Worlds Inc. Worlds Chat and Time Warner's The Palace: Life in Two Graphical Chat Environments from 1995-2002 (Part 3)
This is Part Three of a multi-part article. If you haven't already, you may wish to read Part One and Two first.
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<---Back to Part 2
The Palace Experience (October 1997 to June 2002)
(i) The Palace
Unlike World's Chat, The Palace was a 2-D graphical chat environment rather than a 3-D one. Avatars were displayed on a graphic representing a "room". These rooms could be linked together by hot spots, or people could go from room to room by clicking on a list. Avatars could wear props and costumes, and text was shown within a speech bubble. Avatars could move by simply clicking to where you wanted your avatar to be positioned. Originally there were four classes of user, a guest (someone using an unregistered instance of the software, who was simply given a guest number), a member (someone who had paid for the software), Wizards who had all sorts of disciplinary and authoring powers, and the administrator or owner.
Image 1. "The Mansion": The Original Palace
This above is just a very brief overview. For those interested in the full history and features, check out https://www.wikiwand.com/en/The_Palace_(computer_program). The link gives a good summary although you have to contend with annoying embedded ads.
The Palace had originated in a Macintosh environment. By the time I tried it, it had been ported to Windows.
(ii) My own Palace Server
By late 1997, The Palace had been around for a couple of years. Some people in Worlds Chat had tried it and some had moved over to it. The few times I tried it were not good experiences, primarily because of Internet lag. Mind you at that time The Palace was just ONE Palace, i.e. ONE server, so overload was often an issue.
Sometime in 1997 the folks running palace.com decided to release a server edition of The Palace. This grabbed my attention as I wanted to incorporate a chat environment into my distance teaching, which was increasingly using the Internet. However, the thought of facilitating a general Internet chat community of regulars and visitors was also enticing. This could be a very creative endeavour!
Image 2. Palace Server properties panel in a Windows NT Environment
I obtained a Palace server, ran it on a 486-DX66, 16MB Windows NT Machine with a static IP address and away I went! I used the Palace Server both for education (work) and socialising (play). I’ll discuss the educational usage in a later section. Here is the social use I made of it.
(iii) Slice of Heaven
Annette and I called our Palace “A Slice of Heaven”. New Zealand is sometimes referred to by Kiwis as "a slice of heaven” and the term is part of the New Zealand vernacular. In fact, a New Zealand song exists called “Slice of Heaven” sung by Dave Dobbin. This song first appeared in a 1980s movie called “Footrot Flats: A dog’s tale”. Footrot Flats was a beloved New Zealand cartoon strip, featuring a small border collie as the main character who was just called “dog”. I made an avatar of “dog” and wore this whenever I was in “Slice of Heaven” hence tying the name “Slice of Heaven” to my avatar and enhancing the New Zealand flavour of the place. Incidentally, my later Worlds Chat avatar was also "dog".
The landing room showed a photo of “The Chateau”, a Edwardian-style tourist hotel situated in a dramatic setting on the slopes of one of our major volcanoes, Mt Ruapehu. This image also harked back to the “The Mansion” which was the landing page of the original Palace. You could enter The Chateau and wander through a variety of elegant, tasteful rooms including one with a slide-show on New Zealand life.
Image 2. The Slice of Heaven landing room
Image 3. The Conference Room with a clickable slide show of New Zealand scenes
Image 4. A Herb Garden at the back
Expanding on the initial setting, we eventually built up a virtual tour where room backgrounds showed the landscapes of New Zealand. Visitors could navigate to a map, with clickable points, or simply wander logically through one part of the country to the other by themselves or while chatting with others. There was even a souvenir store!
Image 5. North Island Tour Links
Image 6. Cattle Muster up North
Image 7. Albatross at Taieri heads
Image 8. A waterfall in the Catlins
(iv) The "Slice" Community
When we opened our Palace, we brought over many of our circle of friends from Worlds Chat. More people joined as word got around. We also linked ourselves to the main Palace indexes and lists. At its height, we would typically get around 20-30 people visiting a day, with about 5-10 “regulars” playing somewhere in the chateau in the evening, New Zealand time.
