UX design  |  UI design  |  virtual worlds  |  user narratives  |  games  |  program management

(OnLine Interacive Virtual Environment)

feature design and program planning for a "serious games" training platform

I joined Forterra after having spent 8 years designing for computer games. I was wary of creating experiences just for entertainment, and I decided to direct my career towards more enlightening and consequential products, i.e. "serious games."


Forterra was the builder of the OLIVE platform, acronym for  OnLine Interactive Virtual Environment, where 1st person MMO technologies for games were being employed for business and institutional purposes such as training and conferencing.


the context


Forterra spun off from There.com, a social app similar to Second Life. For several years, OLIVE accrued new features in a process resembling lean startups - eschewing big capital investments and instead paying for new features as clients requested and funded them. Clients were mostly R&D divisions of large companies or institutions that funded Forterra through pilot programs and proofs of concepts.


New client features were typically developed along a new branch of the trunk code specific to each customer, with the intention of merging those features back to trunk eventually.

my contributions


  • incorporating new requested features
  • fleshing out feature requirements
  • UX design by adapting existing user flows and UI, avoiding conflicts and overlaps
  • devising various use cases and detailed user scenarios and script for demonstrating new functionalities
  • managing demonstration programs, tests, and proofs of concept involving multiple participants in widely distributed locations




The UI framework for OLIVE was not well-thought out and was very brittle, difficult to change, and space for new UI elements was severely limited. Although I had a design for a new framework, implementation on that was deferred until it could be funded. In the meantime, this framework proved a serious impediment to new feature UI and an overall good user experience.


A project had come in that sought to explore how OLIVE could employ SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model), a standard for educational digital media content. To include SCORM in OLIVE would require significant new UI for retrieving content and then the ability to view and interact with his content while remaining in the virtual world.

virtually wearable


Within the existing UI layout, there was scant room for any new affordance for summoning a SCORM element, and because only some OLIVE users would ever need it, we did not want to commit to any permanent new UI for this.


The solution I came up with was to consider SCORM elements as inventory objects. Inventory was already a central feature of the OLIVE UI, and provided a way for the user to select from a large number of items. Each SCORM module could be "packed up" into the user's inventory and retrieved from there when needed.


When a user pulled a module out, a mobile device would appear in the user's avatar's hand. When the user gestured to look at this device, the application screen would split between the virtual world view and the SCORM content window.  The user remained "in the world", and other users nearby would be aware that this user was occupied with his mobile device.



Almost all development was customer-driven, and when a new feature or feature set was needed I would discuss and clarify requirements with the customer and the product managers. Meanwhile, I would have the engineers and art team advise on the many constraints of the system.


Very often extra creativity was needed to overcome the many constraints and to find ways to leverage existing UI to support the new requirements. This sometimes involved weighing bad ideas against worse ideas, but many times I had really good ideas.  I would then define generally the new UI and behaviors for the feature, and the sprint development process would begin.


I participated in the 2 week sprint cycle, trying to keep detailed designs just ahead of development. I had to be especially nimble, as feature priorities in the backlog constantly changed.

other work at Forterra


  • Designed, tune, and test Humvee driving controls and mounted gun turret deployment for US Army patrol training.
  • Designed UI for a medical stretcher to be carried by a pair of Army medics
  • Specified autonomous behaviors to be exhibited by avatars affected by sarin gas in various doses
  • Designed a sophisticated scenario creation tool for Army sergeants to use for creating new training missions in the field for up to 20 logged-in participants
  • Composed scripts for numerous demonstrations of training scenarios to be performed live as proofs of concept
  • Managed the program, development of new features, and execution of  a day-long virtual conference for up to 100 participants
  • Managed the execution of a virtual training exercise among a dozen real life firefighters distributed throughout the state of California


..and much much more.



Copyright 2016 Joseph M. Knight