Active Worlds: A Brief Introduction

Active Worlds* is the granddaddy of virtual worlds. Founded in 1995, it has been in operation for nearly 23 years now. I had visited once before, back in 2010, after reading about its 15th anniversary on Metafilter. But I had lost my login information, so I decided to create a new account and pay Active Worlds a visit. The arrival area looks like this, with a rather ugly-looking bot to greet visitors:

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But to my surprise, there were no less than seven other avatars in the default welcome area who were chatting (I had expected it to be deserted). One of the avatars there told me how to pull up a list of worlds to teleport to:

AW 4 11 May 2018.png

I picked the HeavensStairway world, and there were about seven avatars there as well, and I was actually welcomed by a handful of people! But after a little while, I realized that these avatars were merely bots, as they greeted other newcomers in exactly the same manner.

The avatars/bots are rather primitive compared to Second Life, but serviceable:

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Here’s a selfie of my default male avatar:

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There’s a user community called AWPortals.com which you can also join, and I did. There’s only one event coming up, a TGIF Party, to which nobody seems to be planning to attend, according to the message at the bottom of the screen:

AW 3 11 May 2018.png

There’s also an Active Worlds news website called AWTimes, which is updated bi-monthly (and which is, frankly, one of the most hideously designed websites I’ve seen in a long while). According to the AWTimes, surprisingly, the Active Worlds software has been updated as recently as February 2018.

And tonight, I am dancing with a few others at the TGIF Party at the PrairieHills world! Turned out some other people showed up after all! It would seem that there is still a little bit of life in Active Worlds after all these years…

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*Note that when I tried to access the Active Worlds website, Google Chrome gave me a security warning. Apparently, their website security certificate had expired, only yesterday! My timing was perfectly (im)perfect. I decided to bypass the warning and visit the website anyway, but you might feel differently about it:

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Pluto VR: A Social VR Dashboard App

Pluto VR is a software product by a small Seattle-based company that has a distinctly different take on social VR: it’s a dashboard app that you load while you are running another SteamVR program. Last year they raised almost $14 million in funding. Here’s a picture from that report, showing three avatars from the perspective of one who is in Paris within the Google Earth VR software program.

PlutoVR 11 May 2018

Now, there are still some limitations. You can see other people and talk to them while you’re in a SteamVR program, but they can’t see what you’re seeing (in other words, the other two avatars can’t see Paris). You can only see the head and the hands of the other avatars, and you can talk to each other.

Here’s a few questions and answers from their FAQ:

How do I use Pluto once it’s running?

Pluto runs as a dashboard app, which means if you open the SteamVR dashboard you will see our icon along the bottom of the SteamVR dashboard.  Select it and you can interact with Pluto to call your contacts. If you receive a call the dashboard will open automatically, and show you Pluto’s UI.

Can people I’m talking to see what I see?

Not yet. Several organizations including Pluto are actively developing technology to let people see more of what each other is doing. In the meantime, Pluto gives you the ability to see and hear each other no matter what app each of you are currently using.

What can we see about each other?

You are able to see the heads and hands of those you are talking to (if their motion controllers are on). We currently limit what we show based on the tracking information that most people have.

Here’s a YouTube video that probably describes Pluto VR better than I could. Notice that, at the beginning of the video, one avatar is in Google Earth and the other is in Tilt Brush, but each cannot see what the other sees. (One avatar did send the other one a screenshot of their Tilt Brush creation, though.) At the end of the video, there is a sort of weird mashup of Pluto VR and Rec Room, where it wasn’t clear to me whether or not each avatar could actually see what the others were doing. (And, if you’re all playing together in Rec Room, why would you use Pluto VR anyway?)

This is an intriguing concept, but I’m still not sold on how practical or useful this would be. Pluto VR is currently available through the Early Access Software program on Steam, and they are actively looking for alpha testers with VR headsets. So if you’re interested, download the software and give it a try.

Question: What happens when you use Pluto VR as a social VR overlay in a social VR app on SteamVR, like VRChat? Would it be like when John Malkovich enters the portal into his own head in the movie Being John Malkovich? 😉

There.com: A Brief Introduction

Blog commenter Nicolas Barrial reminded me of yet another older virtual world that is still hanging on, and that is There.com. It’s yet another contender for the most unfortunate virtual world name—ever try to Google “There”?

There.com 11 May 2018

Their website has an up-to-date blog with reports on in-world events, so there still must enough people who are playing There to keep it a viable virtual world. I used to have an account, but I’ve forgotten the details; I haven’t been to There in a very, very long time! Their avatars give me serious flashbacks to Second Life circa 2003 (see this picture from 2017 from their blog):

There.com avatars 11 May 2018

According to its Wikipedia page, There.com is unique among virtual worlds in that it actually shut down operations in 2010, and then reopened in 2012 with a monthly subscription fee (US$10 per month per avatar). I can’t think of another virtual world that was able to resume operations after closing their doors. There is definitely a survivor!

