Used by permission of blaxxun
Certainly the king of the hill when it comes to multiuser VRML worlds is Blaxxun. Originally known as BlackSun and still retaining a black sun logo blaxxun offers a robust and very complete set of software for multiuser worlds. The blaxxun VRML browser is called blaxxun Contact, and is currently up to version 4.0. Even more interesting is the version 4.1 beta which contains support for NURBS, that funky mathematical representation for curved surfaces!
The blaxxun server is imaginatively called the blaxxun Community Server. One cool thing is that you can download a full featured server and set it up for free. It's limited to the number of simultaneous users however it's not hobbled by incomplete features, it's the real deal and a great way to see if it will do the job. You can quite easily take your favorite VRML world and turn it into a multiuser VRML world. When users appear in a blaxxun world, they appear as an avatar, your virtual representation. (For a great overview of Avatars check out Bruce Damer's book Avatars!
Along with avatars that represent real people blaxxun servers support the notion of "bots". Bots are autonomous programs that respond, albeit crudely, to the questions or queries of users in the shared world. A couple of years ago the blaxxun main world had this really cool concept for advertising where a little hand held vacuum cleaner (a bot) flew up to you and introduced itself. It was called "Dusty" (the product is a Dust Buster) and you could ask it questions about vacuum cleaning. The concept of these objects flying around representing product ads is great.
One of my favorite multiuser worlds is the IBM Virtual Raleigh site accessible in the Showcase/Commerce section of the blaxxun web site. When you go there you are greeted by a bot that gives you instructions on how to proceed. You then enter an IBM facility and are given a tour of the manufacturing and testing operations. It's a great way to familiarize someone with a facility.
The main community type world created by Blaxxun is called CyberTown. CyberTown offers a community with places where you can claim your own house, with a local government, a newspaper and lots of other functions you would see in a small town.
The blaxxun navigation mechanism takes getting used to especially if you're used to the CosmoPlayer navigation controls, and personally I happen to prefer CP but they both get the job done. Most important the blaxxun browser itself is the real thing, a complete VRML browser.
One of the reassuring aspects of blaxxun Contact, is that it's being continually developed by a stable and paid set of competent developers. The stability and being paid parts, being somewhat unusual these days in the VRML world. Recently blaxxun in combination with Lunatic Interactive demonstrated Knight NURBS a demo of the NURBS capability of blaxxun's Communicator for a promotion of Intel's Pentium III. The amusing thing about demo's for Intel is that they apparently love it when people develop stuff that sucks up CPU power...go figure! More significantly is that the demo proved that NURBS are quite feasable as part of VRML.
Clearly blaxxun has become one of the corporate leaders for VRML. Their products are even cool and their developers know what they're doing...give them a look see!
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