Spring 2023 - IAT 445 D100

Immersive Environments (3)

Class Number: 4211

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 4 – Apr 11, 2023: Wed, 4:30–6:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    Completion of 60 units, including IAT 343 with a minimum grade of C-.



Introduces advanced 3D computer animation and virtual world building techniques. Integrates hands-on fundamentals with design praxis and theoretical and research concerns. Fundamentals are complemented with examples from current research and design praxis. The studio aspect of the course will include assignments focusing on specific animation and behaviour modeling techniques and a team-based design project.



Want to work with the latest in immersive technology such as head-mounted displays (HMDs)? IAT445 is an interactive and project focused course, where you’ll design, create, and refine a deeply engaging experience that you will present in a final showcase to the public (often including guests from the virtual reality (VR)/gaming industry). In this course, we will use an immersion framework to design, create, and evaluate immersive virtual environments and the interaction between the user and the virtual environment. To do this, we will combine hands-on fundamentals with interaction, animation, and immersive virtual reality design and theoretical and research concerns. The project will serve to both motivate and implement/showcase these aspects. The course will culminate in a final interactive project showcase and project pitch (oral/video) of the team project.

What’s in it for you? 

You will learn how to design, build, and iteratively refine an immersive and interactive VR experience that should blow the user away and positively affect them in a meaningful way. To do this, you will use the popular Unity 3D game engine and guidance from an immersion framework. You will most likely be implementing this for head-mounted displays so you’ll be able to showcase it wherever you go – including your next job interview and your next party. Combining a public project showcase  (note: this will likely be an online live-streamed showcase during remote teaching semesters) with a project website, an executive summary and a final project video can further improve your resume/portfolio and marketability.


Course Learning Objectives

By the end of the course, successful students will be able to…

  1. Examine the history and conceptual frameworks surrounding “immersion” and “immersiveness” and what this means for digital immersive environments and their users.
  2. Apply a conceptual framework in relation to your own immersive project/experience and use it to critique other immersive projects.
  3. Demonstrate moderate proficiency using appropriate software (currently: Unity) to design and build interactive (including user interaction and animation) immersive 3D virtual environments and experiences and display them on off-the-shelf computational devices/displays such as head-mounted displays (HMDs). Be able to present and explain your project and underlying code to others, and explain/defend your design decisions and how they are based on relevant frameworks/theories.
  4. Reflect on and apply suitable agile processes and team-based, collaborative practices used in VR experience design including ideation, project goal-setting and scoping, prototyping, iterative revisions, user testing/evaluating, and critical reflection as the base for an iterative and collaborative VR design cycle. This includes finding ways to effectively address challenges that can occur in team-based environments while being respectful and constructive. (This could include collaboratively resolving challenges that commonly occur in team-based projects, such as balancing between leading/following, communication challenges, conflicts that arise, ensuring all team members contribute meaningfully, engaging all team members, ensuring all care for the project and each other, getting people on the same page, and figuring out a shared vision/purpose that all can care about). 
Argue how this effectively takes advantage of the unique affordance of immersive VR to foster user experiences that would otherwise be impossible (or not as easily accessible), to impact users’ emotions, cognition/perspective and/or behavior in a positive direction

What projects are feasible? While students have considerable freedom in choosing their team projects, there are a few guidelines and restrictions

  • They have to be interactive (including user interaction, smooth user locomotion, and animation) immersive and 3D. That is, you will design and build a 3D virtual experience in Unity and display it immersively, e.g.,  using the provided head-mounted display. It should not induce negative side-effects such as cybersickness.
  • No killing/torture/violent/combat games or pornography. Such topics are already overdone, and our goal is to encourage and incentivize innovation and exploration of new ideas. Student teams are encouraged to push the medium hard and challenge viewers to rethink common theoretical, technical or cultural assumptions. 
  • Address this semester’s Design Challenge (announced and discussed at the beginning of the course)


  • Team Project 45%
  • Individual tasks and assignments incl. participation 40%
  • Midterm Unity test 15%


Delivery Method

The course will use a partially “flipped” classroom approach. Students are expected to participate in:

  • synchronous activities during the scheduled course times. This includes a live, interactive lecture with demonstrations, discussions, and some individual and peer/group work, as well as a live workshop-tutorial where students will practice and apply the concepts of the lecture in designing VR experiences. Students are expected to come prepared, attend and actively participate in both the lecture and their lab. 
  • asynchronous activities (e.g., independent preparation before the lecture/workshop,individual/ team work, peer work etc. to prepare each week and to pace yourself carefully in order to stay on top of the activities/assignments and to get the most from the class).

