I’m always looking for a good bargain, so it’s not surprising that I’ve been researching the possibilities of virtual worlds similar to Second Life without the big price tag. Two options I’ve recently experienced are OSgrid and OpenLifeGrid. Of the two, Open Life wins the Second Life Clone award, whereas OSGrid has quite a few differences despite its similar look and feel. The most important difference between them is that OSGrid, through its use of OpenSimulator software, offers you the chance to create a virtual world on your own server, making you the god of your own domain.
This article is a topical look at these two grids, chronicling some of my most memorable experiences in them. If you are looking for 'How to' tutorials, you may be disappointed, although there are links to some excellent resources sprinkled here and there within this article.
Let’s talk about OpenLifeGrid first. If you want to experience the thrill that you used to get every Wednesday when you couldn’t get into Second Life and found the familiar “gorillas banging on stuff'" image on the Second Life homepage, then this virtual world is for you. If you enjoy roaming around a virtual world that really IS completely empty, then this virtual world is for you. If you can’t wait to clothe yourself in bizarre freebie outfits and wear hair that looks like you're wearing a prayer shawl (see photo on the left), then this virtual world is for you. I could go on...
Maybe I’m being a tad too harsh… it has actually improved markedly in the last few months. One really nice feature is the ability to restart your region yourself from the website. Of course, I haven't tried this yet, so I can't say definitively that it works. But the virtual currency is finally up and running. I tried the little money button on the top right hand corner, and it worked! Unfortunately, the REAL problem is finding something worth buying. What I would love to say, if I could just find somebody to say it to is “Oh PLEASE - can you sell me some flexi hair?” Hmm...I could retrieve the notes and materials from that hair making class I took an eon ago and make it myself. Yeah. Right.
Hands down, the best thing about Open Life is its price. For $75 and no setup fees, you can own your own private region. Think about it...you can own four Open Life regions for the price of one sim in SL, without having to buy each region for $1000 first. I certainly couldn't resist that, and from what I hear, neither could a whole lot of other SL denizens. So I welcome all of you to come visit me at Anvard, especially if you are a good designer of hair. I would give you the URL3DX (like our SLURL) to it but that feature isn't working yet by the looks of it. It's coming, it's coming.
Okay, I can't resist just a little bit of instruction...registration is free and there are no restrictions on your last name, so the easiest thing to do is to stick with your SL name. It was a little confusing after the registration though – after installing the viewer, I spent some frustrating minutes attempting to sign in using the registration name and password. In my haste, I had skipped reading about creating an avatar in the Avatar Toolbox. So take my advice, don't be like me...read instructions! It was easy sailing after that. Sadly, there were no alternate avatars to choose from, so I became Ruth and my frantic search for freebies began.
My main preoccupation in Open Life so far has been trying to find ways to move the huge library building that is on my Second Life island (Clearwater Beach) over to Anvard. I was told that the Meerkat viewer allows objects to be transferred to other grids as long as they are full perm. After much excitement and anticipation, I realized that the library (at 3000+ prims) was too whopping huge to save in one go. The YouTube video on their website made it look so easy. Sigh. Then, I got wind of a class given by some sim owners who had moved their entire sim over to Open Life using Meerkat, raising my hopes again. Unfortunately, the process involved an incredible amount of positioning of pins and packing up of objects into boxes, all color-coordinated and overwhelmingly complicated. When the instructor happily sang out "Who wants to come up here and practice?" I TP'd myself out of there as unobtrusively as I could.
Recently, there has been some consternation about BuilderBot, a set of tools that were developed to help sim owners transfer their objects between sims and other virtual worlds - many are saying that it is just a clone of the notorious CopyBot that caused such furor a while back. The developers have released a statement that seems to indicate that they will not be releasing a BSD license for this tool, which will be a relief to many who are fearful of content theft and copyright infringement.
At first glance, OSGrid looks very much like Second Life, and unlike Open Life's deserted Orientation Island, its entry portal is usually brimming with avatars. It is also quite expertly designed, with loads of information on panels, a few seating areas, and several vehicles can be seen flitting around in the sky. I decided to randomly TP myself to some areas that appeared to be developed, and although they were mostly empty, lo and behold, there were some nice builds to explore. A quick search for freebies brought up around 10 to 15 hits, so I spent the next hour or so traveling around searching for some free skins, clothes and hair. Alas, the freebie situation was just as dire here as in Open Life.
OSGrid is actually a collection of servers compatible with OpenSimulator server software, as is DeepGrid. My sole reason for choosing OSGrid over DeepGrid was that I thought OSGrid was cool for using Elgg as their website's content management system. There really are no major differences between the two options and I will probably find my way on DeepGrid one of these days. Here is a brief history of the Opensimulator project from the wiki:
The OpenSim project was founded in January 2007 by Darren Guard (also known as MW), who, like so many other people, saw the potential for an open source 3d Virtual Environments server that could be used for many different applications. Also like many others, Darren had watched many other attempts at open source virtual world servers fail, often due to the massive task of writing both a server and a client at the same time. Then in January 2007, the Second Life(tm) client was released as open source, and libsl (a BSD open source library for creating custom clients that could connect to Second Life(tm)), was reaching the point of being stable. So the idea of OpenSimulator was born, with the initial goal of creating a proof of concept server that the SL client could connect to and allow some basic functions. The idea was that over time the project scope would hopefully become much more than its humble beginnings. This has happened, with the current goal of developing a standard virtual environment platform that any application could use as a framework. While we still maintain compatibility with the Second Life client, we have been working towards supporting several other clients. In the future we also hope to support protocols and environments that are completely independent of that of Second Life.
Continuing the saga of my experiences in OSGrid, I didn't really mind looking like a noob here at all. My primary focus was on how to get my own virtual world and hopefully connect it to other grids. Getting my own virtual world was much easier than I thought it would be, especially on Windows. I had a standalone grid up in less than thirty minutes following the instructions found on the Opensimulator.org wiki. And of course, there is a YouTube video detailing all the steps for those who prefer to learn visually. Getting my own virtual world set up to connect to other grids was another story. You could connect from your own computer but that would require drilling through your router's firewall and setting up a static IP address, so I pretty much ruled that option out immediately. As of this article's publication, I am weighing the options of virtual, private, or dedicated server DIY hosting solutions (read 'How to choose a good OpenSim host' for an in-depth look at all the pros and cons of both.) These seem like the best choice since non-DIY would be exhorbitantly expensive for a testing environment, and even though I'm not an expert Linux user, I do have some experience using terminal on the Mac, and there are many resources that can get me up to speed on shell commands.
This is an exciting time to be in virtual worlds - it almost seems like every second, there is something new to read about or try out. I hope that this brief excursion into just two of the myriads of new virtual worlds springing up has given you some new insights, or if not, has at least given you some entertainment. If you ever bump into me in any of these worlds, be sure to say hello. I'll be the one asking around for some good hair.
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