Worlds Inc. Worlds Chat and Time Warner's The Palace: Life in Two Graphical Chat Environments from 1995-2002 (Part 2)
This is Part Two of a multi-part article. If you haven't already, you may wish to read Part One first.
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World’s Chat Gold (mid-1996 to Oct 1997)
(i) "End of Worlds" Party
The first commercial version of Worlds Chat (World’s Chat Gold), was ready to go by Mid-1996. It was hosted on a different server though, which meant the chat community needed to make the switch from the beta server (which was due to be switched off) to the new WC Gold one. What better way to do this than to throw an "End of Worlds" party during which that switch would be made! The publicised event was held on Sept 13th 1996. All users were welcome.
It turned out to be one the most memorable parties in Worlds Chat. The developers had tweaked the server, so that it appeared that the space station was falling towards a planet in real time. The Worlds Chat (beta) space station was literally going to crash! This planet loomed larger and larger in the space station windows as the party progressed. Now and again, creaking and groaning noises were heard, as if the space station was under stress and occasionally it would appear to “shake”. Developers would wander around selling “End of the World’ tee-shirts (haha). Dystopian graffiti ("the end is nigh!") adorned the walls. For what would be considered nowadays a very vintage chat environment, all this was pretty damn cool! The place was PACKED with avatars…it was standing room only! There was much chatter, wisecracks and anticipation. The excitement was palatable.
Note: Images 1 and 2 have been sourced from the Worlds Chat Fandom Wiki at https://worldschat.fandom.com/wiki/1994-1997#The_End_of_the_World , where a similar account of the party is given.
Image 1. End of Worlds party, with the red planet looming larger and larger in the window. I think I'm just off screen to the left here, but you can see the NZ of my Terry-NZ name tag!
Image 2. Dystopian graffiti and alarming messages in the Space Station at the Ends of Worlds party
Eventually, the planet took up the whole window and a countdown was started. When this reached zero, (the assumption being we had crashed into said planet) the lights went out! Well, not so much the lights went out, but everyone was kicked off the server as it was shut down. That was the end of Worlds Chat beta. The party continued though, because we could then update our version of Worlds Chat to Worlds Chat Gold, and pile into the newly open server. And so the party continued with much wonder at the new environment.
(ii) Worlds Chat Gold
Worlds Chat Gold was available both as a downloadable demo and a CD-ROM. I ordered the CD-ROM as soon as it was available. Like most software of the time, the CD-ROM jacket contained the registration number for the product which unlocked its full features. If you didn’t register, you could still move around as a guest but you couldn’t get to the “farcasters”, which were the larger worlds (e.g. sky world and desert world etc.) accessible through doors in the space station pods.
Image 3. Worlds Chat Gold CD case front cover
Image 4. The full package
Here are some screen shots taken by Annette (kiwi) in the day, as she was exploring the pods and farcasters of this new world and chatting with other visitors.
Image 5. WC Gold Hub
Image 6. Glee
Image 7. Gothic
Image 8. Sadness
Image 9. Sky
Image 10. Garden - Koi Pond
Worlds Chat Gold was a big step up, and the environments, especially the farcasters were beautiful. However, it was much, MUCH bigger. There was a lot of space to explore but there was also a lot of space to get lost in. Not all the people we had known came across to the new server. Some had been lured away by competing graphical chat environments like ActiveWorlds and the Palace. Others had just taken a break from chat, some permanently. Eventually a group of regulars, mostly New Zealanders and some Australians, settled around the Koi Pond (Image 10), and we would meet each other there to catch up and socialise.
(iii) Meeting more kiwis
The commercial release of Worlds Chat Gold saw more and more kiwis coming in. They seem to find us and we were building a little community. In February 1997, Annette's web company developed a web site for an entrepreneurial New Zealander who had arranged to become an agent for World’s Chat support and sales in New Zealand. His name was Eric and he started a business called Unity Software.
Image 11. Unity Software Web page advertising World Chat Gold
Eric and some helpers organized the first real-life party of NZ WC users in Auckland 2nd August 1997. It was a blast with (from memory) 20-25 or so attending. It was good to put faces to the avatars!
Image 12. Eric of Unity Software (centre) at the NZ WC users party in Auckland
The environment in Worlds Chat now was much larger and contained a more disparate group of users who had lots of space to wander about or colonise. This being the case, we (Annette and I) found interaction with guests and visitors became less common. I suspect this was also the case with many other experienced World Chatters. Sting’s Message Board had closed about the time WC Gold became available and the Worlds Chat community was more fragmented and scattered compared to earlier days. It just wasn’t the same somehow. World Chat Gold was beautiful, but somewhat sterile. Apart from talking and moving around, there was not a lot of scope for design creativity.
Personally, life became pretty busy in 1997 as I was in the final stages of a PhD study. I still checked into Worlds Chat but nowhere near as often as I used to. By October I’d finished my PhD, which left more time for hobbies including Internet chat. However, this time it was another chat program that called to me, one that had scope to be local, and allow more creativity. That program was called The Palace.
So ends Part Two of this story. The next episode will cover our experiences with The Palace, and our own little "Slice of Heaven".
On to Part 3 --->
<--- Back to Part 1
Terry Stewart (Terry-NZ or Tez)
16th December, 2022