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There is a whole slew of virtual worlds on the Internet that you can cruise through alone. In these worlds, you could be joined by helper bots, or virtual critters. Of course in 3D games like Doom, there were always other competitors or monsters you had to battle. None of these things can be called an avatar because they are not operated by a person. Nonetheless, lone roaming virtual worlds can still be fun and deserve coverage.
Superscape, a British company with offices near my home in Northern California has created a very large set of single user spaces called the "Virtual World Wide Web" (or VWWW). Superscape had a fast 3D browser years before VRML, the emerging industry standard. The key to access of the VWWW is Viscape, Superscape's 3D browser. If you have a Windows 95, Windows 3.1 or Windows NT PC you can download Viscape from: http://www.superscape.com/. You need to have a Web browser (either Internet Explorer 3.01 or Netscape Navigator 3.0) to run Viscape.
After installing Viscape, you can start visiting VWWW by pointing your Web browser to: http://vwww.com/>http://vwww.com/. Viscape will load as a plug-in to your browser and set you down in SuperCity, the hub of the VWWW.
Figure 14.10.1: ss1b.jpg
Viscape Browser in the Entry Plaza of SuperCity
The preceding figure shows a scene from the SuperCity entry plaza. The person you can see walking is not an avatar, so don't be tricked and try to follow and talk to her! SuperScape worlds often have bots or simulations of living things (biots) moving around to give the worlds some life they lack by being single user. Navigating in Viscape is difficult in that you have to move by holding the left mouse button down over the arrow controls at the bottom of the window. You cannot use your normal keyboard keys to move. This will definitely limit the time you spend in VWWW. Viscape is a very fast browser and the worlds created for Viscape are small as 3D worlds go. Every time you click on a doorway or other entrance to a new world, Viscape will spend some seconds or minutes downloading the new world.
Places to go in VWWW
There are over 150 3D areas joined together in VWWW. The most popular areas are the amusement arcade (with virtual darts and virtual pool), the art gallery featuring mathematical art, the simulation area with training applications and Cool Street containing a Blues Bar and the Virtropolis experience.
Figure 14.10.2: ss1c.jpg
Meeting a butterfly bot person in Superscape's VWWW worlds
Multi-User under Superscape
Cruising around SuperCity can be cool but you will soon wish there is someone to talk to. The good news is that Superscape recently teamed up with Black Sun Interactive (described in the Passport chapter in this book) to produce multi-user virtual worlds. This was newly formed partnership and I have not had a chance to see how the worlds work.
Other Superscape Projects
Figure 14.10.3: ss1d.jpg
Viscape demonstrating the installation of hardware in a PC
Superscape has been busy and creative over the past decade, creating virtual training environments, virtual railway carriage design worlds, 3D shopping malls, and even working with a group called Terraformers to build a virtual cemetary called Tombtown (find it at: http://www.tombtown.com/). The preceding figure shows the inside of a PC in a Superscape 3D training world which shows you how to install a card in a PC. Superscape has built a business on these kind of simulations. You can imagine the value of training someone on a simulation of an expensive machine used in manufacturing. A company certainly cannot afford to take the real machine offline to train workers. Using the simulation is a good second best. Flight simulators have been used for years to do the same thing.
Atomic3D's Neutron and Proton
A new phenomenon has just started peeking over the wall of web pages.. the three dimensional episodic performance dramas (that's a mouthful!). What could be more different from sterile web documents than a cartoon performance that jumps out at you complete with coy characters hamming it up in their own voices? Well, a company called Nucleus Interactive from Los Angeles has created Atomic3D to bring this vision into reality with near-avatar casts played by a special piece of software called Neutron. You can try it out by downloading the Neutron animation viewer from the Atomic3D home page at: http://www.atomic3d.com/. Neutron will play on a Windows 95 PC (sorry, no Mac version yet, but keep checking their website).
You play Atomic3D performance animation episodes through the Internet just like a web browser. You should have a connection to the Internet or be using 32-bit AOL for Windows95 to view and play Atomic3D sites.
Figure 14.10.4: neutron1.jpg
A drama playing inside Neutron
When users play an Atomic3D episode, they can click on cues and drive the drama. In the preceding figure, you can see the Atomic3D signature character Stanley and his girlfriend from a scene in their episodic drama "A Deeper Place" which can be played off the Atomic3D Animation Theater at: http://www.atomic3d.com/theatre.html. Some of these worlds and all the sound associated with them can be quite big, so you must be patient while they download. I term these kind of worlds 'near avatar' as there are no real people in these scenes, only bot actors. In the chapter on Biota, you can see more examples of bot actors (such as Floops, a bot all in VRML).
Figure 14.10.5: proton0.jpg
Proton Pro authoring tool for creation of Atomic3D cartoon episodes
Once you get hooked on Neutron shows, Nucleus Interactive will sell you a CD-ROM with a development tool called Proton Pro. With Proton Pro you can compose your very own performance pieces, complete with virtual worlds containing characters having their own voices, special animations, and sound effects. In the scene showing in Proton in the preceding figure, I am setting up a stage show with three performers and a bulging brain. Working with my neighbor Allan Lundell, we recorded our own sound (which you can see in the oscilloscope like reading across the bottom) and connected the voice to the scene. I then tied the sound of hands clapping directly to the brain, which expanded and contracted with the level of applause (talk about an overblown ego!?). Next, we went on to animate the parrot, the girl and the man. In the end we produced a little stage play that we could run from a link on our Web pages.
When you are ready to play Atomic3D episodes from your web page, you will need to contact Nucleus Interactive to get their Electron license. Performance art comes to the Internet, can live avatar episodes staring YOU be far behind?