Kaseii Valliis

Kaseii Vallis refers to Kasei Vallis (notice the spelling), a game concept of a friend of mine that never made it past Deluxe Paint. It is also a geological structure on Mars.


scenario i









Bjørn Tennøe. FMH/ Design Fiction





16:48, December 4th, 2018. Café Manga, Eira, Helsinki.

Imagine this event as seen in a future Internet cafe. You enter a modern looking yet traditionally furnished cafe situated on the corner of a building in Kaptenikatu. The windows to the street show you city life as you used to know it. But as you look into the cafe you experience that it turns into a balcony. Some meters beyond the end of the balcony, the room ends in what you know is a sophisticated projection screen. But what you see is the new city - Kaseii Vallis, stretching out endlessly in all directions.

Sitting down where you can have a good view of the digital city, a sports arena drifts past some stories below you. It seems it's a basketball game. With that many spectators, it's got to be the NBL. You ask the nearby waiter, what's that game down there? Oh, some West Coast showdown. Not so interesting. You order a cappuccino.

Even though you have never been in this cafe before, you feel somewhat familiar with it's interior. Suddenly you realise why. It's on the corners of Geek Street and Gandhi Avenue, plane 505. You pass it whenever you do your online shopping. And now you see those fellow shoppers passing right outside the cafe. Hmm… you always thought those people on the balcony were some kind of video prop. Now you know better.

-Aquabar, please.
As you pronounce the words the aquabar appears, hovering above the table, comfortably in striking distance. With well-trained gestures you manipulate the foggy substance. Lines, planes and volumes shaping at your command. With a small hiss, the railing of the balcony lowers. You drift away from Café Manga and into Gandhi Avenue, picking up speed as you ascend to plane 530, a plane for high-speed travel. There are really a lot of surfers out there today. Many are heading in the direction of Star Haven. That's where you're going too. Openings of new themescapes always get a lot of attention.
Yesterday’s premiere showing of Star Wars, episode eight was great. Some of your favourite architects had participated in the project. Today the cities and space stations from the movie are integrated into Kaseii Vallis. Parts are already customised for shopping and habitat. Gamers are already returning in brand new vehicles - that Q-wing looks pretty fancy.
As you approach the new territory a voice announces:
-Welcome to Star Wars Themescape eight sponsored by Kilroy Travels. We take you anywhere! There are currently 112 million visitors, and connections are good.
One hundred and twelve million visitors. That's got to be some kind of a record?
introduction

introduction





the volumous net

Kaseii Vallis is a digital city, an artificial environment designed to accommodate needs of communication, commerce and entertainment for every human being on (or off) the planet. It is a future Internet, a way to throw Internet into the many-dimensional realm sci-fi literature refers to as cyberspace.

    Encyclopædia Britannica has this to say about cyberspace:
    "[Cyberspace], as described in [the science-fiction novelist William Gibson's] book Neuromancer (1984) and several later novels, was an artificial environment created by computers. Unlike a motion picture, which presents moving images on a flat surface, a cyberspatial environment would convey realistic detail in three dimensions and to all five senses. It would also allow for a degree of face-to-face intimacy between people in remote places. ... Research continues into ways of realising this type of cyberspatial experience, which has come to be known as virtual reality. ... A full experience of Gibson's vision has so far been frustrated by the crude state of the technology. ... Moreover, users of virtual reality devices are usually communicating not with others but only with the computer."
    "Internet advocates argue that … cyberspace encourages the formation of "virtual communities," without hindrance from national or geographic boundaries."
    "The most intriguing aspect of cyberspace, however, may have more to do with the evolving relationship of humankind with its technologies. ... Some commentators have spoken of a coming "bionic convergence" through which we may all someday be fitted with computer implants that shunt messages directly to and from our brains and that may have the capacity to stimulate electronically our creativity or our response to pleasure."

