Posts Tagged ‘justleapin’

This is part 2 of an ongoing series about what works and does not work in 3D Virtual Worlds (3DVWs) in hopes of educating anyone thinking of building their own. In part 1, I discussed the importance of avatars. For part 2, I want to discuss the silly but strangely popular idea that if we could access a 3DVW from a web browser it would be a huge hit, and finally bring 3DVW programs to the masses.

The primary attraction for even attempting to create a 3DVW that runs in a web browser is from looking at all the success the 2D virtual worlds have been getting.  Conventional wisdom says that the primary obstacle standing in the way of 3D virtual worlds having the same level of success is that people do not like downloading and installing a separate program just to play.

There is some truth to that, studies have shown that only one out of 10 new visitors to a 3DVW website will bother to download the program. So requiring a download apparently drops your audience 90% right off the bat.

I believe this is only an obstacle initially. People will download a good program that promises to benefit them, especially if it is free and comes from a reputable source.

From what I have seen so far, and from what I have heard is in the pipeline, there is no real point in trying to run a 3D virtual world in a browser, its bad conventional wisdom based on faulty logic.

There may be some good reasons to have 3D displays embedded in a web page, if nothing else its an attention grabbing novelty.  But 3D multiplayer worlds with chatting and building capabilities do not fit into the web page model the same way they do with 2D virtual worlds.

The state of the art

A quick note on the state of the art (in case you do not follow my blog): There are a few 3DVWs that can run in a browser already. Among the ones currently available are Exit Reality, Just Leap In, and Vivaty. All three still require either a small download or a browser plug-in to work. I have tried all three and they all feel like novelties rather than full fledged 3DVWs. If the primary goal is to add a 3rd dimension to the 2D Virtual World, none of these come close.

There is a largely unrecognized truth in all this: 3D virtual worlds are not 2D virtual worlds with depth. The two attract different kinds of players. Play style and activities are of a very different nature. 2D is much more social, 3D is a more creative outlet. 2D is “point and click” just like the web. 3D is played like a video game.

Once you accept this truth, it logically follows that a 3D virtual world designed to play in a web browser will never work. Playing inside a web browser is too limiting, too simplistic.

A good example is Google Lively. It was probably the greatest 3D virtual world ever to reside in a web browser. It was a failure, because people found it too limiting. Outside of chatting, the two primary activities in 3DVWs is building stuff in 3D, customizing your environment.  Lively provided a simple but inflexible interface for building, and no real ways to customize. Exploring what other people have built was not that interesting due to limited content. Every room was variation of the same 5 or 6 rooms. Lively’s legacy is that it mostly killed the dream of browser based 3D worlds.

A downloadable full fledged client may limit your audience, but it makes your world much more flexible, usable, and customizable.

Alternate approach #1: Put the client in a browser

Since it seems that every browser based 3DVW requires a download anyways, maybe the approach is to embed a mini client in a browser.  This is the approach being used by Pelican Crossing and 3di. This allows you to create an embed on a web site that opens the Second Life client inside the browser, the user of the embed is taken to a location specified by the embed.

The primary question that comes to mind is “why?” Linking to Second Life locations is already possible via SLURL. There.com and other 3DVWs have ways of creating links to specific locations as well. A client embed looks cool, but it is limiting the size to a part of a web page (which you can click to full screen) but does not add functionality to the client. Multiple embeds on a page are unworkable unless you have a really good computer.

Now what would be cool is a way to convert Second Life places to VRML and embed them so you can show non SL users your creations. People would not have to have an SL account to see it, nor have a full SL client, just some generic VRML viewer. This is actually possible. There are tools available to convert SL objects to XML files for backup purposes, and these could easily be converted to VRML files.  The biggest obstacle to this idea is the lack of wide access for SL to XML converters. This is a very sticky issue (maybe you have heard of the copybot controversy?).  Still it is a cool idea.

Bottom line it is easier to add a browser to a client, than a client to a browser.

Alternate approach #2: Accessing 3DVRs via interactive streaming video (Cloud gaming)

Cloud gaming via embedded video is coming very soon. At least two companies OnLive and Gaikai are developing interactive web video technology allowing you to play (nearly) lag free video games remotely through streaming video.

Most online games works like this:
1. your computer or console “renders” your environment from game data stored on your computer.
2. you take action
3. action is sent to gaming server
4. gaming server decides outcome which is sent back to your computer
5. go to step 1.

“Cloud Gaming” works like this:
1. Your computer gets a streaming video feed from an online server.
2. you take action
3. action is sent to gaming server
4. gaming server decides outcome, renders the outcome from game data stored on the server, and converts it to streaming video
5. go to step 1.

That seems like an awful lot of work for the game server to handle, but if they can get it to work, there is no real need for powerful gaming computers to use the service. Theoretically, I could play Crysis in high definition detail on my ipod. There would be no need to get the latest hardware, or constantly updating your console.

