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A fucking man-o-dactyl
May 23, 2012 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Worlds was a 3D Internet chat program that was introduced in 1995. Seventeen years later, YouTube user and game streamer Vinesauce returns to find a small collection of users who take him on a tour of the deserted halls of their virtual land. NSFW due to confused swearing.

Via MistoMaxo.
posted by codacorolla (22 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dude, I think the holodeck is broken.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:01 PM on May 23, 2012


Worlds was fun, but I'll always be a Palace man. We had a server set up early in the IGN days that allowed you to go from cartoony IGN64.com land to a cool space station for PSXPower. Hell if I can remember was SaturnWorld's was, though...
posted by bpm140 at 6:18 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Up the same alley is Second Life Safari, though it's more about mockery and definitely much more NSFW.
posted by ymgve at 6:53 PM on May 23, 2012


I'll have to check this out. I worked in a dotcom with a guy who helped program the first couple versions of worlds. From what he said, it was way ahead of its time in features even if it does look sadly dated now.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:04 PM on May 23, 2012


'95 - that's almost old enough to vote. I gotta sit down, all the kids on my virtual yard are making me dizzy.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:15 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man - that was fun. I tried Second Life way back when and I grabbed some cool screens. Optimus Prime in a wheelchair, a Stark White BBW in tight jeans and halter top w/pink hair... It was cool, but... Lacking something.

This on the other hand, is so fucking psychedelic and man it just brings back a flood of what the whole "cyberspace" thing could be. There's something about lo-fi, low-res that feels so much more... authentic, somehow.

Jofua, WTF?
posted by symbioid at 7:16 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I met the founders of Worlds, Inc back in the mid 90s when the Internet was a new phenomenon and VRML was an emerging standard. Great guys, visionaries, and with an office in the same textile sweatshop building as Wired and Organic. I miss the old Summer of Web days.
posted by Nelson at 7:29 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


MUCKs are what I find fascinating in this latter-day time. Empty text spaces, thousands of them all handwritten by somebody. Most of the servers seem dead though. I've been thinking they'd be great for some sort of ARG, though; imagine setting one up of an entire city.
posted by solarion at 7:29 PM on May 23, 2012


There's something absolutely fascinating about these old, fossilized VR spaces.

What mostly strikes me, even now, is how much a lot of the graphical ones were premised on a really broken understanding of how virtual places actually emerge between people.

I had friends who were moderators of some sort on the Sci-Fi Channel's Palace server, during a time when I spent as much of each day as possible logged into the IRC server at events.scifi.com and participating in what felt to me like a genuine community. Palace always seemed sort of lifeless and constraining in comparison to those windows full of scrolling text. The graphical nature of the thing didn't seem to help people construct a shared mental world nearly so much as it bound them to a fixed conception of what was already there.

Of course, as strongly as I felt this - and still do - I'll bet there are a lot of people out there who had their life changed by some cornball psychedelic graphical chat environment and would be happy to tell me how profoundly wrong I am.
posted by brennen at 7:46 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ghost/abandonware VR spaces are an important plot component of Ted Chiang's SF novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Recommended.
posted by Creosote at 7:51 PM on May 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Eek.. I remember Palace. Man. it was boring, but fun too, if that makes sense. :)


Second Life is still around and parts of it are quite active.. I'm logged in right now, matter of fact. Have made some good friends there in the 5 years that I've been online. The trick is to find an active community to hang out with, which means stay the heck off the mainland.
posted by keptwench at 8:18 PM on May 23, 2012


I had friends who were moderators of some sort on the Sci-Fi Channel's Palace server, during a time when I spent as much of each day as possible logged into the IRC server at events.scifi.com and participating in what felt to me like a genuine community. Palace always seemed sort of lifeless and constraining in comparison to those windows full of scrolling text. The graphical nature of the thing didn't seem to help people construct a shared mental world nearly so much as it bound them to a fixed conception of what was already there.

I probably knew them. The Palace was one of the first online communities that I found myself in, and SciFi's was one of my regular haunts.

