"Microcosm"/"EC Habitats" - Electric Communities 1996-1997
is a screenshot of "Habitats" running, with one of the simple 3D
avatars in place. EC's most innovative Virtual World, Habitats was
a collection of VRML 3D regions that demonstrated a range of
technological innovations, but also showed that the infrastructure for
successful online communal 3D virtual worlds was still a few years from
maturity. Bandwidth and Lag issues were the largest problems, that and
the limitations of Java in graphic rendering. Total Texture budget
for this region was in the 800k range Below are the six locked camera
views, which you could swtich between while in the region..
create a compelling 3D space without the inevitable "giant pixel"
problems that a free camera view would create, the choice was made to
lock a set of cameras into postion. This allowed the textures to be
built no bigger than the largest size displayed on screen. Large areas
were allowed to stretch a bit in some views, but at the time the overall
effect was totally beyond anything anyone else was doing online.
It pre-dated Second Life by a decade!
also that there were no lights in this scene.; I built all lighting
into the textures. I built very simple models and captured a sense of
detail in the textures. For example, the fencing was a single polygon
with a single texture. There was no tiling available so all textures are
complete. Note the "jaggy" edges in the screenshot were an
artifact of the rendering engine (no aliasing between 3D components.)
Several locations in the backgrounds of the view were clickable, which
would take you to a separate region (The Theater, the Square Rigger
Avatar store, the Mountain Villa, the Night Beach and the Cruise Ship;
more would have been added, such as the hotel.) Only people who's
avatars were in the same region as you could chat with you directly, and
then every conversation by every avatar in that region would be visible
at all times to facilitate group interaction. Artistically, the
Beach Town world consisted of a series of locations strung along a
resort style beach, with the first location being in full sunny beach
glor y, and the last region being the "Night Beach" - perfect for a
campfire and watching the moon glistening on the waves.
fun part is always the testing -- that's my avatar waving from the top
screenshot. The icons on the screenshot were to easily facilitate
gestures and communication between avatars. By the way, two of EC's
founders (Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer - my boss for most of
my time with the company) originated the term "Avatar" for the use of an
image representing a real person in a virtual world only a few years
prior to this project.
Click for another full size view of the application as it appeared when in use.