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The Internet

Metaverse Launched? 283

jlouderb writes "Following in the heels of Worlds Inc. Blaxxun Interactive and Linden Labs, super-stealth project There Inc. launches Wednesday at CES. ExtremeTech has a preview of the world up, which is characterized by expressive avatars that look like idealized humans. Backed by a long list of notables, including Halsey Minor, Trip Hawkins, Jane Metcalfe and Louis Rosetto, it's an ambitious effort. But will the target market of Wal-Mart moms show up? Who knows, we all laughed at AOL too. You can sign up for the public beta and find out for yourself."
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Metaverse Launched?

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  • Gee (Score:4, Insightful)

    by unterderbrucke ( 628741 ) <unterderbrucke@yahoo.com> on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:05AM (#5039410)
    Sounds exactly like Sims Online to me, and they already have an established brand.
    • Re:Gee (Score:2, Interesting)

      by vlm ( 69642 )
      Is this the same as Activeworlds, which is like 10 years old yet has better graphics?

      www.activeworlds.com [activeworlds.com]
      • Yup...exactly! (Score:2, Informative)

        Except for a little details (and ameliorations, like voice-chat, better graphics), it was exactly what I thought about. I've used AW 5 years ago. Eventually everyone just stood still and read the text, not watching the graphics. Some techniques like the speech-bubbles are supposed to circumvent this.

        Oh, well, back in the day AW was a non-paying service. I even payed some time for support, but now it's completely paying and I just don't care anymore. My friends there have left anyway.

      • Is this the same as Activeworlds, which is like 10 years old yet has better graphics?

        Or like WorldsAway/VZones, which is like 10 years old yet has better graphics? Seems like this is a tired old idea, indeed.
    • Re:Gee (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:44AM (#5039656) Homepage Journal
      I agree, this does look like a clone of the Sims Online which in of itself is just a graphical frontend to the chat muds we've had around for over a decade (some of which also had graphical frontends). All the commercial attempts at a graphical chat space have sucked up to the now so maybe this one will be different but honestly IM, email, and chat is about making communication easier. Adding VR elements to it adds complexity back into the equation so if you're going to do it you better be offering something that makes some good use of the VR. Also they need to make it possible to send/receive Jabber IM's (So AIM, ICQ, etc will all work) from their system because IM is easier than chatting in any physical space - real or virtual. :)
      • Re:Gee (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aafiske ( 243836 )
        Not to stray too far from the topic, but are you totally insane?

        "IM is easier than chatting in any physical space - real or virtual. :)"

        So poorly spelt, hastily typed text drained of all inflection and expression is _better_ than chatting in a physical space? I can't count the number of misunderstandings I've had with people that would never have happened if they could've at least heard my voice, or seen my expression. And no, smileys are not a substitute.

        Not to mention that it's far quicker to speak than it is to type for most people.

        If there were a virtual space that even picked up a tenth of what face-to-face communication expresses, it'd be tremendously useful. (Depending on which tenth, I suppose.)
    • Except not quite - this online game is special because there's no game :(
      • Re:Gee (Score:3, Funny)

        by Greedo ( 304385 )
        Wow. I'd love to live in a world where everyone was perfectly built and had great hair. All the men have great pecs, and all the women have perfect boobs and mid-riff revealling clothes.

        This is like all those teen movies, but REAL!

        Er ... meta-real.

  • AOL (Score:2, Interesting)

    Who knows, we all laughed at AOL too.

    And we still do. Have they taken over the world and I haven't noticed, or is there some other sinister reason to stop laughing at them?

    • Re:AOL (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:21AM (#5039508) Journal
      It seems you haven't noticed, but they have indeed all but taken over the world. From a crappy little provider, by catering to non-tech customers, they have grown into an enormous company.

      Yes their service may still stink. But apparently hundreds of thousands of users all over the world are happy with them. Call them lusers if you want, but if you're still laughing at AOL I think the joke's on you.
      • Re:AOL (Score:3, Informative)

        by Eil ( 82413 )

        But apparently hundreds of thousands of users all over the world

        Er, according to a recent news article [216.239.37.100], AOLs user base clocks in at around 35 million worldwide.
      • Re:AOL (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thatguywhoiam ( 524290 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @10:46AM (#5040056)
        Call them lusers if you want, but if you're still laughing at AOL I think the joke's on you.

        I am laughing at AOL, because their user base is eroding faster than Lake Erie's north shore, and they have all but lost relevance these days.

        AOL got popular because they had (past tense) good marketing, and because they carpet-bombed North America with CDs. People had heard about this 'online' thing in 97 and wanted to try it, but with a nice pair of TCP/IP training wheels.

        Everyone looses the training wheels when they learn ho to ride. Hell, some move up to 18-speed recumbant bikes. AOL was smart - they basically rooked Time Warner for imaginary money.

        So, no. They had all but taken over the world, but now they are on their way to something else.. .if they're smart.

      • Re:Last I read (Score:3, Informative)

        by symbolic ( 11752 )

        AOL is undoubtedly a large company, but one of the more salient criterions used to assess the health and the future prospects of a company is its ability to grow. Last I read, AOL is faltering a bit in this area.
  • by Anonymous Custard ( 587661 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:11AM (#5039448) Homepage Journal
    So... it's just like a MMORPG, except when some kid pisses you off, you can't murder him?
  • by ianscot ( 591483 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:12AM (#5039456)
    Because There focuses on non-tech geeks, and because communication and chatting forms the core of the world, the company limits you to normal, human looking avatars.

