An interesting new piece of software developed by Adobe. It allows 3D environments to be designed and implemented on the web so that users can explore them and chat with other users while doing so.
Using the Atmosphere Builder, the designer can create a 3D world quickly and easily. The builder resembles a Quake level editor but vastly simplified and with most of the useful tools (i.e. join, carve) missing. The world designer can quickly create an environment, light it with luminous faces and texture the walls with GIFs, JPEGs or PNGs. He then publishes the the world file, and uploads it to a website, along with the associated graphics files.
A user accesses the world file through the web, and the geometry and light maps of the world are downloaded to his computer. Then, the Atmosphere Browser (or plug-in) puts the user into the downloaded world, giving him an avatar that he has already selected. Once the geometry is defined, textures are loaded and placed while the user is walking around.
The whole thing is a bit like VRML, the mostly-defunct language used to create 3D worlds, invented sometime in the mid 1990's. VRML failed because 1) computers at the time were too slow, and 2) it was kind of silly. With today's technology the first problem has been surpassed, (though the Atmosphere Beta is still very choppy even on a Pentium 3), but there still remains the second problem. Why do we need 3D environments for chatting?
Some of the users I talked to in the Adobe environment noted that it was basically "an IRC client on the bottom, with a Quake game above... only without the weapons." They then went on to bitch at length about the lack of weapons. At least MMORPGs have things to do in the virtual world. Thus far, Atmosphere only lets you chat, or click links to external websites or other worlds. Whether this technology will catch on remains to be seen.