Virtual Cities
February 10, 2005 12:50 AM   Subscribe

Are there any consumer-grade virtual city products out there? Back in '92 or '94, it seemed obvious that an impossibly costly but "killer" internet app would be a click-to-nav 3D city, built out of photographs of an actual city. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Katamari Damacy demonstrate that it could be done if you subset the city properly and keep the models simple enough. Has anyone done this at the retail leve, or research level?

I'm looking for something that is more like version 3.0 of and less like Snow Crash. Bonus points for something better than craigslist and citysearch for someone contemplating moving to a new city.
posted by b1tr0t to Technology (11 answers total)
s/Snow Crash/the metaverse/
posted by b1tr0t at 12:53 AM on February 10, 2005

Maybe something along the lines of Keyhole?
posted by Saydur at 1:00 AM on February 10, 2005

Something like Keyhole, but more urban-oriented, and not $600.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:49 AM on February 10, 2005

There's a recent game -- on one of the consoles, I think -- that has a complete version of London as its setting. I can't remember offhand what it's called. Apparently the gameplay is crap, though, despite the cool tech.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:39 AM on February 10, 2005

The game is called The Getaway 2: Black Monday.
posted by adrianhon at 2:52 AM on February 10, 2005

Keyhole's only $30 for personal use. And damn cool. But isn't exactly what you're looking for. But still damn cool. And is owned by Google. Makes you think, doesn't it?
posted by zsazsa at 5:52 AM on February 10, 2005

It's being done at the research level.
posted by bac at 6:17 AM on February 10, 2005

I've been working on something like this for a while now... it's been a pet project of mine.

In the first iteration of the idea, I was going to photograph every building in the North End, Boston, from street level, then built a Flash page where you could take a virtual "walking tour". I planned on subsidizing this venture by going to all the different restaurants in the area (that would inevitably be in some of the pictures) and encoding meta data to each of the shots that would allow me to show advertisements (or menus, etc.) when you got to a particular restaurant (or shoe store, or Walgreens... whatever).

The problem with the first iteration of the design was twofold: first, I didn't own a digital camera at the time. That made it prohibitively expensive. It was already going to take forever and a day of my time to code the thing up. That leads me to point #2: shooting that many buildings takes a looooong time. Royal PITA. Unless you've got a team of people working for you, only small sections of cities will work.

The second design basically takes a Quake Engine, maps real city elements using tiles, and keeps all the meta information for locations.

The next "big step" is to take corresponding directional information and GPS long/lat., then change align the display with the actual city you see in front of you. Get a heads-up display and walk down a real street with its virtual counterpart at the same time. See a building in real-life, "click" its virtual counterpart, and get, say, the hours of operation. The posibilities are pretty limitless.

Major drawbacks? Right now, GPS resolution isn't high enough to make the system "smooth". That and the menial task of tiling-up buildings.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:44 AM on February 10, 2005

In 2000, my senior research project in CS at Ga Tech was developing the requirements for such a project: a drive/walk-through of 16 city blocks. At the time, producing the (real-life) images appeared to be the most difficult, particularly from a logistics perspective: enlisting the police department, clearing streets of all traffic and parked cars, etc.

A side-project was to determine how best to model every building in that area in a virtual cityscape, right down to the depth and angles of window openings and other architectural features.

Another side-project was inventorying and linking all the commercial and government surveillance cameras in the area in one central command room without disturbing the operations of existing command rooms.

I managed to develop an AI system based on Piaget's work in cognitive development that did a fairly decent job of extracting architectural details (about an 8" resolution) based on 2 digital photos taken at slightly different angles. Then I had two strokes over about 10 days that left me kind of wigged out for several months. I got an A for the project but when I returned to Tech, I learned my adviser had been fired for sexual harassment of a TA and no one knew what became of my work.
posted by mischief at 7:50 AM on February 10, 2005

I came up with a notion similar but less involved, when I got my first digital camera. I was just shooting the city from intersections. Typical of me to start out on some project then find it a bit more than I feel like finishing!

But I still have all the work. Its rather interesting as a collection of photos of the middle of a German city (Duesseldorf), almost entirely shot within the same year.

I too had the idea of using such a system to advertise shops, as on the shopping streets, I started taking storefront photos (happened I lived on the main shopping street). But dog, it was one helluva lot of work naming photos and linking the intersections in a database! One day I might just put it up on my website.

I have since done the same thing on a small scale: I did my current home, which is a compound structure built within walls. Probably a bit boring, I dunno.
posted by Goofyy at 8:17 AM on February 10, 2005

Reminds me of the Aspen Movie Map developed at MIT's Media Lab in 1978-79.

"The Aspen Movie Map allowed the user to take a virtual tour through the city of Aspen, Colorado. This was accomplished with the use of four video cameras, which were pointed in different directions and took video footage while mounted on the back of a truck through the streets of Aspen. Once the footage was recorded, the pictures were linked together and allow the user to choose one of several predefined paths in which to tour the city." [Wikipedia].
posted by ericb at 10:29 AM on February 10, 2005

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