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Active Worlds Virtual Reality: Where Worlds Collide

Eric Standridge is a published author that shares tips and advice for everyday situations.


Inception, The Matrix, Total Recall.. there's something about these virtual realitiy movies that captures the imagination and doesn't let go. Still, these are works of fiction, 2D images blasted onto the big screen. Imagine if you could live those movies.. to be able to step inside and experience real 3D.

Strangely, it's been around since the late 1990's. Back then, virtual reality was primitive. Simple geometries on a 3D plane. In today's modern world, that's changed. Now you can experience an immersive 3D experience featuring stunning visuals and amazing sound effects.

In the virtual world of Active Worlds, one can easily find themselves lost in a tangled web of 3D avatars and bizarre lands. In the blink of an eye, one can be transported from a medieval fantasyland to the techno-inspired landscape of a future Mars. Atlantis awaits as one wanders through the worlds, seeking out undiscovered lands and meeting strange beasts along the way. It is a universe filled with mystique and mystery, a place where dreams can come true no matter what they are.

Still, among all of the strange and wonderful landscapes, this place called Active Worlds is still rooted firmly in reality. When one walks town the streets of Broadway, one feels nearly at home in the big city. For the non-city dweller, the temperature is always perfect in the Tropics. It is a world all its own, and it can be visited with just the simple click of a mouse.

A Virtual Reality Flashback: The Origin of Active Worlds

Active Worlds first entered the Virtual Reality scene in 1994 when Ron Britvich created WebWorld. Although WebWorld wasn't a true Virtual World, it did represent the technology that was to come. It wasn't until the next year that he, along with a company known as Knowledge Adventure Worlds created the first true 3D Virtual World.

On June 28, 1995, AlphaWorld, as the project was known at the time, was renamed to Active Worlds. A new Virtual Reality platform was developed that allowed true 3D real-time chat. Since that time, the project has grown faster than the technology has been able to keep up.

Today, Active Worlds is one-step closer to true Virtual Reality. Over the last few years, there has been a tremendous spurt of growth in the technology used to make Active Worlds seem more life-like. Highly detailed 3D avatars roam through the various worlds as clouds waltz high overhead. Streetlamps illuminate the darkness, casting its fading light through the rain to land on the ground. Particle effect generators create lifelike atmospheres while the physics engine creates realistic interaction.

Avatars, Interaction, and Entertainment

A virtual reality universe would be nothing without people. A recent video created by the legendary Vinesauce touted Active Worlds as a an empty universe, abandoned, and exceptionally creepy. While amusing, nothing could be farther from the truth.

In a universe that's over 20 years old, there are plenty of vacant areas. Usually, these are the "historic" worlds that have remained as a testament to the past. Because of their age, they are visited infrequently, and only then by nostalgic citizens.

It just so happened that on the night he created his video, there was a massive party going on in another world. Typically, the entry world has greeters that assist new people who come in. However, during that time, the greeter was absent. Vinesauce was left to wander around on his own while the party raged in another world.

Far from being an "empty universe", it is thriving. Visitors can find parties, building projects, contests, and games on almost any given night of the week.

After arriving, the first thing that most visitors do is to create their initial look. Inside of Active Worlds, there are thousands of different avatars to choose from.

The simplest way is to choose from one of the pre-made avatars. Depending on the world, these can be older model avatars or fresh, highly detailed models. In the main world, the avatars haven't been updated in nearly 10 years, so new users are recommended to use the custom avatar system.

The custom avatar system is set up so that you can decide how you look. You can choose from human or anime characters. Once a basic character has been chosen, a great many modifications can be made. These range from changing hair colors and styles to trying on different types of clothes. If the preset clothing and styles don't fit, users can purchase different styles in the mall.

In other worlds, the avatar system can be much more advanced. The world "Delight" has everything from barnyard animals and dancing bunnies to fantasy and Hawaiian characters.

Once an avatar is chosen, users are encouraged to learn how to interact with their environment. This can be simple things such as opening web windows and sitting on benches to driving cars and flying airplanes. One of the most popular interactive elements is being able to dance with other avatars. As the majority of the people in Active Worlds are social people, they can usually be found dancing the night away at one of the many parties.

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Once a user has adjusted to moving and interacting inside of the virtual reality universe of Active Worlds, they can then begin to learn how to build their own creations. Most start out by building simple homes, but others dive in and begin designing high-tech dance clubs and other structures.