    So, what, we can't make ones that look like us in real life?

    Shooting daggers and a very Mario-like floating heart convey deeper emotions.

    "Deeper" being a relative term... How many times in one day do you wink at someone?

    There expects its audience to skew more towards women than men, at least at first. Why? Well according to CEO Tom Melcher, "men will go where the women are, but the reverse isn't true."

    The logic there doesn't quite work. Why not just say "The company behind There has figured out what drinking establishments have known for several hundred years"?

    • Of course, as often demonstrated in various online role-playing games, "men will go where they *think* the women are, even if those women are actually men playing female avatars."

      I play a Female Gnome Wizard from (rare) time to time in Everquest. I'm not 3 feet tall, I don't cast damaging spells, and I don't tinker with clockwork parts to create automatons (although I'm a sysadmin, so I guess that last part is kind of close). Yet people frequently assume that I'm female in real life. So these "There" developers should just get enough guys to cross-dress in the game, that should do the trick and bring the customers in droves!

      Or not.
  • You can even customize your Avatar by visiting a Spa for a "facial", although we didn't get a chance to try that out.
  • by Badgerman ( 19207 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:15AM (#5039476)
    I'm really not impressed with the idea. The tech, yes, the detail, yes, but honestly what is the point of this except a few gewgaws tossed onto a virtual chatroom?

    Yeah, text chatting may not have motorbikes, but it's a lot simpler, and when the day is done, simplicity is important when you have things to get done (like chatting about whatever).

    And the extras like the stores, etc. seem pointless to the core experience as well as making it more complex.

    I'm sure that someday VR-type chats may well exist and even be useful. But I don't think this is going to be it.
  • by Lukey Boy ( 16717 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:15AM (#5039477) Homepage
    Am I the only one who laughed my ass off at those "cutting-edge" graphics? And it requires a sick machine too (with 3D acceleration)! God, I've had video games on the PC and PS2 for years that blow the shit out of this thing.

    Thanks for the offer guys, but I'll keep not buying Nike in the real world ;-)

  • The Best Part... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ZachReligious ( 313979 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:18AM (#5039493) Homepage
    and what might be the begining of the Stephenson like metaverse...

    Build Your Own World: The entire world is also up for grabs. There expects to release an open API for C++ developers, along with the ability to use Flash, and their own ThereScript language (based on the open-source Lua language) to create separate worlds. There expects that this will allow almost anyone to create their own massively multiplayer game, without having to reinvent the coding wheel for each world.


    In Stephenson's metaverse, the "cool" people were the best programmers, they always had the coolest stuff. If someone creates an open world that allows people to use the system to build/program their own things (buildings/vehicles/etc...) inside the world (think MUSH/MUD with graphics) then we are getting closer.

    The next step would be more VR, an immersive interface, etc...

    But it has to start somewhere. Although (slashdot appeal to the choir) it seems like the metaverse of Snow Crash was more of a *open* thing.
    • by Equidist ( 630494 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:50AM (#5039688)
      If you read the little developers part, you can also skin and model objects for use in the game... and sell them. You can use any paint app for skins, and GMax (3D Studio Max lite) for low poly models. For modelers on the unemployed side of things *ahem* this could be a source of side income. Looks interesting enough for me to try the public beta.
  • by Andorion ( 526481 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:21AM (#5039514)
    "Because There focuses on non-tech geeks, and because communication and chatting forms the core of the world, the company limits you to normal, human looking avatars. "

    The strength of the Metaverse in Snowcrash was the ability to program everything and everything.... it was basically a GIANT graphical MUSE (not a mud), where EVERYONE is a developer.

    -Berj
    • by CrystalFalcon ( 233559 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:46AM (#5039663) Homepage
      The book describes in detail that while some people hang out and expand the Metaverse with their own code, most teenage girls are happy to go to Wal-Mart and buy an avatar in one of three pre-packaged breast sizes; "improbable", "impossible", and "ludicruous".
    • I haven't read Stephensen book yet, and while I'd imagine the movie Johnny Mnemonic has some very polarized reviews, I really thought the depection of the "internet" in that was very interesting from a metaverse sort of view...
  • Hmmm - Signup process ..
    • Age
    • How did you hear about us ?
    • Do you make friends online, play games ?
    • Run a JavaScript Hardware checker (fat chance)
    • Or Fill in details (Operating system, processor speed, RAM)
    • Video Card .. (hmm - I run Linux Thin Client), connection speed
    • Name, email, address, we may mail you a CD
    Abort ..
  • NOT the metaverse. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rask22 ( 144831 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:29AM (#5039551)
    One of the things that made the metaverse(tm) so cool of an idea was the dynamic nature of the place. People had the ability to create thier own environments, assuming you "owned property" in the metaverse, and create objects as well.

    A true implementation of the metaverse would allow me to model my own home, in my own space, on my own server, allow people to visit it AND allow me to program objects in that space that other people could see. For example a program, that takes the shape of a radio, that when another user get within range of it, they download the part of the app that they need, that I wrote, such that they can then hear the music from the radio (streaming mp3's, ect).

