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Stranger in a Stranger Land: First
Steps into a New World
Figure 7.6: awim4.jpg
At Ground Zero in The Gate
Click to get print resolution version.
Once you land in Active Worlds, you will be
in a place called The Gate. Here you are truly a stranger in a
strange land! Moving around in front of you are avatars,
the digital personalities representing other people in Active
Worlds. In The Gate everyone looks like a grey alien. The Gate
is like a Grand Central Station to worlds within the Active Worlds
universe. I suggest you head straight for the original world,
AlphaWorld. To do that, you can move yourself forward (by pressing
on your up arrow cursor key) to the gate labeled AlphaWorld and
then pass right through it. Donít worry about bumping into
other avatars, you will pass right through them and this is not
considered rude! You can also use your mouse to click on the gate
marked AlphaWorld to go directly to that world. If you have a
sound card and your speakers turned on you might well hear the
sound of the teleport as you pass through.
Landing in AlphaWorld you will have to wait
while objects stream in. Everything will look like floating black
triangles for a while. Eventually you will see a scene much like
the one portrayed in the figure at the very beginning of the chapter.
This scene shows a little boy avatar, a woman in a green dress,
and some chunky looking dudes in the distance. All these avatars
represent someone online using the Active Worlds Browser, but
the size or gender of the avatar may have nothing to do with the
real person behind it.
The dude standing by the green lady has some
text over his head that reads: ìBrown Bear: wow, neat,
how many children, and do you blow the glass??î. This text
is also shown in a window at the bottom of the window, and is
obviously part of an ongoing conversation. The person who chose
the chunky guy avatar took the name Brown Bear and is talking
to one or all of the other avatars. Threads of conversation are
always going on and can get confusing.
In the area around the Ground Zero point,
you can see several billboards and smaller signs. Signs are a
useful part of AlphaWorld and you can often pass through them
to visit areas they advertise. On the left-hand side is a dark
structure that looks like a cross between an obelisk and a telephone
booth. This is a teleporter. As you might guess, if you
walk into a teleporter, you are transported instantaneously to
distant lands. This teleporter is the Worlds Gateway, which takes
you to a park full of other teleporters.
Beyond the square around Ground Zero, you
will see an expansive green plain and a mountainous horizon. Those
mountains are an awfully long way off (I have never reached them
personally). Spread out on the green plain is a vast cityscape,
or rather, a whole series of cities.
The initial Active Worlds Browser window is
quite small to start with, but you can resize it to get a better
view. You can even make it fill your whole screen. This is quite
dramatic, but it might make your movement a bit slow. The larger
the window, the more work your computer has to do to paint the
scene as you move through the virtual cities in AlphaWorld (so
the slower you will be able to move). If you have a fast computer
you can use a bigger view. You can fine tune the performance of
your world under the Options menu, but this is a detail you donít
have to worry about now.
Choosing Your avatar
There are a range of avatars in AlphaWorld,
ranging from surfer dudes, karate kids, tourist women, strongmen,
svelte model women, geeks, birds, and other assorted characters,
as shown in the preceding figure.
If you have immigrated as a citizen, you can
choose your avatar from the avatar gallery, available by clicking
on the Avatar menu at the top of the Active Worlds Browser window.
If you do not choose an avatar, you are assigned the default avatar
(named Cy), which looks a little like a storefront mannequin.
Once you choose a new avatar, everyone in the world (after 10
or 20 seconds) will see the change take effect. You may see some
avatars which are not listed in the Avatar menu. These are custom-built
avatars. Custom built avatars are a new experimental addition
to Active Worlds. Expect to see more of this in the future including
a way for you to build your own avatar.
Badge of honor, badge of shame
Like two society women who discover they are
wearing the same dress at the ball, it can be embarrassing and
confusing to see so many avatars that look like you, as you see
here. To help, most worlds provide a name tag called a name
badge. In AlphaWorld, this badge is shown above the heads
of avatars. It appears just after you have entered some text.