The learning environment will be active, supporting, and will afford opportunities for students to strengthen knowledge, skills, and feel a part of a community.

Teaching/Learning Activities

To get the most out of this class, you will be expected to and be responsible for the following:

  • Interact with peers and each other to apply materials 
  • Engage in interactive lecturing and demonstrations
  • Engage in flipped-classroom activities: e.g., watch online tutorials & do readings at home, apply it  so you can come to class prepared to do a short quiz, discuss and apply the material
  • Actively engage in and contribute to both lecture and tutorial/workshop sessions
  • Collaboratively contribute to a team project made up of several team assignments/presentations that culminate in a final group project report/presentation/showcase and project video
  • Engage in group discussions (in-class and online chat- and discussing forums)
  • contribute to short in-class writing and other activities
  • Weekly reading and short writing assignments (e.g., JiTTs), typically before class
  • Present your project and underlying code both individually and as a team 
  • Provide effective peer feedback and evaluations

Class attendance and participation policy: 

Regular attendance and active, supportive participation in class and team activities is necessary to pass; doing otherwise will result in point reductions and in extreme cases failure to pass the course. If you miss an assignment or class due to illness or personal concerns, a doctor’s note or other form of credible evidence must be presented to your instructor/TA.

Failure to contribute sufficiently to in-class activities, individual and team assignments, failure to responsibly do your part of the teamwork, or failure to reliably attend and contribute in team meetings can result in additional point reductions beyond the team evaluation.

As part of the team project, each team will be doing a team review that will inform the TA and instructor of how well things are going on the teams. It is critical that teams work well together in order to produce the best possible game designs. When everyone contributes it is more likely that the team will do a great job. These team-based reflective reviews will be required by each team on each major project. Failure to complete these will impact your grades.

To be eligible for full marks in the major assignments, you must complete the corresponding weekly in-class activities. Although these may not be formally marked, completion of these activities is a prerequisite for the corresponding major assignments, and failure to complete them appropriately could result in overall point reduction.


Recommended prerequisites:

This course will be a chance for you to apply and bring together many of the skills you acquired in earlier courses. As IAT 445 involves creating a short team project video, some background in planning, shooting, and editing videos would be advantageous. Having taken game design courses will also be advantageous (e.g., IAT 167: Digital Games; IAT 312: Foundations of Game Design; IAT 410: Advanced Game Design).
This course will provide an excellent opportunity to utilize and improve upon skills cultivated in other SIAT courses, including but not limited to: 3D modeling, animation, programming, rapid prototyping, iterative design, agile development, effective user testing to improve your projects, human perception and cognition, and how to apply it to your project; image editing and sound design, sketching and storyboarding, structured ideation/brainstorming approaches such as affinity diagramming, effective teamwork, effective studying, professional writing and presentation skills, pitching your project professionally, critiquing projects, incorporating critique to improve your own project, and using an iterative planning, drafting and revision process throughout your projects.



Note: if all goes well with the Covid-19 pandemic this class will be offered in-person. In case we need to switch to online instruction for any reason, we use remote live teaching through online videoconferencing systems such as Zoom. In that case, you would need to use your own computer (laptop or desktop) that is able to run Unity3D (check specs). During pandemic restrictions, the library can not lend out the VR HMDs to teams but instead, lend them out individually so you can experience and design for that form of VR.


Online software tutorials such as LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com). (in case SFU access should be limited or expire, you might have to obtain your own access)

Jerald, J. (2016). The VR Book: Human-Centered Design for Virtual Reality. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery and Morgan & Claypool. ISBN: 978-1-97000-112-9 doi: 10.1145/2792790 (available online through SFU library)

Steinicke, F. (2016). Being really virtual: immersive natives and the future of virtual reality. Cham: Springer. (available online through SFU library)

Supplementary readings will be announced as needed. Reference readings will be added to the course website as needed.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html