About My Work at Virtual World Entertainment
The projects I worked on at VWE were probably the most stressful, difficult, frustrating and complicated things I've ever done on a whole variety of levels. At the same time, these projects were also the most rewarding and downright fun things I've ever worked on both for me and the customers that played them. For the entire seven years I worked at VWE I was their chief software engineer. In the early days of the company the majority of the work was being done by me, one very talented artist (Dave McCoy, now at Microsoft) and three hardware design engineers who custom designed and built the computers and electronics. As time went by, many more talented people were added and the design and development of the project became very much a group effort. While everyone on the team developed their own specialties (mine were graphics, networking and overall systems integration) virtually every part of the system was touched and improved by everyone on the team at one time or another.
The team finally assembled there was probably the most diverse, perverse, fun and downright talented group of individuals I've ever seen gathered together in one place. It was one of the few places I've ever worked where almost everyone in the office felt like family. I hope everyone I worked with there has gone on to continue doing the kind of work they enjoy doing. I wish them and their families well wherever they may be and whatever they may be doing today. As for me, I hope to do a project like this again some day. I think VWE was just a little too far ahead of it's time when we started, making many of the things we wanted to do too expensive to be practical. Today, with the improvements in development tools and huge drops in computer costs we're seeing the overall cost of developing/running this kind of business would be less than half what it was in 1990, making it a practical business.
The pictures on these pages come from a variety of sources including press kits, manuals, advertising materials, old web sites or my own photography and may contain trademarks, or be copyrighted material owned by Virtual World Entertainment, FASA Interactive, FASA Corp, Whizkids or Microsoft's games group. Unfortunately, because I received many of these photos on undocumented archival CDs and press-kits, I don't have the information on who to credit or attribute the copyright to due to lack of information. If you recognize any of these photos are yours and want me to remove them or add credits, copyright or trademark information, please contact me here and I will do so immediately.
Click on any of the pictures to see a larger version of it, there is a link to another larger photo album at the bottom of the page..
To the rigit is a Tesla 8 cockpit installation at a Dave & Busters Restaurant. The Tesla cockpits were the final and most advanced of the VWE designs and featured a total of 7 live video screens. Earlier cockpits, which I don't have a picture of, were more box-like and used two video screens combined with alphanumeric LED displays.
On the left, a closer view, these people are watching an third person perspective instant replay of the game they just played. I developed the design for this software which included the concept of "virtual cameramen" at each camera location and a single "virtual director" which controlled the cameramen to produce a very cinematic/film style replay. The system could also be controlled manually and was frequently used for doing "virtual film shoots" of the games to be used in advertisements or game training tapes. We did several of these virtual shoots using multiple manually controlled cameras and a Hollywood director with film experience. The results were outstanding. We were considering the possibility of using the system for film special effects production, allowing virtual vehicles to be driven and filmed "live". Since all the motions of the vehicles were recorded digitally, they could then drive an off-like rendering system like 3DS Max to produce film quality effects scenes. Initial tests we ran with this system worked very well and produced much more believable results in far less time than hand animating the vehicles. Unfortunately, using the system to produce film effects in this way never got beyond the experimental stages.
To the right is a good external view of the TESLA pod, the orange display at the top would normally show the player's name and score. The blue light coils would pulse and light up when the game was ready for the players to board the cockpits. There were at least 4 other cockpit designs that came before Tesla, but this one offered the most realistic presentation, the best sound, had the best access for handicapped people and was the easiest to maintain. The earlier cockpits had poor maintenance access in some areas and had problems with "pinch points" where people could catch fingers if their hands were in the wrong place when doors were opened or closed. This cockpit was also the first design to use almost entirely off-the-shelf electronics in it's construction. Earlier designs were almost 100% custom computer systems and were actually more expensive to build than this, more advanced, design.
Above is another view, with a sketch showing the size of the pod. The pod has a footprint of around 25 square feet (about 7 x 3.5 feet). This seemed to be the optimal size and had enough room to accommodate even very tall or heavy people. A compact pod is essential, because floorspace is expensive in the types of locations where this kind of entertainment center does the best business.
To the right is a picture of the interior of the cockpit, 5 green-screen CRT's, a color screen at your knees and the main screen which used an infinity optic system similar to military flight simulators which made it seem more like looking out a window than looking at a CRT. By the way, ALL those buttons and displays you see worked and had functions assigned to them. You can see the F-4 Phantom style joystick on the right, and out of view are a pair of foot pedals and a throttle. The green displays showed the status of various weapons, cooling systems and other simulated systems of the vehicle you were driving (here we're playing BattleTech and driving a 30 foot tall walking robot). Looks complicated? You bet! We wanted to make it feel like you were actually driving something as complex as a fighter plane. The simulation was designed to give each vehicle/weapons combination it's own set of advantages, disadvantages and quirks. Advanced players knew how every system worked and used them all in combat, debating the merits and quirks of one weapon or vehicle over another. For beginners, you could punch a button and put all the complex stuff on automatic, then gradually enable more advanced manual functions to tweak top performance as you got used to playing.
To the right is what the BattleTech world actually looked like from inside the simulator. You can see the mechs in the background have taken hits and are trailing smoke and fire. It's been said that graphics, unlike fine wine, don't age well, but I think these images still look pretty darned good even compared to some of today's fancier games. Of course, with today's hardware, you could add a lot more textures, and improve the realism considerably.
Finally, at left is an image from the "Red Planet" game. If you had "the need for speed" this game was it. A combination of pylon racing, demolition derby, drag racing and indoor stunt flying, a game of Red Planet was a constant adrenaline rush. Vehicles varied in size and weight from something the size of a motorcycle, up to the size of a Semi Truck. Top speeds varied with size and weight up to several hundred miles an hour. And to top it off all the vehicles had solid rocket boosters that could be triggered to boost their speed above mach 1 (and once they were lit, you couldn't slow down till they burnt out). By the way, did I mention that all this racing was being done in narrow congested canals and tunnels, full of things you could run into (or an opponent could bounce you into) and kill yourself on? Oh, and one other thing, most races ran back and forth over the same tunnels, with turnarounds at each end. So you frequently found yourself charging other players head-on with closing speeds over mach 2!
Click Here for the VWE photo album.
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