Looks Like Neal Stephenson Was On To Something...
By Aimee Spanier
On enormous screens flanking and above the stage at the Palace Club in
Los Angeles, a computer-generated, 3-Dimensional woman cruises past
steel-walled halls. Boxy robots whir by as she strides purposefully
towards her unknown destination.
She's going, were soon told by our tourguide, Gudjon Gudjonsson,
founder and CEO of Oz Interactive, to a place called Ozone, to show us
"what a 3-D, virtual community is like."
Using a graphic menu on the screens, Gudjonsson talked us through the
creation of an avatar. "You don't have to be a robot, unless you want
to," said Gudjonsson, and proceeded to select a persona-in this case, a
yellow-haired punk rocker in tight pants and a sleeveless t-shirt-which
he then personalized, making it taller and changing the color of its
clothes ("And you don't even have to go to Melrose").
"Ozone is not the future. This is now," said Gudjonsson, as our avatar
made his way through the same metal-lined hallways towards downtown
Ozone. From this central point, users can choose from a growing number
of neighborhoods, created with VMRL, Java, IRC and HTML. One of the
currently-available areas is the game room, where avatars can challenge
each other to board games like chess and Othello.
In these neighborhoods one's bound to run into other avatars, with whom
they can communicate via text or voice, depending on the available
technologies. Upon entering this game area, our avatar approaches a
burly character clad in black. As an example of the extent to which an
avatar take on their user's personality, our gentle queries about a
possible game were met by growling epithets and mumbled threats. Just
like in the real world! Charming!
Maybe Neal Stepehnson was on to something.
If you want something a little more social, there's also a Club in the
Ozone community, much like the Palace, actually, with a bar, dancefloor
and stage, where you can mingle and meet people. Unfortunately, in
keeping with Oz's attempts to make Ozone as real as possible, avatars
aren't supplied with clever pick-up lines. Avatars are automatically
supplied with a 6,000-word vocabulary, which, thankfully, users are
able to personalize, so you're not limited to "What's your sign?"
The Club is also a venue for the next step in interactive
entertainment: live shows. Tonight's performer is Moa, an Icelandic
singer who comes onstage in a form-fitting white jumpsuit, strapped
with "movement sensors". She, too, has an avatar, dressed similarly
(though without the wiring), who steps onto the virtual Club's stage
and mimics Moa's gyrations.
And there our tour ends. In the future, Oz plans to add more
neighborhoods, more buildings, more avenues...just like any burgeoning
city. And with it, one can expect more cranky people, more pick-up
lines, and more performances. Just like in the real world!