In the preceding figure, you can see the name badges of avatars
called North, DigiGardener (thatís me!),
and ChillyDog. You will also notice that other text appears
under the name badges. This is the text which the real people
behind North, DigiGardener, and ChillyDog, typed in. (Iíll
talk more about communications later.) Like Internet addresses,
name badges (sometimes called user IDs or user names), are unique
in each world. As in the real world, in the virtual you can also
bring honor or shame to your name. In AlphaWorld, you also must
supply your e-mail address during citizen application. This can
make AlphaWorldís citizens quite responsible, except for
some dramatic cases, as you will see in our later section on crime.
OK, now what?
The very first thing you must do in AlphaWorld
is get away from Ground Zero! Why this is important is apparent
in figure 7.15. If you are standing there, you cannot carry
on a decent conversation because people are constantly landing
on top of you! But hold your horses, you ask, how do I move? The
next section will introduce you to smooth moves in the virtual
Moving around in the world
If you have used a computer for any length
of time, you will find that moving around in AlphaWorld is easy.
If you have used computer games in arcades or at home, especially
three-dimensional ones like Doom, you will find moving around
in AlphaWorld a snap!
Clipping along by keyboard
Even in this era of the mouse, nothing beats
the versatility of a good keyboard command set. Active Worlds
Browserís designers chose a very logical and simple set
of keyboard keys for motion.
Keyboard keys used for motion
|Forward Arrow||Moves you forward into the scene|
|Backward Arrow||Moves you backward out of the scene|
|Left Arrow||Turns you to your left|
|Right Arrow||Turns you to your right|
|Keypad Plus Key||Flies you up|
|Keypad Minus Key||Parachutes you down|
|Page Up Key||Turns your ìheadî to look up|
|Page Down Key||Turns your ìheadî to look down|
As with many computer games, you can use these
keys in combination. For example, if you want to turn in a circle,
you can hold down the forward arrow and left arrow keys at the
same time. The keypad plus and minus keys (different from the
plus and minus keys above the numbers on your alphabetic keys)
are the most fun. As kids (or maybe you are a kid now?), we dreamed
of flying; well, now you can! As you keep your finger down on
that plus key, you will see yourself rising up. This can give
a feeling of exhilaration. These virtual environments, even without
goggles or fancy gloves, give you the feeling of being inside
them. People have even reported a sense of vertigo and fear of
heights while using virtual worlds. You might laugh at these people,
sitting comfortably in front of their computers, but recall your
own feelings in movie theaters, or at some of those huge screen
IMAX productions where you feel like you are going to tip right
out of your seat.
Mousing it at ground level
If you want to use your mouse to control movement,
you can go into ìmouse modeî by clicking on the small
ìpointing cursorî icon on the toolbar. Your mouse
movements will carry you around the world until you click again
to release the mouse. AlphaWorld and many other worlds did not
support devices such as joysticks at the time I was writing this
The Active Worlds Browser has a toolbar which
makes some common operations simple to reach. The left and right
arrows on the left-hand side of the toolbar allow you to move
back or forward to some other place. Whenever you travel with
a teleporter (more on this later), your previous position is recorded.
You can go back to this position by pressing on the left arrow
on the toolbar or by selecting Back under the Teleport menu. You
can reverse your steps using the right arrow or Forward under
the Teleport menu. You will find these features very useful as
you explore the Active Worlds.
The next three buttons on the toolbar show
eyes looking up, straight ahead, and down. Clicking on these buttons
allows you to tilt your avatarís head viewpoint up and
down, or come back to a level position. The same effect comes
through the use of the Page Up and Page Down keys or the View
menu (see following figure).
Had an out-of-body experience?
Youíll like this one!
Next on the toolbar are the eye and camera
buttons. Clicking on the eye button will let you see the world
through your avatarís first person point of view.
Picking the camera will let you move out of body into a third
person birdís eye or god view. These options
can also be activated by pressing the Home and End keys or selecting
choices from the View menu. Many AlphaWorld citizens find that
floating at some distance above the ground (by pressing + or -
) is the best way to get around. You can combine flying and third
person view for a truly dramatic effect.
