ABC, Vee Are Emm Ell

Dateline: 9/9/98

Familiar Blocks

Courtesy out of the blue design

The use of VRML for the education of little kids is starting to get interesting. Most notable is the new work from out of the blue design, aka Linda Hahner and her folks. A second effort by John Nikkel aka "Ragtimer" called the Alphabet Primer has also been created as a single handed labor of love. While the two efforts are really not comparable in quality they do both address an interesting new 3D market...little kids.

FamiliarBlocks is out of the blue's new effort. It unquestionably one of the most significant VRML worlds around for a few reasons having nothing to do with the content. First, it's a product, a real live - you gotta pay for it - product! You go to their web site and via the magic of secure transactions you download the product. It comes as a zip file and actually installed without causing any damage to my system, always an accomplishment for a Win95 product.

The user (a child presumably) is presented with a block and some letters on the bottom. When the child clicks on the letters on the bottom, the block rotates to make that letter visible on the block. Each letter pulsates and deforms in a different and interesting way. The best part of the whole thing though is that each pulsing letter has a different pulsing soothing sound. You can have as many as four letters (one on each side - not the tops and bottom) pulsing WITH the sounds overlayed going at the same time. This stuff sounds really great and apparently a well know sound artist did the music.

If you go to the site and select the icon that leads to the FamiliarBlocks product area you'll be treated to another little VRML game. This one has three spinning alphabet blocks which you are supposed to drag to spell a word that is presented in an HTML frame.

Actually I have no idea if little kids like this stuff, but according to Hahner they do and I probably believe her :-) One thing is clear, the design of both the visuals and the sounds is exquisite. It's packaged and delivered in a highly professional way and should serve as a model for more VRML products.

John Nikkel's Alphabet Primer is a very cool example of someone just hacking around trying to produce something fun AND useful. John's Alphabet world is not a product it's just out there on the Web for free. It's also available as a handy dandy zip file. When you click on the letters you hear his melodious voice speak the letter and in the center of the world an object that starts with that letter appears. Some of the objects are animated like a yoyo. It's a great example of the kind of worlds people just hacking around can produce. It's not nearly as polished as out of the blue's FamiliarBlocks but it's fun cool and free!

So there you have it, a couple of worlds for educating little kids using 3D graphics...seems like a great idea to me!

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