    And at first I'm sure the place would be mainly populated by programmer and techy types, eager to see what they can code, and how they can push the technology. But I would assume, just like in the www, that as the software gets fleshed out the masses will come, and they will have an already existing base of freeware objects and models to pick and choose from, as well as commercial products.

    Of course there would be security problems that would have to be overcome, and different systems to be compatable with, plus a streaming model format. But I think that with a combination of something like java and open source clients and servers, the only parts that would need to be "official" would be the hooks for the in game software, and some kind of central property authority to keep track of how different properties (individual servers) interconnect and where they exist on the x/y plane of the the metaverse.

    THEN there is the whole bandwidth issue, I don't think this would work very well on the current crop of cable and dsl modems. but hey, the www as we know it know it today wouldn't exist unless people before had pushed the bounderies of technology. ...thats how I envisioned it anyway.
    • by mangu ( 126918 )
      A true implementation of the metaverse would allow me to model my own home, in my own space, on my own server, allow people to visit it AND allow me to program objects in that space that other people could see.


      But that would not be programming, it would be architecture design. You don't need to be a programmer for that. In the end, you are always limited to what the software running in the server and the clients can do. For instance, a cool thing would be a river with a waterfall in my garden. Assuming the existence of a proper API to represent that, how many other people would have the necessary hardware to see it?

      • Which introduces the idea of scalability.

        I thought it would be a good idea to take an open layered approach:

        Layer 1) floor plan geometry
        2) basic 3d geometry
        3) basic shading
        4) more detailed 3d geometry
        5) more detailed shading
        6) even more detailed geometry
        7) ... well, you get the idea

        That way a slim client could just get layers 2 and 3 and be able to render the world. People who's computers can handle more detail would get the higher quality versions (well, the highest offered) and render them at that level.

        Otherwise you're right, not everyone has (or will have) the latest greatest computer.

        Travis
    • Degrading gracefully (Score:3, Interesting)

      by moyix ( 412254 )

      It seems that the solution to the bandwidth problem is to have some kind of 3D markup language that can degrade gracefully, in essentially the way HTML works today. Don't have a GeForce10e32 ? You get lower quality versions of the textures, simpler polygons, etc.

      The only issue is how much bandwidth is required to receive a minimal scene--and that might well be above what we have right now. Has anyone actually tried to implement such a thing, or at least gotten the preliminaries done so we have some data to work with?

      It also seems like a true Metaverse (ala Stephenson) would require a better interface than we have right now. I doubt the general public is going to go for a world where they have to type to speak all day; some kind of voice system is necessary (perhaps incorporating something like Rojer Wilco would help, but most VoIP solutions today are a bit raw...) Plus some of those goggles Hiro wears in Snow Crash would be pretty nice ;)

      I like the idea of a property server--it sounds a lot like DNS today, and it could be distributed across multiple servers in the same way; you'd do a lookup of the coordinates, and get an IP back. If the IP's down, it would appear as a fenced in "default" property, otherwise you'd connect to their server, and grab their object information.

      Anyway, I've babbled enough. The point is, I think that with a proper 3D language, we really could implement something like this today, though it might be slow as hell for a while, and only really be useful on large LANs (colleges, anyone?).

  • Hey I dig it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Judg3 ( 88435 ) <jeremy AT pavleck DOT com> on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:29AM (#5039552) Homepage Journal
    Sure, it may look a tad corny now, but with it being open ended and allowing people to develop their own worlds I think I may be an early adopter of this stuff.
    I'd really dig a whole snow-crash-ish house, and who ever builds the first "Black Sun" will be instantly cool with the other geeks using this setup.
    I don't see if they charge for the service or not, but if they don't I imagine a lot of people will check this out.

    I can't wait for someone to build a slashdot world and I can slap the shit out of CmdrTaco myself :p
  • by thatguywhoiam ( 524290 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:29AM (#5039553)
    I don't really see the compelling reason to go There.

    It's been tried so many times before, and has never been met with more than a cursory glance from the public at large. These companies need to realize that you need something compelling in your virtual world; furthermore, it needs to be compelling enough to get around the 3D nature of the place.

    Anyone remember the Magic Desk system for early handhelds? It was organized like a room in a house. You walked out the door, went to the library to get a book, etc. It sucked because you had to virtually 'walk' to each location, which was totally unnecessary. How about those 3D window managers? Giant pain in the ass, total form without function (and this from a Mac geek).

    3D is great for spatial orientation and tasty graphics, but as we all know here it actually hinders you as an interface (compared to our perfectly-suited 2D metaphor for our 2D screens and input devices).

    The Sims Online offers a fairly rich 2.5D world that gives you a reason to go - it's a game, and you can chat, wander around, shop, etc. Add the customization bit and it's the only real Metaverse going, IMHO.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:30AM (#5039558)
    For all of you who think this is a new thing, Blaxxun's been doing it for years with their atrociously clunky, sanitized Cybertown, which allowed creation and sale of furniture and other objects used to customize hideously-unlivable, 10-polygon homes and served as basically a chat room for slumming soccer moms and toadying males in it for the girls.
  • by mustangdavis ( 583344 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:30AM (#5039566) Homepage Journal
    Let's be frank ... women LOVE to chat. I don't mean to be sexist here, but it is the truth. However, many women are VERY self-concious of their appearence ... so many of them will stay home instead of "going out", as others who have posted before me suggested. This will give an arena to those people who feel "ugly", or that have a hard time going out, or that live in the middle of no-where (or in a dead town) to virtuall go out and chat with people. This can be good in that it is better that people, in general, interact with people instead of turning into isolationists ... it isn't healthy ...

