SW City, one of the largest areas in Active Worlds
|Initial release||June 28, 1995|
|Stable release||6.2 / November 10, 2014|
Active Worlds is an online virtual world, developed by ActiveWorlds Inc., a company based in Newburyport, MA, and launched on June 28, 1995. Users assign themselves a name, log into the Active Worlds universe, and explore 3D virtual worlds and environments that others have built. ActiveWorlds allows users to own worlds and universes, and develop custom 3D content. The browser has web browsing capabilities, voice chat, and basic instant messaging.
In the summer of 1994, Ron Britvich created WebWorld, the first 2.5D world where tens of thousands could chat, build and travel. WebWorld operated on the Peregrine Systems Inc. servers as an after hours project until Britvich left the company to join Knowledge Adventure Worlds (KAW) in the fall of that year. In February 1995, KAW spun off their 3D Web division to form the company Worlds Inc. 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 performed a reverse merger with Vanguard Enterprises, Inc., which changed the company's name to Activeworlds.com, Inc. and, later, ActiveWorlds, 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 was entitled to a free 30 day trial of a virtual 10,000 square-meter 3D world, using their choice of layout from a selection of pre-designed styles. After the trial, the user had the option of upgrading to a larger size and user limit. These 3D Homepages were hosted for the user, unlike traditional worlds where the user would have to get their world hosted by another company or user, or themselves.
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." In January, 2006, Wells Fargo's Stagecoach Island program was released, which used a pre-release version of the software. During that time, beta versions of Active Worlds 4.1 were available to registered citizens only.
On May 30, 2006, Active Worlds, Inc. 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 equipment. On May 31, 4.1 was reopened and the release began again. On June 1, 2006, Active Worlds, Inc. released the public world server version 4.1. In late August 2006, a new product called Miuchiz was launched using the Active Worlds platform.
On June 16, 2008, Active Worlds, Inc. released the first major update to the browser in two years, version 4.2. It included web page rendering on objects and customizable avatars. On December 5, 2008, Active Worlds, Inc. renewed over 65,000 citizenships for a period of 30 days.
On June 14, 2013, Active Worlds, Inc. dropped the registration fee and made account creation free.
Building is the main and most important feature of Active Worlds; building involves placing pre-made objects, made by the builder or others, in order to add artistic value to the environment. Active Worlds supports objects stored as RenderWare script .rwx (and the RW3+ binary equivalent .dff) and trueSpace objects .cob, as well as DirectX .x objects. The available objects are defined by the world owner using a directory of objects called an object path, accessible only by the person which owns the object path; it is not possible to upload custom objects to a public world without access to the object path.
Most worlds that allow public building contain a Registry. Registries are files stored on a remote website containing data which allow the world server to determine, based on the dimensions of the objects in question. If someone without the proper rights is building near or on top of someone else's property, the object will be deleted and an error displayed.
Membership and property
Any object placed by any person with a membership subscription is considered theirs, which allows the registry, if one exists, to make a distinction between who owns what. Normally if someone wishes to claim a piece of land for later use, they cover it with concealed objects. Property extends an infinite amount in the air and on the X and Y axes equal to the size of any objects there. Property rules normally do not apply to Tourists, or those who have not bought a membership. Tourists may build but their objects are without any type of ownership and may be edited and deleted by anyone. 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.
Communications in AW traditionally involve being within 200 meters from other people in the area and chatting. Citizens may also communicate with telegrams, which contact the user in any location. Telegrams are private (except to the universe administrator), and it is possible to send private messages to nearby users. All other chat is public. The 200 meter chat range can become a problem within large worlds and projects that span a larger area than 200 meters. To make this constraint less of an issue, bots can be programmed to broadcast chat to everyone in the current world. Currently some of the most popular worlds, such as Alphaworld, also have a global chat, where users can communicate with each other anywhere on that world.
Active Worlds is divided into "worlds", contained environments for multiple users to communicate and, in some worlds, build in. Worlds in Active Worlds are owned either by Active Worlds itself or by individual citizens; worlds can be purchased from ActiveWorld's website. Worlds are constrained by their size, the size of the world being the amount of build-able land before you reach an invisible boundary which objects may not pass outside of.
World owners maintain a list of rights, which assign certain permissions to users within the world. These lists contain all citizens assigned that permission, or a '*' wildcard to indicate all users, including tourists, have that right. Users utilize a "worlds list", that lists all worlds within Active Worlds itself, clicking on a world in the list will teleport the user to the ground-zero of said world. The main Active Worlds universe has around 800 worlds as of April 2008. However, this is misleading as some worlds are extremely large and hold many communities and a sort of sub-worlds, while other worlds are private and not always shown in the worlds list and many more seem to be un-used.
As with worlds, users can purchase their own private "universe". This may be a single stand-alone world, or a separate environment of multiple worlds, much like Active Worlds itself. Universes are limited by their total land mass and maximum simultaneous users online at one time; the landmass is the total size of each online world together. As the Active Worlds platform evolves, universe owners must purchase universe server upgrades directly from Active Worlds. Some examples of this are: ActiveWorlds Europe and CyberWorlds.
Bots and software development kit
Bots are applications developed using the Active Worlds SDK. The purpose of the SDK is to allow users add functionality that initially isn't present with the technology provided in the client or world server. Common uses of a bot are by world owners to provide a sort of "scripting" to their world such as property management, etc.
- Croquet project
- Renderware—rendering engine used by Active Worlds
- Snow Crash—novel by Neal Stephenson which inspired Active Worlds
- The Thirteenth Floor—movie that, at one point, had a simulated environment game within Active Worlds.
- WorldsAway—Active Worlds precursor
- Virtual reality
- Scannell 3.
- Hansen 149-150.
- 3D Homepage - ActiveWiki
- Noll 1.
- Wells Fargo Stagecoach Island Community: What's New
- "Stagecoach Island".
- Registry - ActiveWiki
- Tourists - ActiveWiki
- Privileges - ActiveWiki
- World Servers
- Active Worlds Help ~ World Rights
- Universe Servers
- Britvitch, Ron. "Message Board Posting, June 14, 1994." Retrieved September 4, 2007.
- Hansen, Kenneth. "The Design of Public Space in 3D Virtual Worlds on the Internet." Virtual Space: Spatiality in Virtual Inhabited 3d Worlds. Lars Qvortrup, ed. London: Springer-Verlag, 2002.
- Noll, Rick. "Price Plan Letter". Retrieved September 4, 2007.
- Scannell, Beth. Life on the Border: Cyberspace and the Frontier in Historical Perspective. Online edition. Retrieved September 4, 2007.
- Stanney, Kay. Handbook of Virtual Environments: Design, Implementation, and Applications. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002.