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Virtual Forbidden City – SOA tour

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IBM - Virtual Forbidden City Tour

Tuesday, 28th April 2009

15:00 Hrs UK time

Chaired by John Tolva

Hi, my name is John Tolva I am the Director of Citizenship & Technology at IBM and I would like to welcome you to our Virtual Forbidden City Tour which will take about 12 minutes.

Hi everybody this is John Tolva speaking, thank you for joining us on the call and in World. I assume and hope that you are all in the Virtual Forbidden City right now; I see many of you there. I am John, that is, you’ll see my name above my head, I’ll be speaking to you and leading the tour today.

So again, you are standing outside of the Virtual Forbidden City, some of you I would wager have been to the real palace museum, which is the modern name of the Forbidden City in Beijing, but what you’re looking at is a virtual representation of it. A spatial simulacrum if you will, of the real palace complex. It is… you are basically immersed in an open, extensible platform that for us represents the next evolution of Web 2.0 and 3D internet applications, where rich content, educational functionality, storytelling, community and social networking features all kind of, converge into a unique, multi-user interactive experience, not a solitary user experience. So this is a partnership between IBM and the Palace museum, which is part of the Ministry of Culture in China. It was a three year project to build, and it launched last October. I’d like to take you through some of the highlights of it, and also talk to you a little bit about the technical underpinnings of such an undertaking

What you see here, this is actually a computer-controlled tour guide. It is a script that takes you to six or so of sort of, highlights of the Virtual Forbidden City. We’re not going to take this tour, I’m going to give you a personal tour, just as real other human tour guides staffed by the Palace Museum are in the virtual world normally during, you know, Chinese working hours, which can give you a tour through. But the tour guide functionality is an interesting example of a service, and services, web services that underlie this entire application. You know, we did that, we built this in a service-oriented architecture for… primarily for scalability and the cost-effective nature of it.

Because the real Palace Museum is the most visited museum in the world, we assumed and in fact had our assumption validated, that this would be a very popular virtual destination. So we’ve had, you know, upwards of 3,000 people in the world at the same time, and as we move on further I’ll explain to you why that’s such a sort of, computationally-taxing event to have happen, and why the services that underlie all this, is really what makes it scale. This is the Southern-most gate of the Forbidden City, and really the entrance to the complex, you’ve probably seen photographs of Tiananmen Gate, which is where the Chairman… the portrait of Chairman Mao hangs. That’s actually South of where we are, and it’s not technically part of the Forbidden City, but just to give you a sense of where this is, we are directly North of Tiananmen Square. Okay, so basically we decided, instead of doing a website for the Palace Museum, the experience of the Forbidden City is such a spatial experience. It’s vast, it’s wearying to cross these spaces, and that is by design, that, you know, these vast open spaces and the scale of the buildings were all meant to kind of, instil a sense of the power of the Emperor, and actually tire people out by the time that they were admitted to the inner sanctum in the North part of the quarter.

So to do it as a series of photographs or even panorama’s on a website didn’t seem to do justice to the function of space itself in the experience. That said, we did want to embed as much of information that a website would provide in the physical space. So for instance, as you approach anything actually, in the virtual world, you can click on the buildings or on the signs, so I would encourage you to click on this sign as I have done, of the Golden River, so use your mouse to click on this sign, and what you’ll see is a little… it’s actually a web browser. And this too is a service, this is a web page you’re looking at, that’s being presented inside of the rendering engine that is the game engine, so this… so to do this, basically we’re serving a web page and, you know, we know how to do that to scale. Many people do, how to build, you know, very scalable, robust, you know, strong web applications, so what we’ve really done here is kind of, ripped out the game engine aspects of this virtual world, and replaced it with a web services engine in the middle. Basically the only thing that isn’t a web application here is the 3D rendering, and that’s what you download… or the 3D rendering engine, and that’s what you downloaded onto your computer.

Now I mentioned, you know, the reason that we built this using web services for scalability and cost-effectiveness. We really did this, there are three different tiers of services, one is social services, the other is messaging services and then lastly, infrastructure services. So the social services basically are the Web 2.0 kind of, community functions, the ability to add friends, the ability to message or, sorry the ability to interact with other services like, Facebook, the reason you would add friends in here is so that it’s easier to find one another, to sort of, teleport to where your friends are. The messaging services are how you chat, so let’s open up our chat windows. It’s the icon on the right called Chat, and you can see there’s a public chat group, which is everyone within about five meters of you, and I’ll say hello to everyone, hello friends. If you are near me and you have your chat window open, you will see that. If you were on a tour you’d see a private chat tab, and then you can privately message one another by clicking on the person and then to Chat Privately, so you’ll see those various tabs.

This is all a web service, then the last type of service that we have is… are the infrastructure services that, you know, sort of run the blade centres that we have, powering it all.