    HOWEVER, .... this type of virtual reality world isn't healthy either. It allows people to make themselves look any way they want to "look" without any of the hard work. It also could make real interperson communication more difficult for people since they will rely on a sim like this as a crutch. But most importantly, a sim like this will allow people to settle for the status-quo instead of actually doing something to improve themselves. Since people won't see the real them online, they feel less and less inclined to take care of themselves both from a health and an appearance aspect.

    The bottom line of all this rambling: This company COULD make quite a killing since this game will obviously appeal to the market of women (a market that is realatively untapped in the computer world ... compaired to that of men), which in turn will draw men to it ... but at a great cost to socity as a whole. This game could possibly become a sociological disaster in that the game encourages VERY unhealthy behaviour for long periods of time. Games like this can actually ruin people's lives ... just ask some of the EverQuest junkies from around the world.

    (* prepares to dodge all of the fireballs and weapons that will be thrown my way from those junkies *)

    Just my $0.02 cents ....

    • The biggest problem There will have is the system requirements. "System requirements are pretty steep ? you'll need an 800mhz processor, and an OpenGL capable ATI Radeon or nVidia GeForce or NForce graphics card. As you can imagine, the pre-beta was not very stable, but the beta world should be much more reliable." I think most of the people that "chat" online as a primary activity are those that don't buy a new cutting edge system every two years. Most of the people I know who aren't "geeks" and even a lot of the geeks are still running 500 MHz systems with built in video or generic video cards. There is no way that people will really use this if they have to buy a new system just to run it.

      bkr
  • by AtariDatacenter ( 31657 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:31AM (#5039572)
    Wow. This is the very first time I've had to say, it sucks having a Radeon VE card. I filled out the survey, and was told that that invite people in waves, and I'd hear back from them. So, I go looking some more into the site documentation and find that the ATI Radeon series of graphics cards is completely supported... EXCEPT the Radeon VE and 7000.

    I don't do 3d gaming. But I do super-high resolution (1920x1200 32bit) display, video playback (mpeg2 decoding functions built in), and some TV output with my video card. (It isn't a 3d screamer, but it is a decent card. AGP 4x, too.) It has been so many years that I've been excluded from something by my video card that I forgot how exclusionary some of these online environments and 3d games are.
    • The current beta only has the "known tested" cards enabled. You can bypass the installer by holding down shift as you use the wizard, to allow you to install irregardless of the video card (and it will work with your Radeon quite nicely).
      • I filled out the manual survey of my hardware, so I wasn't actually locked out. I read it in the actual documentation on the site. Right here [there.com] is where it says (item #4) that only ATI Radeon (*except* for VE, 7000) and nVIDIA GeFORCE and nFORCE are supported. :(
  • For you cynics. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:31AM (#5039574) Journal
    It's all about chatting, not about gaming. And chatting has already to be proven a very popular pastime, even with people who don't use the Internet a lot otherwise.

    And they got one thing right: "Well that was certainly fun. The most interesting aspect of the avatar chat mode is the way words are communicated. Instead of opening a chat window underneath the main screen, There uses cartoon style bubbles that pop up above the avatar's head. There claims that this keeps your eye more on the avatar, and the facial expressions, rather than just turning the entire experience into a text chat.". Guess how almost all MMORPGs have implemented speech. With a g..damned IRC-like interface which makes all conversation a rather impersonal affair!

    Except one... Ultima Online, like "There" also floats the speech text over the avatars, and I must say it works very well. Being able to see your partners, and to see quickly who says what, makes it very easy to converse with others in that game. I even have had a business meeting with three colleagues in Ultima Online, as an experiment. Our alternatives were ICQ, E-mail, IRC or a conference call. Meeting "face to face" in-game was by far the most effective of these options.

    "There" may well be a success, if properly marketed. If they have any brains they'll try and hook up with big ISPs like AOL and the like, and have them distribute the software with those free CDs we all know and love. They do, as someone pointed out, face competition from the Sims. The Sims is different but they aim at the same market segment.
    • by TheConfusedOne ( 442158 ) <the.confused.one@gm a i l.com> on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @10:14AM (#5039841) Journal
      Get ten to twenty "avatars" and sit them around a virtual conference room table. Now have them start "talking" and all of these baloons start popping up. First off, can you see all of them? If you're on one side of the table how do you see the balloons of the people on your side while watching for balloons of people on the other side?

      Great, now who's the poor soul who has to type the transcript of this whole meeting. How are they making sure they get things in the right chronological order. (Certain comments won't make any sense unless they follow the comment they were built upon.)

      This sounds like a usable interface for 2 or 3 people working together, but it'll break down real quick as the numbers increase.

