This post was intended to be Part 3 of a look at Micazook’s closed-beta Project X. But, the feedback I got from Mikey (both in the comments to Part 2, and by email) made me realize something: it’s too early to be engaging in any sort of meaningful evaluation of that project, and any more speculation is fruitless. There are too few facts on the virtual ground from which to extrapolate.
This is my first time beta-testing anything, so maybe the bar of my expectations was set too high. It was, after all, based on archived reportage and reminiscences of Second Life’s beta phases, plus a few blogs about the first days of Blue Mars. Those two examples could define a pair of scales upon which to compare other virtual world startups: one of graphic content, and one of activity available to the user. Graphic content is probably an unfair comparison anyway; Second Life and Blue Mars use entirely different engines to render their content, and their beta phases were separated by 7 years’ worth of technological advancement in hardware and software. Even so, the initial consensus about Blue Mars’ closed-beta was, “It’s gorgeous, but there’s nothing to do besides look at it.” Second Life, on the other hand, developed plenty to do while in its alpha “Linden World” phase before moving to closed beta, though the graphics were less than stellar, even for their time.
OpenSimulator should also be mentioned, while taking care not to concatenate it with the many virtual worlds that use it — a mistake made all too often. OpenSim is the server software; not the grid, and not the viewer. On their main (wiki) page, they state clearly that “OpenSimulator is still considered alpha software…” and yet in many ways it operates as well as the Second Life server code upon which it is based, and is accessed through many of the latest versions of SL-compatible viewers.
All of the above can be summarized simply: “alpha” and “beta” phases of software development are arbitrary labels assigned by the developers. There is no independent standard by which one offering can be compared to another from a different project. All such comparisons, therefore, are in the “eye of the beholder”, are necessarily as arbitrary as the labels themselves, and perhaps inherently unfair.
As has been emphasized often, Micazook are four guys coding in their spare time, whose other work has been in game design for mobile phones. Project X began its “alpha” some time in 2004. Samples of its graphic quality can be found here, and in my previous two posts. At present, in its closed-beta phase, you can do the following in it: stand, walk, run, chat, customize your avatar’s look to an extent, and play “Texas Hold ’em”. You can also use a clever function in the menu to submit suggestions for improvements and added features, and to vote in favor of others’ suggestions, while in-world — a feature other VW’s should think about adopting.
Plans for Project X’s future are in the minds of its developers. I will be asking them directly, and reporting their answers here. Speculation, on the other hand, is not worth the writing time.