Return to Inworldz

IW Website: Somewhat “plain Jane”

There has been much said about InWorldz of late – and the camps seem to be sharply divided as to how “good” it is, so I decided it was high time I popped back (after an absence of some eight months) to take a look at things myself.

When I first reviewed InWorldz, my impressions were generally favourable – the place was just beginning to find its feet, and while it had some rough edges, the potential was there. So, what has happened since that time?

Well, rather a lot, and most of it for the good. User numbers have been growing steadily (Total user count approaching 40K, almost 900 regions online), and a growing number of SL merchants offer their wares in IW as well – of which, more anon – and an active social scene. Those running the grid have now formed a Limited Liability Company in the US – somewhat similar to a Company Limited by Guarantee in the UK – and as such, have revealed their personal details (the LLC itself has a correspondence address in Brooklyn, NY) and address is also given for DCMA issues as well. If nothing else, this should stop those who have in the past, taken pot shots at InWorldz – and OpenSim grids in general – for their “lack of accountability”.

Beyond this, the web site itself remains little changed from the last time I looked, although the range of available Viewers has increased: IW now “officially” recognises Imprudence, and also now has an SSE2-optimised version of their own viewer. Actually, the website is something that needs work; as it stands, it’s pretty unenticing, and doesn’t do IW itself justice in inviting people to come in and have a look around.

For the purposes of this review, I downloaded the latest SSE2-capable version of the IW Viewer and initially used that. For the record, the system configuration I used for this review comprises: Intel Q6600 quad-core processor, 2.4Ghz / 3Gb RAM; Window 7 with SP-1 installed; Ge9800GT GPU with 1 GB RAM supporting OpenGL 3.3 & the most recent nVidia drivers; InWorldz Viewer 1.2.7 (May 15th) or Imprudence 1.3.2; Phoenix .1102 (where specified).


The Coffee Station

Logging-in brought me to the familiar InWorldz Coffee Station, which is the default log-in for those new to IW or who haven’t set a home position, etc. Last year, this was subject to “heavy” (for IW at the time!) traffic, and had both masses of lag and people falling over themselves to provide assistance.

This time, the sim rezzed smoothly and at a speed comparable to SL and lag was non-existent; however, even with only five people present on the sim, I exhibited a familiar movement problem: rather than animating while walking, my avatar would simply “glide”, pose unchanged – something I frequently encountered back last year, when I was using a lower specification graphics card. This was to mark my movement wherever I went.

The first thing I did on getting logged-in was update my appearance to match my SL looks as closely as possible. As I was, until recently, using my own custom skin and am still using my own shape, this was relatively simple – just upload the skin textures (free of charge in IW), apply them via the appearance Editor & then tweak my shape and change hair colour. The results were pleasing, although I need a decent eyebrow shaper in IW to tweak the look a little more.

Yay me! (Left: IW circa Aug 2010; Centre: IW today; Right: SL today)

Search was very much lacking in IW the last time I was there – not so any more. It’s now available, if buggy, and those who remember the “old” (pre-google-ising) SL Search will feel right at home (right down to the keyword gaming that was such an issue in SL!).  Indeed, so much of the InWorldz Viewer harkens back to what was in SL several years ago, that using it is something of a pleasant trip down memory lane. That said, I’d avoid the Web Search option in Imprudence.

Phox-y Scripting

Like OSG before it, IW has forked somewhat from the “full” OS Grid standard; I understand the inventory system is being overhauled and they’ve recently introduced their own scripting language – Phox. Now, this gave me cause for concern as last year, I spent a fair amount of time working on various builds as I tried out IW, and most of these ended up scripted using LSL – so I was concerned that I’d have to go re-learn everything in order to re-do everything. However, a quick hop to a sandbox showed my fears were – so far at least! – unjustified. My rezzers worked and all the doors, lighting and other elements worked just fine. The only minor irritant I found was the repeated appearance of a line of object chat “play sound script: 45.000000”, which I couldn’t trace down.

I’ve yet to try out Phox in anger, so cannot give an honest comparison – expect that at some point in the future, perhaps.

Appearances, Shopping and Content

The general “look” of IW has come a long way as well; Windlight is enabled, allowing for eater reflections, etc., to be seen, sculpties are now very prevalent, sim extenders are commonly in use (although rather surprisingly, none of the ones I noted were set to phantom, as with SL, but they didn’t appear to create any issues with sim performance. Could this be due to the lack of any physics engine within IW at present?). Indeed, land in any developed sim in IW and allow it ro rez, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell it apart from anything similar in SL.

“Is this the real IW, or is this just SL?” (It’s IW, honest!)

The choice of shopping in IW has – due to the aforementioned influx of SL creators – dramatically increased in terms of quality and quantity. Prices in IW appear somewhat equitable to those found in SL; I visited a number of clothing stores and found prices ranging from Iz250 through to Iz600; however, given you get around twice the number of I’z that you do L$, then IW is considerably lower-cost than SL. In may respects, this is to be expected: land prices within IW remain markedly lower than SL.