      (Also, one of the joys of IRC was that you could go AFK to take care of something quickly and then go back and read the 'conversation' that happened while you were out.)
      • TheConfusedOne wrote (confusedly ;-) ):

        Get ten to twenty "avatars" and sit them around a virtual conference room table. Now have them start "talking" and all of these baloons start popping up. First off, can you see all of them? If you're on one side of the table how do you see the balloons of the people on your side while watching for balloons of people on the other side?

        Great, now who's the poor soul who has to type the transcript of this whole meeting. How are they making sure they get things in the right chronological order. (Certain comments won't make any sense unless they follow the comment they were built upon.)

        This is precisely whay you would run these kinds of meeting via a computer interface (though not necessarily the one described in the article which may not have features 1 and 2 below)...

        1. Everybody can be presented with a view that includes *all* the other participants on the opposite side of the table if desired

        and

        2. There is no need for a human to "type the transcript" because, guess what, the server already has the transcript and its in the correct chronological order!

      • "Get ten to twenty "avatars" and sit them around a virtual conference room table. Now have them start "talking" and all of these baloons start popping up. First off, can you see all of them? If you're on one side of the table how do you see the balloons of the people on your side while watching for balloons of people on the other side?"

        I can see where watching 20 people at once in a first-person view will be all but impossible. Does "There" have a 3rd person view? UO does, one can easily put 20 people around a large table where everyone can see everyone else, thanks to the isometric overhead viewpoint.

        Ultima Online has a neat solution for overlappen texts of multiple persons speaking at once. If two texts overlap, the one typed in last moves to the foreground, the older text moves to the background and fades a bit. You can bring the other text forward by moving your mouse over it, but even with two or three texts overlapping, it is often quite possible to read all three. If it isn't just move your mouse over the text that is obscured. This system works surprisingly well even in busy areas, and I am surprised no other game or program has copied it.

        "Great, now who's the poor soul who has to type the transcript of this whole meeting. How are they making sure they get things in the right chronological order. (Certain comments won't make any sense unless they follow the comment they were built upon.)"

        As for minutes, Ultima optionally keeps a log of all text you see on your screen, even noting who said what. Instant minutes! This should be easy to add to "There" and I suspect that users will ask for such a feature at some point, just as they already have IRC and ICQ logs.

        "This sounds like a usable interface for 2 or 3 people working together, but it'll break down real quick as the numbers increase."

        I have held meetings in Ultima with as much as 15 people, not business related but about in-game matters. It was a proper meeting nonetheless and proceeded very smoothly. Of course all participants were used to the interface already, which helped.

        "(Also, one of the joys of IRC was that you could go AFK to take care of something quickly and then go back and read the 'conversation' that happened while you were out.)"

        Ultima also has an on-screen log window that will store a few minutes' worth of babbling.

        The concept of virtual meetings with avatars is sound, I'd say, and I am speaking from experience. Whether or not "There" will measure up, I don't know.
      • Why not have both? I mean really, it's just data. There should be auto-transcription options which already know the order of events. There should be the option to do it all (or parallelly) in IRC mode, etc.

        The real beauty of the metaverse, as someone else noted, is that everything can be programmed. Much like the web is today, anyone can sit down and write their own software to do whatever they want. Hopefully this project will go the same way with open standards.

        Travis
      • You are so sad. I bet when DVDs first appeared you whined about how you couldn't record anything on them. If you'd been around at Kitty Hawk you would have yelled something about eight minutes in the air being completely useless to anybody.

        The interface is shit because it's tricky to type a transcript of conversations? Do you really believe what you're saying?

        Oh, wait, this is satire. Has to be.

    • Right. Chatting is popular. That's, basically, what /. is about.

      I suppose that there's no real reason not to use "avatar" icons instead of just nyms, but I don't really see the point. (And I know women who fantasize that they are horses, or dragons, or unicorns, so I don't see the point of limiting it to human forms, either.)

      Can you imagine an easy way for the icon to display the flashes of emotion that you feel during a conversation? That would add depth. Otherwise it's just... glitter.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    another ad? i dont think its good when most of the people are making negative reviews, why advertise on slashdot if no one likes the product?

    i havent even tried the sims online, but i know it sux. avatar chat was old when theparty was around and everyone had 900 images of tiny aliens stuck to them when they were all 56k....

    i'll stick to irc and being stared at in the mall, thank you.
  • by katsushiro ( 513378 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:53AM (#5039703) Homepage
    Okay, so at first glance this seems like just another chat room/MMORPG/Palace rip-off, with maybe slightly better graphics. But then I started reading into it some more, and I started getting impressed. They're planning to release open API's, anyone can create their own objects and sell/share them, create new parts of There for themselves and other.. once you start doing that, the 'Metaverse' moniker starts to stick. Right now it's cute and sanitized and controlled. But once those API's open up, well.. look what happened to the web. Sure, 90% of it is sanitized commercial crap (or pr0n), but there's all these pockets of individuality flowering through here and there that keep me coming back with a hint of the old promise that first got me hooked during the days that BBS's were cutting edge.

    Err.. back to the topic on hand: The exciting thing about this, and what sets it apart from pretty much every other MMORPG/virtual chat out there is that ability to create new parts of the world and have them accessible to others. As people log on and start making that world their own, that's when things get interesting, that's when the whole 'Metaverse' concept starts taking hold. This is the only concept like this I've seen that holds any promise of becoming even partially what we all imagine the 'Metaverse' to be.

