6 Systems To Have Your Own 3D World (First Part)

The latest in 3D on Internet are what Bruce Damer calls "small worlds". These are not big 3D communities but systems that have some things in common:

  • There's no central world. These worlds are independent from the others and people gather together in a spontaneous way, with great number of virtual tourists or occasional visitors.

  • Some are connected to other worlds through the software or in-world links.

  • You can embed them on your website or inside a social site like Facebook for example.
If you're reading this article you are probably interested in this last point: you want to have a 3D world in your website or Facebook profile.

This review will cover 6 different systems that allow you to do this.

ActiveWorlds' plugin for Facebook is also analyzed but it doesn't fit in the "small worlds" category, because it's an embedding of a big community.

I will start with a quick comparative to give you a quick idea on what they do, later we will see their features and performance one by one, and then I'll recommend you some of them depending on your needs.

Their names and what they do

The analyzed systems are (not listed in any particular order): Google Lively, SceneCaster, Vivaty Scenes, 3DXplorer, ExitReality, and ActiveWorlds.
Let's explore their differences and what do they have in common:
  • All them are independent virtual scenes except the ActiveWorlds application that is a embedding of the ActiveWorlds client software.

  • None of them have speech synthesis, but ActiveWorlds has real voice chat.

  • All of them, except SceneCaster and 3DXplorer, are multiuser with chat and avatars. 3DXplorer will add these features in their next version.

  • Lively, 3DXplorer and ExitReality can be embedded in any page. SceneCaster too, and can be also embedded in Flickr and Facebook directly.

  • ExitReality can turn a page in 3D, and their 3D worlds can be embedded or open in a new page.

  • All of them, except ActiveWorlds, are said to be "beta". SceneCaster, Vivaty, and ExitReality offer a decent stability, though. 3DXplorer is very stable. Lively is highly unstable.

  • Need to install a client software: ExitReality, ActiveWorlds, Lively, and Vivaty. SceneCaster only needs it if you want to build scenes. 3DXplorer is the only one that only needs Java installed in your PC, which you surely have.

  • ExitReality, Lively, and Vivaty have a floating chat window. ActiveWorlds has its chat below the 3D scene.

Google Lively


What is Lively?
Lively is supposed to have medium-low requirements (Pentium III at 800Mhz, 512 RAM, DirectX9, a 32MB graphics card, Flash9, and broadband connection). It doesn't run on Mac nor in Linux.

This video shows Lively in action:

You can embed a Lively 3D room in any blog or website. There's also a Facebook application that you can use to embed Lively in your profile.
Lively can display YouTube videos and images as framed canvas or posters inside its worlds. It also has avatars and a world editor. The avatars are cartoon-like.

You can't add custom content. You have to choose from an online catalog. As you will see, it seems that in the future you'll be able to purchase objects from a bigger catalog.

What I found when I tested Lively
I only had to install a small program that was only 468 KB. I installed it, signed in with my Google account, chose a nickname, and it began to load the worlds.

The loading was exasperatedly slow. When I reached the world, there was no one there.
The movement was strange, as keyboard arrows make a slide movement. The left and right arrows move our avatar without turning it. The mouse is for rotating and zooming. I had a look to the starter guide of Lively.

I discovered that there were very few avatars to choose from.

I returned to the index of rooms and saw that people online were called "lurkers" in the index. So I went where the "lurkers" were.

The world never seemed to fully load. I saw no avatars. I awaited till the next day, thinking that it may be an overloaded server. I played a bit with the world edition. It was easy.

I returned again the following day and entered a world. It seemed to hang while loading the 3D world. I use a CPU and RAM monitor, so I could see that my RAM memory was being all drained by Lively. I had to close my browser to avoid that my computer may hang.

Before that happened, I saw other people's avatars, and their blurbs of chat. I managed to have a very short conversation before I had to go due to the RAM memory problem.

My computer is much more powerful than the minimum requirements, so I think that Lively has serious memory leaks. Let's hope that this gets fixed. We must understand that it's a beta program.

Advantages of Lively
  • As Google sponsors it, it will be a lot of people that will have Lively installed, as long as they fix the bugs soon.

  • The editor of 3D worlds is easy, but not as much as Vivaty's.

  • You can embed your Lively world in a web page easily.
Disadvantages of Lively
  • The floating chat is annoying in monitors that are not of big size.

  • It's very slow.

  • Graphics quality is mediocre.

  • Edition of worlds is very limited. The catalog is small and with little diversity.

  • Seem to have serious memory leaks.
What could be improved in Lively?
If they fix bugs and memory leaks, add more objects and make possible to add custom content, Lively could be some competence to cartoon multiuser chats like IMVU, but never to SecondLife or ActiveWorlds, that have a different public.

