Banff Centre for the Arts, Canada and Kiasma, the Contemporary Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland.

The IceBorg world is situated in the future, a desperate, deserted mining asteroid polluted from centuries of misuse. A space transport ship crash-lands, and the survivors, a bunch of crazy hipsters, wacko grannies, doped out kidz and weird alien farmers, band together and build a society while they wait for rescue. The social and ecological themes are cleverly intertwined to create an exciting experience that also educates the users on issues pertinent to the current situation on Earth. While using game-like structures, IceBorg explores the limits of interactive drama, bringing the audience into the creation loop, with real human and AI ‘bot’ characters inhabiting the world on a day-to-day basis ready to interact with new and regular users. Although dealing with serious social and political issues, IceBorg takes a lighthearted slant, mixing irony and humour to create art both accessible and challenging.

IceBorg is accessed on the Internet via a conventional web browser using the ParallelGraphics Cortona VRML plug-in and multi-user server. This uses a component download system which will install automatically for a user if desired. MEET Factory has developed a special virtual community platform to interface with the multi-user server and provide a rich and easy to use interactive experience for users. No special hardware is required, although an up-to-date multimedia PC with graphics acceleration is recommended. A 56KB Internet connection is sufficient to receive all streaming and live. Users navigate and communicate using mouse and keyboard, and are soon moving with ease inside the virtual world. The target audience for IceBorg is the "MTV Generation" - media savvy web users between 15 and 35 years old. Familiar with video games and pop-media culture, they are also on the look out for new types of experience, and this is what a virtual community such as IceBorg can offer. The community design helps users to quickly feel integrated into a believable world where they can develop characters, form subgroups, explore or just hang out.

On entering the world, users create their avatar (virtual representation) in our Avatar Builder from a choice of body parts, choices which also define their allegiances to clan groups within the community. After completing tasks or with more experience, the avatar appearance can be updated with new body parts and accessories. By collecting pollution and raw materials from the asteroid surface, users gain points or more useful objects by trading or recycling. With sufficient points an inhabitant can create their own on-line home, grow a virtual plant (more like an organic sculpture) or feed and look after a virtual pet!

With IceBorg due for launch in June 2000, it was particularly challenging to present during the 1999 Web3D RoundUP! Although a lot of the technical development has been completed, there are still numerous bug fixes to implement, and the worlds and avatars now on-line are still in the development stage as well. Luckily the demo went smoothly and the audience reacted well - only one missile had to be surgically removed! Following the Web3D RoundUP, it is always particularly satisfying to hear other peoples’ reactions, comments and feedback, which of course go straight back to the development team. In fact this year we made many good new contacts from exposure in the Web3D RoundUP for which we’re very grateful. For small development teams such as ourselves, it is great to be head-to-head with the big boys such as Sony and give them a run for their money, live on stage!

Once final development and testing have been carried out, and IceBorg is launched in June 2000, we hope the community of users will spontaneously grow as word spreads through the Internet that this is a cool and exciting new experience and place to be. So-called "building worlds," where the users can create their own houses, grow plants and have pets, will be dynamically created to fulfill demand. Events are being planned, such as live performances using special avatars, and others utilizing streamed audio and video from real world happenings, to generate a substantial community feeling which will ensure a high return rate from visitors and registered members.

We at MEET Factory are very excited to see the public reaction and feedback once the final version of IceBorg is launched. We are convinced that by using complementary open standards together with exciting and creative content, true deep and satisfying interactivity can be achieved. You are welcome to join us in IceBorg - you won’t be disappointed! Visit http://www.iceborg.com.

Andy Best
MEET Factory



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