A Brief History of SkunkWks

My Personal History with AW

I had first heard of Alpha World, created by Worlds, Inc., back about the fall of 1995. However, I was on AOL at the time and although they had a connection to the Internet, their protocols were proprietary. I could download and install the AW browser, but it could not connect to the Alpha World server through AOL's gateway.

Due to a rather convoluted issue involving a license for an expensive and critical piece of software (a Verilog simulator), and the Windows NT protocol stack, I was stuck with AOL until I became motivated enough to pay a consultant to solve the software license issue. I dumped AOL and jumped over to CodeNET in the spring of 1997.

I had forgotten about Alpha World for a few months, but then I saw mention of it somewhere and went to check it out again. I downloaded the software, installed it, and logged on! It was about May of 1997 when I got my citizenship (free back in those days); my citizen number was (and still is) 171716. Alpha World had changed hands and was then Circle Of Fire Studios. The original world was known as AW, and there were a dozen or so other worlds as well.

I spent the next several years building, chatting, and exploring. But sometime in 1999 I became interested in creating objects. In early December, I made a large brass bell for a friend's world (my very first object), and a few weeks later, I made a pile of Christmas presents, which are still available for free at Objects d' AW (look for xmaspres13.zip and 13textures.zip in the holiday collection). I had a deep interest in creating sets of objects for building, which meant I need a world to try them, to see how they fit together. So at the start of 2000 Steller and MacB graciously let me try things out in one of their worlds. Useful, but I still needed a world of my own.

In 1999 I had gotten a DSL connection and some static IP addresses. Then in February of 2000 I bought a copy of Windows NT 4.0 Server—hot stuff! I became serious about getting my own world. I almost got a trial world at that time, but I thought I could not have a custom object path with a trial world. So on March 28 of 2000 I jumped in and bought SkunkWks, started hosting the world, and started hosting the object path.

In early 2001 with the advent of the 3.0 browser and world server, I started offering hosting services to others, but that is a different story....

The Early SkunkWks

When I started SkunkWks, I conceived of a closed world where I could experiment with objects, bots, and related technologies. The concept was to model a secret government laboratory in the Nevada desert. The above ground facilities resembling the typical ICBM site in Montana and the bulk of the secret lab to be located deep underground. This was all a tongue-in-cheek spoof of: the extreme secrecy associated with "black" government projects, people like Bob Lazar , hanger 18 at Area 51 , time travel weirdness, and a little bit of The X-Files thrown in.

The main level, which I called NV (for Nevada), was a rocky hill cut into four sections by dry ravines, which was set in the middle of a desolate plain, and surrounded by rugged gray mountains in the far distance (painted on the backdrop). The hill was alive with piñon pine and soapweed yucca, and the plain was scattered with saltbush. A muddy, spring-fed pond was tucked into a ravine toward the northwest near my virtual residence (the hex house), a castle was on top of a hill to the east, and the ranch house that was the entrance to the government facility was in the southwest corner. I wanted two main bots: a pair of laboratory scientists who had an unfortunate accident with a time machine and physically transformed into Tyrannosaurus rexes (Susie and Bob). Other bots would be M-16 toting guards living at the ranch house (behind razor wire).

The underground laboratory was located on a level I called MM (the Mole Man level), and located at -300 meters altitude. In keeping with Bob Lazar/hanger 18 sub-theme, I wanted a crash-landed alien spacecraft as well as a collection of aliens preserved in giant pickle jars. I also needed a nuclear reactor (to power the world, of course) with a fenced off area containing leaking drums of radioactive waste. And of course I needed a computer lab. The rest of the MM level would be the labs, with plenty of space for experiments (new objects).

Then, because I'm a bit of a prankster, I created a duplicate of the GZ portion of the main level up at +280 meters. This upper level I called OZ (as "We're not in Kansas any more, Toto."). The bulk of this area was a kind of attic where I displayed samples of the object sets I was working on.

All of this required a custom ground object: a flat land at 0.0 meters (NV), catacombs at -300 meters (MM), and more flat land at +280 meters (OZ).

Long shot, showing the Mole Man level of the original SkunkWks ground object.
The dark banding is due to the fact that this ground object was created for the 2.2 browser. I took this screen shot with the 3.x browser, which handles lighting calculations differently than the 2.x browser did. In the older browser the columns look like smooth arches, bright near the floor and blending to dark at the apex, to simulate downward directed lighting.
Overhead shot, showing the relative size of the columns next to a normal sized avatar.
This screen shot shows the size of the object. The columns are 22 meters across, the clear space between columns is 38 meters, and the apex of the ceiling is over 60 meters from the floor. This is a ground object, so it is essentially infinite in size.

At the moment, I don't have this ground object in SkunkWks. However, I may update it and put it back someday. In Bot Story there is reference to a secret laboratory hidden in SkunkWks; that would be this level.

I created terrain for SkunkWks using DEM2RWX to generate RWX terrain tiles from a custom heightfield file. The shape of the terrain was very similar to the current shape; of course, the world was smaller back then (a PS8XE, at ±20 cells). The southwest corner (near where the lake is now) was to be the location of a nondescript ranch-style home, out in the middle of nowhere, and surrounded by razor wire and armed guards (soldier bots). This was a "low profile" government installation, clearly hiding something of great value—an elevator (teleport) to the Mole Man level. I never did get my bots.

View to the north of GZ, from February 23, 2002.
This screen shot is what a visitor to SkunkWks would see upon landing at GZ, facing north. The build database was from February 23, 2002. The new SkunkWks does not have a castle wall (or a bunch of signs) in this area, although GZ is in the same place. Also, now a stream comes down out of the northwest and runs past GZ on the immediate left.

Rather than spend a lot of time creating a world for myself, I used SkunkWks to prototype terrain and ground objects for my world-owning friends.

In March of 2001, I increased SkunkWks' size to a PS16 (±25 cells) because I wanted the extra land. In March of 2002, I again increased SkunkWks' size, this time to a P-30 (±30 cells) because the PS series of worlds had been discontinued. Although at the time, I had no idea what I would do with the extra space.

The Modern SkunkWks

It was some time in 2002 when several things came together to inspire me to abandon the secret laboratory under the desert theme, and try to create a pretty world for people to visit. SkunkWks is to become a forested world of grasses and wildflowers in the dappled shade of giant trees, and populated by entertaining bots. It is also a place to show off objects and object sets for sale.

For more information, see Design.


I've had SkunkWks for over five years now. I may realize most of my vision for it at some point, but with all the remaining work, it won't happen in 2005.