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VRML

When I got my first SGI Workstation, an Indy, there were many cool new things to play with and explore on the machine, and the Cosmo VRML suite was among them. At the time there was no such thing on other platforms, not that I'd ever come across anyway. I created numerous models and worlds, some of which I have managed to collect together here for your delectation and delight!

Virtual Reality Modelling Language

This is the technology developed by SGI in the 1990's, and is still around today under the heading of Web3D (or X3D). It's simplicity is the key - much like HTML it is a descriptive text language which is interpreted and rendered by the client software, in this case either a web browser plugin or stand-alone player. Scene files can be quite large, but there is an import facility so models and connecting scenes need not be loaded all at once, only when needed; this has the added bonus that if a model needs updating or changing it can easily be done without altering the main scene file. Normally models are created in some form of modelling software and saved as a VRML file, though it is perfectly possible to hand code simple models and scenes with a text editor. Graphics and other media files such as ambient sounds can be created in any appropriate application, and will be loaded at run time or as required.

Some VRML History

SGI stopped development of VRML some years ago, Computer Associates acquired the Cosmo technology (SGI's VRML development suite) but did nothing with it and have now removed it from their website all together. Cosmo Worlds is still available from the SGI website, however it is only for SGI IRIX. There is still a following on the internet for the Web3D ISO standard X3D, touted as the successor to VRML, and numerous key people have kept the concept alive (one of whome worked on VRML at SGI - Tony Parisi). X3D is backwards compatible with the original VRML format, which is why we're still able to view old scenes such as mine - thank you Web3D for that!

There is an excellent website which is all about interface design and the sort of things VRML was originally developed for, I find this very encouraging to see, and with organisations like this around I feel the VRML spirit will live on for some time to come; also on this website they have information about browser plugins and players that you will need in order to view VRML/X3D scenes.

Eventually I think 3D interface technology will become much more common place, probably replacing things like light switches with touch-screen consoles to control lighting, windows, curtains, thermostats etc, indeed I've seen such touch-panel devices myself, but they're only just starting to make appearances in the public eye as a normal thing to have; these things could use plain 2D graphics, but why not use cool 3D animations and transitions instead when they're so easy to do!? Also there are other applications - you can already take a virtual tour of famous landmarks in great detail from around the world from the comfort of your own desktop, maybe in the future there could be more serious applications such as keyhole surgery via the web, or online training at least. It only takes a small leap of imagination to mix and match technologies and put them to good use!