    As a side note, take a good look at the people who are backing this project. It reads like a who's who of online and gaming celebs in a way. It makes me curious to see how this develops, as I find it hard to believe so many of them would back it to the tune of $33 million if they didn't see a heckuva lot more potential in this than just another virtual chat room.
    • insightful (Score:4, Interesting)

      by websensei ( 84861 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @10:06AM (#5039795) Journal
      that is where There is heading. my brother is one of their lead engineers and this thing has been under wraps for over 4 years with some of the best minds in the industry hammering it out, making it scalable and extensible... it's the framework for something very.. very... different, than anything else done so far (including simsonline).
    • by Lejade ( 31993 ) <[olivier] [at] [mekensleep.com]> on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @11:14AM (#5040238) Homepage Journal
      >They're planning to release open API's, anyone can create their own objects and sell/share them, create new parts of There for themselves and other.. once you start doing that, the 'Metaverse' moniker starts to stick.

      It remains to be seen how "open" the APIs will be. And most importantly, under what license...

      At my new company (Mekensleep [mekensleep.com]) we are working on something quite similar to "There", except that the engine we are using, called NeL [nongnu.org], has already been released [slashdot.org] under the GNU GPL.
      In addition to our new -still secret! ;)- project, NeL is being used in my previous company's MMORPG: Ryzom [ryzom.com] (see here for more screenshots. [ryzom-fr.net].

      >I find it hard to believe so many of them would back it to the tune of $33 million if they didn't see a heckuva lot more potential in this than just another virtual chat room.

      On the other hand, I vividly remember how much money was burned on idiotic business plans during the .com era.
      So I think I can safely say that the amount of money invested in a company is not necessarily the best way to measure the quality of its project...
  • by Flabby Boohoo ( 606425 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @09:54AM (#5039706) Journal
    But will the target market of Wal-Mart moms show up?

    Wouldn't that be made up of Target shoppers and not Wal-Mart shoppers?
  • Mod me as redundant if you will, but when I get home from work, I'm ready for a real honest-to-deity escape from my tensions.
    Give me a bar, restaurant, hot/sunny vacation spot or a skiing/fishing/outdoors expedition with some friends over a computer simulated social experience anyday.

    We geeks all need *more* real-life interpersonal interaction, not less.

    Now, if you don't mind, I have to get back to playing Vice City. ;)
  • Go Open Minded (Score:5, Informative)

    by twinsen2001 ( 639518 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @10:00AM (#5039757)
    I've been a 'There' beta tester for a short time and went in extremely skeptical. Been an avid 'gamer' for decades. That said, 'There' is extremely impressive. The graphics are simplistic, but it's the actual physics of the game (zooming with friends through the caverns on my hoverboard, racing dune buggies along the beach, playing paintball, etc.) are what really add value. Yes this concept is not *new* but it's the execution that rocks. Extremely tight implementation, the avatars are highly dynamic, not clunky like most avatar based worlds. The chat interface is itself above and beyond anything anywhere. I've done a significant comparison with Sim City Online... two different beasts. I'd rather not have to worry about my "urination" meter while hanging out with friends in a virtual world thank you. ;o)
  • I'm trapped in Microsoft Bob.
  • I thought There didn't encourage player killing.
  • does this remind anyone of Phantasy Star Online? just without the rpg.

    and iChat as well, with the bubble thing.

  • Think about it, you could have your computer host your house/construct. We'd either need a few central servers to hold the overall landscape or just hobbyists.

    Beyond that commercial concerns could setup "real estate" and rent out space for buildings and stuff if you wanted real persistence when your machine is off.

    Whoops, I think I've just described another set of web servers and a new browser. Maybe we should work with the Mozilla people...
  • I've already signed up for the beta :-)
  • Their economy sounds like project Entropia to me... granted, users can create and sell items as well, but it looks like the company's going to be making tons of (real) money selling Therebucks.

    -Berj
  • by jacoplane ( 78110 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @10:37AM (#5039990) Homepage Journal
    Why is it that people create these virtual worlds that contain the same limitations as the real world. The idea of money only makes sense when you have scarcity. Guess what, this is cyberspace: there is no scarcity necessary here. And yet people build it into their worlds as a "feature".

    What I would really find interesting to see is how such a world would look like when there is no scarcity. How would population centers look (usually city center means $$$).

    An interesting quote I found in this Wired article [wired.com]:

    These little economies raise big questions, therefore, and by no coincidence, they tend to be the big questions of the economic age. How, for instance, do we assign value to immaterial goods? What defines ownership when property becomes as fluid as thought? What defines productivity when work becomes a game and games become work?

    Are we so used to the notion of scarcity that we wish to reproduce it in cyberspace? Would we not rather move beyond this idea?

    Another interesting aspect to think about is how copyrights relate to this. Say I write a piece of code that represents my design for a Castle in such a virtual world. If I copyright it nobody else can legally build the same castle as me. And so the idea of scarcity is reintroduced. But it is only relevant as long as there is no rich public domain from which people can retrieve equivalent items. So hopefully there would be tons of castles available under a Creative Commons [creativecommons.org] license.
    • Why is it that people create these virtual worlds that contain the same limitations as the real world. The idea of money only makes sense when you have scarcity. Guess what, this is cyberspace: there is no scarcity necessary here. And yet people build it into their worlds as a "feature".

