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Other Worlds on the Horizon
Just as some worlds retire or complete the special events they were created for, new worlds are coming on-line. Here are a couple that you are likely to see more of by the time this book is published. Note that the very best place for you to look for news on virtual worlds is at your companion book website, the Avatar Teleport. Find it at: http://www.digitalspace.com/avatars.
Electric Communities Microcosm
The company Electric Communities is busily preparing a whole set of tools and a whole operating system for virtual worlds they have code named Microcosm. Nothing was ready to run when this book was written, but by the time you are reading this, they might have something that can be downloaded and tried. Visit their home page at: http://www.communities.com/. Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer are contributing their background from the first avatar world, Lucasfilm's Habitat, which was on-line using Commodore 64 computers in the mid-80s. Habitat is described in the section Worlds That Were earlier in this chapter.
Immersive's Meme Worlds
Immersive Systems is hard at work on their Meme browser, which you can download and try during the beta test period from http://www.immersive.com/. This is a 3D technology designed to support rich worlds full of behavior.
Etchinghill Studios is a games development team based in Kent, England which is developing a new 3D chat world. You can download beta versions of the client software from: http://www.net-world.com/. Net-World features text and voice chat, a built in email and message boarding system, and customizable avatars.
Extempo Systems Spence's Bar
Extempo is a company that sprung from research work carried out over several years at Stanford University and other institutions. Extempo builds synthetic actors known as an Imp Star Avatars. The first such Imp Avatar I encountered was a bartender named Erin in the Extempo Spence's Bar world, which I downloaded from the Extempo Web site at: http://www.extempo.com/. In this world, which just came online as this chapter was written, you could sit at a 2D bar with other users and chat both with each other and with Erin. Erin is a kind of Eliza like bot character (see a description of both Eliza and bots in the chapter Life in Digital Space later in this book). Erin responds to your coy words, emotional gestures, and overt passes with aplomb, as any bartender would.
Digi's Diary: the Really Big App
"The Movie Star Quadrant is easier to look at. Actors love to come here because in The Black Sun, they always look as good as they do in the movies. And unlike a bar or club in Reality, they can get into this place without physically having to leave their mansion, hotel suite, ski lodge, private airline cabin, or whatever. They can strut their stuff and visit with their friends without any exposure to kidnappers, paparazzi, script-flingers, assassins, ex-spouses, autograph brokers, process servers, psycho fans, marriage proposals, or gossip columnists."
-Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, pages 66.
Can you imagine being a cast member in a Star Trek episode, or playing the sleuth in an Agatha Christie novel? Well, this may not be so far-fetched as you might think! What if the home entertainment center morphs into a kind of "home Holodeck"? The Holodeck was a creation of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV series. In the series, crew members aboard the Enterprise could walk into a special room and be carried into a virtual world directly piped into the neural centers of their brain. The Holodeck could simulate feeling from shapes so crew members could engage in sword fights.
The Home Holodeck
The Holodeck idea is not new. Science fiction author Ray Bradbury described it all almost a half century ago in his short story The Veldt, part of a published collection called The Illustrated Man. In The Veldt, a room in the family home could simulate any environment, complete with visuals, temperature, touch, and sound. Kids in a hypothetical 21st Century family built a model of an African veldt in this room. A veldt is a dry savanna plain full of animals, both hunting and hunted. In the story, the veldt was just a little too real. Luring their parents into the 'simulation' room, where the lions were really very hungry, the youngsters solved their parental control problem once and for all.
A sort of Home Holodeck could be a reality by the early 21st Century and here is how it could work:
- The family rec room is now morphed into an all encompassing entertainment pod with 3D stereo sound and walls, ceiling and floor completely enveloped in a wrap around pixel screen projector.
- The friendly 1000Mhz family PC sits in this room connected to the Internet by good old slow phone lines at 56K BPS or perhaps with a newfangled high speed ADSL, cable modem or satellite uplink.
- Virtual worlds are piped through the Internet into the PC and out into the room projector where they are painted in glorious 3D all around you.
- Voices, music and atmospheric sounds emanate from speakers hidden in the walls.
- Sensors know where you are in the room and can track your every movement. The more expensive Holodecks can even track your facial expressions with invisible laser tracer beams.
- On the walls you see fantastic scenes of worlds and your own avatar is projected in glorious photo-realism or total fantasy construction into those worlds.
- Other people's avatars or live disembodied video floats on the walls of the Holodeck or jumps right out at you if you are wearing stereovision glasses.
- For the true VR-nauts, a rocker chair configurable an on its own hydrolics gives you experiences of motion which haptic feedback suits give you that all round body grip.
Avvywood: Hollywood meets Avatar Virtual Worlds
So what would you do in the Holodeck? One of the big activities would be to enter into inhabited movies, books or TV shows. You could be a role player, bystander, extra or even a star. But who else would star in these worlds? Well, if Hollywood gets into the act, plenty of people you know very well (if the money is right). In the mean time, thousands or hundreds of thousands of ordinary people at home will create and star in the dramas. They might even go far beyond the imagination of the best writers and directors.
That might well happen, but the fictional worlds created by Hollywood have become a big part of millions of people's daily lives. Even today, avid fans in Agatha Christie mystery clubs and devoted Trekkies at conventions already cast themselves and act out roles in simulated dramas. Meanwhile, virtual worlds on the Internet are now inhabited by over 400,000 users playing ad-hoc roles as 'avatars'. A few of these early worlds are taking on Hollywood themes. Will the inevitable joining of Hollywood and Avatar Cyberspace be a marriage made in heaven? Or will the new medium of virtual worlds emerge separate and distinct from the old 'push' providers of our media experiences? I suspect that there will be a lucrative mixing of Hollywood and Avatars create a concoction called Avvywood. I also expect that parts of this new Cyberspace will be more exciting and stranger than could have ever been imagined or created by an old line media studio.