Active Worlds (AW) is a 3D virtual reality platform. The "Active Worlds Browser" runs on Windows. Users assign themselves a unique name, log into the Active Worlds virtual world universe, and explore 3D virtual worlds and environments that other users have built. Users can chat with one another or build structures and areas from a selection of objects. AW allows users to own worlds and universes, and develop 3D content. The browser has web browsing capabilities, voice chat, and basic instant messaging. This integrated software can allow users to connect, explore, and gain a more in depth understanding of 3D. Corporate and educational clients of Active Worlds can make use of the interaction, communication, and media to provide functional environments suited for their objective. On May 30, 2006, version 4.1 was released to the general public.
The program's original goal was to be the 3D-equivalent of a 2D web browser (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox). Instead of creating a website, the user could construct an office, building, or area in which to display products or information.
The necessity for 3D art within Active Worlds to enrich one's world has led to the development of a market place for 3D models, textures, avatars (and associated animation sequences), and more. There is also plenty of free exchange of 3D content. There are also custom design services for 3D art available, especially avatars.
Tourists may build, but their builds may be deleted by anyone. No one is allowed to "encroach" on territory that has been "claimed" by another user. (Claims are made by covering the desired area in objects, usually large "groundcover" objects.) Citizens who wish to build collaboratively can share their "privilege passwords" with one another. Entering another citizen's privilege password grants a citizen the right to modify their buildings. Any changes will be recorded in the name of the user whose privileges one is currently using.
Building in Active Worlds is done using the keyboard and mouse. All buildings are constructed of multiple copies of particular objects, arranged appropriately. In some respects, it is like building with virtual Lego blocks. Right-clicking an existing object will highlight it and open an "Object Properties" dialog box. Once an object is selected, it can be moved up/down, left/right, or forward/back. It can likewise be rotated on all axis, yaw (Y), pitch (Z) and roll (X). The object may be duplicated, and the new copy moved into a new position. The object may also be transformed into another object, by typing in the name of the desired object. So, for example, it is possible to transform a tree03.rwx into a rock10.rwx by selecting it and typing in "rock10.rwx" as the object name. The new rock can then be rotated 90 degrees around its X axis, moved 3.5 meters to the left, and sunk 1 meter into the ground. This is generally how builds grow to their incredible proportions, one object duplicated from another.
More advanced effects can be achieved through the use of "actions". There are a few dozen different commands one can apply to an object through actions. One of the most common is "texture", this simply gives the ability to change the texture from the object default, and may be applied to specific areas of the geometry. Signs can be made to give simple information within the 3D environment, and pictures are available to display images from all around the world wide web. Actions can be written to take place at creation time (create), when a user bumps the object (bump), when the user clicks the object (activate), or when an animation has completed (adone). In essence, the commands form a primitive scripting language which makes it possible alter objects' appearance, make them move on cue, emit light, or move a visitor to a new location.
It is even possible to write simple games in this language. However, the scripting language lacks the use of conditionals and variables. It is possible to simulate those using advanced properties of the "animate" command, but doing so is considered an advanced building skill.
Dedicated builders have created rich, complicated environments. Some of these, notably SW City, have grown to enormous size. SW City, a collaborative build started in 1999 and involving hundreds of builders, spans some 150 square kilometers of virtual territory. It includes some of the most sophisticated builds in Alpha World, AW's largest world, as well as the entire universe, some of which can be seen in their screenshots
Public Building Worlds are a major attraction to Active Worlds. Public Building Worlds, such as "Alphaworld" or "AWTeen", are vast and expansive worlds that allow any citizen (and in certain cases, tourists) the opportunity to build to their hearts content, with the limit of building being imagination. Public Building Worlds are often populated at every time of the day, and are constantly at the top of AW's World List user count. Not counting the standard citizenship fee, there is no additional fee to building in these worlds, or building very large areas. Most Public Building Worlds are owned and operated by Activeworlds, Incorporated.
Building in Public Building Worlds is often very different from building in a privately owned. There is a set object path, or list of objects that are usable in the worlds, as well as the worlds own textures and other building resources. Builders in private worlds can have the advantage of importing large objects from other programs directly into their world at discretion of the world caretaker. With the exception of AWTeen, most AW, Inc. owned worlds have object paths that are rarely updated, and that can make building in them restrictive.
Several Public Building Worlds are themed worlds, with their own specific object path and landscape. These themed worlds are often p1000 sized (1000 coordinates of land from the ground zero in N/S/E/W directions.) and are usually very unpopulated. Such worlds include:
To enhance individual users experience, the use of AW's local path option has become popularized in recent times. Alphaworld Enhanced is the most developed example. Alphaworld Enhanced is a graphical modification developed expressly for Alphaworld. This modification uses to local path to upgrade existing textures to textures of much higher quality, as well as making unintended tiled textures seamless. A skybox, additional avatars, and gestures also come with this.
The largest world in the main AW universe is Alphaworld, which is also the first world. Alphaworld contains several more square kilometers of available space than the real-world state of California in the United States of America. To aid in navigating such a vast area you can "teleport" to a specified location, also you can maintain a "Teleport List", like a list of bookmarked web pages.