Who should use Lively?
The drawbacks of memory leaks and slow running may be improved through time as it gets optimized. The edition of worlds and other features may get also improved...

You may have read a lot of reviews or notes about Lively done by people that have not actually tested it, saying that SecondLife, ActiveWorlds and others have to be very worried and frightened for the strong competence that Lively may suppose. This is simply not true (read this other opinion in VNUNet).

I am also amazed by the discussions about Lively and even courses and conferences that are being organized around Lively and "how it will change the web". Maybe in the future Google will improve Lively and change the web... but for now, it's at a very rudimentary and unstable state.

But why use Lively when you have other solutions just now that are better? Let's give some time to Lively, or accept that it's a very early beta and you may experiment all kind of problems.

After all, Google is the company that supports Lively, and they always offer very good products like Blogger, GMail, Analytics, Calendar... Google will surely do better as time passes.



What is 3DXplorer?
3DXplorer is the only one of all the tested systems (and maybe the only one in the market) that doesn't need that you install a program or a plugin, both for edition or visiting worlds.

It is also the only one that is cross-platform, and runs in every operative system (Windows, Mac, Linux) and browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera), without installing anything.

3DXplorer can do this because it uses Java as its main technology. Its worlds are Java applets. You only need to have Java runtime installed in your browser, which you surely may already have.

It's free both for editing and displaying worlds. You can create your own world and you won't have to pay anything if you have less than 200 visits per day. Over that level, there are different membership plans, including unlimited access if you need it.

For most people, the 200 visits limit won't be easily reached, so 3DXplorer may be totally free for them.

Here you can read a press release that shows a concert hall in Seattle. There are more worlds here.

3DXplorer can import 3D models from formats like 3DS and COLLADA, and import and embed images, audio, hyperlinks... The objects can be animated directly or using COLLADA animations.

You can create your own world using some standard scenes that are in the catalog and customize it all, or import your own models into 3DXplorer. You can add your own images as framed pictures and add ambient music, and decide what type of actions you allow your visitors take.
You can build as many 3D worlds as you want.

The requirements to run 3DXplorer are not high for these days ( Cable or DSL, any commonly used OS, Java runtime, Pentium III or Athlon at 800 MHz, 512 MB of RAM, and any decent 3D card).

What is more interesting about 3DXplorer is what is being prepared. Facebook integration is coming soon, but also multiuser worlds.

In their V4 release, which is in private beta, they're adding avatars, live chat, and real-time collaborative and interactive 3D worlds.

What I found when I tested 3DXplorer
As it doesn't need to install anything, testing it was a child's play. I just entered some of the worlds, and saw that they loaded in few seconds.

Once inside, turning and moving is easy and smooth. The arrow keys move you sliding to left and right and forward and backward. The mouse is used for turning, in a similar way to 3D games.

For now, it's not multiuser (but will be in V4), so there are no avatars or chat for now.

There are some help messages that are not intrusive, but you can just read them, learn and then close them.

If you sign up, you can create your own world. The editor has a tutorial included to guide you in the process. Objects can be added from a catalog. After creating your scene, they give you the code of the Java applet so you can insert it in your website.

I found that 3DXplorer is a very stable application. My browser didn't hang, it ran well, and the cross-platform feature is a remarkable point.

Advantages of 3DXplorer
  • You only need to have Java installed.

  • Loads worlds quite fast.

  • You can add your own content.

  • Easy to embed in any website.

  • Extremely easy to use.

  • Extremely stable.

  • Provides an API for programmers.
Disadvantages of 3DXplorer
  • It's not multiuser, doesn't have avatars or chat (for now, but will in next version).
What could be improved in 3DXplorer?
In the V4 of 3DXplorer, that is now in private beta, there will be everything that will make 3DXplorer a strong application for multiuser 3D virtual worlds.

Who should use 3DXplorer?
3DXplorer may suppose a new thing, much more important than Lively, if development continues this way. Things should first work and run, then add features.

As it is cross-platform, it is a good thing for Mac and Linux users, and for everyone in general. Your worlds will be viewable by everyone.

Vivaty Scenes


What is Vivaty Scenes?
Vivaty Scenes is an application for Facebook or AIM built with X3D and other technologies (Tony Parisi is the co-founder of Vivaty and the co-father of VRML alongside with Mark Pesce).

With Vivaty, you can have a sort of your own virtual room in a 3D house. In your virtual home, you can have YouTube videos played on virtual TVs, and Flickr images in virtual frames in the walls of your room.

You can also have portraits of your friends in your 3D world, and click them to invite your buddies to come to your virtual home.

For now you can't add custom content or customize your avatar, but this will be added in some near future.

You need a medium modern PC: Pentium III or Athlon at 1 Ghz, plenty of RAM (1 Gb for XP, 2 for Vista), a graphics card of 128 MB, and you must use Internet Explorer 6.0 or 7.0

It's available for Windows only, but Linux and Mac versions are coming.