Image 9. A typical evening meet-up in the biker bar at Slice of Heaven
Parties were a feature of Palace life. For example, one was a masquerade ball. Everyone would wear themed avatars and call themselves different names. There was a competition to guess who was who. At the end of the night, all was revealed as we changed into our usual costumes and names. Other parties include one to celebrate the NZ Spring (“Hello to Spring”), where we all wore avatars of our baby photos and had to guess who the person was. We also joined a Millennium watch party on Dec 31st 1999, where our place was linked to others and users followed the links to celebrate New Year, 2000 in the appropriate time zone. New Zealand being first to see the sun, meant our Palace was first up of course. Luckily there was no Y2K bug to switch the lights off! There were many other parties celebrating Xmas, Halloween, birthdays and other occasions.
There was even a real-life weekend get-together of some regulars held in Dunedin, South Island in early 2000.
Image 10 - Xmas party on the lawn
Image 11 - Halloween party outside the Chateau, 3st October 1998
Image 12 - A birthday party in the ballroom
Annette and I supported these activities with a message board, a mailing list and special event web pages where necessary. The message board was shut down eventually due to uncontrolled spam, but even at the time of writing we still host its closing notice (shown also in image 16) .
Image 13. An example of a webpage created for a Slice of Heaven event
(v) Creating Wizards to help out
In November 1998, as the traffic increased and a community had become established, we gave many of our trusted regulars (15 or so) “Wizard” powers. This meant they could enforce rules when Annette and I were not about, and we also allowed them to build their own small domains within our palace. This gave them a personal stake in Slice of Heaven and helped with a sense of ownership. I communicated with these Slice wizards using a mailing list. There was some controversy, when one of the wizards wanted to create a BDSM (Bondage and sadomasochism) space in Slice of Heaven. I think I allowed this but insisted that it was a secret room, never to be linked from anywhere or made obvious in any way. It certainly didn’t fit the theme of our palace. I think that room was only ever used for private sessions by the creator *grin*. As with any large group of people, there were some disagreements and “snark” amongst some of the wizards, but it was never serious and usually was sorted out without too much drama.
Image 14. DJO's Den. A room created and managed by one of our "wizards".
(vi) A Worlds Chat reunion (in a Palace!)
Once we had established Slice of Heaven we stopped using Worlds Chat Gold. Many other WC regulars we knew had also stopped using it and had gone to other chat programs like The Palace or had disappeared entirely. However, around November 1998, some of us (from many countries) who had been ex-Worlds Chat users formed a global committee to organize, publicize and attend a World’s Chat reunion party! We held this at the Summertree Palace, owned by a Worlds Chat-regular based in the U.S. called Katt. Rooms were created by using screen grabs of the Worlds Chat space station, so we could all meet and reminisce about our time there. Avatars were the same as those provided in the old WC.
Note that the reunion was not held in Worlds Chat but in a Palace! This reflects the drift away from Worlds Chat by many of the WC veterans.
The reunion was a great success! We celebrated an older chat space which we all used to love, by meeting in a newer one, which we also loved (-:
Image 15 - Worlds Chat Reunion Notice.
(vii) The End
All good things must come to an end. Our Place hummed along just fine, but other interests and commitments were demanding our attention. We wanted to exit on a high, so on June 7th, 2002 we had a “Slice” closing down party. It was well-attended. The last beers were poured, time was called and the server switched off at midnight that date. Our chat palace had been going for 6 years. It had been a time of creativity, fun and friendship. It was now time to put it to rest.
Image 16. Final closing message on the message board
In the final part of this article (Part 4), I'll discuss the educational use I made of Palace Chat.
---> On to Part 4
<--- Back to Part 2
<--- Back to the beginning (Part 1)
Terry Stewart (Terry-NZ or Tez)
17th December, 2022
Footnote: Our closing-down party was supposed to be the end, but actually it wasn't. One of the regulars, Lori ( with a chat name of Coz) really, really wanted to keep Slice of Heaven going. With our permission she moved the whole palace onto a rented server, which she paid for herself. Lori didn’t want to do any authoring, she just wanted to keep it online. It was a kind gesture and for a number of years, Slice of Heaven sat on the Palace Listings, a viable place you could still visit. However, as Annette and I, and many other usual regulars seldom visited, there was no community as such. It became a ghost palace, lonely and unused. I’m not sure when it went off-line, but sometime between 2005 and now. The server rental wasn't renewed and it ceased to exist.