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Digital Homesteading: Have I got a Real Estate Deal for you!

After seeing some of what AlphaWorld citizens have built, you might be asking: how can I create my digital homestead? Land in AlphaWorld is cheap, you just go out and find it. Like any other art form, the hours and effort you put into it creates the real value. Any plot of land that has a basic green color with no objects on, above, or below the surface is available for you. To put your stake in the ground, merely copy some adjacent object onto this land, being careful that it does not overlap with something already existing there. In the section, ìVirtual Building 101,î I will describe homesteading and building in detail.

I recommend that you visit the many Web sites built by Active Worlds citizens to see examples of what they have built and for tips on building. Your Avatars! book Web site has up-to-date links to these sites.

Building supplies yard

Figure 7.89: awbldsup.jpg
The building supplies yard is located at 7984N 7998W.

The preceding figure shows a building supplies yard where you can learn what objects are available for building in AlphaWorld. There are several construction companies in AlphaWorld that feature building parts yards. Note that visiting any one of them will require the Active Worlds Browser to download and cache all the objects, which can use up disk space. The benefits of this are that you will not have to wait for these objects again. Now we are ready to start you as a freshman in the University of the Virtual. Letís enroll in Virtual Building 101.

Virtual Building 101: A Step-by-Step Guide

Itís time to go back to school and learn how to build in AlphaWorld! You will be surprised at how fun and easy this is. I give building lessons in AlphaWorld all the time. One day I asked the students if they would mind posing for a few pictures along the way. Miss Toon Smith was pleased as peach about being in this book, and happy to share her lesson with you.

Letís start with a little background. AlphaWorld is made up of three parts: the world (the green plain and all the space above and below it), the people (all the avatars), and objects. You will hear the word object all the time. Objects are just parts. Examples of objects include a piece of grass, a section of road, a roof, a length of fence, or a big palm tree. In AlphaWorld, you have several hundred objects to choose from. What can you do with an object? Here are just some of the things:

Objects are made of two basic components: a model (the way the object looks, how big it is, and how many sides it has), and properties, (how the object is placed, its name, and what actions are connected to it.)

To build, you simply move through the world, find a place where there are no objects, and then put some of your own objects there. It is as easy as that. In the year and a half since the birth of AlphaWorld, in the summer of 1995 until the end of 1996, over 10 million objects were placed inside AlphaWorld by people just like you and me.

Building on a place gives you ownership of the land occupied by your objects and all the space above and below it. Take a look at objects underground. Other peopleís objects under your site can interfere with building, so you may want to look there first before making grand plans. Remember, if someone elseís object is there, you cannot move it, delete it, build above it, or below it. I recommend that if you are just playing around with building that you delete all your objects when you are done to leave space for someone else. AlphaWorld is big (there are over 4 trillion square meters), but as in the real world, digital land is not a resource that should be wasted.

Now hit Ins to make a copy of an object which will be one unit (a 1/2 meter) away from the original. This cloned object is yours; it will be your seeder object, from which you can magically create anything else that AlphaWorld supports.

Now using your arrow keys, move your seeder object to an empty piece of land, at least a meter or so (two arrow clicks) away from anything else. At this point, you should remove anything in the description and action slots of the object (which should appear at the bottom of the screen). Then click anywhere with your mouse to release the object into position. Voilá!

Getting started

Figure 7.90: awb1.jpg
Thereís an eager student with a camera ready.

If you can arrange to meet an experienced (and patient) AlphaWorld citizen to help teach you to build, you will be lucky. I was taught by an 18-year-old student from Finland to whom I owe an eternal debt. But if you cannot find an in-world helper, this section will get you building in no time! Please note that there is an excellent help system built right into the Active Worlds Browser which can act as a supplement for this guide.

Step 1: Find a place to build

Figure 7.91: awb2a.jpg
Get ready to begin by finding free land next to a convenient starter object.

Find a place where you can build. To do this, travel some distance from Ground Zero using high-speed travel over land, or by taking a teleport ride. You can build on the open green plain in areas where there are no other objects on, above, or below the ground. It is best to allow yourself more space than you think you will need (imagination has a tendency to grow). I sometimes pick building areas that are next to roadways or walls because it is likely that my neighbors will not be interested in these areas.

Step 2: Pick the starter object

Figure 7.92: awb3.jpg
Right-click on your starter object.

