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Virtual Makeover
Excite Extreme

SGI/Cosmo Software
Cosmo Player 2.0
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SGI/NTT Interactive TV
Cinema No Hako
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U-Club City Guide
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Cosmo Player 2.0

- Cosmo Software,
   A Silicon Graphics Company
- August 1996 - November 1997

Cosmo Player was Cosmo Software's Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) browser. It was available as a plug-in for HTML browsers, and enabled users to see and navigate through three-dimensional (3D) worlds available on the Web.

Click to see the full-sized version

Interaction Design Lead: Susan (Kropf) Gorbet
Interaction Programming and Design: David Brown
Graphic Design: Mike Whistler and Gabriella Marks at Construct Internet Design
With many contributions by the entire Cosmo Player team

Navigating in 3D on a computer monitor with a mouse and keyboard is an inherently difficult problem. Users have no peripheral vision, must map 2D movement into 3D navigation, and generally spend a great deal of time upside-down or banging into walls.

We created an interface that was hailed in the VRML community as a giant step forward for 3D browsers. Cosmo Player 2.0 was included in the initial release of Netscape 4.0, and millions of people downloaded it from the Cosmo site as well. Cosmo Player 2.0 was the also the first VRML browser to be fully compliant with the VRML97 Specification.

Among the innovations we added were:

  • Cursors and controls gave tightly coordinated feedback, so that modes and results of actions were clearly visible to users.
  • "Cascading help" gave novices extensive descriptions of every control, but was simple for experts to turn off.
  • Controls could be used with mouse only, keyboard only, or a combination of both.
  • Crosshair plus "rubber band" line indicated mouse click point plus drag distance, and enabled better user mapping of 2D input into 3D movement.
  • The list of author-created shortcuts to interesting places in a 3D world was always visible.
  • Undo/Redo Move buttons let users move back to previous positions.
  • Snap-to-level feedback when tilting up and down helped users orient themselves.
  • Disallowing any roll around the z (forward/backward) axis meant that users never wound up upside-down accidentally. Users could look up and down and even travel in the direction they were looking, but when turning, they always maintained a vertical orientation in the world.
  • Movement algorithms accounted for window size, forward movement speed, etc., to make turning seem natural. Turning 90 felt like 90, which is harder than it sounds.
  • "Fly" mode (which was required by the VRML specification) was presented to users simply as movement with "gravity" off, rather than a whole new set of controls for users to learn.
  • A new "examine" algorithm allowed users to rotate objects and still be able to get them back to the starting position. Again, harder than it sounds.
To read more about how Cosmo Player 2.0/2.1 works, read this quick help page that I wrote for our early beta releases.

Download Cosmo Player 2.1 from Computer Associates, which now owns the software.

Also see an interview with me called Interfacing the VRML world and my tips on Authoring for Navigation in 3D Worlds.

Feedback from the VRML community

"Susan, thank you, thank you, thank you!"
    - Mark Pesce, one of the original inventors of VRML

In early 2001, the VRML community took a poll on the best VRML browser. Even 3 years after its launch, Cosmo Player was the clear favorite. Go directly to the poll or start at the Vapourtech main VRML page and click on the Polls link.

More on the Cosmo Player design process
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