BVW engages 50 students split into groups of four and then given two weeks to design, build and test their worlds. Over the course of the semester the students go through five project rounds, producing 60 worlds as a class. At the end of the semester students present their work to a jury, which then selects the best worlds for the BVW show.
The term "virtual world" encompasses a variety of computer generated environments and games, and in BVW, these "worlds" span a massive range of topics and interactions. Some of the worlds seen in this year's show included a jungle race between Tarzan and a gorilla, which pits one half of the audience against the other, and a giant collaborative painting world where the audience used laser pointers as brushes. We are given free reign to create whatever we want, the only exception being no pornography or gun violence. These topics are excluded because they are unoriginal and overdone, not because they might be offensive.
We use conventional industry tools to create the assets in each world. We use Autodesk Maya to create models, Photoshop to make textures and Adobe Audition to design sound. We put them all together in the Panda3D game engine (created by Disney and now open source) and code it in Python. Some students enter the course with experience using these software tools, but most students must learn on the fly.
In BVW you will not see any standard game controllers or joysticks, and not a single game console. For the first two rounds students are assigned non-standard platforms like virtual reality Head Mounted Displays (HMD) with Magnetic Trackers, the ETC built Jam-o-Drum, the PlayMotion shadow tracker and the Beyond Question remote system. Afterward students can choose our platform and often create experiences that weave multiple platforms together.
Most students never use the same platform twice. Over my five rounds I used four different platforms, but I tested or tried every platform at one point or another throughout the semester. This typically means that for each project students must learn how to use a new platform and come up with innovative and compelling ways to build on it. This all starts as soon as the groups are assigned.
In the four-person groups, each person has a unique role: programmer, artist, modeler or sound designer. My background was not in any of these disciplines, which is fairly common, but I took on the programmer duties, since I had some coding experience. The groups aren't supposed to fit square pegs into round holes; they're put together so each person can play up his strength in one of the roles.