Money brings me to my first gripe: currently, IW uses PayPal as the “official” mechanism for buying currency. This hurts on two counts: the additional transaction fees thrown in by PayPal themselves, plus the fact that I only have one credit card, and that is assigned to a PayPal account I *cannot* use for making personal purchases. While there is an alternative means of obtaining currency – via in-world ATMs linked to their counterparts in SL, so you can transfer L$ and Iz in either direction, it would be beneficial if a further mechanism could be provided by which those unable to use PayPal and who may not be involved in SL could obtain currency.

Content-wise, IW has the familiar PG, Mature and Adult ratings assigned to it – but in a much more logical and  user-friendly way (Rodvik, please take note!). Mainland is restricted to PG content only, with private sims available for rating as PG, Mature or Adult, according to the owner’s preference. While this does mean those wanting to run Adult-related activities are restricted to purchasing private island sims, this is not as hard as it may appear, again due to the cost of land.

Land Costs

Sims come in a variety of formats; Mainland sims are limited to 30,000 prims (twice that of SL sims), with pricing set at $60 USD a month tier, and an initial set-up fee of $60 USD. Private island sims come with prim options from 35,000-45,000, with tier set at $75 USD a month and an initial $75 USD set-up fee.

It should be noted that these prices are somewhat “introductory”, and will increase (tier at least), when IW officially goes “live”. However, those taking sims now will have their tier grandfathered at these rates for 12 months following IW going “live”.

There are other much-touted advantages to IW and grids like it beyond the prim count that sims are given: prims can be edited to a size of (on average) 128x128x128, and can be shrunk down to the size of nanoprims without the need for editing tricks as well as supporting a hollowed-out rate of 99%. While there are undoubtedly good, there are still limitations on linking prim sets (though not as restrictive as SL), and assuming LL take linksets into account when mesh is rolled out, it is probable that in terms of resizing prims, SL will be able to match IW and elsewhere for the majority of building tasks.

Show Me the Seccs!

SL has – unfairly in many respects – a “seedy” reputation. While “adult” activities do go on (just like in real life), they are hardly “in your face” as many a tabloid journo would have us believe. Truth is, if you want to find them, you have to make something of an effort and go find them.

Truth further be told, I actually see nothing wrong with much that does pertain to “adult” activities in SL; a lot of them can be downright fun. This being the case, it’s good to see the IW founders being as open-minded towards things “adult” as Linden Lab once was. As mentioned above, there is a sensible rating system (although admittedly no age verification process at this time). Given IW is a place for the over-18s, it should allow for the widest mix of activities.

However, I was genuinely surprised to find RLV in operation on the grid; I was totally oblivious to the fact it had been ported, only that there were rumours of people attempting to port it to “other grids”. It’s only available through those Viewers with RLV/a  implemented (such as Imprudence). Suitably themed sims are already popping up, and I noted a couple of (in)famous fetish/BDSM Groups from SL are apparently active over on IW as well.

As an RLV user, I’m pleased to see it in use elsewhere, although I’m curious as to how it will be maintained over time; presumably someone is keeping an eye on Marine’s Kelley’s development of the code – and has had the courtesy of letting her know they’re porting it elsewhere (or if it is RLV/a, letting Kitty know, if she’s not responsible herself).

Stability, Physics and Other Matters

There has been much written on IW stability and general usability, with many reporting they have issues – particularly in the areas of rezzing and crashing.

Gurl-6 is one of the well-known SL brand names with a major IW presence

While these things are highly subjective, I can only report that I leapt around over a dozen sims in my visit; I rezzed and de-rezzed items, I slid through stores, Tp’d hither and thither – and encountered few rezzing issues. Those I *did* encounter all occurred when on Mainland and when flying across sim boundaries; on several occasions things in the sim I was entering would not rez until after I’d Tp’d somewhere in-sim. This was a little disconcerting, as I’d find myself seeing furniture and plants hanging in the air just before I’d hit a wall that wasn’t there…

Viewers-wise the IW and Imprudence Viewers operated admirably well: Imprudence shoving out an average frame-rate of 30fps on sims with others around, and up to 40 on sims where I was alone. The IW Viewer banged things out for me at just *very* slightly lower rates: around 36fps when on my own, and around 25fps on sims with others. Phoenix did not fair quite as well; the frame rates were appreciably lower (22pfs when on my own, 16fps when on a sim with 1-4 others). I also routinely found I needed to force a rebake after Tps in Phoenix in order to properly rez to myself. Logging-out from Phoenix was less than elegant, as it tended to think I was connected to SL, and have been forced to log out, generating the message about viewing chat  / IMs or quitting.

One slight issue I did have when working with the various Viewers is that my inventory views didn’t always sync. I first noticed this when creating an Alpha Layer (of which, more below). I used Imprudence to create the layer, but when I re-logged to the IW Viewer, the Alpha didn’t initially show-up – I had to relog. The same issue occurred when creating a Tattoo layer in Phoenix – when I first logged back to the IW Viewer, the tattoo icon was a no-show in my inventory.