Contests throughout the year encourage builders. One of the most popular is the Extreme Builders Talent Show. This pulls together some of the best builders throughout the universe into one place to show off the best of what Active Worlds has to offer. Many times, users can earn credits or cash during these contests.

Features of Active Worlds Virtual World: How to make Virtual Reality Come Alive

One of the unique aspects of Active Worlds is the community involvement that it takes to bring the software to life. Everything in each of the many varied worlds was built by average users of the program. Using a simple to understand interface, visitors to Active Worlds can quickly learn how to build virtually anything. Every one of the 788 different worlds was built by using this simple to use interface. There are online worlds devoted to everything from Trivia to Mars. In fact, being able to build in a virtual world is one of the greatest attractions to Active Worlds.

Even though it is exciting to build your own virtual reality world that was not the main purpose of the program. Active Worlds was designed as the next phase in online chat. Once you enter the main world you quickly assume the shape of a 3D avatar; either as a male or female tourist. It may take a moment as the virtual world builds up around you, but after a few brief seconds, you’re ready to go explore.

The main room is usually the most populated. Below the 3D screen is a chat box where you can talk with any of the 3D avatars that are in the room. Besides chatting in virtual reality, your 3D avatar is capable of performing many actions, from dancing to fighting and even sleeping.

Besides the main room, or “world”, there are over 700 more rooms to visit. Some of these “worlds” are owned by Active Worlds, while others are owned by the “citizens” of Active Worlds. Each world has its own theme. There are worlds especially designed for teens, adults, and even children. Since the virtual reality software is geared towards everyone, you must verify your age before going into certain worlds.

Because Active Worlds is a community driven virtual reality platform, there are many features geared towards community involvement. The traditional open chat is still the most popular, however, voice chat is also available in many areas. Users may "whisper" privately to one another if they are in the same world, or leave "telegrams" to others to read later if they are offline.

One of the many community built games within the virtual reality application Active Worlds

One of the many community built games within the virtual reality application Active Worlds

Visiting the Virtual Reality Universe of Active Worlds

Active Worlds has a special internet browser that one must download to gain access to the virtual worlds. The software comes with a web browser of its own, so one can browse the web and chat at the same time. After the browser is downloaded and launched, it may take a moment to download the 3D models. Typically, this takes less than thirty seconds but can take longer on slower connections.

Once you enter the world, you’ll be presented with a scene straight out of a science fiction novel. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to explore around awhile. The entry world isn’t large, so there’s no chance of getting lost. Learning how to use the program only takes moments, especially for the computer savvy. If problems do arise, there’s no need to worry. There is always someone around that’s willing to lend a helping hand.

Virtual Reality Advanced Applications

While Active Worlds was designed primarily as an entertainment platform, the uses of the software are too numerous to count.

A software development kit enables users to write their own code modifications. This enables the software to be used for anything from advanced gaming to true immersive virtual applications.

For those who own worlds, custom 3D models and unique avatars can be created and imported. The modes are primarily in the old renderware format, but several other models are also supported. This helps users to be able to use full 3D models while at the same time keeping frame rate low.

Because the program is essentially set up as a giant virtual reality sandbox, it can be used for almost anything. In 2013, a group from Oklahoma used the software to implement a several million dollar project aimed at revitalizing their downtown area. By using the software, and being able to manipulate the environment in real time they were able to cut costs significantly.

The uses of Active Worlds are astonishing. As one of the oldest platforms, it still remains one of the most advanced and user friendly.

© 2010 Eric Standridge


Charles Prince from southeastern North Carolina on August 17, 2017:

It should be noted that since this article was written, Active Worlds no longer charges to become a member - it's now free!

Eric Standridge (author) from Oklahoma on March 11, 2011:

It's an amazing place.. I first learned about it while I was doing research for an article about Oklahoma I was hired to do. I found a virtual world that was about Oklahoma, so I decided to take a look. What I saw there impressed me, and made me want to learn more about it. Sadly, the Oklahoma world is no longer there, but I can see a lot of applications that it could be used for. Thanks for the comment!

Joy56 on December 11, 2010:

wow virtually anything at our fingertips. This was very well written. It explained a lot to a novice about virtuality ...... The world is a changing place, just at the click of a mouse. Our grandparents must be turning in their graves, thinking we are all just wasting our time..... ha

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