June 5, 2011 | WMU News
KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University unveiled a new way for prospective students to get acquainted with its main campus when it went live in May with the Broncoland Tour.
An interactive virtual tour, Broncoland puts the latest gaming technology to work as visitors navigate though a true-to-life 3D replica of the main campus. Along the way, they pick up a wealth of helpful information about the University's facilities, academic programs and student resources and services, as well as get snippets of WMU history, traditions and trivia.
Broncoland is thought to be the first fully interactive, 3D campus tour created using video game technology. It was developed by a team of eight student employees and interns representing disciplines such as communication, computer science, theatre and engineering and led by Kevin Abbott, project lead for 3D and interactive media in the Office of Information Technology. Some 5,000 hours of work have gone into the tour so far, and enhancements continue to be made.
"Today's students are so comfortable using the Internet and video games, it makes sense to reach out to them using technology they already enjoy," Abbott says. "The Broncoland tour is designed to help students learn about WMU by interacting with the campus, rather than just reading about it. By making it available on the Web, the tour provides a convenient way for students to get a sense of what WMU is about without having to travel here first."
The tour features the University's mascot, Buster Bronco, driving visitors around in a smart golf cart named Goldie—a take off on the University's school colors of brown and gold. Visitors have the option of taking an automated tour with Buster and Goldie providing commentary or a self-guided tour where they control the golf cart and explore the entire campus at their own pace.
Both versions feature 14 Golden Horseshoes that present information about such key areas of the University as student services, housing, arts and recreation. Throughout the tour, visitors can click on any buildings they see to call up information about them and view inset photos of what the buildings house. Visitors can also click a Map button to orient themselves by viewing a 2D campus map and click the Options button to adjust visual quality or stop, resume or restart the tour.
The automated version of the tour focuses on WMU's main buildings and presents important information as Buster and Goldie banter their way across campus. More interactivity is built into the free exploration version, which allows visitors to navigate campus by using standard keyboard controls.
Free exploration mode includes another video-game element—collecting 50 Golden Blocks that provide additional information about the University. The more blocks visitors collect, the better they get to know WMU. In terms of the student body, for instance, putting together just a few blocks reveals that 25,000 students attend WMU, they come from all 50 U.S. states and nearly 100 other countries, 41 percent belong to at least one student organization, and current students are following in the wake of such distinguished alumni as actor-comedian Tim Allen.
"We wanted the tour to be enjoyable for both gamers and nongamers, which led us to create the two different ways to take the tour. Since WMU students love Buster Bronco, he was the natural choice as our tour guide," Abbott says. "We also wanted the tour to be both enjoyable and informative, which led us to add Goldie the smart cart. She's fun to drive, and the dialogue between her and Buster allows us to make the tour more than just facts and figures."
Abbott says the Broncoland team will unveil a full-fledged video game during the 2011-12 academic year that will be built upon the 3D campus created for the tour. The game will allow prospective and incoming freshmen students to connect with campus in a new and fun way while teaching them essential skills that will help them be successful during their first year in college.
Players will adopt the role of a freshman and design their residence hall rooms, then take on a series of tasks as they experience life as a college student. The challenges they face, and overcome, in the virtual world should increase their chances of succeeding in college in real life.
The Broncoland tour and upcoming video game are products of the WMU Millennial Project, which recognizes that learning styles and educational goals are different for different generations of students. The project aims to develop more effective strategies for meeting the needs of millennial-generation students—those born in 1985 or later.
For more information about the Broncoland tour or game, contact project director Kevin Abbott, who also is a member of the WMU Millennial Project Steering Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (269) 387-5010.