And yes, IW does support both Alpha and Tattoo layers. What it doesn’t currently support, however, is multi-attach or multi-layer clothing wear or the new SL Avatar Physics. Doubtless these will come in time, but this is still a Beta grid, so no complaints on these being absent, please!

It is true that IW lacks a physics engine (ODE doesn’t appear to be implemented, and while nVidia PhysX has been promised, it has yet to be delivered), and this is currently limiting – no cars or other modes of transport, including elevators. While not an absolute killer, there are many who do like their vehicles and things, and until physics arrives at IW, it will put people off. That said, I did encounter some odd physics-like behaviour around the grid that was similar to SL pushing. A few times when flying between locations, I’d land at a store and immediately get pushed back to the parcel boundary; if I walked across the boundary, I’d be OK, but flying would see me pushed gently back to the boundary upon landing (this was not any form of rubber-banding).

The Search bugs are a nuisance: items listed in the left-side “results list” don’t always yield information in the right-side “details” pane; annoying when trying to find something like land or go shopping, when all you get is “Land Type: (unknown)” and a blank field for the location.

But these were for me, all niggles. I don’t drive, I rarely fly with anything needing wings in-world, and while I’d like to get my elevator scripts working, that all can wait. Other upsets in IW I can deal with; over the course of a day-and-a-half I found them to be no better or worse than the tribulations I routinely face in SL.

General Impressions

IW is maturing steadily. When I was last there, crashes were frequent to the point of being able to tell the time by them every 1/4-hour or so. Today, nary a crash for me. Teleports all worked fine (although around 1/4 of the LMs I’d collected last year were now invalid, suggesting that either people have moved around, or there has been something of a mild attrition rate within IW.

There is still clearly a lot of work to be put in on it before it is ready for prime time, to be sure – but the creators and their team are aware of this. The population also may be on the low side (in terms of concurrency at any given time) – but a) it is one the rise; and b) those involved in IW are some of the friendliest people on Twitter, where there is always plenty of chatter about events and the like going on in-world at IW.

It is hard to say how well IW will do compared to other grid-based VWs. Certainly, at this point it does not represent real competition to SL; rather, Avination and other OS Grids are more properly its competitors. As such, perhaps the biggest problem it faces (as does Avination and others) is how to reach out to enough users to achieve some form of critical mass; SL itself is a relatively small pond for them all to fish from, and not an easy one to gain a decent catch from at that.

Right now, the bias of use type in IW seems tipped towards content creators rather than consumers. While land costs are very favourable, there is a need to balance this out; low tier won’t matter a hoot if the traffic flow of customers doesn’t offset the cost in being in IW.

And to be sure, persuading people away from SL is no sinecure. When all is said and done, SL is established, both in terms of the platform and it warts and, more importantly, the amount of investment users have made in it over the years – not just content creators, but those consumers who have thousands of items representing hundreds of dollars of expenditure sitting in their inventory. Anyone trying to encourage these people to split their time between two ostensibly similar worlds is going to have their work cut out, plain and simple.

This is not to say IW and grids like it cannot survive. Many are attracted to them because they represent something that has been lost from SL: the frontier spirit, so to speak, and the feeling of community and being in something together. And while enticing people away from SL may not be easy, it is not inconceivable that Linden Lab themselves might spark – unintentionally or otherwise – a mass exodus from SL that could massively help the likes of IW. Let’s be honest; when it comes to user engagement the Lab does show a remarkable ability to aim a loaded handgun and aim it at their own pedal extremities before divesting themselves of a toe or two on squeezing the trigger.

Right now, IW is, alongside of Avination and (perhaps) OSG, the place to watch when it comes to OpenSim-based grids. They seem to have the leap on others, and are exhibiting a stability to make them very viable propositions. Certainly, the care being exhibited in the development speaks volumes; it would have been easy to rush to market with a “final” product (as others have tried). Taking a step-by-step approach and not being harried by dates on a calendar (which LL seemed to be half the time), the creators of InWorldz are demonstrating they are building something then intend to see last.

I know that now I’ve been back for the first time in eight months or so, what I’ve seen has whetted my appetite once more, so hopefully, I’ll be popping back there more regularly in future.

Some Recommendations

Before entering InWorldz (or returning to have a look if you’ve not been there in a while), some personal recommendations (not necessarily endorsed by the folks at IW):

  • If you have an older version of the IW viewer, de-install it / remove it from your computer and install the latest version
  • If you are using Imprudence or other Viewer to access IW, don’t overload your Viewer’s bandwidth settings – it can actually be a mistake to set your bandwidth too high; both LL and the likes of Phoenix provide information on why bigger bandwidth settings are not necessarily better; if you experience issues with IW, try dropping your bandwidth down to around the stated 1.5Mbps
  • If you are using Phoenix, consider swapping to either Imprudence or the IW Viewer – Phoenix looks like it might be a little more unpredictable.

Further Reading