With tree directional dimensions and a fluctuating society, Kaseii Vallis has the power to represent itself as a real location. But being purely virtual, it can also rearrange itself at any point. The balance between stability and flexibility poses a great challenge for this pioneer world.

why the shift to a three-dimensional world

The reason an environment like Kaseii Vallis could be desirable is the paradigm of the human scale. Today's Internet has been called the ultimate time machine because of the absence of feeling of space and time on the net. In fact this constitutes a user interface problem. There are many reasons to argue for a volumous net.

  • A new environment gives the opportunity to focus more on the people using the network than the information that is stored in it. This changes the way the web is perceived. It is not longer only an entity we manipulate and explore from afar. We will be able to activate ourselves on the net. Net activities and temporary events will be just as important as the information a database can provide.
  • Persons visiting a place on the net simultaneously will often benefit from getting in touch with each other. A three-dimensional environment with the capability to present people and their natural expressions would provide a new solution for communication.
    The introduction of temporary activities on the net introduces time to the net. When the net can forget it becomes a more attractive place for spontaneous activities.
  • Although the field is widely unexplored, a volumous, virtual world has the potential of providing a great place for collaboration. Persons near and far apart can benefit from an environment that is thoroughly flexible, both in appearance and degree of immersion.
  • Today's page-layout-based, two-dimensional Internet gives no impression of the environment or location where the information retrieved actually exists. When tomorrow's teleworkers go to work on the other site of the globe, they should be able to get an impression of the rhythm of the day in the country they are visiting.
  • By displaying sites together in a three-dimensional structure, sites could be grouped together by context, physical location etc. An understandable structure of the net emerges. This eases the navigation to relevant material, and sites that have similarities will be adjacent to each other. This is a major benefit over today's situation, when finding one relevant site doesn't better your chance of finding another.
  • When the net is illustrated this way, perhaps we can grasp some of its size - giving us a small notion of how vast the human civilisation truly is.
    Of course there is room for scepticism too:
    Without having done a survey about it, it is my impression that very many are truly sceptical about the notion of a "cyberspace". They don't want to get too involved or immersed in a digital world. If a place like Kaseii Vallis is going to be a success, effort has to be put into its design so it is not viewed as hostile.
  • Cultural changes are supported, not driven by technology. When the Internet became popular, it was not because of its technical magnificence but because a latent need was fulfilled. Therefore, if one has a vision of a new activity emerging through the use of a new tool, one must ask oneself: "Does the activity have an existing equivalent, and is that activity as usual or popular as expected?" In a broad sense, on cannot expect an instrument to (re)generate interests.
  • For the city to be useful, it has to offer activities and events, and it must stay vibrant. A ghost town quickly reveals its lack of visitors, scaring away the few that visits it.

stable versus fluctuating layout

Kaseii Vallis does not simulate the real world in terms of trying to recreate actual physical locations. This would result in inconsistencies and wouldn't serve any purpose since the net is largely context-based, with people navigating by abstracts such as interests and subjects.

Rather, for many purposes it would be desirable to have an arrangement by context or information provider. Veterinary medicine, general book stores and national newspapers could be found in distinct areas. Equally easily imaginable is the division between commercial, educational, personal and government sites.
It should be paid attention to the way activities (here defined as temporary and primarily media-augmented man-to-man interactions) will change the perception of the network from a static information provider to a place for real-time intellectual and social exchange. Therefore, a site will be valued not only for it's information but also for the people who spend time (and make themselves present) there.
Partly because of this, there are also good reasons to connect a site's location with its real-world physical location. As mentioned above, if one is to interact with others it would be relevant to know a bit about the conditions of the place in which you are a virtual visitor. Should you greet your Japanese host "good morning" or "good afternoon"?

