Large scale collaborative virtual environments
[N.B. Pagination of eThesis differs from printed thesis. The content is identical.] This thesis is concerned with the theory, design, realisation and evaluation of large-scale collaborative virtual environments. These are 3D audio-graphical computer generated environments which actively support collaboration between potentially large numbers of distributed users. The approach taken in this thesis reflects both the sociology of interpersonal communication and the management of communication in distributed systems. The first part of this thesis presents and evaluates MASSIVE-1, a virtual reality tele-conferencing system which implements the spatial model of interaction of Benford and Fahlén. The evaluation of MASSIVE-1 has two components: a user-oriented evaluation of the system’s facilities and the underlying awareness model; and a network-oriented evaluation and modelling of the communication requirements of the system with varying numbers of users. This thesis proposes the “third party object” concept as an extension to the spatial model of interaction. Third party objects can be used to represent the influence of context or environment on interaction and awareness, for example, the effects of boundaries, rooms and crowds. Third party objects can also be used to introduce and manage dynamic aggregates or abstractions within the environments (for example abstract overviews of distant crowds of participants). The third party object concept is prototyped in a second system, MASSIVE-2. MASSIVE-2 is also evaluated in two stages. The first is a user-oriented reflection on the capabilities and effectiveness of the third party concept as realised in the system. The second stage of the evaluation develops a predictive model of total and per-participant network bandwidth requirements for systems of this kind. This is used to analyse a number of design decisions relating to this type of system, including the use of multicasting and the form of communication management adopted.