Seeing yourself from overhead can be very
useful. In god view you can see what you look like and what is
in your surroundings as you move along. God view is also a very
good way to ìseeî conversations being directed at
you by more than one avatar. Hitting the End key again pulls you
out of your body even farther. You can get very high indeed, as
the following figure shows (flying high over an old AlphaWorld
Ground Zero in early 1996). Even though you are out of body you
can still use all the same keys to move and communicate or even
When you are tired of being so all-seeing
and want a more intimate viewpoint, hitting the Home key or pressing
the eye button on the toolbar will bring you back into your avatarís
In this figure I (as DigiGardener) am leading
a tour and talking at the same time. The right-side set of buttons
on the toolbar will appear only if you have the built-in Web browser
option installed. More later in the section, ìBuilt-in
You may notice that avatars around you are
making this strange series of gestures. Some of these gestures
are automatic and others you can control by clicking on buttons
like the ones shown in the preceding figure. The gestures you
can make depend on the avatar you have selected. Some worlds have
avatars with no gestures at all. See the section, ìDid
you see that...avatar move?!î later in this chapter for
a funny film sequence of avatar gestures.
Speed Freak? Weíve got
just the key combinations for you!
You might find the pace in AlphaWorld a bit
sedate. To pump up the RPMs and rocket around, just hold down
the Ctrl key while using any of the motion keys from the preceding
Ctrl+Alt combination keys
|Ctrl + motion keys||Motor along at a decent pace|
|Shift+motion keys||Pass through objects|
This key moves you along at a good clip, 10
miles per hour in traffic. With this combination, the Active Worlds
Browser still bothers to paint the scene as you go along.
The Teleporter, a 50,000 KPH
To travel really fast, I recommend you select
the To option in the Teleport menu. Here you can enter coordinates
for some far distant place or even teleport to a whole new world.
See the section on ìdive bombingî
under ìWhat in the World is There to do? Popular Activities
in AlphaWorld and other Active Worldsî for a use of ultrafast
modes that would make Evel Knievel proud!
Am I at the edge of the world?
As you motor further away from Ground Zero,
you will notice that the built-up areas seem to end abruptly about
half a city block ahead of you (as in the preceding figure). This
does not mean there is nothing beyond this point. This point is
a sort of artificial horizon, beyond which the Active Worlds
Browser does not paint the scene. You would need a pretty powerful
computer to be able to show the city out to the distant mountains.
The Active Worlds Browser compromises by giving you a closer and
more limited horizon. This is necessary, but it is one
of the most disconcerting features of this world. Your commonsense
brain is constantly saying: ìthere is nothing more there,î
while your higher virtual worlds brain has to disagree and reason:
ìno, there will (or will not) be something more shown there
when we get closer.î As you build up a mental model of familiar
spots in AlphaWorld, you will begin to imagine the shape of the
area beyond the horizon and saunter forth without fear that you
will suddenly run smack into a wall!
You may also notice that you are stopping
and starting as you move. This is happening because the Active
World Server has to send you new city information. As you visit
areas, this data is saved on your hard disk, and your journeys
through this area again will go much faster. Sometimes the server
will have to deliver a new object that is not in your library.
If you press F3 or select Downloads from the Show menu, you can
see what objects the Active Worlds server is sending you (as shown
in the following figure).
Are you being served?
Other information can be shown, such as frame
rate, bandwidth, and visibility (distance to the artificial horizon).
You will notice this object displayed as a
tiny black pyramid called an anchor. At the top of the
Active Worlds Browser window you might see a message Waiting for
Server or Sent 1552 bytes of 8096. After city data or objects
are downloaded, the Active Worlds Browser software will take a
few seconds to paint this new object into the scene. After you
have received a large number of objects, your travels will become
faster and easier. Bear in mind that as the Active Worlds Browser
runs, it will take up more disk space. It will not take a large
amount, but it is good to keep at least 5MB or 10MB of free space
available at all times.
Whoops, I stubbed my toe!
It might come as no surprise that in AlphaWorld,
you can run into a wall. If your avatar suddenly stops
moving, you could be trapped against an obstruction. If you look
down (with Page Down), you might notice an object at your ìfeet.î
AlphaWorld is made up of millions of ìobjects.î These
are images of real-life things such as shrubs, sidewalks, doors,
and beer mugs. As in real life, you would expect some objects
to be more solid than others. As you might expect, in AlphaWorld
you can pass through objects like shrubs but will be stopped cold
by a stone wall.