Problems arise when it comes to combining these 3D projections of a multi-dimensional information structure. Not all wishes of different layouts can be accommodated in one rigid 3D structure. The alternative, to have several or infinitely many ways of arranging the city, clouds the possibilities of creating an understandable user interface and providing an overview to the visitor. Therefore, Kaseii Vallis needs to have at least a few different modes of appearance. The basic mode is the city layout, common to all visitors.

city layout: physical structure






size: quite large

As of today, Kaseii Vallis must be large enough to support simultaneous visits from all the active users of cyberspace, perhaps peaking at half a billion people (spring 1999 / wild guess). But in the future it can grow to a size corresponding to the earth's population, somewhere in the region of fourteen billion people. At this point, if every person occupies as much virtual space as a real-world city dweller, the city will be 3000 times bigger than Manhattan.

Other articles also indicate that the future Internet could become quite large.

Parts of the city is designed by hand, but due to it's size, most of it has to be generated by some kind of set of algorithms. Perhaps fractal math can find its use here. Also, the right density must be found. Quite clearly there are enough sites available to make a dense cube stretching out for kilometres in all directions; this would be impractical since navigation would be very confusing.
A better solution is to base the city on a simple geometric structure where key elements would be easily visible to help navigation. Also, since the structure is virtual, one could benefit from this by letting structures change appearance when viewed from afar, supporting overview.

Also, as this world is created to make people connect, collaborate and share information, measures should be taken so that the human activity is just as visible as the static structures that reside in this world. Therefore, all human avatars emit a glow when viewed from far away. This way they illuminate the city, showing where activities are taking place.

main physical layout / macroarchitecture

Kaseii Vallis simulates a real city in the way that it has buildings, streets, (commercial) services, media events (for instance advertisement) and active, visible inhabitants (humans, avatars and animated visible representations of programs).

The basic layout of the city is that of a planet encircled by rings stretching outward, hovering above a sea, illuminated by a circling sun on a blue sky.
The planet in the middle of the city is a representation of the earth. Some sites will always benefit from being linked to its real world location. Therefore a globe offers people and organisations to tie their online information to their real-world home. This is also an ideal place to look for information about physical conditions on earth, like local time and weather. The sphere does not rotate in relation to the rest of the city, but it tilts just as the earth, so the lighting conditions are correct. For down-unders the globe naturally appears upside-down.
Outside the globe, flat disks stretch outwards. They are similar to the rings of Saturn, but by comparison they reach much farther, dwarfing the planet. In addition, there are hundreds or thousands of them, layered one on top of the other, making the sandwich of rings as thick as the diameter of the globe.
The main element of the city layout will be these flat, horizontal disks or sheets where sites can be constructed. These sheets will provide perhaps hundred vertical metres of real estate, allowing a dense, but manageable environment. As mentioned there are many of these layers floating above each other. Layers are transparent when viewed from a distance, assuming a cloud-like appearance. A visitor will experience only the closest layer as a physical, massive entity.
The layers are branded thematically. These city parts accommodate private homesteads and commercial, educational and other services. Some services have franchises in many city parts, others are situated in one specific location.
Areas very near the globe are reserved for governmental services. The United Nations area would be situated closest to the planet, with national services just outside.

The city should be quite easy to navigate in. At all times the globe and the visited plane is visible. Clouds above and below indicate other planes of activity, and sky density shows where action is currently taking place.
microarchitecture
It is on the sandwiched layers most of the daily activity in Kaseii Vallis take place. Usually the structures that are adjacent to each other are thematically connected, and often centred around a marketplace. These marketplaces are the basic building bricks to form communities in the city.
For most purposes, physical location is only secondary information. Therefore the globe is sometimes brought to the community and not the other way around. The smaller globes appear in marketplaces, letting visitors and service providers display information on it.

Sites can be given different visual appearances considering what kind of services they offer. For instance, if you navigate to an area devoted to Commodore 64 computers, you can easily figure out what sites are die-hard fan chat rooms, service parts retailers, software salespoints and the like.
intranets make up the suburbs

Kaseii Vallis is a place common to all visitors, but organisations will also have the need for intranets. These can appear on the outskirts of Kaseii Vallis, and also stretch in between the disks toward the city's core.
The suburbs will appear different to the individual. One user can experience many suburbs, as one can be a member of many organisations.
What services should be in the city, and what should be located in the suburbs?