I have so many weird memories of The Palace, and I've thought about making a FPP about it a number of times, but I don't know that I could draw up enough links to really do it justice. There's a weird way that these proprietary spaces fade as the social web colonizes everything around it, and as permanent as Facebook seems today it makes you wonder what it will look like in a few years.

There were about ten palaces I'd go to on a regular basis, and I remember that you'd have different crowds at different places. People at the Anime palace would have avatar battles, where sprites ripped from Dragon Ball Z SNES games would shoot scripted fire at each other as they danced around the screen with the winner decided by an impartial judge, people at the TeenZone (or whatever it was called) were all about their paper doll avatars, and divided the world conveniently into preps (abercrombie and baggy cargos) and sk8rs (hot topic and baggy cargos). SciFi was more about the conversation, and I remember being really good friends with someone there called the Abominable Dr. Phibes, who had made a custom template for avatars, and we designed a lot variations on it together.

I guess I can see how the naive optimism and techno-utopianism of the early web could be founded in actual experience - places like Palace (but other places too) offered you ways that you could become anything you wanted, change your identity in a second, and create your own world. Maybe the reality is that the seeds of the ad-supported walled garden were in even those very early communities (it's just that the ads never really worked, so they never took off), which has lead to our present day where you commodify your identity in exchange for a few megabytes of storage space on a server so that you can create a simulacra of yourself for your friends to consume.

I think that Facebook has to be disappointing for people who've been in this for the long haul. You grow up reading about virtual reality and you think it has to be amazing worlds with top-of-the-line 3D graphics, and instead it's the minutiae of your life next to an ad for tequila.
posted by codacorolla at 8:19 PM on May 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I remember using Worlds once back in the mid-90s. I thought it was kinda cool but really it was just another chatroom complete with random stranger following me around and saying "I want to lick your body!"

That FAQ is pretty awesome. Problems include: "What do I do if I have less than 64Mb of RAM?" and "Netscape Mail comes up when I launch Web pages from Worlds."
posted by Start with Dessert at 8:30 PM on May 23, 2012


Worlds are the guys that are trying to sue every MMO studio, right?
posted by kafziel at 8:35 PM on May 23, 2012


'95 - that's almost old enough to vote. I gotta sit down, all the kids on my virtual yard are making me dizzy.

No shit. 1995. The year my son was born. Running memaker.exe and hand rolling your emm386 configs so your mouse driver loaded into high memory. Editing your config.bat so your games were in your path and the sound driver would load before the joystick driver or the serial settings would get all fucked up.

BBS's on 14.4 and custom AT commands to reduce packet loss over shitty phone lines.

I played Airwarrior back then on Genie. When I could afford it - ISTR it was something like 2 bucks per minute for Genie and 10 bucks per hour for AW. I couldn't afford it much back then; but multiplayer gaming with up to 100 people felt like the future....

My god, I am so fucking old...
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:48 PM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oooh, this reminds me of Avatara. Also the end of this episode of A Life Well Wasted, only less heartbreaking. I love these kinds of videos, and will happily watch as many of them as you can offer. (Hint!) Even though I never had a good enough computer to participate back when these were actually a thing, I hovered longingly around the homepages for whatever Blaxxun's VR chat thing was called, and later There (which to my great surprise is still going). They feel like something that's part of my history, even though they weren't.
posted by jinjo at 9:22 PM on May 23, 2012


this would be about 100% better if this guy didn't talk
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:04 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


State of the VRML Art, 1997

I liked the BBC's Mirror Worlds.
posted by meehawl at 10:45 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


brennen, I think the "broken understanding" of how spaces are developed was true across much of the Internet. I remember MOOs in the 90s that had extensive geographies across hundreds of rooms, but the only rooms that anyone used were users' personal rooms and rooms that had functions, like boggle. The carefully written world that people put such effort into building... was useless.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:07 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Worlds are the guys that are trying to sue every MMO studio, right?

Eww, yuck, you're right. There's an interesting story here in how a mid-90s innovative company turns into a 2010s patent troll. I spent about 30 minutes looking into this, there's an interesting story here if some journalist took the time to dig in. It looks like the 1995-era Worlds, Inc mostly disappeared by 1997 or so, but some bit of the company lingered on for years. And recently it's gotten some investment and has refocussed on getting some new patents issued (!) and suing Blizzard / Activision.