Vivaty Scenes has very detailed avatars and good quality graphics. The facial expressions of the avatars are very good, and animations are also remarkable.

What I found when I tested Vivaty?
When I tested Vivaty I found a good quality product overall. Although it has not too much customization options, what it has is perfect.

The worlds load very fast. It's one of the fastest I have tested. By the way and speed it loads, one sees that X3D is behind it.

The catalog is very easy to use, as all the application. Without having to read any tutorial or guide, you can start moving, modifying things, or using the whole system.

There are tools for visiting your friend's worlds and invite them to come to yours.

This is maybe one of the simpler tools of this review, not only for browsing, also for creating your own 3D worlds.

The quality of the worlds, the speed of loading and the ease of use give Vivaty Scenes a big score on our list.

Advantages of Vivaty
  • Fast to load, and runs smooth.

  • Easy to use, easy to build worlds.

  • Facial expressions of avatars are very expressive.
Disadvantages of Vivaty
Lack of possibility of custom own objects and avatar customization (but will be added soon).
Floating chat window is a bit annoying in some monitor resolutions.

What could be improved in Vivaty?

When they add the possibility of adding custom content, or maybe create some edition tools for custom avatars and worlds, Vivaty will attract thousands of users with no doubts. Personally, I think they should also add the option to have the chat window in a frame of the application. Some of us find floating chat windows a bit annoying, specially if they're not transparent.

Who should use
Vivaty is a perfect starting point for every those who don't know what 3D multiuser worlds are. It's also perfect as your home personal world in Facebook and AIM. For all those who don't want to complicate their lives learning complex application, as everything in Vivaty runs smooth and is easy to do.

In the next post of this series...

Continue reading the review of: ExitReality, ActiveWorlds, and SceneCaster.

-Jordi R. Cardona-

© 2008 by Jordi R. Cardona. Link to this post without copying the text.

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Anonymous said...

While it's true that 3Dxplorer uses Java, you require the correct version of the Java Runtime Engine in order to use 3DXplorer without an additional download requirement. My brand new Macbook Air didn't have Java version 1.6 which 3Dxplorer requires and I was sent to the Java site to download this updated version. This was a terrible and confusing process and much worse than downloading an Active X plug-in. I don't know what percentage of users have Java 1.6 pre-installed but I assume it's not even close to 70%. If the rest had to experience what I experienced in trying to download Java, they would run away screaming.

Omind said...

Google Lively: I run a quad core with 2 video cards and I also found the memory build-up to be annoying. I am also dissappointed at the lack of content and avatars (will be better in the future ;-)
I, for one, don't think it will change the web. Those who think that need to look around more.

I am excited about 3DXplorer. I love the fact that it is totally cross-platform (Let's give the Mac guys a break, people) It is fairly easy to build in and you can add your own created content (In the 3DS format, will take some sizing practice) and if the make it MU, that would be great.

I have great hopes for Vivaty. I am sad that it seems a little processor heavy, was pulling almost 400 megs out of IE6 in Facebook. With the edition of self-created content, this could be awesome.

The difference with these new ideas is that they are not immersive like AW, SL, or even ExitReality. Rather they are an embedded web experience, I don't think they will replace or even augment the immersive worlds.

Just my 2 cents :-)

Jordi R Cardona said...

I think that installing or updating Java is not so hard at all. And think that all of us are used to update everything we have, from Firefox to our operative system updates.

Java developers try to use the last versions of Java in their projects because that way you benefit of the improvements of the Java virtual machine.

Think about it an update for your entire OS, not only for 3DXplorer, and you'll see it's worth the effort.

@Omind If Lively also slows a computer like that, then I think my theory of memory leaks is confirmed.

And yes, many of these solutions are not as immersive as traditional virtual worlds communities. But I think that their purpose is not competing with them but being complementary.

3DXplorer is one of the solutions that I reviewed that I like most.

Jordi R Cardona said...

Another review of Lively which explains steps to install and use it, is here:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jordi, great article, I'd like to add that ExitReality can be embedded in a page too, that's just a subset of what ExitReality does.


Jordi R Cardona said...

Hello Dan,

I've modified the article to correct the mistake. Thanks for telling me.

ExitReality is one of my favorites, as you see it's in the sidebar. I'll cover it in last part of this article.

Jesse said...

You should also be aware that SceneCaster offers an embed code for every 3D scene created. So, in addition to being available on Facebook, SceneCaster 3D scenes can be embedded on virtually any web page or blog.

Jordi R Cardona said...

Ok @Jesse I changed the text to better reflect this:
"Lively, 3DXplorer and ExitReality can be embedded in any page. SceneCaster too, and can be also embedded in Flickr and Facebook directly."

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