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Virtual world in a browser window

December 2, 2010

On Tuesday, a small company called Katalabs announced a web-based virtual world that can be accessed from a browser. This is exciting to me because virtual worlds have major potential to be used as teaching tools, but right now there are way too many barriers. One of those obstacles is that you typically need to install a viewer or plugin to access a virtual world. It would make a huge difference if you could simply enter through your normal browser.

The Kataspace demo is a proof-of-concept website based on Katalabs’ open source Sirikata platform, which lets you use HTML5 to develop games and virtual worlds. Paul Ryan has a thorough writeup at Ars Technica – Kataspace: browser-based virtual worlds built with WebGL and HTML5 (tip o’ the hat to Chaz Barbour for this referral).

At the demo site you choose between two avatars, then log in and walk around, sit, or chat in a text window. KataSpace only runs on a couple of browsers, including Firefox 4 Beta, but it is cross-platform. While logged I saw Mac, Windows, and Unix users. One downside is that it hogs the CPU; on my Mac it was using over 95% of the processing power. Here’s a brief screencast I made:

To my knowledge, all of the other virtual world platforms require you to install viewer software. For a while there was an Ajax-based client for Second Life, but it is no longer available. In spite of the initial limitations, this may signal the beginning of an important new phase in the development of virtual worlds – and based on a quick bit of research, it looks the Sirikata platform is capable of much more than what has been implemented in Kataspace.

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