Japen’s 3Di, Inc., best known for their browser-based OpenSim viewers, will be testing a new, free, public, Unity-based virtual world this weekend, calledÂ 3Di Cloud.
According to 3Di senior managerÂ Norman Lin, individuals and groups will be able to embed a window into their private virtual world right onto their websites, like they can now embed YouTube videos. This part isn’t new — ReactionGrid’s Jibe is also a Unity-based world that runs in the browser and can be embedded in a webpage, and so can the OpenSim viewer plugin from SpotON3D.
What’s different here is that the 3Di Cloud product has a free version.
“Basically just by pasting an HTML tag into their home page users will be able to setup a 3D shared space or chat room, using our free cloud servers,” Lin said. “We will provide some basic avatar and room templates, enough for the casual non-programmer to quickly have some fun and add some 3D social interaction on his or her home page.”
Free users will be able to change the appearance of their avatars, and to modify their rooms in some limited ways.
“Eventually we would like to allow selection and placement of items from a pre-defined stock in a user’s room, but for the start, we may begin with wallpaper customization so the room owner can hang a desired picture in his or her room,” said Lin. “We’re also considering if and how free users will be able to buy additional item contents, but haven’t settled on a solution yet.”
Text chat is included, but no voice is available on the free version.
There is a limit to how many free accounts will be made available, Lin said, but did not specify what that limit would be.
Another downside is the lack of customization. In order to edit their world, customers will need to sign up for the paid version. In addition, like all mesh-based worlds — in other words, pretty much every platform except Second Life and OpenSim — content will need to be created using 3D design software instead of with simple in-world tools.
Lin declined to disclose the pricing of the commercial version of the product. “However our current solution is designed to work with Unity for content customization, so the pricing will be on a similar scale to that of Unity itself.”
The public test will begin at 9 p.m. Saturday, US Pacific time, or 1 p.m. Sunday, Japan time. Those interested can apply for the beta test here.
“Creating an avatar social community site typically requires an experienced development team and large investments of time and money.” Lin said. “3Di is aiming to drastically reduce these development costs… By supporting clients written in the increasingly-popular Unity engine, 3Di’s server solution empowers the administrators of community websites to easily realize multi-user avatar rooms and the like, in order to foster the growth and development of their existing web communties.”
On the OpenSim viewer side, 3Di’s strength has been integrating back-end systems, like product databases, into the product. For example, it supports third-party logins, and is used by Japanese retailerÂ Sanwa Direct for a 3D commerce service.
The new 3Di Cloud platform will also support similar integration.
“Expert programmers or enterprise users can obtain a source code license and modify the Unity client or the server to support interfacing with any external APIs or databases,” said Lin.
Other enterprise-grade features may come in the future.
“We think that existing solutions are still too complex for the casual, non-programmer end of the spectrum, so we intentionally cut away all of the non-essentials to create a light-weight, easy-to-use solution,” Lin said. “That said, the more enterprise-related features — voice, HTML-on-a-screen, slide presentations, inventories, shoping — can be implemented on a case-by-case basis within the Unity client source code or in our back-end server source code. We have some such custom projects in the works, and I hope I can say more about those in the future.”
Custom back end
Although in the past 3Di used OpenSim as the backend to its virtual worlds, this time the company created proprietary server software from scratch.
“We are not supporting OpenSim for this solution,” Lin said. “We did investigate a Unity and OpenSim combination, but were not satisfied with the server scalability, so we created a custom server.”
ReactionGrid’s Jibe and SecondPlaces’ Unifier work on a similar model. The Unity plugin only offers limited functionality, allowing the viewer to display a 3D scene. The back-end systems — avatar management, for example, and other advanced features — have to be built from scratch. As a result, while Unity scenes can be moved from one vendor to another, migrating an entire world between vendors with its interactivity, avatars, and higher-order functionality is not currently an option.
One company, Tipodean, attempted to build a Unity front end for an OpenSim back end, creating a simple Web-based viewer for any OpenSim grid or even Second Life. However, the project stalled when the company had issues replicating avatars, and was eventually cancelled. Today, Tipodean just does conversions from OpenSim regions to Unity scenes.
Like Cloud Party, only different
3Di Cloud may invite comparisons to Cloud Party, another recently released, browser-based virtual world in which every user gets a free room to customize.
There are some significant differences between the two, however.
First, Cloud Party runs on WebGL, which doesn’t require a plugin, but which only works in the latest Chrome and Firefox browsers. 3Di Cloud requires that users install the Unity plugin, but that plugin has widespread support for a broad variety of browsers, and even for mobile devices.
Second, Cloud Party customers create a single avatar, which they can use to wander around main welcome areas, personal homes, friends’ homes, and public islands.
With 3Di Cloud, avatars are local to their individual worlds.
“We are not planning for individual users to be able to port a custom appearance into a foreign grid,” Lin said. This means that a company setting up its private virtual world can predefine the avatar appearance choices for its visitors, for example.
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