The area we have chosen is by the side of a road put down by someone else, and between the properties of two other builders. This can be a good spot, as it will allow us to go over to either property and see the objects they have used to build it. We know we can build here because the area is covered by the green color you see all over the uncovered parts of AlphaWorld. Having a road nearby is good too, as it suggests access to our property and good frontage. Roads often serve to draw in visitors.

Choose your starter object, in this case, a piece of road (see the preceding figure). To do this, click with the mouse to exit Move mode and get control of your mouse cursor back. Now click once with the rightmost mouse button on the piece of road. The starter object should be highlighted with a yellow frame, just like the piece of roadway. In addition, a special dialogue box, called the Object Properties dialogue should pop up on your screen.

The Object Properties dialogue box

Figure 7.93: awn4ea.gif
The Object Properties tool bar provides information.

The Object Properties dialogue gives you all the information you need to change or move an object in AlphaWorld. This dialogue will stay displayed as you pick and act on several objects. As the following table shows, the buttons on the dialogue allow you to delete, duplicate, shift, raise, lower, or rotate the selected object. These same actions are available through the pull-down Object menu, and can also be done by using simple keyboard shortcuts

Object Property dialogue buttons: functions and shortcut keys
Button Effect of clicking on the button Keyboard shortcut

Delete button


The Delete button will permanently delete the selected object. Del or Delete

Duplicate button


The Duplicate button will make a copy of the selected object and make that copy the currently selected object. Ins or Insert

Move Away button


The Move Away button moves the selected object away from you. Up arrow

Move Toward button


The Move Toward button moves the selected object toward you. Down arrow

Move Left button


The Move Left button moves the selected object to the left. Left arrow

Move Right button


The Move Right button moves the selected object to the right. Right arrow

Move Up button


The Move Up button raises the selected object upward. Keypad + (plus)

Move Down button


The Move Down button lowers the selected object. Keypad - (minus)

Turn Left button


The Turn Left button rotates the selected object counterclockwise. Page Up

Turn Right button


The Turn Right button rotates the selected object clockwise. Page Down

Table 7.4

The Object menu

The Object menu parallels all the buttons on the Object Properties button bar, and lets you perform a number of building tasks that used to be possible when only using the keyboard.

The object name, owner, and build date

The object name is the all-important name of the Renderware file which contains the description of the object. To change this object into another object, you have to type the new object name (complete with the .rwx file extension). There are hundreds of objects with which to build in AlphaWorld. There are tools you can download from Worlds Inc.ís home page to see a visual list of these objects. A complete list of object names can be obtained through the Help menu options, by listing the contents of the directory \active worlds\aw\models, or by visiting a Web site which has building instructions and a complete list of objects for AlphaWorld at If you have trouble finding this list, see updated links on your Avatars! book Web site at:

The owner of the object is the citizen number of the person who placed the object there. In the future, this will be used to allow you to contact that person. This should be of great assistance in resolving property disputes and vandalism. The build date is when the object was placed in the world...useful for the coming science of digital archaeology!

Step 3: Make a copy of the starter object

Figure 7.94: awb4.jpg
Move the duplicate object clear of the starter object.

Now, press the duplicate button on the Object Properties dialogue or the Insert or Ins key on your keyboard. This will make a copy of the piece of road, offset slightly from the starter object. Next, use the movement buttons on the Object Properties dialogue or the cursor keys on your keyboard, to move the piece of road to the right. You must get the piece completely clear of the original road, although it can end up right up against the road. Remember to only move a copy of your starter object. The original belongs to someone else, and if you move it, you will receive a message from the Building Inspector that it is someone elseís property.

Figure 7.95: awb5.jpg
Voilà! The starter object is safely placed on your land.

Once you have safely placed your starter object on a green patch clearly away from the original object, you should be able to click on the walking man button (or close the Object Properties dialogue) and serve this new object into AlphaWorld. If, after 20 seconds, you do not get a warning from the Building Inspector, you have successfully homesteaded in cyberspace, and the land you just covered is ìyours!î If you do get an encroachment warning, the starter object will disappear, and you will have to try again. I recommend moving your starter object completely clear of the original object you copied, so that you can see some green between the two objects. If you keep getting encroachment warnings, look around for trees or other overhanging or overhead objects. You just might want to find another area on which to build, if you keep experiencing trouble.

Step 4: Pick an object to change your starter

Figure 7.96: awb6a.jpg
Look around for another object into which you would like to change your starter.

