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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Parallel Universes Part III: Cloud Party – Stareyes Galaxy Reporting

I had an account in Cloud Party when it first started about two years ago. I remember going over there and getting excited about learning to build mesh items on Blender, and then importing these over. That joy was short-lived, however, as it became evident that with the hardware at my disposal, mesh creation was out of the question. At that beta stage, avatars in Cloud Party were also very elementary, and although the navigation was not overly difficult, it still had a learning curve. Things got rapidly better, and at its later stages, Cloud Party was a serious contender for content delivery, quality 3-D graphics and art, as well as becoming a platform for socializing in virtual worlds.

The technology behind Cloud party was based on HTML 5 and JavaScript. HTML is of course at the core of web browser code, which made it possible to incorporate the point of view of the avatar to a shared virtual 3-D graphic world. The point of view could be changed by simple mouse and arrow key navigation. Interaction with objects was also possible through JavaScript extension, and a lot of virtual physics could be employed for fun and games. Avatars could spiff up their appearance by selecting clothing items that were all mesh-based, and rigged to the avatar skeleton. For content creators, template avatars with this skeleton were available, and mesh clothing would be built in a similar way to how computer-game characters and avatars are built, rigging the clothing and items to the appropriate parts of the avatar skeleton. Simple objects and structures could be built in-world directly by rezzing blocks, assigning textures to these, and expanding from there.

Each avatar was automatically assigned a “home” – usually a small house similar to Linden Homes in Second Life ©. The houses could be feely equipped and furnished, many becoming elaborate designer collections of appliances and furniture. Poses would be incorporated in the objects, but no “pose balls” were available. The homes were part of communities that were placed on rocks that float in free space, as islands in SL, but without the water – hence the name “Cloud Party”. Islands could be bought, and in some stages of development, these were available for creators at very low cost.

Logins were possible with the unique avatar name and password, or directly through Facebook, and sharing one’s experience in Facebook was made easier than on Second Life, which is only now slowly getting there. This made, of course, the degree of “nymity” several notches closer to equating the avatar with a real person. This may or may not have influenced the signup popularity and interaction manner of Cloud Party avatars.

Many artists such as Patrick Moya took Cloud Party as their home platform and made showpiece creations on their private “islands”. This is what he had to say: “I had great hopes with Cloud Party because it allowed to enter the virtual world without plugin directly with a browser. The possibility of introducing mesh very easily was also a great advantage and the ability to make a limitless number of small islands encouraged me to work hard. I thought that if a young webmaster using this ease of access and the low price they could offer a website in 3D and it would be very successful but was stopped before. Second Life's still the most extraordinary world to create the universe, but if [the webmaster] manages to integrate the advantages of Cloud Party (loading directly in the browser) then [SL] will be ignored.”
JoJa Dhara, whom I first met at Cloud Party, also reminisces Cloud Party with fondness: “What I loved so much about Cloud Party was that it was web-based, with easy access... Graphically looking perfect, beautiful... Cloud Party gave you as a user a change to develop.

 In beginning it was hard as you needed to know 3-D programs to create but with the block way of building it gave a change to a lot.” She used cloud Party as a portal to showcase her work she had been doing for years, mainly in the 3-D printing area. Her space was also a showcase for the MetaMeets virtual conference. Hers was in a way a personal museum, where personal acquaintances could be quickly transported with minimal account setup effort. She also refers to other Patrick Moya’s island as a museum: “Patrick Moya for instance really showed what museums could do and make to show art that is not accessible for all... He created pre-showings of an exhibition… or that has been there... just by clicking on the URL for easy access.”

She regrets that SL has such a circuitous way to get to an in-world location. This, in her opinion, alienated companies from SL and also made it difficult for lay public to access. “With a world like Cloud Party you could show the world of 3D web ... as I say a portal to all worlds that are there.... I have still belief in that the 3D web is exiting to create buildings objects that you can improve or discuss with the people around the globe...

To JoJa, Cloud Party only lacked in the voice and media department, compared to Second Life.
Regarding Cloud Party being bought, she says: “Unfortunately the team was bought up by Yahoo. I am not going to judge about that... understandable if it can bring you a great career. But I do find it a pity that such a beautiful easy access world had to go for that... and I hope dearly someone will pick it up... eyes on HIFI of course now. And if they pick it up... I will scream again as I did to the CP team... create a button for 3D printing!!! Make real to virtual to real! So yes, my conclusion was really for [all the] many worlds that have been created… this one was really easy to access for the masses that we hoped for in Second Life besides being affordable etc... If we really want the world to adopt the 3D web this was really one close enough to do so.”

With Yahoo’s move to purchase the assets of Cloud Party and employing the coders, it is difficult to say what will happen. In a way, it will be interesting to follow the developments on Yahoo’s side, but unfortunately Cloud Party is out of commission at the moment, and all creator assets seem to be at the mercy of the creators themselves who admittedly did get a one-month grace period to retrieve their stuff out of the platform. Using HTML5 is getting popular in creating client-independent web solutions, which may be the reason for Yahoo’s acquisition of Cloud party. The expertise of the designers of Cloud party virtual world can be leveraged in many ways. Another point of view to this, which in my opinion is less likely, is that Yahoo would be branching out to virtual platforms. Recent developments in the hardware and viewer space suggest that virtual world integration is getting the eye of big corporations again (cf. Facebook acquiring OculusVR). We may only hope for the best, and fear the worst, in the case of Cloud Party and Yahoo.

Video clip of the last night party of Cloud Party:


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