Started at roughly the same time as Second Life, There.com never reached the levels of popularity that SL did. Another virtual world for the curious to explore…

NeosVR Has Launched Their Open Beta for Free on Steam

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In a recent announcement on Steam, NeosVR has announced that their open beta software is now available and free for everyone to use to build their own VR experiences:

Beta marks a big milestone for us. While we spent three years in the alpha stage, working on the fundamentals and building a solid foundation for a new kind of metaverse from the ground up in relative silence, in the beta you, the community, will be crucial to us.

With your help we’ll push this into a well-rounded solution for many different scenarios and build a lot of cool content. Currently Neos is probably mostly interesting to artists, creators, tinkerers and developers, but as we go on and expand on the content and user-friendly functionality, it’ll be more relevant to everyone.

We hope that you’ll join us on this journey and find Neos to be a useful and fun tool, no matter what you do.

Here are also some useful links:

Patreon [www.patreon.com] – support the development and get builds and content early!

Official website [neosvr.com]

Video Tutorials – Learn how to do all kinds of things in NeosVR!

Wiki [wiki.neosvr.com] – Work in progress, but may answer some questions

GitHub [github.com] – Report bugs and request new features

How can you help?

There are a few ways in which you can help!

  • Feedback – simply start using Neos and tell us what you think! What you like? What you don’t like?
  • Word of mouth – like Neos? Tell your friends! Make YouTube videos or Tweet. help us reach more people. Don’t like Neos? Share that too, maybe we can improve 🙂
  • Financial support – we need to eat! Also run some servers and our computers. We have launched a Patreon page [www.patreon.com] where you can support us and get some nice perks

Here’s one of the tutorial videos, where an interesting way to texture objects using a “material gun” is demonstrated:

It’s a very different approach to VR content creation! I’ll be looking forward to trying NeosVR now that the software is available via the Early Access Program on Steam.

Twinity: A Brief Introduction

Twinity is another virtual world that I had forgotten about, created by a German company, Metaversum GmbH, and later sold to ExitReality in 2012. I haven’t played it in years. (By the way, it also wins my vote for the stupidest name for a virtual world.) Most people have never heard of it, but they still seem to be a going operation, according to their website:

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Just for fun, I decided to re-download the software and give it a spin again. The first thing I notice, is that… it’s pretty empty in Twinity. Like, really, REALLY empty:

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I had forgotten all about my starter apartment, which I got for free for being a very early adopter of Twinity way back when (not long after they opened in 2008). It was still decorated as I had left it:

Twinity 3 10 May 2018

In a failed effort to get people to purchase a paid subscription to Twinity, you had “Guest_” permanently attached to your username (like “Guest_Ryan” over my avatar’s head in this picture), unless you decided to pony up for a VIP Pass. I never bothered, and from what I could tell, most other people didn’t bother either. I’m frankly amazed that Twinity is still around after all these years. It never was very popular. They can’t be making much money.

For a long time, Twinity had virtual recreations of the downtown areas of Berlin, London, Miami, New York, and Singapore, with streets laid out like in the real-life cities. (They started with an open beta in September 2008 with Berlin.) The idea was, you could rent or buy an apartment in one of these “cities”, and walk around the streets of “Berlin” or “London”, looking at the sites. It was a cute gimmick which marked them as somewhat different from other virtual worlds.

Then, at some point, Twinity could no longer pay for some sort of license to use the mapping data for their cities, so they suddenly had to yank out all the city recreations they had built, and instead, you just teleported directly from interior to interior, store to store, and apartment to apartment. According to a 2012 article from Hypergrid Business:

In order to make ends meet, the company had to stop showing city exteriors, which the company had previously licensed from map data providers.

Meanwhile, members have been complaining about falling usage.

“Is it just me, or is this game dead?” asked one member in the site’s forum. “I’ve been playing for about two weeks, and the most people I’ve ever seen on at one time is 11.”

I did remember a rather good recreation of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and I decided to revisit it. (I actually had to restart the Twinity client in order to get there!) You used to be able to walk around the exterior of the building, but now all that’s left is the ornate interior. One of the things I had forgotten, that used to drive me absolutely crazy about Twinity, was how dimly lit many of their experiences were! This is a good example. Anybody got a flashlight?

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Another thing I remember is that Twinity was the very first virtual world I encountered to have working mirrors. I was really rather impressed by that at the time.

Like I said, I’m surprised that Twinity is still in operation. It’s a ghost town, like Blue Mars.

