ActiveWorlds Expo 2007
The second annual ActiveWorlds Expo takes place between November 02 and 04 2007. It features exhibitors from all manner of family orientated uses of the ActiveWorlds software, and takes place in the main ActiveWorlds universe, in AWExpo world.
For the uninitiated, ActiveWorlds is an eleven year old, slowly dying social VR platform. The Expos are part of an attempt to revitalise itself, and are in conjuncttion with a radically accelerated pace of platform development.
ActiveWorlds' tiny size - less than approx. 5,000 active subscribers - and isolationist attitudes - to the point of denying any other social VR platform exists - have made the creation of such an exposition at all, a remarkable achievement.
Last year's expo set the benchline, it is hoped the 2007 expo learns from these mistakes.
The first thing that hit upon entry to the AW Expo, was a hefty download, with live streaming music pumping out, and an area packed full of high quality multimedia presentations downloading direct to the computer. A sign of things to come, and a good deal of promise. It does of course, mean any connection speed slower than 500kbps is going to struggle. As it was, with a 3mb/s download speed, it took more than a few minutes for things to start to come into focus.
Part of that was an unexpected bottleneck on the server, which, by the end of the first day of the expo was severe enough to warrant a technical check on the world server itself - it was throttling back download speeds as it could not cope with the volume of users, for the content download.
One oddity that hit right at entry was the stock quotes bot, a simple autonomous agent that proudly announced it was able to give stockmarket quotes in real-time if whispered to - just select it's name from a drop down list, and tell it which stock you are after.
The world utilises the HUD update that ActiveWorlds released this year, and this allows a menu of teleport options to appear as a transparent, removable info menu, overlaid transparently on the view itself. It is, in effect, exactly the same as a HUD (heads up display) would function in the physical world - overlaying optional data on your field of vision.
A lively musical score was active at all times, thanks to one of the exhibitors, whose booth on 'the Goober Zone' was belting out an internet radio station as ambient sound, blanketing the conference. The music did sometimes skip, particularly when other parts of the expo are downloading, or you were watching one of the many filmstrips. However, by and large, it added an extra sensory dimension to the experience.
Transportation around the expo, was either by walking, or by use of some nice, fully functional skateboards, provided by the VR5 booth. Much faster than walking, they moved between and through all other exhibits with ease.
Passages were very wide. If they were physical, you could fit an average car, sideways, down the thinnest passageway between booths. This is a size you do not expect at a physical expo, and could accommodate thousands, if not tens of thousands at once.
A pity then, that the expo population, including vendors, never approached 100 at any given time.
A P30 world was set aside for the expo, giving a conference area of about 360,000 square metres Plenty of space for the exposition of all people could offer.
In fact, too much space. As this map of booths shows, there were more empty plots than filled ones.
Partially this is the old, isolationalist nature of ActiveWorlds, and partially this is due to the family-centric nature of the exposition. There are many people working with ActiveWorlds software to do great things. However, they do not have worlds which you could take a five year old to see. Thus, they have no place in the exposition.
That said, there are some big names present. Whilst a lot of the booths are unattended, others, especially the big ones, are staffed with people willing to answer all manner of questions about their products.
Unlike the previous year, this time, AW's denizens are seeking progress, and in a big way.
Exhibits and Developments
Even given the limited selection of booths, there was a lot more at the expo than can be covered here, at least in detail. Many of the booths were simply static displays, demonstrating building prowess, or expertise in creating 3D models. In general, booths, which showcase the same idea, or have no real purpose other than as art, have been skipped.
There was a large exhibit called 'surf's up' showing two penguins balanced on chunks of ice as water cascaded under them. The penguins were 30 metres high, towering over the landscape. More than just a simple arts build, it was recruiting for talent, to create three dimensional, immersive birthdaycards, with contact details for the organisers, tagged on the end.
