Blog Post

Virtual peace Update and Images

Last week I posted about the launch of the Virtual Peace website. This week I wanted to add some information about what’s going on with the rest of the DML winning Virtual Conflict Resolution: Turning Swords to Ploughshares project.

Basically, we’re working in three different teams, coordinated by the visionary Tim Lenoir. Each team is keeping abreast of the advances made by the others through Ning message boards and updates from Tim and the other project leaders: Natalia Mirovitskaya, Kacie Wallace and Jerry Heneghan. The progress in the last few months has been amazing! Here’s where we stand now:

Despite some initial delays (which put us more than a month behind!), everyone’s been working hard to get the simulation ready for classroom use by the middle of September. Now, some of the teams working on the project are even ahead of schedule! Some of the coolest work has been coming from the Digital Assets Development team, who are designing the avatars for the game environment. That group – comprised of Duke computer science professors (Richard Lucic and Robert Duvall), student interns, and the spectacular crew at Virtual Heroes, Inc., under the guidance of Jerry Heneghan – has been in the design studio, masterfully manipulating Maya, in order to model the avs on several key figures involved in international conflict resolution and disaster relief efforts; with sixteen real-life people to recreate, that team has no small task in front of them. Just a few weeks ago, they put up mock-avs with unfinished, generic features that seemed to just vaguely suggest the people they would eventually become. But in a sort-of Invasion of the Body Snatchers moment made digital (and not at all scary!), we’ve been able to watch these partial images slowly morph into recognizable digi-humans. Most of the avatars now have defined features, textured hair and realistic body shapes. Many are almost ready to go. It’s been awesome to have a visual component to help those of us working in other areas really begin to imagine what the finished product will look like. I'll add images shortly.

The Content Development Team has also been unassumingly, yet impressively, churning out thorough documentation of the ins-and-outs of international conflict resolution and disaster relief in order to provide the simulation-design team with objectives, storylines and realistic models of action and interactions in these situations. The Content Development group, which includes project leaders Natalia Mirovitskaya from the Duke-UNC Rotary Center and Kacie Wallace from Duke, as well as student interns from the Rotary Center, has already delivered a 100-page, densely packed manual detailing the history and extent of the disaster (Hurricane Mitch, 1998) on which the Virtual Conflict Resolution project is based, as well as mission statements for each of the role-players in the simulation. Now, they continue to meet with experts in the field to find out the nitty-gritty of encounters among various groups in disaster relief situations. They’re trying to find out who meets where and how, how do they go about representing themselves and their institutions – down to the tiniest details (Do negotiators and rescue workers carry around PDAs? How readily available is phone contact between the representative and his/her group? Etc.). These guys plan to ensure that the simulation is as realistic as possible in order to make the training provided by it the most effective it can be. I hope that some of their documents will be linked from the website as the splash page morphs into a deeper, networking (Ning) site. It’ll be great for people interested in the project to be able to see just how much work went into making the simulation accurate and successful.

Finally, the Web Development team – made up of Patrick Herron, a researcher from the Jenkins Collaboratory and Duke ISIS, as well as interns from Duke and Brown (including me!) – offered-up the first publicly available deliverable last week: www.virtualpeace.org. We’re now working on manipulating our Ning site to make it a useful complement to the simulation itself. We want to allow players who use the game in class to be able to network on the site, as well as allow interested parties – including future users of the game, educators, students, and anyone involved in conflict resolution and disaster relief – to access each other, information about the simulation and about the history of international work in these areas. Figuring out the best way to execute all the exciting possibilities we see for the Ning site is our current challenge.

I’m sure I’ll have more to report soon, as the project continues to develop at lightning pace. Hopefully I’ll be able to provide some awesome visuals

Oh, and just in case there's any confusion about the name: we've been operating officially under Virtual Conflict Resolution, but have been more generally using Virtual Peace. Now, we're making efforts to get the official named changed to Virtual Peace -- not least because VCR is a rather outdated acronym for such an awesome digital collaboration!

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