From games like Maze War to Second Life, everything you need to know about virtual worlds
Learn about the evolution of virtual worlds: from the famous MUDs to the present day, with an in-depth look at the revolutionary Sigma PR project presented at Maker Faire Rome 2023.
After years of experiments and dreams, we have come to a time in history when entering and living in a virtual world a few hours of your day is as easy and accessible as drinking a glass of water, especially if you are a gaming enthusiast.
In this article we will trace the evolution of virtual worlds, going through the most famous of the MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games) until we arrive at a very interesting project presented this year during Maker Faire Rome 2023: Sigma, a controlled virtual gaming environment inspired by the iconic GTA V.
The big appeal of virtual worlds
To understand the real impact and potential of virtual worlds, one only needs to think of the investments in the sector by Big Tech like Facebook or famous developers like Epic Games. An analysis conducted by the Augmented Reality and Metaverse Observatory of the School of Management at Politecnico di Milano, states that today there are about 141 virtual worlds and that companies appear particularly inclined to invest in this sector: there are currently 308 active projects, financed by about 220 companies globally.
The creation of digital universes, where one becomes an avatar, still seems to retain great appeal for businesses and people, who show themselves ready to live digital experiences that can transform the way they experience the web, games and social dynamics. Among the most popular virtual worlds are, without a doubt, Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, Horizon Worlds, and Sandbox. The user base is particularly fragmented: about 43 percent of them use these worlds to play games, others, about 28 percent, to socialize.
A look at the evolution of virtual worlds
To understand the journey to these virtual worlds, it is essential to explore the origins of MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). In 1972-1973, first-person shooter games such as Maze War laid the foundation for online multiplayer games, allowing players to interact in a virtual environment. The evolution continued with the emergence of the first MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) in 1978, which combined elements of role-playing and social interaction in text-based worlds. As technology advanced, the first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), titled Ultima Online, was released in 1997, suddenly transporting players into a living, persistent, shared world.
With a quick jump in the timeline, we come to 2004 with World of Warcraft, which amplified this idea, engaging millions of players in a vast fantasy universe. The introduction of graphics and the evolution of MMOGs led to titles such as Star Wars Galaxies and, later, to experiments in virtual worlds such as Second Life in 2000, which granted users the possibility of living a life parallel to their own, communicating effectively with other users, a hugely important experiment from a sociological point of view and interrupted by an overload of advertising.
SIGMA PR, the first server inspired by GTA V
Sigma Pr is a role-play type game server based on the famous video game Grand Theft Auto V, published by Rockstar Games. This very interesting project, created by a team of young enthusiasts, was presented at Maker Faire Rome 2023 to great success. Leveraging Cfx.re.’s FiveM framework, Sigma has developed custom software distinguishing itself in the Italian gaming scene. Thanks to its solid infrastructure and smooth gameplay, Sigma has managed to win the following of a solid community of gamers.
Sigma: how does it work?
If in the course of your life you have ever played GTA V, you know perfectly well what kind of game environment to expect. At its heart is role-playing, an experience in which players embody unique characters within a virtual world. The way it works is very similar to traditional role-playing games in which participants, donning the role of their character, act out situations as they arise.
To begin, you will simply choose your appearance, clothes, name and background. Then, you will be called upon to choose your character’s job, deciding one way or another to side with the “good guys” or the “bad guys: you can be a policeman, a criminal, a paramedic, or a civilian. Once inside the game, you can have conversations, make negotiations, alliances, or even enter into conflict. Communication in Sigma is done through TeamSpeak 3 with the Salty Chat plugin, creating voice channels within the server. This voice proximity system makes conversations clearer and more realistic. A player’s voice will be more audible for those nearby and more distant for those far away, increasing immersion in the game experience.
A loyal community and the scalability of the project
Sigma currently has a small community on Discord. The community boasts about 3,341 unique visitors, with a peak of 136 online players, more than 600 players on the whitelist, and more than 2,800 logins to the game. Entry to the game on a GTA RP server requires thorough knowledge of the rules. Unlike other platforms that require an oral interview for entry, Sigma has automated the process by using a Discord bot that can ask questions independently and evaluate users’ responses. The decision to allow or deny access is based on the number of correct answers. Yet, in addition to the purely playful aspect, Sigma also represents an interesting educational tool that can be used, for example, in occupational safety training. It is customary for many companies to use virtual simulations, including those based on games such as this one, to train employees on occupational safety. These simulations allow workers to deal with hazardous situations in a controlled virtual environment, learning how to make quick decisions and deal effectively with emergencies, such as a traffic accident.
Sigma technology: a successful use of AI
Sigma takes advantage of artificial intelligence to make the game experience more vivid and realistic. NPCs (non-player characters) act realistically, reacting to players’ actions. For example, in the event of a fire, an NPC fire truck will move autonomously to put out the flames. Artificial intelligence is, however, also employed in managing whitelists, user reports, and monitoring server performance.
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