The original Worlds, Inc whose founders I met (Maclen and Dave Marvit) both left in 1995. The company as a whole more or less disappeared from the scene in the late 90s. But then it resurrected, you can see the history in the PR archive. They're even publically listed as a penny stock, market cap of $12 million. The company only has one employee, Thomas Kidrin, but somehow does seem to keep operating.

The current 10-K has the story of the business as of 2012.
On May 16, 2011, the Company transferred, through a spin-off to its then wholly owned subsidiary, Worlds Online Inc., the majority of its operations and related operational assets. The Company retained its patent portfolio which it intends to continue to increase and to more aggressively enforce against alleged infringers. ...

Worlds Inc. will be focused solely on expanding our patent portfolio and to enforce our rights where it believes parties are infringing on its IP portfolio. ...

As a result of the foregoing, we realized a net loss of $1,694,640 for the year ended December 31, 2011 compared to a loss of $595,563 in the year ended December 31, 2010, an increase in net losses of $1,099,077. ...

The funds raised in our 2010 and 2011 financings were and will be used to develop new products and services, enhance our patent portfolio, pay salaries to management and pay professional fees to our attorneys and auditors to prepare and file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We hope to raise additional funds to be used for further developing our portfolio of patents and to document our technology in order to enforce our patents where there is infringement.
The spin-off marks a significant change in strategy,
Worlds filed a patent suit against NCSoft in 2008 and settled in 2010. In April 2012 they sued Blizzard. What I haven't figured out is who is funding the company now and paying Mr. Kidrin's salary. That 2009 profile of Kidrin talks about a couple of mystery investors, maybe there's a lead there.

The whole thing feels like a classic patent troll setup. Except in this case Worlds, Inc is not exactly a non-practicing entity, because this klunky old ugly virtual world still exists and has a few users. How strange.
posted by Nelson at 7:49 AM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


brennen, I think the "broken understanding" of how spaces are developed was true across much of the Internet. I remember MOOs in the 90s that had extensive geographies across hundreds of rooms, but the only rooms that anyone used were users' personal rooms and rooms that had functions, like boggle. The carefully written world that people put such effort into building... was useless.

It's fascinating what persisted and what didn't. IRC is still a huge part of my life, mailing lists much less so, though I'm still on a handful. IM, which it seems to me was really emerging as a force around the time that VR chat ventures like this one were being built, is now one of the standard media, and hasn't changed all that much as an experience since the early days of ICQ. Meanwhile Usenet is a howling waste, nobody I know hangs out on any text MUD/MOO/MUSH/MUCKs any more, and there are more people playing World of Warcraft right now than ever so much as heard of VRML.

I think this whole question of space / place / whatever-it-is pretty much makes a medium fail or thrive. I mean, we all know we're not exactly talking about a physical place (which has everything to do with why I personally find Worlds or Palace so much less interesting than IRC or rec.arts.sf.written or MetaFilter - they were so literal about place), but the fundamental question about a medium is "well, is there any there there?" followed by "well, is anybody there?", and those are kind of circular questions when you're talking about a "there" created by how and whether people are flinging bits around.

What gets to me about the culture of the Internet now is that a lot of the kinds of places where I used to show up and know people and just hang out have vanished into the diffuse, roiling noise of standardized mass social network communication. I think this is part of why I keep coming back to MetaFilter, despite the number of times I've gotten irritated at some agonizingly predictable political thread or whatever. I know what it's like here and who's gonna be hanging out. There's a "here", because there's a "who" to the whole thing.

Maybe I'm just kind of stoned.
posted by brennen at 10:28 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This looks fascinating, thanks!

If you want to try something similar yourself (without the "guided tour" aspect) check out this post I did on the successor to Worlds, Active Worlds. The virtual environment still exists and is still freely accessible to non-members -- but it is almost entirely deserted. It's enthralling (and mildly creepy) to explore.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:16 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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