Sounds pretty good, but unfortunately it could not work with Second Life as it is currently designed, because there is no way the service could handle all the custom textures. Handling the bandwidth of the streaming video is one thing, handling the bandwidth with the Second Life Servers as well would be a networking mess.

Just because SL will not work in a cloud computing environment does not mean another 3DVW could not.  If models and texture data were hosted on the same physical network as the rendering, it would eliminate the extra bandwidth. The 3DVW would have to work via submissions like There.com does, rather than instant feedback like SL. Building could be done with offline tools, then submitted. Since the whole technology of “Cloud Gaming” is in its infancy, I do not expect to see a 3DVW built with it for at least another 5 years.

Sounds difficult, but that may be the only way to get a usable 3DVW to play in a web browser.

Really, I don’t see the point.

I have been keeping track and trying many of the 3D Virtual Worlds and even related 3D websites out there, and I have been noticing a trend: Most of the newest 3D web programs have focused primarily on creating what amounts to 3D web pages.

The list keeps growing: scenecaster.com, 3dxplorer.com, vivaty.com, lively.com, exitreality.com, and the latest is justleapin.com. They all take differing approaches, but their goal is the same, they want to be the “standard” 3D web page program.

What each is about is letting people build a customized 3D web page like a “room” that can be explored via a browser (and ultimately a browser plug-in since nothing is standard yet), and allowing others to visit as well. If two people are in the same 3D room at the same time, they will see each other and can chat with each other. Like 2D web pages there should be conventions for connecting and linking rooms together, embedding media, allowing comment posting, etc.

3D web pages have been a goal for a while now. VRML has been around for years, and was supposed to be the 3D equivalent to HTML. You could even create VRML using a simple text editor, if you knew what you were doing. Most tools to create VRML were hard to use, and VRML took forever to load, especially in the age of dialup that everyone had in the 90′s. The technology was never there to display properly either. VRML is still around: As mentioned in my review, Exit Reality is based on it.

After VRML failed to catch on widely, the trend moved towards “persistent” worlds, like Active Worlds, Second Life and There. These are separate programs designed to access a “grid” where players rent space to build what they want. You can travel between spaces if you want or teleport from place to place.

Maintaning the “persistence” turns out to be very complicated, and as players of these programs know, buggy as hell.

So the later 3D virtual worlds simplified things as much as possible. IMVU came out only to do 3D chatting, the most popular activity in these earlier worlds. But building and decorating was number two, and most of the latest 3D virtual world programs, like Kaneva and Twinity, provide a “house” you can decorate as you please. They just drop the complication of house to house travel, every player has their own space to use as they see fit.

The websites in the second paragraph attempt to offer something even less complicated. They allow you to build 3D “rooms”, often as many as you want, that can be viewed in a browser, embedded in a web page. They replace the separate executable download with a browser plug-in that is generally easier to get the viewing audience to accept.

For all intents and purposes, we have come full circle; these sites deliver the 3D web page experience that VRML promised only with better graphics, with rooms that are easy to build, easy to load, as customizable as possible, and accessible by all.

If the idea of a 3D web is to catch on, everything must be customizable, it must work like HTML, and must be as simple as HTML. You must be able to start with a blank slate, or a pre-built template, navigation must be intuitive, and interactive. Quality should vary from simplistic to photo realistic depending on the computer capabilities of the viewer. Special effects (weather, particle, lighting, animation, water, physics, reflection and refraction) should be optional to both the builder and the user.

Eventually, one of those websites listed above may become the new defacto standard for “3D web pages” which will eventually lead to a 3D internet. Lets face it, if any of them do, it will be decided by advertiser dollars more than users. That means it will be Google Lively.

Except that Google Lively fails in most of the criteria listed, especially in the customizable part.

The program that inspired me to write this post in the first place was justleapin.com, now in open beta. It is lacking somewhat in features at the moment, but shows great promise in doing exactly what a 3D website program should do. Currently instead of avatars, you can add, animated people. Room navigation is simple mouse view. I dont know if avatar support is forthcoming, but I like the idea of adding animated people the way you add an animated gif to a 2D web page. You can customize any texture in the room, or embed videos, music, sounds, etc. There is a small library of 3D objects you can add, which could grow in the future. It also displays the room in decent graphics quality without being a resource hog.

I think that the decoratable “room” or “house” may be a popular model right now, but I know from my SL explorations, that thinking in just room terms is too limiting. Ultimately creating a 3D “space” should not have form limitations.

I do not know when or even if 3D web pages/sites will catch on. I do believe that expressing ideas should not have to be limited to 2D text or pictures or video, and that sometimes 3D may be a more effective and desirable way to express them sometimes.