Department of Computer Science
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Course Title: Special Topics in Building Effective Virtual Worlds
Course Number: CS-525V
Semester Spring 2008

Description: In this course we will explore the techniques and technologies that need to be brought together to allow people to work efficiently in virtual worlds. Topics include systems for presenting information to all five senses (visual, auditory, haptic, olfactory, and gustatory), methods for users to interact with objects within virtual environments, and evaluation techniques for assessing effectiveness. Students will use various display and interface devices available for the course, develop prototype applications, and evaluate them. The format of the course will be a combination of traditional lecture, literature review, and hands-on work. Students will be expected to implement several techniques as part of this course. (Prerequisites: a graduate or undergraduate course in computer graphics or HCI).

Meeting Info: Thu. 6:00-8:50pm,
Kaven Hall (KH), Room 116

Instructor: Prof. Robert W. Lindeman
E-Mail: gogo at
Telephone: x6712

Textbook: Understanding Virtual Reality, Sherman & Craig, 2003, Morgan Kaufmann, ISBN: 1-55860-353-0

Here is a link the Google Book.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.

Papers: Here is a link to the papers we will be reading for this course.


There will be two main assignments in this course, a survey paper and a programming project.

The survey will be a review of the major work done in a particular subfield of VR. A good survey is much more than a simple annotated laundry list of previous work. A good survey will devise a structure for previous works, grouping them by similarities in approach, philosophy, or some other characteristics of your choosing.

The goals of the survey are manifold:

Taking VR display technologies as an example, one broad classification is head-based versus projection-based displays. Within projection-based, there are single and multiple display techniques. Furthermore, there are flat and curved displays.

Here are some examples of survey papers:

The programming assignment will allow you to gain experience designing, building, and evaluating virtual worlds.

The programming assignment is not required to be on the same topic as the survey paper.

The programming project will have multiple parts:

In terms of technology, you are free to use any software and/or programming languages you like, but you must program the VR experience yourself. Libraries can be used to do things like physics (if you have physics in your world), device I/O, networking, etc.

You may work in teams of no more than two if you prefer. If you do so, you should design your project so that there are two identifiable pieces, and each person will be responsible for one of these.

Some possible choices for graphics are OpenGL, DirectX, Java3D, OpenSceneGraph, OpenSG, FreeVR, and many others. Game engines are also an option, but may require a lot of time investment to get up to speed. WPI has a site license for the C4 Game Engine, that some of you may be familiar with.

In terms of devices, the HIVE Lab has many input/output devices that you may use for your projects. Also, we have an API that will make talking to many of these devices much easier. More information on this is still to come.


Questions and discussion are highly encouraged throughout the class meetings. It is hoped that the work done in this course will lead to the design of novel and interesting VR approaches and applications, the development of studies, and eventally submissions of results to appropriate venues.

Course Schedule:

Week Dates Class Topics Readings Things due for class
1 01/17 Short Intro to Virtual Reality; Movie: The Lawnmower Man Ch. 1
2 01/24 Presence and the Senses; HIVE lab visit Ch. 1 & 2
3 01/31 VR as a Medium; What makes good VR? Ch. 2 Survey topic
4 02/07 What makes good VR? Ch. 7 Project ideas
5 02/14 Getting input from the user Ch. 3 Survey structure
6 02/21 Movie: Johnnny Mnemonic
Project design
7 02/28 Displaying output to the user Ch. 4 Survey intro
8 03/06 Multi-sensory Rendering of Virtual Worlds Ch. 4 Project skeleton
9 03/13 Movie: eXistenZ
Survey taxonomy/design space
10 03/20 Selection & Manipulation Ch. 6 Project preliminary population
11 03/27 Travel Ch. 6 Survey first draft
12 04/03 Field Trip: Dave & Busters Ch. 6 Project Status 1
13 04/10 Wayfinding Ch. 6 Survey second draft
14 04/17 Evaluating Success Ch. 7 Project Status 2
15 04/24 Project Presentations Survey Final Version

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