Passion for Virtual Tale Gets Team Noticed; in Association with Perfect Image Computer Gaming Is Taking a Leap into Literature by Inviting Players into the Virtual World of 19th Century Adulterous Heroine Madame Bovary. but the New Development Is More Than a Diversion, It Has Applications for Business, as Karen Dent

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Byline: Karen Dent Reports

MID-19th Century literature may not be the subject matter that immediately springs to mind as a theme for a new computer game.

But a team from the University of Teesside has plunged into the world of Emma Bovary, her husband and her lovers to create a virtual reality game where players can change the plot of Gustave Flaubert's book Madame Bovary and choose their own outcomes.

It has been more than a labour of love for the university's Intelligent Virtual Environment Group, led by Prof Marc Cavazza, Dr Fred Charles and Jean Luc Lugrin - who are all French, like the work of fiction they chose to test their concept.

"We're still at the experimental stage, but we've created a small-scale, yet complete integration of a real-time immersive interactive storytelling system which puts us among the leaders in this field," says Prof Cavazza.

"This work has been well received in the scientific community and presented at major international conferences, such as ACM Multimedia.

"We believe it could be the next big thing in interactive TV and digital entertainment. We are currently collaborating on interactive storytelling with both Eidos Interactive and the BBC as part of two externally-funded research projects." The game was developed by using artificial intelligence and interactive storytelling in a virtual reality setting. Players enter the Cave - a three-walled virtual reality environment where the game is played. The 3mx3m stage can fit up to five people inside at once.

Players - who take the part of Emma's husband or her lovers - are equipped with stereoscopic goggles so the other characters, which are projected on to the walls and floor, can be seen in three dimensions.

Dr Charles, principal lecturer in visualisation at the university's School of Computing, said: "The concept of Cave was designed in the early 90s. The idea is that this space is like a stage with three walls and the users inside can see the virtual world in three dimensions."

In Madame Bovary, a piece of software works as an interactive storytelling engine to set up a sequence of events. The clever piece of kit uses the latest artificial intelligence developments, which allows it to plan ahead and consider the consequences of the actions it generates.

"It took 12 months to get the design and structure fully installed and it took a couple of years to develop the software efficiently," said Dr Charles. …