Quest Atlantis universe server had a booth, describing their attempts to merge serious gaming with ActiveWorlds' platform, in a separate client. A demonstration video - unfortunately not working - and several screenshots, overviews, and a read through of their efforts, working with children from ages 9 to 13.
Run by Indiana University, in the US, it is an international effort to both augment and replace the classroom, by licensing schools to add their students to its universe, with individual log in details, such that only students and teachers can log in, either in the classroom, or, at home.
Nature reserves, wild scenic beauty parks, and puzzle-based worlds meeting the needs of individual curriculum requirements were all on display. Sadly, the booth was unattended on all visits, so we were not able to enquire further.
AWSupport had a booth, offering free resources to supplement the ActiveWorlds experience - newsletter, VR news site (ActiveWorlds VR only), wiki-information sites, and awards ceremony.
AWFX had a booth advertising their collections of realistic weather particle sets, including very realistic water mist and rain. Just Ask Me guides, had an expo booth advertising their volunteer services in basic acclimatisation to the program for citizens (paid users) and tourists alike.
A huge, front end of a cruise ship, jutting out over the path, with a gang plank leading inside was the AW 'reunion' exhibit, advertising and staffed, taking bookings for, a get together of ActiveWorlds users, occurring on board an ocean liner in 2008.
One of the main technicaldevelopment booths present, the SW City booth looked extremely professional, and, whilst it was also staffed, had AI controlled characters at the desks, interactively offering to assist you.
SW City, or South West city, is a single, massive, sprawling leviathan of a city on the ActiveWorlds world AlphaWorld. Living off of what is essentially a public building world, as their booth demonstrates, they have managed to make it their own, by use of SW city interactive - a questing, points, gaming system and local currency that overlays their entire city, with interactive points throughout. You have an inventory, and a coin purse. Vending machines add to your inventory and take from your coin purse. ATM machines work properly. Gambling establishments and jobs exist.
It takes a well-designed, built environment, common in ActiveWorlds, and adds that extra dimension of life to it, bringing it alive.
At the booth, you could sign on to the network with a username and password, start using the system, buy a snack from a single vending machine, and gamble with a game of cards with a bot controlled character at a side table - to win SW city's currency.
A booth by ImABot, offered several advances on ActiveWorlds technology. Bot programs (agents) that have become the staple software in many private worlds. Physics engine development. A property A-Z locator for the public building world, AlphaWorld. If you had lost a location in this 144,000 square mile land, they have software that locates it. A new GUI editor for avatar properties, and a high definition world mapping system, were all on display, and for download to your pc there and then, without leaving the expo.
The VR5 booth was perhaps the most interesting, from a technological point of view. A company booth, their chief technical officer was on hand throughout the exposition, to answer questions, and take orders. The company was the only one yet seen in AW, to be on the Metaverse roadmap, and actively developing ActiveWorlds, way beyond it's designers original intentions, as a 3D web. Their booth included free downloads of a new ActiveWorlds client program, offering functionality significantly over and beyond the standard one. Demonstrations of embedded mini games, and a functional arcade were also present, although admittedly, they opened sub-windows to web pages with Java games in them.
The most interesting technical developments came from the town exhibit of SW city, the single software stall from ImaGenius, and from the organisation VR5. In all three cases, software to extend the capabilities well beyond the original parameters was presented.
The VR5 booth was perhaps the most interesting, from a technological point of view. A company booth, their chief technical officer was on hand throughout the exposition, to answer questions, and take orders. The company was the only one yet seen in AW, to be on the Metaverse roadmap, and actively developing ActiveWorlds, way beyond it's designers original intentions, as a 3D web.
Their booth included free downloads of a new ActiveWorlds client program, offering functionality significantly over and beyond the standard one. Demonstrations of embedded mini games, and a functional arcade were also present, although admittedly, they opened sub-windows to web pages with Java games in them.
However, there was an increased amount of interactivity - the java programs actually took session datafrom ActiveWorlds, which inessence, will ultimately allow separate users to share the gaming experience.
About or To the Expo