NMU on the Horizon
staff and students are invited to serve as “content experts” for
a project under way to create an interactive, 3-D game world featuring
Northern’s campus. Jeff Horn (Mathematics and Computer
Science, pictured) said Virtual NMU – or vNMU – has the potential
to be a valuable recruiting tool. He said the online game will appeal
to prospective students from the PlayStation and Xbox generation
while subtly promoting the university and showcasing its cutting-edge
strengths in technology and design.
don’t know of another university that has a 3-D campus simulation
game and I am hoping we can be the first,” said Horn, who is leading
the effort with the help of a freshman fellow. “Successful 3-D game
worlds have to be rich in content – terrain, buildings, architecture,
textures, informational bulletin boards and kiosks. To make this
work, we really need the help of hundreds of folks across campus.
Not all of them need to be technically proficient. We need people
to supply photos and measurements for 3-D modeling and to tell us
where the light sources are in a hallway – anything that will help
us accurately simulate the buildings.
who have more technical expertise – or are eager to learn – can
contribute in areas like programming, 3-D computer modeling, digital
imagery, and electronic music and sound effects. So we need a combination
of these ‘early adopters’ in addition to those who can supply general
content and the ‘big idea’ people who can think of ways to get the
most mileage and benefit out of this virtual 3-D version of NMU.
Everybody can contribute to this.”
left is a screen shot Horn provided of the unfurnished conference
room (1302) in the New Science Facility, which is still under construction.
It gives an idea of how campus rooms and buildings can be simulated
in a three-dimensional world.
Sprehe is the freshman fellow who has assisted Horn on the project.
She has been working on modeling parts of the university within
the 3-D Game Studio software program, mainly the New Science Facility
experience I’ve gained from working with a professor on something
with such visible real-life applications is an indispensable education,
more than any classes could give me – especially as a freshman,”
Sprehe said. “I think this will help in recruiting students who
may not be able to visit the university conventionally. They could
walk around a replica of campus that showcases some complex student
work and get an idea of the possibilities that lie before them if
they become Northern students. The project is absolutely mindblowing
when you realize all of its potential. If I had known that I would
have the opportunity to work on this before I decided that NMU was
the university for me, it would
have been so much easier for me to make that decision.”
NMU is in its infancy, but Horn is enthusiastic about its future
direction. Each player who downloads the game will become a figure
walking around Northern’s campus, visiting different buildings,
classrooms, offices and labs. The player will also participate in
activities. Horn would like players
to interact with virtual tour guides – perhaps even real online
tour guides – who would be able to answer questions. He also envisions
updated digital photos of campus bulletin boards so visitors can
see the current events on campus.
thing about 3-D worlds is their dynamic, immersive quality,” Horn
said. “Players become part of the virtual environment and interact
with things in that environment. It’s flexible, too, because visitors
choose where to go and what to do – it’s not scripted for them.
Eventually, this might have the same multi-user capacity of other
online worlds by allowing visitors to meet up, converse and tour
the campus together. We could also introduce more game-like elements
such as a scavenger hunt on campus."
compares Northern’s effort to America’s Army, a free download
offered by the U.S. Army. Players go through basic training and
then participate in various missions. Horn said it has proved very
popular. He adds that the striking difference is that America’s
Army required an initial investment of more than $7 million.
Horn said Northern's budget so far has been about "one one-thousandth
of that," or $7,000. Northern has purchased the “basic” 3D
Game Studio software and two PCs with high memory capacity. The
rest of the vNMU project will rely on volunteer help and innovation.
It will also require interdisciplinary collaboration. Horn has obtained
elevation and aerial photos. Engineering and Planning provided terrain
data and the Geography Department has assisted with converting data
for input. Horn said the project could benefit from the university’s
established strengths in art and design, GPS technology and other
is no stranger to three-dimensional recruitment strategies. The
university shipped ViewMasters with 3-D campus images to high school
guidance counselors – an effort that earned a national award. Daric
Christian (Art and Design) created a virtual campus tour
with panoramic photos and a 3-D model of campus. Users can rotate
the camera angle and zoom in or out. Horn said vNMU will complement
these ideas a carry them a step further.
will gravitate toward anything that gives them an idea of what the
university is like,” he explained. “vNMU will be graphic, cutting
edge and cool. The best part is that everyone can play a role in
developing this. In the near future, I plan to ask folks to download
the latest version of Vitual NMU, run it on their laptops or desktops,
explore what there is of campus, find something to fix or improve,
and then simply e-mail me – perhaps including a digital photo or
express an interest in participating, or to ask questions about
the project, please contact Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A colloquium presentation, as well as a brainstorming session, on
vNMU will be scheduled during the fall semester. Project updates
will be posted at vNMU.