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World Review: Active Worlds
Main Review

Compatible with Operating Systems:
Win 2K Win 98 Win 98se Win XP

World Status: Operational

World Purpose: Simulation, Social, E-commerce, Gameworld

Age Suitability: Anyone


The Active Worlds interface is first / third person, and takes place with your character (they call it an avatar) existing in a 3D environment. Control is via arrow keys, or mouse. Partial support for HMDs...head mounted display units... is also implemented. A full range of natural viewing angles are possible via a freelook system.

ActiveWorlds, Gateway world, on 3rd person view.
ActiveWorlds AWGate world, tourist (free user) 3rd person view

Active Worlds is free to participate in, but many features are locked out, unless you pay for a priviledged account, or "citizen".

The system is more of a codebase than a world really, since it allows support for third party worlds to be bolted on. However, it does contain several explicit worlds that are considered part of the codebase: AWGate, AW, AWDebate, and so on, so it can be considered a world system in its own right, as well as a development codebase.

ActiveWorlds was launched in 1995, and is niche enough that many long-time participants are convinced that AW actually created virtual reality on the internet. AW help to enforce this view, by discouraging any talk of other systems whilst logged in.

The World in Brief

Within Active Worlds, you have many smaller worldlets in which to explore. Each has a different theme. Some are role playing environments, some are hack and slash games. Some of these world fragments are as big as countries. Others are smaller than a tennis court.

The biggest draw by far thou, is the allure of 'building'. With an Active Worlds account, you can stake off any unclaimed parcel of land, and use it to create grandiose, breathtaking structures, or tiny miniature models. The world client provides such a comprehensive building tool, that it is quite literally possible to build anything you can dream of, practically without limitation.

In my sorjourn within Active Worlds, I rode on monorail systems that stretched for miles, explored the British countryside from a replica BR train, rode on fairground rides, flew inside spaceships, and dodged suicidal drivers.

In fact, if you pay for a priviledged account, the company behind it all, will preserve your creations forever, promising that they will never be deleted whilst it is in their power to prevent it.


The plusses for a system such as ActiveWorlds offers are numerous, but can be briefly described as follows:

  • Works in that old, cranky computer in the loft.
    If the computer system can run any version of windows, it can run ActiveWorlds, even if that computer is a 386, it will still run.
  • No specialised hardware required. Even the cheapest business computer will run ActiveWorlds, because the graphics are so simple, they require next to nothing to run.
  • You can access large sections of it for free.
  • There is no time-limit on the free trial.
  • 'Newbie' area included.
  • harrassing behaviour and rude language is policed in the newbie area.
  • Building - the creation of your own 3D areas is actively encouraged, and your creations can be as grandiose as you can imagine.
  • Whilst tourist (free user) builds are unprotected from deletion, citizen (paid user) builds are never deleted, even if that user has been gone for nine years.
  • Like your own space? Set up your own world, splintered off from the rest. Over a thousand such worlds exist, ranging from 20 metres across to a hundred miles wide.
  • Vast libraries of pre-made building objects.
  • Cheap price of citizenship. Currently $69.95 (US dolloars) a year.
  • Vast array of sub-worlds, all rated according to content in clear labelling, and colour coded as well:
    Purple- G rated
    Blue: PG rated
    Green PG-13
    Yellow R Rated
    Orange: X-rated.
    Each world displays the symbol of their rating alongside the name, as well as the colour. Rules in each world are enforced according to the rating, if not, the owner risks losing the world.


  • Because AW works on that old, cranky computer in the loft, you will find nothing spectacular here.
  • Graphics look very dated, most of them being mid 1990s quality.
  • Only very basic antialiasing exists.
  • Barely compatible with HMDs...you lose the ability to talk to others, but keep the graphics window.
  • Newbie area is policed by volunteers, called GateKeepers (GKs). Because these are volunteers with special priviledges, there are often long periods without supervision.
  • Some GKs do have a tendency to bring their private issues into the world with them - this can create tensions, and an unpleasant environment.
  • Whilst swearing on AW is an offense that will have you forcibly removed, the language filter is very primitive, and tends to miss an awful lot.
  • The price of citizenship may be cheap, but you do not get a lot of value for your money.
  • Interaction with the environment is extremely limited, and only objects scripted to do so, respond at all.
  • No physics engine.
  • The only way to expand the capabilities of the codebase is via 'bots' external programs that plug in. No direct modification of the code for your world is allowed. This system is extremely unstable, with bots tending to crash frequently.
  • AW Customer Support is often somewhat lax in answering emails, whilst their international phone support only operates in normal business hours, American Central Time.
  • Although AW runs on about every version of Windows, there is NO support for other operating systems, and it will not run on a Mac.


