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World Review: Google Lively


 
Main Review

Compatible with Operating Systems:
All

World Status: Defunct


World Purpose: Social

Age Suitability: Anyone


World-Type

Google Lively's beta launched on the 8th of July 2008. We gave it a month of operation before stopping by for a visit. Lively is Google's flagship foray into the arena of social virtual reality.

The first worrying thing that a trained eye might notice is that the first view you see, looks quite a bit like old habitat. The view you receive appears to be 2D, with cheesy looking cartoon bodies and oversized heads standing about.

Many of the textures filling the viewport look to be 8 bit, at best. There is no mipmapping to be seen, although the display window can be detached from your browser and resized.

In actuality, the environment is three dimensional, although it is forgivable to think it is 2D. The avatars have only a set range of animations, and there is no attempt to create any form of shadows, so until you figure out the rotation system (which could be a while), it appears as2D.

Sometimes, especially when you first log in, you see a strange effect with avatars drawn at different heights on the screen. This is caused by a strange design decision, which causes the avatars to be drawn on top of scenery objects if they are only partially occluded. Thus, a woman standing on the stairs, will appear to be standing in mid air in front of the stairs if they staircase is viewed side on.

This ultimately contributes to the 2D appearance illusion.

Graphical bugs aside, the interface is not the easiest thing to master. Both keyboard and mouse are used to navigate. The mouse controls the avatar, and the keyboard controls your viewpoint ? the two are divorced from one another, immediately making Lively utterly incompatible with a head mounted display system.

The keyboard controls are a little odd:


  • Press the left arrow key and the view moves to the right


  • Press the right arrow key and the view moves to the left


  • Press the up arrow key to move 'back' relative to the viewpoint


  • Press the down arrow key to move 'forward' relative to the viewpoint


In short, the controls are reversed, with no forthcoming explanation as to why this is necessary. This can create problems in navigation.

Daftly, the control problems vanish when you hold ctrl - this makes the arrow keys rotate the viewpoint.



  • Ctrl + left rotates clockwise


  • Ctrl + right rotates counter clockwise


  • Pitch is handled by ctrl + up and ctrl + down.



Both function as you would expect. However, the moment you release the Ctrl key, everything defaults to the movement systm from before.

Alternatively you can use the mouse to look around, by holding the right mouse button down and moving the mouse. This does seem perhaps the most sane way to do it, if it is possible for you to do it that way.


To move the avatar itself, is a separate issue. For this you use the mouse. Left click on the avatar, and drag it about the room. This comprises walking. As mentioned above, the viewpoint is pretty much divorced from the avatar, so only if you reach the edge of the screen will the viewpoint even start to move. To make extended trips you either have to hold the arrow keys down at the same time as the mouse, or pause regularly. Thankfully this is not a big problem, as the largest Lively world is about 20 metres on a side.

The World in Brief

In brief, Lively exists as a kind of pure chat. A 3D chatroom in essence, with limited interactivity features, and worlds which are limited in size and scope. It feels a little cartoonish, and the textures tend to be low-tech, and low resolution. That said, it runs from an embedded browser application, so it innately supports a range of operating systems.

When you first land, you are immediately presented with a panel asking you to choose your avatar. This seems pretty much industry standard; however there are a few problems.

You can either select one of a group of pre-made avatars, or customise your own. However, the interface does not make it clear this is an either-or situation, so you do run the risk of erasing the avatar you have just painstakingly assembled from pre-made parts. To finish your avatar and confirm it, you click on the X on the top right corner ? there is no ?ok? button or similar to tell you that you are finished.

 

Sub Reviews

Here at Virtual Worldlets, we look at all worlds, whether for entertainment, training, medicare, industry or military use. Thus, we have the situation where different uses judge by different criteria. Below are a series of sub-reviews, each tailored to a different aspect of the world.

 

Socialisers
The social life is the life for you. To chat, to roam, to gossip all day, and chatter all night. You are the heart of the party, and you are the soul. The drive to chatter, the need to gossip, stretching out, making connections, mind against mind, heart against heart. It keeps you going, it keeps you sane.

Lively?s main function is in a social context. The limited interaction with the environment within, pretty much demands that the purpose of logging in would be social. There are a wide range of pre-made gestures, and avatars can be forced into a twosome simply by the other person being near to your avatar and facing you when they initiate it.

This can be annoying, especially when you pop away to make a drink and come back to find a stranger is making out with your avatar, quite literally.

Chat bubbles appear in the view in different colours depending on the individual character which is speaking, with funnels leading from them to the individual avatars. If the avatars are not on screen, the funnels simply lead off-screen as near as they can.

A cute feature is the ignore command. Accessed from a menu called up by left-clicking an avatar or corresponding speech bubble, ignore not only removes the offending person?s chat, but turns their avatar into a transparent white ghost as well, ?killing? them for you.

