3D interactive environment

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  • 3D Interactive environments are often referred to as virtual reality or interactive 3D and have a figurative appearance. Much like our own world, this type of world allows interaction with other (networked) beings as well as manipulation of objects (Loeffler & Andersen 1994). They are a kind of virtual habitat.

See also: virtual environment (overview of various virtual environments), Web 3D technology (overview of web 3D technologies), 3D modeling (overview of modeling tools), 3D file format (overview of file formats). For education, a good standardized web format is X3D

3D interactive environments became relatively popular by the end of last century. From its start, some educators and educational researchers have been investigating these spaces. However, the "killing application" are shared computer games, in particular MMORPGs.


In education

  • The problem with most of these environments is that there is not much to do, so why use it once the "dressing as avatar" and "let's build a home" effects loose their attraction ? Here is an incomplete list of typical useful applications:
  • Role playing
  • Mission training
  • Procedure training
  • Meetings (with enhanced support for non-verbal communication)



Indexes & communities

News / Blogs


Services and software for virtual environments

Here is an incomplete list of online services and software for 3D virtual environments. See also 3D file format‎‎.

Proprietary formats (services)
Proprietary educational worlds (services)
  • Quest Atlantis is an international learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-15, in educational tasks.
  • PlanetQuest (NASA, space missions and interactive activities).
  • Proton Sphere by ProtonMedia. (they sell some learning simulations).
Isolated 3D scenes as services (Your 3D home/chat page hosted on a proprietary service)
  • Scenecaster Allows to create only online 3D scenes, no avatars/chat.
  • ExitReality
  • Vivaty (can be integrated as Facebook widget)
  • Lively Dead in 2009, from Google. Windows/IE only. To be replaced with a Collada-based solution.
  • Meet3D (dead service/product ?)
VRML or X3D-based free worlds

(users can build)

Proprietary formats (server/client software)
  • Virtools (Dassault). Production and deployment tools (immersive, Internet, 3D desktop, ..)
  • There are many more of these ...
Open source servers and clients
  • OpenCroquet is a software development environment and software infrastructure for creating and deploying deeply collaborative multi-user online applications and metaverses on and across multiple operating systems and devices. It is derived from Squeak. Open Cobalt is a National Science Foundation-sponsored effort to develop an open source virtual world browser and authoring toolkit application based on the Croquet technology (alpha in 2010).
  • RealXtend A free open source virtual world platform (server and browser). As of 2008 this is an active project with interesting features. On the road map are some interesting integration features for video, office software, etc.
  • Open Virtual Worlds Project
  • Project Wonderland. Sun's Toolkit for Building 3D Virtual Worlds (Java 3D-based). MPK20 is an example.
  • Multiverse (server and plugin). Written in C/Java and scriptable with Python. Can import several 3D formats.
  • VR SPACE, a free cross-platform modular 3D community software.
  • OpenSimulator?, a 3D Application Server. It can be used to create a virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients, on multiple protocols.
Works with X3D/VRML (commercial)
Works with X3D (open source and/or free) - It seems that free open source X3D can't get off the ground.
Dead systems

Most 3D virtual worlds die off at some point. In Daniel K. Schneider's experience (since 1995) an open source project or a company usually lasts 3 years before it goes out of business. One of the reasons was that clients/plugin architecture changed a lot and demands rewriting of code. E.g. in the VRML/XD3 world, EAI was replaced by SAI. Examples:

  • Free and/or opensource: Geometrek, VNET, Flux
  • Commercial: OZ (they now sell mobile chat), Vivaty (dead in April 2010)
An alternative for small groups
  • Use a game engine like Neverwinter Nights, have end users buy each a copy of the game and the use a replicator service (not tested).

(More) conceptual meta resources and portals

  • New World Notes. James Wagner's blog on Second Life related stories and issues. Probably the best place to start reading, if the concept of living in virtual environment may sound strange to you ...
  • JISC 3D Visualisation in the Arts Network. The 3DVisA Bulletin is intended as a forum for a community-wide debate on key and current issues in 3D visualisation. It is published every six months, profiling projects and people, and reviewing 3D techniques and resources.

Other links


  • Barab, Sasha A. ,Kenneth E. Hay, Michael Barnett and Kurt Squire (2001). Constructing Virtual Worlds: Tracing the Historical Development of Learner Practices, Cognition And Instruction, 19(1), 47-94. PDF
  • Damer, Bruce; Stuart Gold, Karen Marcelo and Frank Revi (1998). Inhabited Virtual Worlds in Cyberspace, in Jean-Claude Heudin (ed.). Virtual Worlds, Synthetic Universes, Digital Life, Perseus Books, 1999, Reading MA USA, (New England Complex Systems Institute Series on Complexity), pp. 127-152. HTML Reprint.
  • Ingeborg Krange, Tove Kristiansen, Lars Helljesen, Ola Ødegård and Annita Fjuk, (2000), Collaborative learning, Interactive 3D technology, ICT in schools, Telenor R&D Report ISBN 82-423-0516-1. PDF
  • Pike, Lewis, E-learning in virtual worlds: Skills for Life for the 21st Century, SimTech article, HTML, retrieved, 17:17, 15 September 2006 (MEST).
  • Shelley P. Ross, Ronald W. Skelton, Sven C. Mueller. (2006) Gender differences in spatial navigation in virtual space: implications when using virtual environments in instruction and assessment. Virtual Reality 10:3-4, 175
  • Dickey, Michele D. (2005). Three-dimensional virtual worlds and distance learning: two case studies of Active Worlds as a medium for distance education, British Journal of Educational Technology 36 (3), 439–451. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2005.00477.x
  • Beck, H. and B. Welt. (2009). Educational applications of virtual world environments, American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Annual International Meeting 2009, Volume 1, 2009, Pages 36-44.
  • Beck, H.W. Lyra Virtual World Environment (Lyra VWE): Educational applications in agriculture and natural resources (2009) ASABE - 7th World Congress on Computers in Agriculture and Natural Resources 2009, WCCA 2009, pp. 76-81. Abstract
  • Chittaro Luca and Roberto Ranon, Adaptive Hypermedia Techniques for 3D Educational Virtual Environments, IEEE Intelligent Systems, v.22 n.4, p.31-37, July 2007 doi:10.1109/MIS.2007.63
  • Chittaro Luca and Roberto Ranon, (2008). An adaptive 3D virtual environment for learning the X3D language, Proceedings of the 13th international conference on Intelligent user interfaces, Abstract, PDF (Access restricted)