I just spent way too much time enjoying myself at an Active Worlds Educational Site: http://www.activeworlds.com/edu/awedu_download.asp. If you haven’t been here, I highly recommend a visit. After downloading a browser, one can enter a virtual world (3D) where an avatar is acquired in the form of a female or male tourist and named by you. The world is an outside scence with grass, trees, fences, walls, flying, walking, and crawling things, mirrors, and many other spectacles too numerous to mention here. From there, the participant (you) can do all kinds of things such as walking, jumping, blowing kisses, swimming, playing music – with sound – by moving the arrow keys on a giant piano keyboard, and discovering other fun activities as you follow signs similar to those we see in state parks. I finally had to make myself leave, but I understand now why students love these places and how additional participants would make for an even more amusing experience.
Wikipedia defines Active Worlds as “…a 3D virtual reality platform.” Users of AW can create, play and chat in various worlds that are built by participants. “Builds” have different themes according to the imagination and interest of the architect. “Tourists” can visit as long as they like and a few worlds allow building, but they cannot create contact lists, send or receive telegrams (messages) or teleport (go) to participants in other worlds. To participate fully, one must pay a fee of $20. Besides chatting and playing, other users hold and attend classes that cover topics like how to use rendering programs, how to make avatars and objects, and Paint Shop Pro.
Second Life is another type of internet-based virtual world wherein participants (or residents, as they are called) customize their avatars and chat while traversing, playing, and interacting in various 3D spaces along with performing business interactions. A feature of Second Life involves the exchange of Linden Dollars (L$) for U.S. dollars. (Linden comes from Linden Labs associated with Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life and CEO of L.L.) Rosedale wants to build a virtual economy with Second Life. According to a quote from Wikipedia, Rosedale has said, “I’m not building a game, I’m building a new country.” His ideas come from Snow Crash, a novel written by Neal Stephenson that involves a virtual world called Metaverse in which humans react to each other in play and business.
Those wishing to reside in Second Life have a couple of options for creating accounts which are the “Basic Account” and “Premium Second Life Account”. The basic account provides a free set of basic functions. Holders of basic accounts cannot own land, but they can still build and create things in “sandboxes, and rent land and/or apartments from residents. A price list is available on site for land and other items. For those who want to buy property , a premium account is a must. On this property, residents can build, create, invite others and generally have a great deal more fun than those with a basic account. Those with premium accounts also receive a higher level of service and support.
Those interested in more details about these spaces and others will find a very detailed assortment of information at http://oz.slinked.net/comparedetails.php#sl-freeacc.
Oddessey.org. is another 3D virtual reality site that I attempted to investigate but found little information. In fact, I found only one page, which claims “Oddessey is the premiere FREE virtual community for members of all ages.” Additional offerings include dozens of beautiful 3D worlds to visit and activities like choosing your style of personal 3D home and decorating it with 3D furniture from virtual malls as well as chatting, playing trivia and role playing games, contests and “much, much more”, according to the website.
The main difference between Oddessey, Active Worlds and Second Life is that Oddessey is completely free. In fact, through the following quote, it claims to be one of a kind:
Oddessey has evolved to become the first open source VRML based community. The worlds, objects and your 3d avatars are all created standards based VRML, and the source code for worlds and objects are available to freely download and modify for submission into the community.
VRML stands for Virtual Reality Modeling Language and according to wikipedia “is a standard file format for representing 3D interactive vector graphics, designed particularly with the World Wide Web in mind.” Vector graphics are the geometric figures used in virtual reality and are created by mathematical formulas, which sounds complicated to me.
I think the coolest part about 3D spaces is that one can invent a character that might be completely different from his or her everyday persona. It’s a kind of get-away without going leaving town.