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.

For some, its the thrill of discovery, the freedom to strike out, to pioneer. Whether its mapping new lands, or exploring unknown fields of endeavour, to be first, to boldly go, this is what explorers live for.

With 1034 splinter worlds to choose from, including one that covers 2,000 square kilometers, Active Worlds has enough beautiful content to keep explorers happy for a very long time indeed.

The primary activity of the populace is crafting new structures, and buildings. Therefore, just wandering around the worlds is often anything from a feast of beautiful, completely breathtaing eye candy, to a depressing meander through old ruins, or a ride on one of the many train tracks, or boat rides that criss-cross the larger worlds, on set guide paths, but which meander through anything from a couple of hundred metres, to a dozen miles of countryside.

One real downside however, is due to the AW policy of never deleting citizen builds, you can find yourself trversing hundreds of miles of deserted wasteland, with incomplete builds, made of ancient objects that have since been removed from the options on offer, leaving structures with gaping wounds.

Some areas of the core worlds that have seen the most building, have turned into depressing slum like environments because of this.


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.

Most of people of Active Worlds are talkative in the extreme. Each world has moderators who oversee and regulate the occurances. Most are very welcoming to strangers, and the supportive, embracing community within will bring tears to your eyes.

It does have some fairly strong limitations though. The avatar choice is disappointing, with only two free avatars, no degree of customisation, and only a limited selection of extra ones if you pay. A couple of small firms work within the ActiveWorlds environment to produce new avatars for people to use, but they have to be installed by the world owners before anyone can use them there. Thus, your choice of avatar does not stay with you from world to world, and, with only pre-programmed gestures available for each one, the lack of individuality and free expression created can be extremely frustrating, and offputting.

Simple actions such as dancing with your partner in public, are, whilst posssible to do graphically, best kept to textual emotes, for the far superior range of expression.

Emotes are supported, and starting any line with "\me" will output your text as an action liune not a speech line.

Additionally, there are two sub-channels for chat. Whispers are direct person-to-person chat, whilst telegrams are the same thing, but with an answer machine service - messages will be reorded for you if you're not online when they are sent.

To compliment this, there are a range of filters - you can add people to your Contacts list, and monitor when they're online, which world of AW they're in, and even join them where they are - if that person has allowed those options for you. Likewise, you can enable, or block those actions yourself - globally for everyone, or set to individual people on your contact list.

You can also block telegrams from certain people, and even have the client mute them on sight - blocking text and whispers from that person.

However, it is impossible to block avatars in most places, and it is possible to have people annoy you by continually walking their avatar through yours.


Work, work work. Everybody... You have this burning desire to succeed, to achieve renown, to be the best in whatever field you set your sights to. No matter what, you must be the best... What will you be? A powerful warlord? The leader of a town? You're ambitious, and crave power? This section is for you.

Active Worlds doesn't have much in the form of achievement, as such, but it's populace are always ready to heap praise upon a marvelous build, and several of the individual worlds offer experience based levelling systems with perks.

ActiveWorlds, Gateway world, 1st person distance view.
AWGate, in winter, viewing the entrance area from a distance.


You get your fun through fighting, killing, pillaging and pilfering. From despicable thieves, through sneaky assassins, great military generals, and noble knights, you love to kill, you live to kill.

Killing is simply not possible withibn most parts of active worlds, and this may put killers off. However, there are two avenues of exploration for this type of person.

The first, the Gorean worlds. Previously mentioned as a bad idea. They may be tolerable if you are of adult age, and of strong personality. Within their complex hierarchy, killing and collaring of 'lessers' is freely possible, and the victorious often bask in glory...whilst the victims often drown in very real humiliation. Tread carefully.

The second, and somewhat more sensible possibility, lays with those aforementioned RPGs. PvP systems abound in several of these. And you are more than welcome to take a sword of great slaying to anyone who raises your ire.



Active Worlds is a bit of a mish mash really. There's far more to it than can fit in this general review, but overall, if you're a mature person, or a hard core gamer seeking graphical immersion, then this place is for you. They're not really well versed in roleplay right now, but enough visiting fanatics can soon teach them, and many would likely react very favourably in deed.

If, however, you're after the next big thing, this niche system will not suffice.


Rating 55 / 100
Newbie Friendliness
/ 15
Community Values
/ 15
/ 15
/ 15
/ 10
Automated help
/ 10
Code Integrity
/ 10
/ 10

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Client OS:Win 2K, Win 98, Win 2K, Win 2K

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