Tropical and sunny, mostly, except in Tyr, where it's always dark, and covered in bones.

In the ongoing quest for a cool virtual world to hang out in, I've joined up with There.com. Sure, I could get into WoW and hang out with so many people I know, but who's got time to go questing? There's so much going on in the real world, what with all the ... [insert stuff that I do] ... going on.

If you go by raw statistics, WoW is easily the biggest online game in terms of population. If you go by honest statistical analysis, WoW is still the most populous, exceeding, by a factor of 50 (!!) most other games, including Second Life, Planetside, Dungeons and Dragons Online, etc.

There.com is, by sharp contrast, quite intimate, with nary 20000 paying members. Perhaps intimate isn't the word -- more like being in a sunny Limbo. I reviewed and beta-tested There.com way back in 2003, and thought it might be a great place to get into. Today, it's still there (yuk), and for a non-gaming virtual world, it's still pretty neat. Here's some good points:


  • It's now free to join
  • You get a free hover-surfboard
  • Cewl tiki-themed beach clothes
  • Retro-style world
  • A one-time $9.95 membership fee
  • Cool rendering engine
  • Exciting physics engine
  • Live music streaming through in-game jukeboxes
  • Built-in voice chat

there_image4.jpg

Unfortunately, There.com's got some bad points, and it's not alone. These problems affect many other online worlds, even the ones that are based around MMORPG gaming:

No Content: Sure, leave it up to the players to generate content. Yeah, that's a brilliant idea. There.com has some user-generated stuff, but it's largely up to the people who work at There to invite new members to parties and mixers. Granted, it's kind of neat being invited to virtual parties, since I don't get invited to many in real life.
Money costs real-world money: Unlike the virtual prostitution in Second Life, and adventuring for money in WoW, and delivering things in early Star Wars Galaxies, there's not really any way to get money in There.com. You've got to spend money to make money -- literally. Then, if you make and sell in-game objects, such as clothes, or paint for hoverboards, you might make enough to afford a house, which you can then rent to other players. This doesn't sound very interesting to me.
Stuff is pretty expensive: A T-shirt is about 3000T, but you can buy a used hoverboat for 10000T, or the price of 3 T-shirts. There's no distinction either, between new and used objects, except by how fashionable they are -- stuff doesn't appear to degrade like in some of the MMORPGs. So, you sell things only if you get tired of using them. This is kind of a good thing if you save your money.
Avatar-creation could be better: It's good, but feels a little dated. It's by no means as advanced as SWG, and you don't have as much control over it at the beginning. You can pick from a small subset of hair styles, and can reshape your face to some degree. From that point on, you can only adjust your face and body shape; any new hair styles must be purchased, even beards.
The place is mostly empty: It's a big world. Bigger if you're walking anywhere. Luckily, you can teleport to most places, and can hover/fly/drive other places. Each mode of transportation relies on a different physics engine, and that's kind of neat, so I can see why people would own multiple forms. And a flying car looks pretty cool. But so does the stock hoverboard they give you -- and you can do tricks on it.
Full of rentable real estate: Chock full. And the real-estate is as garish and ostentatious as it is in Second Life. I'm still not sure what the real estate is for, unless you've got loads of crap and you need a place to put it all, or you want a private chat room in which to cyber. But the truth is, this place is so empty, you should be able to find some secluded place without too much trouble. There are acres of empty hot tubs around these islands, just waiting for private encounters.
Nothing to do, really: Unless you really like to hover-surf, or whatever. Which I do -- very much. Unlike most of these MMORPGs, you can actually fly around/over/between people in this game. You can go into a low orbit if you have the time to do so. But other than that, and other than playing dress-up with your avatar, or chatting with strangers, there's nothing to do. It's like The Big Empty -- big, and empty.

there_image2.jpg

Really, it's kind of a cool place if you just want to hang out with a bunch of friends -- think instant messaging immersion. If you really like chatting, it's also a good place to get into with a bunch of friends. I like being by myself, so I try to avoid the crowds, which aren't very numerous. I get to go into people's empty houses and see how poorly they've decorated the place. But that's no reason to get into an online virtual world.



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