Two different models can be applied:

  • Only publicly available services should be located in the city. That doesn't mean that any service is accessible to anyone at anytime, for instance, one will have to pay a fee to use a lot of services. The alternative is to make things available on an intranet, in a suburb. In general, what's on the Internet today can be in Kaseii Vallis tomorrow, and what's on the intranets today can be in the suburbs tomorrow.
  • Idealistically, all work that can benefit from outsiders making contact, should happen in publicly available areas. Therefore, even consultants that work together in a closed organisation should keep their meetings on open ground.

the nature of buildings



Buildings in a virtual city don't necessarily have to look like real ones. There are many things they don't have to do, like provide shelter for bad weather, to have a sound construction from an engineering point of view, and to provide services for the bodily need of humans.

There are no toilets in cyberspace.

Rather, buildings should serve the purposes web sites do today, and more:

  • They are representatives of their owner. Their owner must be presented through the design.
  • The form should explain their basic function - actually, new norms are needed to communicate what kinds of buildings does what.
  • They should work with their surrounding environment. All construction will house an information provider. Consideration should be taken in the shaping of the building.
  • Space should be allocated to active users, avatars, not to the size of the organisation behind it.

accessing the city / reaching the city




Think about the feeling of entering and leaving the movie theatre. The transition is a very important part of the movie experience. Wim Wenders says that "you are [only] informed about the movie [when you see it] on TV". Of course, there is less of a ceremony in turning on the TV than going to the theatre. What will the transition to Kaseii Vallis be like?

Kaseii Vallis must integrate to the future environments for computer interaction, whatever shape those may take. The key point is that the city exists because people need to connect, collaborate, retrieve information, work and entertain themselves. The design must be geared toward human perception. Many user interfaces (see above) are possible and many should be supported.
As Kaseii Vallis connects to the real world, you can enter it through the office or wearable computer, navigating its artificial streets and spaces. Even stable, physical, two-way connections can be constructed. Large, window-like planes connect fixed locations in the real world to fixed locations in Kaseii Vallis. Seen from the other side, the windows are present in Kaseii Vallis, giving a view of certain locations in the real world.

media events

An abstract place that is geared towards human activities is of course much better suited to host media activity than something that is designed to display written information. In Kaseii Vallis, online events are more natural, have richer media and require less effort to participate in. Mass media can interact more with their audience, and there can be a greater focus on participation.
Kaseii Vallis can actually have physical representations. Imagine a media studio with motion capture equipment. For the people in the studio, Kaseii Vallis will be represented through projected images or as augmented reality. Their actions are captured and transmitted worldwide. They are as present in Kaseii Vallis as any piece of data; they are a physical part of the city.
Other real-life events will also be recreated in the city, taking place in their own part of Kaseii Vallis. For instance, when the Space Shuttle takes off from Kennedy Space Center, a 3D model will exist real-time in the digital city. Spectators can have a lunch break at a nearby virtual stadium, possibly even visualised by a big projecting screen in the Space Center, offering two-way communication. When the shuttle takes off, its path of trajectory can be seen over the Kaseii Vallis sky.

working

Work can be carried out in Kaseii Vallis. As such, programs exist in the artificial work to make different services possible. But the term "application" is obsolete. There is no "user interface" as such. No icons to press, no menus to select. No help bar to provide support. Help is also a service, like guiding is in any city.
A scenario has been made concerning possible work situations in Kaseii Vallis. Meeting and collaborating with others is explained in Sea of Thought.

directory of activities

As events and activities become more commonplace, eager souls will seek to structure them the way one tries to structure everything electronical. Therefore, as Yahoo! today has a directory of where to get information in the net, Kaseii Vallis will offer directories on social activities. Finding others with common interests will be easier, and so will online community building.

inhabitants: avatars, bots and droids




presenting humans

Humans exist in Kaseii Vallis through virtual representatives of themselves, generally known as avatars. A number of options have to be supported. Two key issues:

  • The system must support natural communication , including gestures and mimics. This is a must even when the users are in different locations.
  • It must be possible to exist anonymously.