With your own starter object safely in place, you can continue to make copies of it and cover more land or you could start to change these objects into different forms. The preceding figure shows how I found a lovely brick arch on the Moroccan Palace behind my building area. Right-clicking on it will bring up the Object Properties dialogue again.

Figure 7.97: awb6b.jpg
Object Properties that come from the neighborís arch.

To change the starter object into this arch, simply make note of the name of the arch file (in this case, arch22.rwx), and then just right-click back on your own object and enter the same name into the Object area. In this example, I will delete the name street1.rwx, and replace it with arch22.rwx. Once this is done, you can close the dialogue box or click to move again. The section of street will magically change into the arch. Holy cow!

Figure 7.98: awb8.jpg
Like magic, the road becomes an arch!

Step 5: Set up the object description and actions

You may have noticed two more entry areas on the Object Properties dialogue, called Description and Action. You should enter something in the Description field (such as your initials) to easily identify your objects. The next copy you make of these objects will automatically save your description. I recommend using a very short description, just two to five characters, as descriptions take up valuable space and can reduce the number of objects you can place on your land. The Action field allows you to give this object actions, like rotating it, or linking it to a Web page. I will discuss object actions in more detail later in this chapter, and in the section ìQuestions and Answers about Action Commandsî in the FAQ later in this chapter.

Step 6: Manipulating your objects

Figure 7.99: awb9.jpg
The arch being rotated.

If you have selected your arch, you can move it from side to side, up or down, or rotate it using the buttons in the Object Properties dialogue or the keyboard keys. In the preceding figure I am rotating the arch. Make another copy of the arch and try raising it up to stack it on top of the first arch. You might find it easier to build while in god view or from far overhead.

Figure 7.100: awb10.jpg
Put another arch on top of the first one while in god view.

Note that if you are lowering an object, you might actually lower it right through the ground level of AlphaWorld. There is nothing wrong with this, and people have built underground cities this way. It can be confusing, however. You can sink underground by holding down Shift and pressing minus ( - ) on your keypad. Take a look under the floor of AlphaWorld to make sure that no one elseís objects occupy that space. If there are objects there, you will not be able to build above them.

Step 7: Reserving your land

Figure 7.101: awb11.jpg
Reserve that land!

Using a flooring or walkway you like, cover your land to preserve it for future building. As the preceding figure shows, you have to be careful not to encroach on another personís property. The AlphaWorld server will just bump your offending objects back.

Step 8: Identify your property

Figure 7.102: awb12a.jpg
Put a mailbox on your property.

And finally, as we see in the preceding figure, you should add a mailbox object, with the name mailbox1.rwx, to your site. In the Action field of the Object Properties dialogue, if you enter the command mailto:myaddress@myserver.etc where myaddress@myserver.etc is your e-mail address, then people visiting your site can identify who it belongs to and, by clicking once with the left mouse button on the mailbox, can send you a message. Adding the object news1.rwx will give you a handy newspaper stand which is traditionally linked to a World Wide Web home page by including the address of the home page into the Action field (for example: http://myhomepage.etc). Note that in order for the mailbox to work, you may have to set up the mail program in the Web browser. See the browser help files for instructions on how to do this. For links to the World Wide Web to work, you may have to run the Web while you are running the Active Worlds Browser.

The last and most important thing about identifying your property is to note the coordinates where it is located. It can be embarrassing and frustrating to forget where you built your virtual log cabin (like losing your car in a parking lot).

Step 9: Take a look at what others have built

Figure 7.103: awb16.jpg
Wow, we found a huge glass pyramid and a floating crystal building.

Figure 7.104: awb17.jpg
We also found the Hansen familyís home under construction.

A tour through AlphaWorld and other Active Worlds is the best way to learn what can be built, from the large scale (as in the pyramid and floating crystal building) to the humble (the Hansen familyís humble home under construction). Clicking on their sign, we visited the Hansensí home page and sent them an e-mail, receiving a surprised and pleased answer the next day.

Step 10: You have graduated!

Figure 7.105: awb15.jpg
Hereís happy graduate Toon Smith of Virtual Building 101.

If you have reached this far, congratulations; you have graduated from Virtual Building 101! Now go out and show the world what is in your dearest Tinker Toy dreams or Lego fantasies. Itís time to be a kid again (or just be a really rad kid in digital space)!

