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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Google Releases 3D World Lively

Google just released Lively, a 3D world where you can chat with others and create your own rooms. Traces of this program appeared back in 2007 under the name of My World (this project also received the rumor nickname Google metaverse; TomHTML, Tony and I also lately saw traces of something called Google Rooms, though we aren’t 100% sure it’s related). After installing the desktop setup for Windows – yes, this is one of the rare Google products which isn’t completely browser-based – you’ll be forwarded to again. There, you can pick from a number of available rooms, and sign-in with your Google account.

I experienced a couple of problems with this service right now; from odd user name restrictions (I ended up re-selecting my Google ID name, even though they asked me to pick a new name at first), to very slow loading (I mostly saw skeletons at first), to finally, a program crash (the message “Lively has encountered a problem and an error report has been sent” appeared and the program closed). These may be launch problems, though, and nothing permanent... we’ll see.

Once you logged into a room, you can start customizing your avatar. First you can pick from a base type – like male, female or animal – and then you can fine-tune your hair, skin color, eyes and more. You’ll then see yourself surrounded by other avatars, and there’s background music and lots of laughing, grunting and other noises. The graphic has a lighthearted cartoon touch, reminiscent of something like a Lucasarts 3D game. When you talk by using the chat box at the bottom, your words appear as speech bubble above your character.

You can then move around by kind of dragging your avatar (clicking your avatar switches to self-navigation mode, and clicking outside it switches to camera navigation). This may be an unusual mode of navigation at first, but after some seconds it works very well.

Selecting a room from the Lively site

Joining a room, like this cafe

Configuring your avatar appearance (with some loading symbols in the room)

Clicking on objects, like an armchair, pops up a little dialog to let you e.g. add a comment to the object or interact with it, like sitting down. Clicking on other avatars lets you see their profile, and also initiate actions... like choking, slapping, kissing and much more. Indeed, there’s a whole lot of kicking and beating going on at the moment, and you may find your avatar being body-slammed around the room while you’re busy, say, configuring your hair color. I suppose it may calm down a bit after people are done with testing their moves, or perhaps Google wants to allow all kinds of user types – including World of Warcraft style fighters – to enjoy Lively...

If you want to create your own room, you’ll start out with a blank setup. You can then expand a furniture selection sidebar, for instance, to drop a chair, which will be represented by a loading cone at first. Note to move objects, you need to switch on the Move icon to the right, and then drag and drop things. A quiet room like your own may also be the right setting to further customize your avatar (you’ll note that you’ll be able to browse the Lively product catalog for more apparels, like your favorite shoes) or go through your repertoire of moves; from pleading and bowing to ROFLing or dancing, or “see no evil.”

Customizing your room. Google’s Niniane Wang at the official announcement post says, “If you enter a Lively room embedded on your favorite blog or website, you can immediately get a sense of the room creator’s interests, just by looking at the furniture and environment they chose. You can also express your own personality by customizing your avatar’s look, showing people who you are without having to say a word. Of course, you can chat with each other, and you can also interact through animated actions.”

Crying on a lonely island (with Monkey Island style clouds in the background)

Once you’re finished with your own room, you can edit its settings. Like choosing whether you want to have it be publicly listed, whether visitors can move objects, what kind of background music plays and so on. You can also pick a different room type, called “shell,” like an island. And then you can grab some HTML inline frame code to embed the whole thing onto your own website for others to join, provided of course they have Lively installed. A room also has its own URL to share, which takes a form like this one.

All in all I found Lively to be an enjoyable experience so far. Some of its features may get some time to used to and its much to early to tell how well the social features will play out, but it’s one of Google’s more ambitious and fun projects. And Second Life may just have gotten a new competitor...

[Thanks Martin Porcheron, Luka, Tony and TomHTML!]


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