VRML vs. PR vs. VR vs. 3-D ....rant

Jason Cunliffe (jasonic@panix.com)
Tue, 6 Dec 1994 16:00:44 -0500 (EST)

The recent flurry about VRML and how virtual (virtuous may be a more
important question), interactive or not the current spec is highlights
some interesting limitations in current categorizations of human
machine relationships.

In the first case, since none of any of this barely exists anyway in a
broadband popular form how can anyone lay claim to which category it
fits best? Surely that will be defined by the ensuing populations who use
the language and the kinds of uses and adaptations they perform on and in
it... If the mission is to provide a suitable set of workable
experimental imaginative building blocks and tools which comply with
*enough* contemporary protocols and formats to permit growth, then I
believe VRML has made a very good start.

In most VR or interactive dialogue people make very strange assumptions
about time, real-time and the uniformity expectancy of these. To be sure
Hi-res 30fps full screen interactive motion might be only the valid spec
for certain applications. Being able to select and route to large
remote distributed databases with a nouse click or the wink of an eye
maybe more important for some. Still spontaneous selection and object
picking or collision detection maybe another requisite, while zoom,
transparency and labelling maybe much more essential for virtual modelling
or medical apis..etc... For others shared dynamics across wide area
networks maybe more important than "rendering" time to provide VR
*compliancy* or satisfaction.

Immersion is a state of mind - ask anyone "immersed" in doing something in
front a computer and if they even hear you it is clear it is far more a
matter of continuity and concentration than hard reality. Ditto teenagers
playing video games on the street. Deeply layered multiple immersion
technologies evidenced by extreme body language and attitude. Check out
the brilliant newly released "Heavenly Creatures" movie about two teenage
New Zealand girls and their shared fantasy for the most powerful and
succinct evocation of VR I've seen yet..

To my mind the most compelling attribute of a VR system or language such
as VRML is its ability to share the experience (whatever that may
comprise) among people. Some VR discussion values individual experience
over group experience.. The end result is inevitably a bunch of people
queuing up to take turns and then discussing their "shared" experience.
Far more compelling are distributed systems where communication and
interaction provide a strong bond which does not then have to be relayed
and exchanged by proxy. VRML offers a tantalizing potential to open a
portal on both these worlds if it were free to run across diverse and
sufficiently powered systems and networks.

Hybrid scalable prioritization strategies are going to become as
important as rendering and geometry issues have been for last few years
especially now that geometry engines in hardware are about to appear at
the mass set-top box price distribution arena.

VRML success may hinge on it being able to be accessed from these
different application priority nodes as much as from its own current
choices of protocol or syntax.

Keep up the good work...