Building 202: Advanced Building Tips

Dataman, tireless host of AlphaWorld, and editor of the New World Times, has compiled an on-line building models reference and advanced building tips. Datamanís catalogue of objects include animation panels, arches, awnings, building panels, stairs, roofs, trees, flowers, walls, walks, floors, and miscellaneous objects like statues. It can be found at

Building Tips

1. Build over large areas quickly.

Use the same starter object over and over. Before you start cloning your starter object, make sure itís at ground level and oriented straight north and south, east and west...itís easy to get confused by a starter object that was skewed and/or raised off the ground. Then use the same starter object to clone more objects whenever it makes sense. That way, if you go off a little at some point, the error wonít proliferate throughout your whole project, and will be much easier to fix.

When you hit Ins, the new object you create is placed a 1/2 meter away from the when you are making a long wall or a lake, or anything that requires mass duplication, make it work for you! Line up your sight so that you can build and shift objects away from you in just a few repeated steps. Avoid problems with object density by using short descriptions and actions. Hereís how it works: you are limited to something like 25 objects per 10-by-10-meter cell. But the limit of total storage is about 1,000 bytes per 10-meter cell. Descriptions and actions take 1 byte per character, so if you have 20 objects with a 20-character description in each, youíve used up 40 percent of the storage for the cell just with descriptions!

2. Use Shift to move objects in smaller increments

Use Shift when moving or rotating objects to cut the distance or rotation to 10 percent of normal. This is not recommended for beginners because you can have a hard time lining things up once they are off by a little bit. It's harder to make rotated objects line up nicely with each other. Use Shift to make smaller adjustments in the rotation. You can also use Shift when you're joining seams between two different types of objects.

3. Use pop-up labeling and sound effects

When you use the pop-up labeling feature, every description assigned to an object will appear in a pop-up label as your mouse cursor moves over the object. As for music and sound effects, there is an extensive collection of original MIDI and WAV audio files that you can attach to anything. Sound is 3D and stereophonic, the audio gets louder as you approach an object and softer as you move past. There is ambient audio such as birds and water, and other intriguing sound effects.

4. Avoid the Area Full error

It is possible to overload an area with too many objects. The limit is pretty high, but if you're building something that's several stories high, or has a lot of overlaps, you might occasionally get the message: This area is full. Try building somewhere else.

There are things you can do to avoid the Area Full error if you're building a really elaborate structure. The area sampled measures 10 by 10 meters, so if you use lots of small objects, the Area Full error can also be a problem. One suggestion that our AlphaWorld regulars have made is to use the largest objects possible. Another thing is to empty the Description or Action fields of these objects or make them smaller; it's actually the data that's counting against you. You can just fill in descriptions and actions for prominent objects like the mailbox, or the tower, or door of your central structure. Another trick: try deleting the current object and then rebuilding it again from scratch. That works sometimes.

Whenever possible, use big objects like the double panels so they won't count against your object limit. Sometimes you'll get error messages when building, or your request might take awhile to go through. Keep trying, and when all else fails, delete the particular object that's giving you trouble and recopy a new one.

5. Be a good neighbor

Because AlphaWorld is an evolving community, there are no perfect safeguards to keep land disputes from occurring. Most encroachment issues have been worked out, including building above and below the land. But it's still up to AlphaWorld citizens as individuals to be polite to each other. For instance: Call before you dig.

If you are considering building next to someone else's property, try to figure out if the other property owner is done, or if they're still working. If in doubt, look for a mailbox and drop them a line. Ask if they'd mind a new neighbor. That little amount of courtesy can save you both a whole lot of grief. Remember to put a mailbox on your own property too!

Better yet, build somewhere farther out, where everyone can build to their heart's content.

6. Build smart

Try to keep the object count as low as possible. Obviously, if you're building something large or elaborate, this might be hard to do. But if you create something with hundreds of needless extra objects that take forever to render, no one's happy. Avoid overlaps, use big objects, use the best object for the job, and clean up your mistakes and loose ends before you quit for the day.

7. Be careful with those sounds and animations!

Sounds and animations will cause the biggest slowdowns in the rendering and running speeds of your (and everyone else's) computer. These will be especially annoying to people who are viewing AlphaWorld with a minimum platform (low RAM or a slow ë486). Avoid placing animations in heavily traveled areas like Ground Zero, or close to the street. And don't clutter up your whole property with soundsóthe seams between the sound regions will make strange sound jumps and slow down other people's machines.

So You want to Build your Own World?

Circle of Fire sells its Active Worlds Server software and services to help you build your worlds. For more information, visit the Worlds Inc. Web site at

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.