Whispers are also accessed from this menu, which can make a whisper or private message quite fiddly as you have to find the avatar or have the person speaking before you can activate it. If they are walking around at the time, this can be a nightmare.

You can also invite them to be a friend, which allows you to see their online status on Lively if accepted. A big drawback of this feature however, is that there is no way to send a message between rooms. Your contacts list shows where they are, and you have to leave your current lively room, and enter the other before a private message can be started. This limitation does hamper community a little bit.


Another nice feature is the inter-language support. The chat can handle Greek, Spanish, French, even Arabic without the computer necessarily having the language packs installed. The person with that language types, and Lively displays, in the same characters typed.

During tests those languages displayed perfectly, however Japanese failed completely. Another oversight is the text input is not IME compliant, so in order to input in those languages, you must compose your sentence outside the client, then copy and paste it into chat.

There is no voice support whatsoever, but considering the bandwidth required for that, it is quite refreshing.

One big minus for social hopping, is that each lively room ? local name for a worldlet - requires you to sign into the service again, even if they are hosted on the same server, in a manner that does get annoying. Whilst you can choose a ?remember me? aspect, all that does is automatically fill and submit the login details on each room change, as opposed to doing away with it all together.

Clothing


Lively is a modern VR world, and as such, it supports hot-swappable items of clothing. However, the clothing meshes are each only designed for one basic avatar, limiting the selection somewhat. Additionally at time of review, google had not opened clothes or other model-making to the general public, although there were forum notes to indicate they planned to do so soon.

Clothing is accessed from a google lively browser-based shop outside of the main client, and there is the suggestion that items will be charged for later on, although still free during beta.


Rooms


Lively is big on the concept that every user can create their own little worldlet. So big actually that it repeatedly asks you if you would like to create one - even when you are inside one you have just recently created.

Each is initially a single room apartment suspended in nothingness. You can same as with clothes, buy new skins. Those tested included an ice rink, a five-room apartment, no bigger than the first in total size, and a hemispherical stage.

One major flaw in room design is that the owner of the room has no ejection rights whatsoever. If you have a home in Lively and someone comes in and starts mouthing you off, you can tolerate it, ignore them, or leave your home room. Those are your only options.

Once you have a room, it is time to add furniture.

Furniture


Furniture is acquired in the exact same way as clothes and rooms, and can be dragged into place to create a welcoming environment tin which to entertain.

A big oversight with furniture is placement. You are free to place it anywhere you like in your room, with a few caveats:


It may not change position on the Y axis (it may not be raised off the ground or lowered into it)
It may not be rotated around any axis except Y.

All in all a serious flaw in the use of the furniture items you are provided with, to build exotic shapes, or truly make the space your own.

Some users have still found ways to use some degree of customisation however. By standing at the edge of the world and laying a rug or other floor covering item, the rug overlaps the edge of the world. You are then able to click the overlapping area, stand on it (now outside the world) and lay another rug. Repeat as desired.

This is obviously breaking Lively, which tolerates out-of-world building with the small side effect that the normal navigation system crashes when you do this. It is not clear just how large a world you could create in this manner, before Lively crashed entirely.

Chat logging


A final note for socialisation is chat logging. There simply is not any. There is a chat history pull-down but it only stores the last few hundred lines. You may copy and paste it into another program via your operating system's keyboard select and copy commands, but that is it. As soon as you leave a room, the chat history is completely erased.

A second problem with the chat history that crops up if you join a room, then nip away from the pc quickly is that the chat history window always opens on the earliest chat recorded, so it starts at the top of a scrolling list, where items may already be vanishing as you read them. You have to scroll down to more current chat.

As the chat history window cannot be resized, and is constantly about 200 pixels wide by 400 tall, no matter how you resize the window you are going to have to peer to follow long conversations. The scroll bar for the window is non standard to any operating system, and lacks common functionality - you have to be precise, dragging the slider, as there are no top or bottom arrow controls.

 

 

Overall
Given that Google Lively at time of writing is still in beta, some of its flaws are forgivable. The code is still slightly unstable and being tweaked to correct that. However, some of the more glaring oversights, such as the inability to kick troublemakers out of your 'own' space, are unforgivable.

There is also a near complete lack of anything to do in Lively other than chat in 3D. There are many other, superior options for this out there.

Overall, two thumbs down for Google's effort.

A severe disappointment that a multiple-billion dollar corporation produced something that feels like a student project.

 

Rating 59.5 / 100
Newbie Friendliness
10.0
/ 15
Community Values
9.0
/ 15
Believability
5.0
/ 15
Immersion
5.0
/ 15
Administration
8.0
/ 10
Automated help
9.5
/ 10
Code Integrity
6.0
/ 10
Entertainment
7.0
/ 10

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