Saturday, December 04, 2004

Croquet: Alan Kay's Next Big Thing

A first look at Croquet from Maxwell Borders:
"During a meal...I got the story of how Julian [Lombardi] had met up with so many other stars that formed the Croquet constellation: Alan Kay – an ex-Xerox PARC genius who’d developed the familiar “windowing” interface (GUI); 3D games and graphics wizard David Smith; David P. Reed, father of Reed’s Law (a scaling law for groupforming network architectures); Andreas Raab, a 3D prodigy and Squeak developer; and Mark P. McCahill, the guy who coined the phrase “surfing the Net,” among other things. By all appearances, Julian had gotten mixed up with the Dream Team of computer geeks. All that was left was for me to see what they had created.

We sat down before our respective laptops – I on my PC, he on his Mac, and we began to explore the environments of Croquet together. At first, the terrain was simple. A blue sky with clouds floating overhead. In this gridlike, 3D landscape, there were objects of various sizes placed in the foreground and back, all seemingly subject to the laws of perspective.

“I designed this area to look like the Holodeck,” he said. “This lets the user know he’s at a starting place.” Julian’s avatar – a white rabbit – approached, and Julian’s voice could be heard from one of the computer’s speakers.

“Hear my voice? That’s voice-over IP.”

He took me to one of the objects in the landscape. It looked to be a floating window or picture.

“Watch this,” said Julian and a beam of light shot from his avatar to land on the picture-window, representing his interaction with it. He moved the window back and forth as if it were spinning on an invisible axis. Then, on his computer, he gave it a spin and it turned. As I got closer to the picture-window, on my computer, I could see the image being presented – pillars of some classical civilization overgrown by vines.

“Why don’t you give it a try?” said Julian.

From my PC, I clicked on the window and suddenly I controlled it. I moved it as Julian had from his machine – pushing it from the left – forward then back – and the picture-window changed proportions as I moved it. Then something quite profound happened: Julian’s avatar stopped my movement. You could see the window jump slightly as we wrestled to gain control of the thing.

“What you are seeing now is at the essence of Croquet,”"

And here's a screenshot:

The caption reads...
As a result of the game's exposure in a Croquet space, it is possible for two or more people to collaboratively use an application over the network - even though the application was not written to support online interactivity. Its network awareness is a feature imparted to the application because of its exposure within a collabrative Croquet space.