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There has been a lot of chat recently about Cloud Party, the newest “SL-like” virtual world to come into existence – due in part to the fact that it is backed by SL’s co-founder, Cory Ondrejka, thus giving it something of a high visibility. Like Kitely, Cloud Party is hosted within Amazon’s cloud computing architecture (hence part of the reason for the name of the platform), and – again as with Kitely’s initial beta phase – requires a Facebook account in order for all of the capabilities to be used.
Unlike most traditional grids, however, Cloud Party doesn’t require a dedicated viewer or client – it runs entirely within your preferred web browser (although users of the latest flavours of Internet Explorer may have issues as Cloud Party runs on WebGL, which isn’t natively supported in IE).
Also unlike most grids, cloud island doesn’t feature the usual 256×256 metre (or larger) default land mass; instead, regions are “islands” floating among the clouds (again, hence the name of the service). The precise size of these islands is hard to judge and at this point it time it is unclear if islands can be “joined” in away way to provide larger land masses.
Islands in the sky: a typical in-world view in Cloud Play
That Cloud Party log-ins are (for the foreseeable future) only fully enabled via Facebook might also be off-putting for some. However, if you’re not a Facebook user, you can still log-in with limited functionality on an anonymous basis and at least get a feel for the app, which is what I did for several hours on Friday June 22nd.
Logging-in to Cloud Party is facilitated via the website.This offers the options of logging-in via Facebook or anonymously. This also present you with the obligatory “click to accept terms and conditions” pop-up, and options to use either “Gamer” movement controls or “Tablet” control features and a choice of male or female avatar.
Arriving in Cloud Party – what you’re seeing here is the full UI (see below)
A pop-up welcomes you on logging-in for the first time (or if you are logging-in anonymous, for the first time since closing your browser completely), and also opens-up a tutorial on the left of your screen. The tutorial covers a couple of subjects: Getting Started, which covers the basics of moving, camera movement and chatting, changing clothes, etc., while Building introduces you to the basics of building (at least if you sign-on with Facebook; building is disabled with anonymous accounts).
The Getting Started tutorial is fairly straight-forward, and while it may appear to be teaching those familiar with virtual worlds how to suck eggs, it is a handy way of getting people started, and having it open on the initial log-in is something LL should learn to do with the HOW TO option of their Viewer, rather than dumping newbies in-world with a nice (but initially pointless) Destination Guide display.
The interface itself is clean and simple. Top right of the screen you have a button to log-in via Facebook: if you have logged-in anonymously, this will allow you to switch over to your Facebook account (if you are currently logged-in to FB), with a simply log out/log in. If you’re not logged into FB itself when you hit the button, you’ll be logged out of Cloud Party and prompted to either log-in to your FB account.
Your Cell Phone: access to additional Cloud Party functions
Next to the FB button is your cellphone.Clicking on this opens up additional options and capabilities. Again, not all of these are available when logged-in anonymously. For example, as an anonymous user, you’re not connected to the Cloud Party asset library, so you have no access to the build tools and while you can open the Outfits option, you won’t have anything to wear. The cell phone is looked at in more detail below.
Bottom left of the app window is the Local Chat tab. Clicking this opens – yes, you’ve guess it – the local chat window, which functions pretty much as you’d expect from using SL, although irritatingly, it doesn’t appear to like the apostrophe, the use of which seems to close the chat window and switches focus back in-world. You can also right-click on people’s names in the chat window and open you Cell Phone to IM them, etc.
Cloud Party offers two options for movement when you log in: “Tablet” and “Game”. The latter works pretty much the same as most game systems, using both “click to move” whereby clicking on the ground moves you to that point or you can use the arrow keys WASD (when not focused in chat). “Tablet” apparently allows Tablet-like screen-touches to move your avatar.
You can also teleport directly to locations or people on the current island or to other islands you can see in the sky by right-clicking on an object / person / island and selecting TELEPORT HERE from the menu.
Right-click on avatars, objects or other islands to teleport to them
There doesn’t appear to be any privacy features available – or at least none in obvious use – as I managed to happily island-hop, jump to people’s homes (where the arrival point had been set in-doors) and so on without any let or hindrance. But again, this is an early beta, so privacy options – assuming I’m not missing them – may be coming in the future.
There’s one other means of getting around worth mentioning here, and that’s via the Navigate option on your Cell Phone. Clicking on the Navigation icon displays your “phone” in landscape orientation, with a range of categorised navigation options.
The Navigation “phone” floater with the Popular category displayed
Use the buttons at the top to display the various categories of destination available to you, and then scroll down / up the displayed lists to find a place of interest – then click the green GO button to teleport. Note that destinations in Navigate may be other Cloud Party islands or individual locations within an island, and that currently there is no means to search for a specific destination.
The default female avatar
Right-clicking on avatars, as well as allowing you to teleport to them, also presents you with options to start a private chat with them or view information about them. I’m not sure if these options are functioning as yet or whether I was unable to use them due to being logged-in anonymously.
The avatars in Cloud Party are pretty basic at present, and are somewhat mindful of early Unity 3D avatars. customisation is limited (restricted to skins and outfits, no sliders, etc. for altering shape), and they have a gawky default pose with rather a lot of rubbernecking. Those used to the sophistication on SL and OpenSim are liable to find Cloud Party avies limited – but again, this is only a beta!