Okay, let’s proceed to really, the centrepiece of the Forbidden City and the Virtual Forbidden City, the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It’s the largest palace building in the complex, and this will be the end of our walking around. From here on out we will hop from place to place using the map, but follow me up the steps here, we won’t go up the centre ramp in deference of the emperors of old, that was reserved for him and her. Of course, in the Virtual Forbidden City you can do it, and not risk death, but we’re going to observe the decorum of the ancient world. So here we are at the Hall of Supreme Harmony, I’ll turn around to face you. Let’s do this, let’s click on the map, and this is probably the most important service that the site provides. You’ll see a small high-level map with a black line that represents where you’ve been, if you were in the world prior to the tour starting, it may squiggle around a little bit, but basically, we’ve gone right up the middle of the central axis. If you click on View Detailed Map, you’ll see greater detail, with icons, coloured boxes basically, that represent the different content types that are in this world, buildings, artefacts, other visitors, scenes, tours and activities.

Now, you may recall having seen this map before on the website, the Beyond Space and Time of Virtual Forbidden City website, where you downloaded the client, and that’s because it’s the exact same map. It is a web, you know, you’d consider it a web widget, but really you’re looking at a web page that’s been inserted inside of, you know, this virtual world. So this too is one of, you know, a few dozen services that we have. Now scenes are interesting in that they are basically stories, a sort of, looping tableau if you will, that, you know, attempt to round out the cultural story of the Virtual Forbidden City, or the… which was a real working city, you know, because the cultural experience is more than just the material, the sum of the material culture that makes up what is left to us. So this, what you’re seeing is one of the highly ritualized eating ceremonies, presentations by the eunuchs to the Emperor.

We do have some interactive functions though, that actually get closer to the kind of, gaming lineage of this type of world, so in just a minute I’m going to take you to another spot where you can interact, but right now we’re watching the eunuchs present the food, they’re marching single file, okay let’s move on.

So as I mentioned, you know, this is a services-oriented world which is very different from the kind of, monolithic packaged applications or proprietary game engines, you know, to which most virtual worlds owe their lineage. This approach kind of, paves the way for enterprise integration and new breeds of applications, you know, that are built on top of, you know, existing web-based application and operational infrastructures. Really, what we’ve tried to do here is take a services and integration layer-centric approach, versus a game engine-centric approach to expose things like, you know, to expose services in a way that the web does, you know, games typically want to keep most of the services inside the world, right? It’s a suspension of disbelief, it’s more cinematic than let’s say, functional and extensible, but we really believe that virtual worlds have a place in the suite of online tools, and that, you know, an open approach to that functionality will benefit virtual worlds, just as it’s benefited the web. Okay, let’s look at an artefact, so if we go to your… the map again, and then View Detailed Map, make sure the Artefacts box is checked, those are the orange boxes. Let’s go to the bronze lions at the Gate of Supreme Harmony, on my map it’s the third orange box down, but if you click on that and then go to the Visit, which is a circle with the arrow coming out of it, fade to black and we’ll reappear back in the forecourt of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

So you’ll see this is an artefact, switch back to regular viewing, click on that artefact if you would, you’ll see the Rating and Add to Scrapbook and Information about the bronze lion, but, you know, these are all 3D models based on photographs, measurements and, you know, historical information. They were modelled individually, and what that gives us the ability to do is to examine them more closely, so you can click on the button, once you’ve clicked on the lion and the information comes up, there’s a button called Examine a Copy. So if you click on that, it kind of, rips the thing, and you can do this to buildings as well, not just artefacts, rips it off its moorings and you can zoom in, you can rotate it and you can really see the detail of the model. Re-set your view, and then you can stop examining at any time.

Okay, let’s move again, and we’re going to go into some of the more, let’s say intimate areas, the personal areas of the Emperor. Find that on your detailed map, the Hall of Imperial Peace, and click Visit. I’ll wait for you guys to get here, so these are basically the gardens of the Virtual Forbidden City. Now you may be wondering what this was built on, we’re using a platform of 3D game engine actually, it’s built for games, called the torque engine. This as I said, has been kind of, retro-fitted to work with web services and in fact web… a version of a web browser, which is what you see, all those little widgets, all the functions, the pictures, the viewing, the map, those are actually web pages as I mentioned. This all runs on top of IBM software middleware, and the Webster application server, Webster message broker DB2, so that’s all hooked to the front end, and really, the 3D rendering engine is the only piece of non-IBM software in the mix.

Okay, we’re going to make one more jump, and then we’ll open up for questions, so if everyone would finish walking around the garden, let’s go back to the map, the View Detailed Map, and let’s go… let’s go to the Archery Range, so this is the blue dot which signifies an activity over on the right side of the map. It’s also called… in the list it’s called Practicing Archery, so we’re going to convene there. This is an activity like cricket fighting, perhaps the closest to the kind of, gaming vernacular that many children come to the Virtual Forbidden City already understanding, but basically, you learn how to shoot a bow, a traditional Ming era bow.

Thank you very much for joining the Tour with us today, I really appreciate your time. If you enjoyed this tour, hear what our customers wanted to know about how we built the City in the accompanying video. If you would like to find out more information about the Virtual Forbidden City or SOA, please see the URL and e-mail address on the closing slide.


Video not available.