And now we have Metaplace. On the face of it, this is yet another 3D world on the Internet, very similar to many others such as Lively, Second Life and World of Warcraft.

But Metaplace is different. To begin with, you don’t need to download anything to enter this world. Simply fill in a form and you are in a world of your own. While Lively also professed this, the fact was that you had to add at least one plug-in to enter Google’s version of a 3D world. All others need some sort of dedicated software that significantly eats into your hard disk space.

Photoimaging: Monica Gupta / Mint

Also, Metaplace is not a “walled space" like others. It means you can share your world with anybody, through any website or blog, and run it on any computer (Mac’s included) and even smartphone.

It’s a free world

Yes, it is. You want something? Just build it. Want to play God? Go ahead. This openness means that as a Metaplace member, you can do whatever you want, making it similar to a wiki, where people come and contribute.

There is one downside, though. Metaplace spaces and characters are reminiscent of older RPGs (role-playing games). This means that buildings, shops and people look less detailed and slightly outdated. This is reinforced by the fact that this space isn’t as 3D as Lively or Second Life. It is 2.5D, so you move on an essentially flat surface. Yet, as more people join, develop and contribute, the experience promises to get better.

Meta-morphosis

Like all online worlds, once you’ve registered, Metaplace takes you to a “dashboard" area where you can change your avatar’s appearance, edit your profile and read messages sent by other users of the space. This dashboard is always available on a “remote control" on the left side of the screen.

While most of these options are self-explanatory, customizing your avatar helps a lot before you move into this virtual world. Clicking on the “Customize your Avatar" tab on the left of the screen launches a close-up of your virtual self. Pick your gender, skin tone, hairstyle and even clothes and you are ready to roll.

However, unlike some other virtual worlds, Metaplace avatars are human by default. That means you cannot be a cat, pig or any other entity in the virtual world.

Once you are done with your appearance, Metaplace takes you to “Metaplace Central", a town square that links to all user-created worlds. It has a shopping arcade if you need more articles of clothing, and a variety of options, such as a newspaper stand that helps you stay updated on developments in Metaplace. Central is also the area where most users assemble to learn how to move their avatars, meet other players and get a feel for the world.

On this level Metaplace is extremely simplistic; clicking your mouse makes your avatar move from place to place, while starting conversations is as simple as typing on a little bar placed at the bottom left corner of the screen. This simplicity of use and character-world design is what endears most people to this world.

Meta-building

While the online world rolls out on an enlargeable window, Metaplace gives you four options: explore, build, my meta and community, on a large orange lozenge. The explore tab takes you to a list of all the worlds that have been created, giving you a break-up on when they were created, the number of times they have been visited and their approval ratings. This is the essence of Metaplace: It’s your space and it’s up to you how to use it.

One visit to the site and you come back impressed with the ways users have created their own space: From online role-playing games to 3D art and even experimental studios that test your animation skills, it is all out there.

DIY construction

It’s the “built" option that’s the cornerstone of the meta-experience. Just pick a name and a starter kit. As of now, Metaplace only offers two starter kits: “Metaplace-styled home" and “fantasy-styled home". While the first gives you a toolkit that helps you replicate the brown-bricked and red-roofed architecture of the world, the second option lets you create buildings and settings reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings. The third kit, “sci-fi-styled home", is still under development and is expected to hit the site soon.

Once you make a choice, your screen is filled with your personal patch of virtual land. This land can be terra-formed through five buttons that flank the top of the screen. While the “play" and “save" buttons are easy to comprehend, “build your world", “get more stuff" and “manage your world" give you options such as tiles, doors, walls and even drum kits you can fill your world with.

Unlike other virtual worlds, the sheer number of options in Metaplace is very impressive. Even in things as basic as tiles, there are pages of options and if these don’t satisfy you, you can create your own. On a more functional level, things such as beds, sofas and even rugs can be placed in your world. The process of building continues Metaplace’s simple usage strategy: You can drag and drop every construction item into place. Once you are done with your building and its surroundings, save it and it is available for other users to critique and even explore.

Spreading the love

While building your own utopia is fun, the “manage your world" option shows the vast sharing option Metaplace gives you. It lets you import scripts, sounds, plug-ins and various debugging tools, which give you access to tools other users have created.

Sadly, many of these options are coding-centric, rendering them useless for those without any experience in computer programming. With time, though, as more people experiment with Metaplace, this section is expected to become less nerdy and more lay-user friendly.

Meta-utopia

Metaplace does give a very rich and simple user experience, enabling people to rove multiple worlds and create to their hearts’ content.

Unfortunately, this world is still in beta, which means that there are loads of bugs. Even then, to become a serious contender to established game worlds, Metaplace requires more people willing to go online and create. This process will take both time and effort from users.

But as Wikipedia showed, even a small free idea can become huge on the Internet.

Write to us at businessoflife@ livemint.com

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