Students create reality from ideas

Eight middle-school students will present today "600 Feet Under," a virtual reality game they made during a five-day camp at OMSI

of The Oregonian Staff

Jack Davis tried as best as he could to save the eight miners trapped in the underground labyrinth, but the lake he had to cross proved quite a challenge.

A power line was down, turning the lake into waves of lethal electricity. So students turned back to find a hidden key that would shut off the electricity and make the lake safe to cross. Jack, however, wasn’t having much luck finding his way around the cavernous mine fraught with deadly danger. With every misstep, every delay, the miners’ lives hung in the balance. The clock ticked.

Luckily for the miners- and for Jack – the predicament sprung from imagination. It was the stuff of three-dimensional computer animation and mind-blowing visual.

Jack, who emerged from his quandary without a scratch and with all smiles, had stepped into the world of virtual reality

With virtual reality, the player straps on high-tech headgear that gives the illusion he is in a real-life three –dimensional environment, experiencing sights and sounds emanating from a computer.

The program VRQuest™, begun five years ago by Warren Black at in Bayside Middle School for the Arts and Technology, Calif., is run by VR Quest of , . It will be offered again at OMSI this summer, said Matt Miller, OMSI science classes’ coordinator.

On Friday, the students were busy testing the game and adding finishing touches, such as flames and falling rocks, to make it more exciting. Today, the students will explain their creations to OMSI visitors.

The goal of the game, which the students named "600 Feet Under," is to rescue eight miners – who are actually the eight students – trapped in a collapsed mine.

Using the digital camera, the students inserted their images into the game. So as the rescuer makes his way through the mine, he encounters "miners" wearing T-shirts and baggy jeans – attire better suited for strolling at the mall than mining for gold, diamonds or coal.

During the first tow days, the students brainstormed the concept, storyline and environment of the mine.

There is no "blood or guts" in the game, even though the students built it using "Quake," a down to its frame to build their kinder, gentler game.

The students worked in teams of two to produce four levels, each more difficult than the last.

"I made the first level," said Glen Lawrence, 12, of Fernwood Middle School. "You enter the mine and you save two people. Then there’s the electrified lake."

Robert Averill, 14, who attends Community Christian middle School in Tigard, was among the more experienced students. He used one of four computers at home to produce a short movie by connecting the computer with the family VCR.

Dietrich, a student at Winterhaven Alternative School, also has a fair amount of computer experience. He worked on levels three and four with Robert.

"This is really neat," he said of the OMSI program. "It will be fun to see the finished product."

The Oregonian Metro, No date on article