Key combination for a ghostly effect
|Shift+Motion||Lets you punch through walls, floors, and ceilings|
They say that any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic. In AlphaWorld, the Shift
key gives you the magic power to pass through any object. Why
bother with doors when you can just shift through the walls. It
is so common for avatars to blast through the masonry that many
builders in AlphaWorld donít bother with doors or roofs
on their buildings. Beware of shift though, you can find yourself
underground, looking up at the bottom of AlphaWorld (a curious
but harmless situation).
Some people never venture beyond the bounds
of Ground Zero, content to mill about and chat within this tiny
area. But there is a vast hinterland in AlphaWorld, with major
cities, and other Active Worlds you can reach. So take up your
old kit bag and catch the wanderlust of this vast virtual planet.
Ground Zero is laid out as a large town square
with routes leading out to many destinations. Some of these routes
are by land; you just move in that direction. Roads tend to travel
only a little ways. Hey, this is cyberspace; where we are going,
there are no roads! Expect to be hedge hopping before long. The
best way to explore by land is to fly to a certain altitude and
zoom along in the ultrafast modes I described earlier. You can
take any direction you like out of Ground Zero, and you can fly
for a very long way before you will run out of city. Is there
any order to it? Because AlphaWorld citizens just built where
they found land, there is not much rhyme or reason to the cityscape.
It is a kind of unplanned virtual Los Angeles. You do find some
semblance of neighborhood in concentrated areas. Someone lays
down a pattern, like a river, a pathway, or a bit of street, and
others tend to build to it.
After a while you will ask the inevitable
question: where am I? In a dynamically changing and enormous environment
like AlphaWorld, there is no map. In this version of the world,
Columbus was wrong, the world is flat and it has an edge
off of which you can fall! AlphaWorld is not a sphere but is actually
a huge green plain. Get out your old high school math and geography
books and blow off the dust; welcome back to the Cartesian Coordinate
System! If you are not in high school yet, you will be able to
blow your teachers away!
At the top of the Active Worlds Browser window
you will see text displayed which might say something like, AlphaWorld
at 23N 37E facing SW. This means that you are 23 units north and
37 units east of Ground Zero and you are facing southwest. Knowing
this type of latitude/longitude location system is essential for
getting around in AlphaWorld. As you move, notice how the numbers
change. In our current position, if we continue in the southwesterly
direction, we will see both the north and east numbers decreasing.
In fact, we will be headed back toward Ground Zero (at 0N, 0E).
When you are moving very fast, these numbers really roll by.
It is big out there!
AlphaWorld is huge! Once you learn to speak
Cartesian, you will hear people talking about, Come and see my
place at 8326S, 9665W. One AlphaWorld unit corresponds to about
2 feet (0.6 meters) in ìrealî terms. After traveling
around AlphaWorld for almost a year (does the author have any
real social life, you might ask?), I have yet to reach the edge
(those sunny distant hills will never be explored). This is tiring,
you might exclaim as your finger holding down Alt goes numb; is
there a better way to get around? Yes, there is a better way,
see the following section on teleports!
Teleports: Scotty, beam me around!
A whole generation growing up with Star Trek
and hard core science fiction is about to live its collective
fantasies; the teleport is here! And you donít have to
wait until the twenty-fifth century to use one! Teleports are
a public art form, just take a look at these beautiesÖ
Types of personal teleports
Telestation halls and teleparks
Teleports are handy ways to jump from one
point in AlphaWorld to another. You can also jump between totally
different Active Worlds. There are many ways you can teleport.
The first is by entering one of the in-world teleport booths,
as shown in the previous figures. These booths look different,
but they all do the same thing: move you quickly to another location.
Large collections of teleports, in telestation halls or in teleparks,
are handy points from which to explore the universe of Active
Telestation halls have teleports that take
you to points in a common area, like the eastern part of AlphaWorld.