      The scarcity in There seems to be a voluntary tax. Especially if There doesn't charge for the software or charge a monthly fee (IMHO they shouldn't), they need some way to pay for the service. Letting people choose to pay $.60 for a dune buggy or a jacket or $2 for a dog seems like a reasonable way to pay for the service. And it's voluntary: if you don't want jackets or vehicles or dogs, you can free-ride.

      It gives rise to an alternative business model: pay $20/mo to be a "high roller" and have unlimited Therebucks. Both models could exist at once: people can choose whether or not to buy there way into an existence free from scarcity.

    • Cyberspace or not, there are real scarcities. Server cpu cycles are limited. Server ram is limited. Server disk space is limited. And bandwidth/transmission speed is limited. These can all be expanded by the application of sufficient $$, but they aren't unlimited, merely relatively inexpensive.

      What I'm wondering about is how they are going to implement micro-payments. Charging for services is all very well, but if credit card charges are twice what the service costs, then something is dangerously wrong with the model. (I suppose that they could take a deposit, and then insist that the user keep a minimum balance in his account... or let him put it on the tab, and insist that he settle at the end of the month.)
      • Everyone here needs to re-read the article and take a look at the website there.com. They are charging real money for the things you do and buy in game.

        Want a new set of clothes? 2000 therebucks. Hoverboard? 1000 therebucks. Admission to an event? 500 therebucks. The exchange rate of therebucks to realbucks isn't set yet (and is probably subject to change depending on the popularity of the "game"), but the current rate for the reviewer was somewhere around 1600 therebucks for $1.

        The "game" keeps track of what you spend and at the end of the month your credit card is charged. In essence, the micro-payments are stored up and charged on a monthly basis - something you can get away with easily in a closed environment like this, but which is much harder on the open web.

        Speculation: There will probably be a minimum charge, and if the game isn't free then you'll no doubt be given a starting fund that is more or less equivalent to the amount you spent on the game.

        Look at the developer section of the website. They keep control over the system. They have approval rights on everything you make and you essentially have to pay them a fee for each item you create. You can recoup that fee by selling the item to other therepeople, but it still fits into the overall economic system.

        Speculation: there will never be an unlimited usage fee as one person suggested. Reason: it would flood the market. If i have unlimited funds then why wouldn't i buy 1000 hoverboards and give them away like candy? I suspect the game will always be you get what you pay for - no less and very little more.

        Speculation: I'll bet the exchange rate will always be hundreds of therebucks to the dollar to make the money seem less real and more extravagant. If it's hard to do the conversion in your head and therebucks seem cheap, people will be more likely to buy and buy without keeping a running total of what it's actually costing them. On the other hand, if you're spending 1000 therebucks like it's a few cents (which it is) then it makes you feel like a high-roller. (Unless you think about what you're actually getting for the money, which is nothing really.)

        Still, sounds interesting. You don't have to worry about peeing, working, studying, etc. - unlike life and most other mmorpgs. It's pay for play pure and simple, but with lots of possibility for different styles of play. I'll definitely give it another glance when I can.
      • Cyberspace or not, there are real scarcities. Server cpu cycles are limited. Server ram is limited. Server disk space is limited.

        So what you're saying is that the item prices should depend on how much performance it costs? The buggy is more expensive than the bike because it has more polygons and four wheels cost more CPU power than two?

        That would definitely make for an interesting economy. I'm not satirical, this would be a very interesting idea.
        • Well, what I was saying was that it was going to cost *something*.

          Your interpretation... that would make for a very interesting economy. And would make sparkling "3-D" gems expensive. (Appropriate, no?)
  • by Featureless ( 599963 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @10:44AM (#5040041) Journal
    Halsey Minor, Trip Hawkins, Jane Metcalfe and Louis Rosetto... are "notable"? With that list of posers, burnouts, con men, and also-rans, you know you can safely ignore this for what it is - pure media hype.

    Someone stop them before we get another torrent of empty-headed buzzword-filled "articles" describing how this nth attempt at a failed idea (god, how is Blaxxun even still around?) is now suddenly going to "change the world"...
  • Ah, another year, another virtual chat universe... Do people ever study the reasons why these things fail before giving $33 Million to the next one? Some immediate problems:

    * Unstable Economy - with so much money, couldn't they hire an economist? The economy in this thing is like a bad version of "former soviet Russia" - there is no connection between the price of an item and the manufacturing cost. It is like EverQuest - a +1 sword costs the same to make as a +50 sword, so the company has to constantly interfere with the price of an item, create artificial scarcity, etc. At least they have auctions...

    * Wasted Graphics - they say they are going after women and emotion, but then they talk about graphics, interaction, etc. First off, the graphics are better, but not enough to make a difference. The interaction (driving around, etc.) is fun for a game but has nothing social about it. If you look at all of the various avatar chat products released over the years, after the initial excitement wears off, people just make the graphics window as small as possible or turn it off completely and focus on the text. It isn't because the graphics were bad - it is just that they are not necessary. The only reason these companies keep going back to graphics is that it makes your $33 Million price tag seem more justified.

