Only until few years ago, using 3D videogame engines to create immersive environments was a sparely used technique in spite of the commercial success and the high level of photorealismthat is achieved by current software/hardware technology. More recently, interest has grown on the efficiency and photorealism that can be provided on inexpensive hardware by using engines. Several (so called) “Serious Games” have been studied, and the interest is witnessed by the growing number of non-ludic applications that are based on 3D videogame engines(see, e.g., [ABDF, CS02, MH]). In general, several reasons and experiences support and strongly lead [ADES05, ADE05] to use videogames technology for the development of virtual environments.
There are various arguments supporting the decision on how using videogames technology for the development of interactive 3D environments: (a) the presence of development tools (e.g. map modeler, exporter from/to modeling software); (b) support for modern graphics hardware; (c) scripting language providing great expansibility. These arguments are helpful in suggesting that the research direction is worth exploring and that more experiences have to be collected on using a videogame engine for developing a complete virtual environment.
Serious Games and learning processes
An immersive virtual environment provides an excellent bridge between knowledge contents and several essential psychological features of a successful learning process. The following points resume the main psychological characteristics of a virtual environment:
- A serious Game is a gratifying background for educational activities. The quality of virtual reconstruction allows the learners to have an impressive sensation of “real participation”. As contemporary educational psychology extensively highlights, the importance of the participation (physical or virtual) is one of the necessary conditions of learning. Situated Cognition and Activity Theory represent two of the significant paradigms that suggest an idea of learning as “apprenticeship”. Apprenticeship is to consider a process that may reflect the “participation” to the more efficient modes of learning involved in everyday situations [R06, KW97].
- The activities in a serious game environment are thought as “narrative” steps. In a large number of current contributions educational psychologists emphasize the importance of a “narrative construction of knowledge”. Especially in a cultural perspective [J03] educational narrative methods are widely considered successful modalities of teaching/learning.
- A serious game is an environment that easily allows collaborative practices. As developmental psychologists perfectly know children (adult) usually play (work) in groups sharing their experiences socially [PPR04]. The consistent tradition of researches on “social interaction” considers the collaborative practices a powerful feature of cognitive development and learning. [S00] explicitly writes “psychological functioning is intimately intertwined with social interaction”.
The PaestumGate Project
- Fidelity of reconstruction: we paid attention in recovering architectural details that cannot be found in the Poseidonia-Paestum archaeological site.
- Cooperation: the virtual environment can be visited by several users simultaneously
- Scalability: by leveraging on the development framework, we paid attention in assembling a virtual environment that is able to run on high end workstations with a full fledged set of visual effects, but it can smoothly run on low end PC with an appreciable frame rate and good visual results.
- Engaging for the learner: Narrative methods are used by presenting the learner with challenges whose goal is to stimulate the exploration of the town and foster comprehension of a complex setting like Poseidonia-Paestum.
Design and modeling details
The final version of PaestumGate provides a reconstruction of 0.2 square kilometers, using more than 600,000 polygons.The map contains about 25 completely reconstructed “important” edifices, like the Amphitheatrum (7439 polygons) and the so-called Temple of Neptune (18582 polygons); more than 300 houses, part of them are low polygon count (98 polygons) and some of them have a more complex structure with a pool and gardens (6368 polygons); more than 1/2 of the total polygons budget has been expended for the modeling the vegetation, streets and the squares. The textures are about 160Mbytes heavy. The typical dimension of textures we used is 1024×1024, this because the intentions were not only to create a interesting product for the tourist, but also to provide a reconstruction that can be appreciated by the archaeologist.
- [ABDF] ALTOM T., BUHER M., DOWNEY M., FAIOLA A.: Using 3D Landscapes to Navigate File Systems: The Mountain View Interface. In Proc. of 8th Int. Conference on Information Visualisation (IV 2004).
- [ADE05] ANDREOLI R., DE CHIARA R., ERRA U., SCARANO V., PONTRANDOLFO A., RIZZO L., SANTORIELLO A.: An interactive 3D reconstruction of a funeral in Andriuolo’s Necropolis in Pæstum. In CAA 2005 – Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (2005).
- [ADE06] ANDREOLI R., DE CHIARA R., ERRA U., IANNACCONE A., FERNANDO LA GRECA, SCARANO V.: Some Real Experiences in Developing Virtual Environments. In IV ’06: Proceedings of the conference on Information Visualization (Washington, DC, USA, 2006), IEEE Computer Society, pp. 545&emdash;552.
- [CS02] CHRISTOFFEL M., SCHMITT B.: Accessing Libraries as Easy as a Game. In Proc. of the 2nd Int. Workshop on Visual Interfaces for Digital Libraries. July 2002 (2002).
- [MH] MOLONEY J., HARVEY L.: Visualization and ‘Auralization’ of Architectural Design in a Game Engione based Collaborative Virtual Environment. In Proc. of 8th Int. Conference on Information Visualisation (IV 2004).
- [R06] C. RATNER. In Cultural Psychology: A Perspective on Psychological Functioning and Social Reform. 2006 Hillsdale, Erlbaum.
- [KW97] D. KIRSHNER , J.A. WHITSON. In Situated cognition. Social semiotic and psychological perspectives. 1997 London: Lawrence
- [J03] Erlbaum Associates Publishers. Jerome Bruner. In Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life. 2003 New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- [PPR04] A.N. Perret-Clermont and C. Pontecorvo and L.B. Resnick and T. Zittoun and B. Burge. In Social Interaction and Learning in Adolescence and Youth. 2004 Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
- [S00] R. S¨ali¨o. Concept, learning, and the constitutions of objects and events in discursive practice. In Cahier de Psychologie – Universit´e de Neuchatel, 2000 n. 46, 35-46.