In halls, teleports are arranged in pairs, the outbound port on
one side and the inbound on the other. You can enter the outbound
port and will see people coming back from the locations through
the inbound ports. Right-click on any port and you will see a
description of where it will take you. If you have a sound card
installed you will hear a distinctive teleporting sound as you
emerge from a port into a new area. You may have to wait a moment
while the server gets you set up to see the new scene. If a world
has many new objects, you might have to wait several minutes before
you see much.
Another way to teleport is through the use
of the built-in teleporter. This was pioneered by the AlphaWorld
Police Department as a teleport cruiser used to get to crime scenes
quickly, to track down vandals, or assist citizens being subjected
to avabuse (verbal abuse). Just select the Teleport menu
and To, and enter your coordinates, as in the following example.
Donít forget to enter the NEWS (North,
South, East, or West) letters after your numbers. You can enter
decimal precision (like 105.8N). If you enter a third number which
has no letter with it, it sets your skew, or the direction
you will be facing when you land (for example 180 means you will
be facing 180 degrees off the normal east-west line). If you enter
a number followed by the letter A, it will set your altitude in
units above the ground. Now, go ahead and dial-a-teleport!
Other ways to enter the world: the
A third way to use teleports is through Web
pages. Many AlphaWorld citizens have built Web sites about their
AlphaWorld creations. They have included special types of links
which, when clicked on, launch an Active World and land
you right where they want you. I have used this extensively in
an AlphaWorld town building experiment called Sherwood Forest,
sponsored by the Contact Consortium, of which I am one of the
founders. The preceding figure shows a section of our Web site
from the pages on Sherwood Forest Towne. This figure shows Web
teleports to the front gate and many private properties on the
site. Citizens use Web teleports to get to their homesteads, to
give tours, or draw in people for shared events. The consortium
used Web teleports and special signs that you could walk through
at Ground Zero to draw in hundreds of guests to a big experimental
social mixer we held in July 1996. If you are interested in taking
a look at how we did this, see the special Web page at http://www.ccon.org/events/mixup1.html.
The Web teleport is a portent of things to
come. Most virtual worlds, including OnLive! Traveler, Comic Chat,
and others allow you to Web teleport. The Web is becoming like
a road map and publishing medium for virtual worlds, a wonderful
combination. It is acting like a two- dimensional travel guide
from which you can drop into three-dimensional virtual worlds
and meet people.
See the section ìQuestions and Answers
about Linking Active Worlds to web pages,î in the FAQ later
in the chapter which describes how to set up Active Worlds Explorer
as a helper application within your Web browser so that you can
do Web teleporting.
Built-in Web options
If you have installed Microsoft Internet Explorer
version 3.0 or later, the Active Worlds Browser will include a
Web browsing window automatically. If you have the built-in Web
option, you will have a new set of buttons on the toolbar allowing
you to control your Web browser. You will have options to enter
a Web URL, go forward, back, or stop loading. You can even perform
a search of the Web from within the Active Worlds Browser. The
figure above shows the results of a Web search for the words ìstar
trekî (as seen in the figure below). I happened to come
upon this avatar of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, which piqued my interest.
We can search the Web and navigate through links to our heartsí
content using the toolbar buttons or the choices on the Web menu.
Figure 7.33: awn4q.jpg
These menu options permit full navigation of the World Wide Web.
If you come upon a link to a Web page (sometimes
attached to little newsstands) and click on it, the Web page will
come up right inside the Active Worlds Browser. If you have a
Web browser other than Microsoft Internet Explorer, it will be
started in a second window.
The Gate to new worlds
As we saw when we first entered the Active
Worlds universe, we were put into The Gate. There is another couple
of ways to get to other worlds. The first is to select To from
the Teleport menu and then choose the world you want to go to
from the big menu of worlds. Another way to see a big list of
worlds is to click on the small planet icon which is shown on
the Active Worlds Browser toolbar. If you have Internet Explorer
installed, the frame showing web pages will be changed to show
a big list of all worlds and the numbers of citizens in each.
This page will be updated periodically. You can click on the name
of the world on this page and you will teleport into that world.