    * Immersion factor - one of the reasons that IM has trumped all of the other chat products is that it does not require immersion!! Hello, you can do it while doing something else, or chat with multiple people at the same time. IM integrates into your life, instead of forcing you into its world.

    Nowadays, online social interaction is pretty well studied. The people with the checkbooks should read some of those studies.

    - davevr
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @12:28PM (#5040792) Homepage
    I know some of the people involved with There. I'm impressed that it finally launched.

    The point of There, technically, is that it's supposed to scale up to planetary size. One big, seamless world. No "shards". No picking a server.

    It's extensible in several ways; you can repaint objects with Photoshop, design new ones with gmax, and add new play with C++. There's some editorial control, to prevent the world from going downhill.

    I'm a bit disappointed that There supports dialup. Supporting dialup forces a whole range of design decisions, all of which make the world worse. Broadband penetration is high enough today that broadband-only is commercially feasible. Half of all online people time is on broadband; the heavy users have already migrated.

    I have absolutely no idea whether this will work as a business. Or whether it will work as a virtual world, which is even harder.

  • I worked at SGI, then Cosmo, back in the day when VRML was going to revolutionize the web. Cosmo Player was going to be the 3D equivalent to Mosaic for the 3DWeb... BAH!

    We bought a small Russian company called Paragraph for some ungodly high amount that had some 3D chat environments. We had clients like Sony, we had $20MM from SGI to make the company stand on its own (it was after all a spin off of OpenGL technology that SGI had developed, except it was SGI's attempt at testing the waters of PC software), and it died a miserable death. granted part of the issues back then were related to the fact that no one had the computer horse power to spin 30MM filtered, lit, and textured triangles, Cosmo was built on OpenGL which M$ was doing it's best to kill with D3D/Farenheight, and the plug in was like 14MB to download, oh, and no one had broadband. Other than those few things, I'm SURE that VRML would have been a raging hit...

    There has been so many attempts at this stupid idea that's it's not even funny.

    If chat is the application, there's no need for 3D AT ALL. Period. The people that are drawn to chat are generally clueless about how to navigate a 3D world. I've done the focus groups. It funny as hell to watch Joe Six Pack staring at his avatars feet all day because he can't figure out how to navigate a general 3D environment with a 2D input device.

    If 3D is what people want, fucking buy Quake x, Half-life, etc.

    I never understood the stupidity of people that were willing to shovel buckets of money into this crap when if 3D chat was truly compelling, then all you have to do is whip out a Quake mod!

    At least under a Quake Mod then we could get a little closer to the idea of the Metaverse where people are free to develop their own reality.

    At least then you can shove a rocket up some lame ass looser when he pisses you off.

    Maybe I can find some suckers to give me a few MM to hire some Quake hackers to do just this. Any takers? Apparently this idea has not died, maybe we can get some for us!

    Last month I think Computer Graphics Magazine did a thing on 3D web stuff. Total example of someone who did not know or understand history and is doomed to repeat it.

    This is another stupid idea that will die.
  • by SecretAsianMan ( 45389 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @02:09PM (#5041637) Homepage
    Who knows, we all laughed at AOL too

    Not everyone did, at least at first. I was like 13 or 14 when the AOL 1.0 disk (a floppy) came to me out of the blue. I knew about the Internet, and I had even experienced it through a BBS-email gateway (FTP over email was ... interesting). The problem I was experiencing was this: while I could find magazines and books and other materials that taught me about the Internet, an actual dialup connection (we're talking pre-WWW here) was horrendously expensive where I lived in Oklahoma. IIRC, the materials that came with the AOL disk advertised some really good rates compared with the other local rates. Of course, they had neglected to install an access number in my LATA, so I never gave them any business. But I didn't begin to associate AOL with newbies for quite some time.

  • by caferace ( 442 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:20AM (#5045583) Homepage
    To quote from an an email I received this evening: "Feel free to spread the word about There by posting to online community sites, forums, or message boards you belong to!"

    Sounds OK to me. So.... I was a contractor doing QA at There for a very brief period. I'd also been involved in a focus group for them prior to that.

    Currently, I've been doing beta testing but my Windows box isn't up to spec, video card-wise. I think the vid card requirements are gonna kill them, unless they align with the folks that sell them and offer *massive* discounts. It was known over 16 months ago that these cards were required. I think that the "graceful degradation" solution should have been a priority.

    Requiring IE for registration during the install and registration is just dumb. I haven't tried the second "private beta" yet but in the first Netscape, Moz or anything else on Windows just failed. It took a phone call and downloading IE to simply get registered. That's odd, because I remember a LOT of the folks (including QA) working in Linux, or at least using CLI stuff.

    Lua is a nifty language, but requiring developers to learn something new is going to be a pain. I'd like to see (again) the API and SDK very soon.

    There are some extremely talented people there. I wish I'd stayed. I wish I could go back, frankly. It wis a cool product, and visually and functionall stunning. And that was from a demo and testin 16 months ago. It has indeed gotten better since. I want the jet pack back. Hell with a hoverboard.

    I wasn't too pleased with the internal alpha process (junior high kids) but it just might make it.

    -jim

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