From my point of view the latter is not discussible. It is a major property of any city that the inhabitant has the possibility to remain anonymous. Granted that he or she conforms to the laws and norms of the society, this should be a fundamental right in a virtual community, as long as the opposite is not crucial to the existence of the community.
For the benefit of natural communication it is appropriate that humans are represented as humans. With the input devices that are expected, humans can be rendered realistically enough to communicate well with each other. Depending on the image capturing and processing technologies that are available, faces are either converted to real-time animated 3D objects or projected as video images onto the avatars head.

Avatar body posture

However, in many instances it is not appropriate to present the users true body posture. Specifically, real-world and on-line movements will match only occasionally. Many users will be seated when surfing through the virtual city, and if they are walking, their avatar will only seldom copy their real-life movement. It is unwise to let the avatar walk, since the speed of propagation often will be that of a jet plane!
A good solution would therefore be to let the avatar be seated, yet mobile. A large virtual object like a car or plane to visualise the ability to move in space would be impractical. Because of this, the avatars of Kaseii Vallis move by small flying carpets, or rather, flying towels. This is also a nice way to underline the virtuality of the city. They are normally sitting in the lotus position. Of course, the users' upper-body movements will still be visible, and gesturing will be unobstructed.
other inhabitants

When computer systems need information from the visitors and vice versa, and even when humans ask for augmented communication, computer-generated characters, bots, will facilitate most of the information. Bots look humanoid and speak most human languages.
Of course, the bot, the semi-social, talking, animated computer interface will pave its way into mainstream user interfaces in the coming decades. Peedy the parrot is already willing to discuss with you what CD to play today.
Less communicative virtual robots are also useful, for instance to illustrate that something is being processed. This can be visualised through a droid. The droid cannot communicate to humans, but of course, it will to some degree answer to requests from bots. It is evident that bots and droids are excellently exemplified through our friends C3P0 and R2-D2.

existing 3D worlds

Active Worlds
Helsinki Arena 2000


technical




physical location

Distributed throughout the Internet, the visitor does not enter one specific server; rather, Kaseii Vallis is a cyberspace of it's own. It is the presentation that is centralised somehow. An unlimited number of locations co-operate to present one single layout.

visualisation

The service is graphically intensive. It demands resources from the computer that renders scenes for the individual user. Equally important is the use of pre-rendered panoramas. One solution is to have the world split into bubbles or spheres that blend into each other. When a user is inside one bubble, everything inside is rendered specifically from his viewpoint. The rest of the world is a publicly available, centrally rendered panorama media feed (still image or video with audio on demand) that is projected on the bubble. This is quite different from current state-of-the-art visualisations. The servers that today maintain web pages would have to provide these panoramas to client computers. The user would not be aware of these technicalities.

applications

Just as Java promises to let programs to be run in a browser, applications integrate into Kaseii Vallis. But the term application should be a dying one. When you ask somebody for a favor, or you buy a service from somebody, are they performing an application for you? At least you don't look at that way. It's the end result you focus on, and if there's any importance in the interaction its in recognition of the other human. Since computers are non-emotional entities this layer should be dropped and the focus should entirely be on whatever is beyond the user interface.

future media home scenario building blocks

The Scenario Building Blocks presented by Future Media Home easily fit into the Kaseii Vallis scenario. Bots are of course natural-language agents. Communication with boths, other parts of the system and even other visitors is assisted by the Ontology. The digital city itself is a central piece of the Directory. These terms are not crucial to consider at the current stage of development, except that they underline the need to split the service up into independent modules while keeping a seamless interface, as mentioned in the previous paragraph.