SurrealVR: A Brief Introduction (and Write-Off)

And… here’s yet another social VR platform that I forgot about! SurrealVR was a platform I had tried out sometime last year, and I gave up in frustration at the time because I simply could not get it to work in my Oculus Rift headset and Touch hand controllers.

I see from their Steam page that they last posted an update in April, although it does seem rather forlorn:

SurrealVR 10 May 2018

So I decided to try re-installing it tonight (it’s free) to see if it had improved any.

Nope. Still broken as hell. I can’t turn, I can’t move. All I can do is generate supersized laughing emojis with my trigger fingers, like in the video thumbnail (?!!?). Not impressed. I officially give up on this one.

UPDATED: MetaWorld: A Brief Introduction (BUYER BEWARE!)

And, just as soon as I finished that list I just posted, I found another social VR space/MMO hybrid called MetaWorld!

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Actually, re-found it. I had actually signed up for project updates by email and then completely forgotten about it, and the last project update was quite a while ago, way back in August 2017. It looks like their attempt to crowdfund the platform via IndieGoGo has stalled. I’m not sure if this project still exists, although they have slashed prices on their “Pioneer” packages.

According to their website:

MetaWorld invites you to experience a 10,000 square mile, massively scaled open world in virtual reality. Discover endless activities and adventure, inside a persistent, open world simulation, allowing thousands of visitors to participate simultaneously online.

Join us, and pioneer a first of its kind, vast-scale social VR MMO simulation experience.

Aah yes, yet another blockchain-based social VR space:

MetaWorld 2 10 May 2018

If anybody out there has any knowledge about what happened to the MetaWorld project, could they let me know? Thanks.

UPDATE May 12th: Well, I did find some answers in this very informative post to the Oculus subReddit:

Don’t get your hopes up for Metaworld VR. It looks like vaporware.

Updates have been non-existent, emails go unanswered, some have been sent a png and a fake link as “digital downloads”, begging for crowdsource money, and whoever runs their Reddit account just spams review articles, which are likely paid advertising, whenever there is criticism.

Would not send these guys a cent.

It’s worth reading through the whole discussion thread just to find out what happened. The co-founder left the MetaWorld project to found another, smaller social VR space called Community Garden.

And The Road to VR website posted a comprehensive report on the troubled project back in September, and issued a strongly worded Buyer Beware:

MetaWorld is headed into Early Access, which partly excuses it from being an incomplete product, but the inconsistency in messaging around the game’s core mechanics and features ought to leave you worried about the stability of the still unreleased MMO. The game purports to feature a variety of activities including hunting, fishing, camping, snorkeling, sailing, sports, training, RC, drones, and go karts—all well and good—but according to the company, the core gameplay is based around survival. “You’ll have to defend your land against other players as well as opportunistic animals,” the company says.

You won’t find this information conveniently listed on the MetaWorld website though, but rather strewn across various Reddit pages where the creator sporadically posts, oftentimes in cryptic, single-word answers. At the time of this writing, the game’s website only consists of press blurbs gathered from before the IndieGogo campaign was launched and a small marketplace selling the game’s three plot sizes.

…It still isn’t clear how much is truly at stake for landowners or the landless free-to-players at the moment either. Questions like: can animals or other players kill you? If you die, do you lose your items? Can you trade in-game credits back to real cash? Can you craft items, or do you have to buy everything from vendors? The list of unaddressed questions goes on in the game’s largely abandoned discussion board on Steam.

To quell fears around the general lack of communication about the core game mechanics, the studio took to three major VR Reddit pages on Saturday (r/Viver/Oculusr/PSVR), saying that the game won’t only be a wilderness area with cookie-cutter buildings as featured in the promo, but rather a growing framework “we can use […] to create many other worlds. Fantasy, Sci Fi etc.”

“We are building the world as a community, a few square miles at a time,” the company says. “Early pioneers will gather in world and decide on what types of diverse biomes to build. People in the world are discover-able through the UI. We figured out a way to make a huge world that feels alive, rich with things to do. One of our primary goals is to introduce an experience with lots of divergent game play, that you’ll never get bored of.”

For potential customers, HelloVR also had this to say about refunds on the PSVR Reddit page:

“MetaWorld was founded out of passion. Our team doesn’t expect to generate much revenue from the project. Our early access goal is to build a core community that has ownership in the world. Anyone can ask for a refund at anytime by emailing metabot@metaworldvr.com

Anyone can ask, but it remains to be seen if anyone can actually have a refund—something to keep in mind for digital prospectors looking to settle a virtual frontier that might just as likely turn out to be a barren wasteland.

What is clear now, is that MetaWorld is a dead (or nearly-dead) project. Caveat Emptor!