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Worlds Chat is an on-line virtual reality based chat program introduced in April 1995 by the company Worlds Inc. and as of April 2018 is currently online. At the time of Worlds Chat's release, Worlds Inc. was in its second year of existence and already a leader in creating virtual workspace environment having created virtual meeting spaces for clients such as Sprint, Intel, and UB Networks. Worlds Chat was the first program they made available to the general public and it was offered free of charge for download from their website. The popularity of the program and Worlds Inc.'s other successes, such as Tamiko Thiel's work with Steven Spielberg to create Starbright World (a virtual world for seriously ill children), allowed Worlds Inc. to procure a minority investment of $5.6m from Pearson plc in June 1995.
The Worlds Chat user was allowed to choose from a gallery of existing three-dimensional avatars to be their representation in the virtual world. The gallery was presented in a fashion similar to that of a first person shooter, except without the hands and weapon in the viewport. Once an avatar was chosen, the user was placed in the central hub of a virtual space station. The user would see representations of other online users in the station. Users could exit a platform through sliding doors, travel through halls, and find other platforms with groups of people to interact with. The screen was split into several areas including one for messages from the software program itself, a window with a Doom (video game) like 3D interface, a window for chat messages, and a space station map indicating which platform the user currently inhabited. Both a keyboard and mouse were integral parts of the user interface.
Worlds Chat team
Assembled by Dave Marvit (VP of Production), the original team that put together Worlds Chat consisted of Andrea Gallagher (producer), Dave Leahy, Syed Asif Hassan, and Bo Adler (development), and Jeff "Scamper" Robinson and Helen Cho (UI and graphics). The original client/server protocol for the multi-user environment was developed by Mitra Ardron, Bo Adler, Judy Challinger, and Dave Leahy (PTO US6219045). Unlike other immersive environments of its day, it worked on lines as slow as 9600 baud. Contributors to the project included David Tolley (music), Wolf Schmidt (documentation), John Navitsky and Scott Benson (operations), Naggi Asmar (quality assurance), and others.
The first release of VRML, a standard for defining virtual reality environments, was less than six months old when Worlds Chat was released. This meant that Worlds Inc. needed to discover and define its own best practices while creating Worlds Chat. The additional speed of dial-up Internet connections naturally placed limitations on the amount of information that could be transmitted to and from the Worlds Inc. servers. An increasing number of users and expanding virtual world increased these pressures.
In 2011 Tamiko Thiel, a creative director and producer and Worlds Inc. from 1994 to 1996, wrote an article entitled "Cyber-Animism and Augmented Dreams" describing the history of virtual worlds, in which she wrote: "In the virtual worlds and avatar communities in the mid 1990's we thought we all would start parallel, virtual, online existences in which we could create ourselves anew and realize our personal dreamworlds. The technology however was too awkward, the processors and the Internet connections too slow, and the user base for our worlds never extended beyond a small dedicated community. By 2002 the virtual communities of the first generation all went bankrupt or looked for other ways to earn money."
- ACM interactions, Sept-Oct 1996, ISSN 1072-5520, pp. 27-34. http://www.ccon.org/papers/interart2.html
- Current download page, http://www-static.us.worlds.net/cgi-bin/download.cgi?action=full&bundle=WorldsCurrentVer
- Worlds Inc: Worlds Chat, industrial demo of first Internet-based avatar world (May 1995) https://archive.org/details/vw_starbright-spielberg-demo (sic)
- Scalable virtual world chat client-server system https://patents.google.com/patent/US6219045B1/en?oq=PTO+US6219045
- CYBER-ANIMISM AND AUGMENTED DREAMS. THE URGE TO AUGMENT. 4 June 2011 http://www.leoalmanac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/LEA_Cyber-Animism_TamikoThiel.pdf