"Project X": First Impressions, Part 2

In Part 1, I referenced an interview granted by Micazook’s co-founder/managing director Michael Fotoohi (“Mikey” in-world) to Victor Keegan of The Guardian in October of last year. Here’s some more from it:

Buildings further away become 3D shells as his team hasn’t the resources to fill in details.

Bryant Park, 6th Ave. at 41st St., with the NY Public Library beyond
[source: Google Maps street view]
6th Ave. @ 41st, Project X

How can he get around this? Simple. Anyone, anywhere can build on the 3D foundations of any mapped house [sic] in the world. He wants it to be the Wikipedia of a 3D internet with a revenue stream to finance expansion which their own company, micazook.com, can’t afford. When those who build houses get to a trusted level they can become moderators, just as happens with Wikipedia.

This is where I begin to have difficulty understanding the purpose of Project X. Obviously, one purpose is to turn Micazook into a major player in the virtual world business, so they can leave their day jobs and devote all of their time to Project X (or whatever its final name becomes)… but what’s the motive for a participant?  “[T]he Wikipedia of a 3D internet” isn’t much to hang a speculation on, but I’m going to try anyway, with the initial assumption that all of the creation tools needed are in place:

You, the user, lay claim to one of those “3D shells” (no idea yet how that process will work). Then you locate exterior views of the real building, from which to create textures for the exterior faces, as the Micazook guys have done with some of Times Square. Then, by way of the Map Editor (currently, another of those “Coming Soon!” features), you can annotate the building with Wikipedia-like information, accessible by clicking on it (where’s the first iteration of that information most likely to come from?  The current 2D Wikipedia, of course).

I can see the appeal, in a theoretical sort of way. As of this writing, there are 12,356,270 named (registered) accounts at Wikipedia, which doesn’t count the anonymous unregistered contributors. The fraction of those who concentrate on places on Earth is unavailable, but 1/12 still yields a million potential users: the particular sort of nerd* who enjoys that sort of knowledge-sharing activity.  One can imagine that many of those might not be as interested in creating an “entry” in the 3D wiki — i.e., a replica place in Project X — as much as they would contributing to its metacontent later, but one can also imagine a cadre of people who would, by natural proclivity, focus on the creation and leave the annotation to others.

I’m tempted to stake out Bryant Park [see above] as my first project. For one thing: as every urban planner knows, people need green spaces. The psychological benefits are not lessened by virtue of the space being virtual. For another thing: the results, if successful, will permit avatars to walk around inside it. Those “3D shells” which currently delineate building locations in mirror-Manhattan are not shells, they’re solids. Mathematically, they have interiors, but they are not surrounded volumes, they’re filled ones. In short, you can’t get in; there’s no “in” to get to.

At the very end of the most-recent entry on the Micazook/ProjectX blog (posted April 24, before the beginning of closed beta), there are some screenshots taken during the modeling of the Empire State Building. They seem to indicate that, eventually, it will be possible for anyone with skill to reproduce 3-dimensional detail on a building’s exterior.  Here are two of them:

It’s impressive-looking work, and will look great on the skyline once it’s brought into Project X, but it’s not a building containing 102 floors of usable space — it’s a stack of solid boxes with fancy textures.

In a conversation “on the street” — unfortunately unrecordable at the time — Mikey mentioned that we (the users) could make the interiors of our claimed buildings look however we wanted. At this point, I’m not convinced that the “interior space” he was talking about is anything like the interior of a real building, or of a 3D simulation in Second Life or an OpenSim world — that is, one which your avatar can enter and move around in. So far, Project X has two examples of what might be called interior spaces:

  • The “dressing room” for avatar customization materializes around your POV whenever and wherever you happen to be when you invoke it, and you are frozen in a pose… meanwhile, to anyone else who can see it, your avatar goes into a stance which resembles “Edit Appearance” in SL, while also slowly rotating.
  • The “poker room” does the same thing, and your avatar is shown (from behind) sitting in a chair from which you cannot get up… meanwhile, it also remains standing wherever it was when you clicked the Games button — visible to anyone else, but completely cut off from interaction.

In other words — in addition to being in two places at once — the phenomenon more closely resembles the “rooms” of a text-based MUD than a virtual world as we have come to know them.  It’s possible to infer from this that whatever you might claim as your avatar’s home in Project X will be yet another static view (with the option to add textures to the background, by way of customization) that takes over your POV when invoked… and that your avatar, in everyone else’s view, will also remain standing inertly at whatever location it had when you clicked the “Go Home” button. For what appear on the surface to be genuine reasons, Project X is a world that claims to be founded on geolocation, yet this lack of locational continuity between “outside” and “inside” — a place’s essential placeness, if you will — breaks that concept.

I will continue speculating on where Project X is headed in Part 3. Also, at this juncture, Mikey has agreed to participate (via email) in an interview about the aspirations and eventual goals of Project X. I anticipate the results to become Part 4 of this blog.

Meanwhile, I am slowly realizing that not all virtual worlds are equally immersive. Perhaps that’s as it should be, depending on their intended purpose… but as someone who is accustomed to total immersion, I find myself vaguely unsettled about, and by, a world where the cognitive connection between avatar and self is so difficult to establish, let alone maintain.

* – Being a nerd myself, I use the term exclusively as a compliment.


2 responses to “"Project X": First Impressions, Part 2

  1. Ok I read the part about buildings being shells only with no floors that isn’t quite correct. in the current beta version of the world there is no facility to allow the end user to build and customise any of the exterior or the interior parts of the buildings this is not to say this isn’t possible however this is the whole goal of the project so that you can create a hundred story building and floors and be able to enter these spaces. It is sometimes easy to speculate without the full facts of course. Mikey

  2. @Mikey: Yes, it's easy to report the few facts available on the (virtual) ground as they are today, and draw inferences from them. I'm encouraged to know that the situation will eventually change, and that my inferences will eventually be incorrect.

    Our interview will provide you and the rest of Micazook an opportunity to address your plans for the future, in as much detail as you care to divulge. In the meantime, please continue to use the comments here to respond as you see fit.

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