Avatars are the subject of the panel, Characters on the Internet: the Next Generation.






Check out the panel, Human Factors in Virtual World Design: Psychological and Sociological Considerations.





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The New Age of Community


Although the Web hasn't been as interactive for single users as current CAVE applications are, it demonstrates its glory by connecting and managing multiple users. When it was first launched in 1991, the medium was limited to bare text. But seven years into its growth, technology can now bring many types of media - from video to panoramic images - to a user's screen and our sense of community has taken on a whole new meaning.

The Web's forums have most often connected people with similar interests, like chat rooms. But newer ones are gathering people in a shared place, such as Sherwood Forest Towne (part of Alpha World). These virtual communities are made of characters, called avatars, immersed in 3D environments. Each avatar represents and is controlled by an online user and can interact with others in the community who are online at the time.

The graphics are getting keener as these virtual communities become increasingly refined, but they still demonstrate some glitches for users who'd like the avatars to better reflect their own behavior. When one avatar approaches another, for example, the users generally have to make all the choices based on what their avatars can see, and communication is text-based and voluntary. The challenge is to instill some sensitivity, some intelligence, into the characters.

"Intelligence" can be a combination of knowledge and rules, which needs to be changeable and transparent. For avatars, researchers have suggested implanting categories, like "awareness," with a range of values, like zero to 10 (from "ignore" to "immediate and friendly recognition"), which could give an avatar more natural characteristics.

As avatars evolve, they will be "more like an extension of you," Steve DiPaola of Darwin Digital says. "You'll be able to program it with what you believe and like, then guide it from a distance." The avatar could even go into another room, out of the user's sight, and still be able to do what it needs to do representing you. The line is now starting to blur between simple agent technologies and avatars, DiPaola says, and that will change how we interact with each other through these characters.


Modeling | Rendering | Animation | Interaction | Virtual Reality | Synthetic Actors