Other worlds can be seen in other universes. As the Active Worlds technology makes it possible to create own universes which are not by default advertised in the main universe, a lot of universes -and thus worlds- are hidden for the first visitor.
But there are limited advantages to being a tourist:
As well, there are further administrative abilities of those that purchase their own galaxy (Galaxerver) / universe (Uniserver). Generally, galaxervers and uniservers are separate from the Activeworlds universe.
Much of the community has gotten to know each other quite well over a long period of time. Since 1998, Active Worlds users have organized and held an annual real-world reunion. Typically, this is organized on a web page or internet forum in the months before the reunion. During their time together, Reunion Attendees will meet, visit sites in the city they are in for that year, and chat with AW Users online in the universe at the hotel. In past years, more than one reunion has also been held.
Every year, a world named Reunion is built and modeled to reflect the city the reunion members are attending. In this world, users from the universe can interact with the reunion members while they are in the hotel online, and a webcam is set up at the hotel as well.
Below is a list of AW Reunions that have been held to date:
In the Public Building Worlds, towns and cities are common throughout the world. These towns are collections of buildings and builders, and are essentially small, virtual communities. The majority of the towns in Active Worlds are abandoned, and most towns are active for several weeks with a small amount of builders.
Some towns though, notably Moonlight Heights and SW City have survived for years and have many participants and have moved on to incorporate other projects into their towns. Other towns, such as Off World are uniformly themed and have a clear focus for builders.
Britvich was eventually joined by several other developers, and the renamed "AlphaWorld" continued to develop as a skunk works project at Worlds Inc, internally competing with a similar project known internally as Gamma and publicly as Worlds Chat. While AlphaWorld was developing a strong cult following due in large part to Britvich's open philosophy of favoring user-built content, Worlds, Inc. favored Gamma for the company produced contract projects for Disney and others.
On June 28, 1995, AlphaWorld was renamed Active Worlds (from Active Worlds Explorer) and officially launched as version 1.0. Around this time, Circle of Fire (CoF) was formed to create content for the Active Worlds universe. This company played a pivotal role in the future of the product.
In January, 1997, Worlds Inc., after failing to secure needed contracts and having spent its venture investment of over 15 million dollars, laid off almost the entire staff of the company, keeping only several employees which included the author of Gamma, now known as WorldsPlayer Active Worlds, never considered much of an asset by the company, became an object of struggle for those close to it. Eventually, it ended up in the hands of CoF, with most of the development team joining CoF until (in July 1997) internal disagreements caused most of the team and employees, including Britvich, to leave the company.
On January 21, 1999, CoF did a reverse merger with Vanguard Enterprises, Inc., which changed the company's name to Activeworlds.com, Inc. and, later, Active Worlds, Inc. Some of the original developers like Roland Vilett and Shamus Young (although Shamus Young had been involved as first an artist, then webmaster, and now developer since COF took over) stayed involved with Active Worlds and development on the product continued for years, as it continues to have a following.
In 2001, the company launched a new product called 3D homepages Each citizen account is entitled to one free 30 day trial of a virtual 10,000 square-meter 3D homepage, using their choice of layout from a selection of pre-designed styles. After the trial, the user has the option of upgrading to a larger size and user limit. These 3D Homepages are hosted for the user, unlike traditional worlds where the user would have to get their world hosted by another company or user, or themselves. Later, the 30 day free trial citizenship that came included with the 3D Homepage would be discarded.
In 2002, the company in an attempt to financially survive and turn a profit, increased the price of their yearly citizenships from $19.95 USD to $69.95 USD
In September 2002, the company was sold back to its founders Richard Noll and JP McCormick and became a private company again. The company was renamed "Activeworlds, Inc."
On May 30, 2006, Active Worlds commenced the rollout of the 4.1 version. Active Worlds routers did not last for long due to the extreme amount of users downloading the new 4.1 browser and a large amount of users in the new 4.1 universe. 4.1 was closed for a short time, while Active Worlds upgraded their routers and equipment. On the 31st, 4.1 was reopened and the release began again.
On June 1, 2006, Active Worlds released the public world server version 4.1. While a normal amount of issues were reported for a massive software update, there are now over 700 worlds converted to 4.1.
In late August 2006, a new product called Miuchiz was launched using the Activeworlds technology. This is a virtual world where users can enter as a Bratz or other character and interact with the world.
In early 2008, Activeworlds, Inc. plans to release the first customer-oriented feature in years: the introduction of Customizable Avatars, similar to Second Life. The feature has been described as better than the competition's, with more options for easier customization. It will come in the next version of the browser, 4.2.
On June 16, 2008, Activeworlds, Inc. released the first major update to the browser in two years, version 4.2. The update was considered smooth and painless, being completed in a matter of only fifteen minutes, compared to the several days of version 4.1's initial upgrade in 2006. Version 4.2 includes an enhanced graphics engine, captured web pages on objects, and, most notably, customizable avatars on a scale more complex than that of Second Life.
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