Note that not all worlds will give you permission to enter. Some
worlds are restricted or under construction and only certain citizens
are given entry rights.
You can also use the Remember option in the
Teleport menu to record a place mark at any location in
an Active World. Just like bookmarks in your Web browser, these
place marks will be listed under the Teleport menu, allowing you
to quickly return to a favorite spot.
A Web of Worlds
There is a whole web of Active Worlds are
worth visiting. At the time of the writing of this chapter there
were over 200 separate Active Worlds. Later in this chapter, in
the section ìWhat in the World is There to do? Popular
Activities in AlphaWorld and other Active Worldsî, we will
take a peek inside some of these worlds, such as Circle of Fireís
Yellowstone Park and Titan Guildís Winter Wonderland.
You too can have your own world
You can build your own Active World. This
would require you to purchase the Active Worlds Server software
and developerís kit. You would also have to support your
own server on a Windows NT or UNIX computer and develop your own
objects and content. Many people are taking the plunge and hosting
their own worlds. You can find more information and documentation
on creating your own Active World on the Active Worlds Web site
Citizen to the rescue: the AlphaWorld
Elliott Lee, an enterprising AlphaWorld citizen,
went to the trouble of creating an atlas for AlphaWorld. You can
find it on his Web site at http://www.cs.cuc.edu/~sopwith/aw/awatlas/mapif.cgi.
We hope it is still active as you read this book. If you cannot
find it, your Avatars! book Web site at http://www.digitalspace.com/avatars
should contain more up-to-date links for AlphaWorld.
The AlphaWorld Atlas is simple: citizens with
a site to advertise make entries into the atlas, giving its world
coordinates, and indicating its structural type (town, business
etc.). Atlas users then enter coordinates and can see small colored
dots (like radar spots) representing sites of interest in the
Clicking on the hit, users are shown the Atlas
listing for that structure. You can see the resulting Sherwood
listing. Also there is the AlphaWorld Teleport Station which allows
you to click on a huge overhead image of AlphaWorld and then land
in AlphaWorld on that spot. Find the Teleport Station at: http://kozmo.yakima.net/alphaworld/teleport.html.
See this image reproduced in the color pictures in the center
of this book. We also talk about this in the section ìWhat
hath they wrought: Builders and Their Creationsî later in
Can you repeat that? I couldnít
see what you were saying!
Communicating with another person in AlphaWorld
is as easy as typing text into the long message area across the
bottom of the Active Worlds Explorer window and then hitting Enter.
After a few seconds, you should see your message appear in the
chat box just above the entry area. As soon as the text appears
there, it will also appear nicely perched above your avatarís
head where everyone can see it associated with you. Having both
the text chat box (which you can use to scroll back and track
the threads of conversations) and text above avatarsí heads
allow you to easily follow conversations.
Note that you do not have to click your mouse
and exit the Move mode to be able to type text chat. This is
a very powerful feature of AlphaWorld. You can be moving, type
some text, and hit Enter in mid-move.
Note also that if you are not looking at other
avatars, you might miss what they are saying. Carrying on conversations
in god view, as shown in the previous figure, allows you to follow
many threads of conversation at once. This figure shows a talking
circle which I built out of floor tiles and pots at the entrance
to Sherwood Towne. A talk leader can place his or her avatar at
the center, other talkers situate themselves around the leader
next to the pots. If all of the users go into god view, they can
see the text of the talk leader and each other without worrying
about the text overlapping and becoming unreadable.
Text lag; are you on the moon,
There can be a delay of several seconds while
your text is shipped across the world to all the other users who
are in your vicinity. The AlphaWorld server has to do quite a
lot of work just to determine where you are, and who and what
you should be looking at, so please be patient!
Many AlphaWorld veterans find that this simple
method of communication is too limiting, so they install a conferencing
system such as Powwow (available free of charge at http://www.tribal.com/),
Microsoft NetMeeting, or CuSeeMe, which allows better text chat,
voice, or even video to supplement the Active Worlds Browser.
See your Avatars! book Web site at http://www.digitalspace.com/avatars
for other links to valuable free communications tools.