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Modeling the Built Environment

We decided to model the northern parts of the old settlement: from the Northern Gate down the Main Street to the Apsidal Temple in Block D. We also decided to model all fortifications north of the castle creating a visual and physical peripheral edge. Visually, the edge created an impression of being in a contained space as opposed to being nowhere. Physically, it stopped avatars from roaming until they reached the “end of the world”: Any virtual environment has a limited size that depends on its design and on the computation power of the server on which it is deployed. The edges at the perimeter of the environment are thus called the end of the world. Buildings were modeled outside Torque, but they had to be assembled inside the 3D graphics engine. Torque’s interface did not intuitively afford precise placement of building models. Torque also used a Cartesian geometrical grid that could not be rotated without modifying the engine’s code. Therefore, rotating and aligning models became a taxing task. Moreover, the use of optimization methods that capitalized on the complexity of texture images and the reduction of geometry implied a loss of many subtle formal aspects of the settlement’s urban fabric (Figure 3).

Figure 3:

Nevertheless, these subtle changes were only observable by us the developers of the environment and only from a top-down point of view not available to users. When typical users experienced Virtual Sirkap, usually the virtual built environment receded in the background and users focused their attention on NPCs and props.

Drawing on past virtual reconstructions that engaged with contemporary places, we learned that when users compared actual places to their virtual reconstructions, they did not appreciate photographic realism or geometrical precision. (We still recognize the importance of these factors.) Users were more interested in aspects of the virtual environment that recalled and emplace individual and social histories that for them made sense of the place. Thus, the dining place was not accurate for one user until it had the corner table on which he used to sit with his friends. The bar, for another, was not authentic, unless it had a specific vase on top of it, which was the topic of many discussions he had in this place.