Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Twinity: first experiences

Today, I got an email message saying I have been allowed into Twinity beta. Twinity, built by the German company Metaversum, is a 3D environment which mashes up the real and virtual world. Currently, Twinity is in a closed beta phase, where every now and then new batches of users, who have applied for an account, are given access.

Twinity is a 126 MB download and requires a reasonably up to date graphics card. My ATI RADEON X300 is officially not supported if I read it correctly, but it works nonetheless.

As a Second Life resident, SL has profoundly influenced my view on virtual worlds. I am used to the SL client (yes, really!), the SL world, the SL way of doing things. Wether that is the best way remains to be seen; but being used to SL will undoubtedly show, in a report on first experiences with another virtual 3D environment.

And while we're talking about environment: Twinity's physical environment is very different from SL. To begin with, Twinity is based on real world locations, and the Twinity map is simply a map of the world as you can find in any school atlas. The day and night cycle per location also follows the physical world; it's evening now in The Netherlands, and so is it in Twinity, but in Canada, both RL and Twinity, the sun has not yet set. Not that there is a sun in Twinity. At least, I haven't seen it; neither are moon and stars, for that matter.

As for locations: everyone can create one, you don't have to buy land. A Twinity resident can choose from a certain list of countries to create their place; in each country, you can choose from a couple of cities to put your place. In The Netherlands we're obviously talking about Amsterdam, for Canada it is Toronto and Vancouver.

Speaking of land: there is none in Twinity. Not as we know it in RL or in SL, anyway. When you create a place, you choose a certain location for it, e.g. San Francisco or Amsterdam. This may show in the view from your window (as it does in Amsterdam), but nothing else will indicate the actual physical location. There is no minimap that shows nearby avatars; you don't see your own or anyone else's avatar indicated on the world map either. You can't leave your place and take a random hike outside; you can't fly out of the garden or over the garden wall; you can't TP to a random place on the world map. Only the user created shops and apartments are available, as isolated locations presented in a list, to TP to. This does give a claustrophobic feeling to Twinity: there's almost no open spaces, no open sky above my head. This is not a positive part of the Twinity experience, as far as I am concerned. I did read, however, that Multiversum intends to add more outside, open locations as Twinity evolves, so this may change in the future.

Another part of the environment is the day and night cycle. As indicated, Twinity follows the RL physical day and night cycle, and, unlike in SL, you cannot change that. Again, this is perhaps a logical choice for a world like Twinity. it means however that, as it is currently winter and I have a day job, I can only spend time in Twinity in the evening - when it's a bit dank and dark in my own Twinity appartment.

The last word on the physical environment in Twinity: water and sky are not yet as evolved as Second Life Windlight, but Twinity definitely has potential here. Water reflections for instance are not bad at all. And, let's not forget, not everyone likes Windlight.

As for creating stuff and houses: you can't do that like to are used to in SL. You can rightclick on the floor of your apartment, and choose to add a script or object from your inventory, your hard drive or the shop. I bought a chair for 20 Globals like that. Globals, that's the game currency Multiversum is contemplating for usage in Twinity, although the specifics are not yet public.

So how does an avatar live and move in this Twinity mirror world? Well, not bad at all, to be honest. Avatar movement is quite smooth, flowing and natural. Avatars display a breathing motion, at a slightly higher pace than my RL body, which makes the avatar look a bit unstable or busy, even when left to stand still or when avatar appearance is changed.

Twinity offers two modes of avatar control: basic control, which is really not much different from SL, and Action Controls mode, which offers a more game like experience. Twinity also has 3D voice chat; it can be disabled, but is enabled by default.

Twinity has a nice and clean user interface. There are not many configurable options (yet?) so a few buttons here and there is all that's needed. I could get used to a client like this. Imagine an SL viewer with only a HUD like bar in the screen, that allows an avatar to call common functions or the more advanced menus - very easy to work with. When using Basic Controls, chatting is also easy: just start typing. Your text will appear in a grey chat bubble, where you can still backspace and/or edit; when you hit 'enter', it's sent, and the color changes to green. There is no specific chat text box to use.

All in all, there's some areas I'd like to see improved when the beta progresses: I want to be able to leave an apartment and walk outside, for instance. But I am already quite satisfied with the usability of the client and the ease of controlling an avatars' movement, and the smoothness with which avatars move.

My Twinity screenshots can be found here.

I will have to put more effort in getting to know Twinity better!

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