3-D Web environments:
Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) & X3D

May 2005.

What is VRML?

VRML stands for Virtual Reality Modeling Language (or VR markup language). The language is a standard file format for representing 3-dimensional (3D) interactive vector graphics, designed particularly with the World Wide Web in mind. It is a text file format where, for example, vertices and edges for a 3D polygon can be specified, along with the surface color, image-mapped textures, shininess, and transparency.

VRML is a scene description language. Though VRML is a computer language, it is not a programming language. VRML files (for example, "x.wrl") are not compiled, but are simple ascii text files which can be parsed by a VRML interpreter. These intpreter programs (or parsers) are often called VRML browsers. If you have ever written HTML documents, then you know how convenient it is to be able to see the results of your work immediately on an HTML browser. The process is the same when authoring basic VRML scenes: you start writing code with an ascii text editor, save the file, and view the VRML scene (or world) with a VRML browser.

Since VRML code is interpreted, the visible results of the code may vary from one browser program to another. Furthermore, VRML is extensible, which means that browser developers, for example, can add new, non-standard functionality to the language, using standard components of the language. If a browser can parse the extensions to the standard VRML language which it encounters in a world file, then the new functionality described by the extensions will be interpreted for the user as that scene is rendered.

(definition by rawlson; May 9, 2005)


VRML has been around for a while.
The question is: is it easy enough for amatuers to design content?
Are there freeware development tools available?

Tony Parisi, co-creator of VRML, insists that the time for 3D on the Web has come --this time for real:
read article "time for 3D online" [CNET news]

It looks like another possibility is X3D. This description from the Web 3D Consortium:
"X3D is an Open Standards XML-enabled 3D file format to enable real-time communication of 3D data across all applications and network applications."
But X3D, as an XML tool, may be part of the XML hype: nice ideas, but not as accessible as the older standardard (i.e. everyone still uses HTML because it's easier and simpler--plus, it does what you want it to without having to do twice as much work to achieve the same effect.)



Adobe Atmosphere (proprietary 3D web-based enviroments, now discontinued):

One of the best examples of what you can do with Atmosphere is "Dark City"
by Ham on Rye Technologies. This one is really good because it has background sound, which adds tremendously to
the environment, and it has a lot of interesting details.

You can view this and other 3D environments at http://www.keltart.com/wrldthemes.htm

If the Atmosphere player is not automatically downloaded, try the Viewpoint Media Player

Navigation: You can use any combination of the mouse button (click and drag), the Shift/Ctrl/Alt keys,
and the arrow keys. Experiment with the combinations to figure out movement.

For background information on Adobe Atmosphere, read this article.

VRML and X3D viewers (plug-in applications for your web browser):

- The Blaxxun Contact viewer
blaxxun Contact 5.1 is a Web3D plug-in for Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator.
As of May 2005, blaxxun Contact is free for personal or non-profit use. (Later commercialization is planned
by this German company; this download is considered an evaluation copy.) [4.75 MB for .exe file: a valid email
address must be provided.]

Unfortunately, the texture and sound options of Adobe Atmosphere seem to have been much better than the VXML samples
I've seen. And personally, I find the navigation options of the Blaxxun viewer annoying. The ideal viewer would let you
set your own navigation controls, like any modern video game. It should not be that hard to allow for user controlled mappings....


- The BS Contact VRML/X3D viewer
BS= Bit Management Software, Germany. As of May 2005, 'BS Contact VRML/X3D 6.2' can be downloaded as test version without functional limitations.

- Oddessey -- a free 3D chat community for members of all ages. (uses Blaxxun Contact)

VRML samples:

Require a VRML player : e.g. Blaxxun Contact™ 5.1 or BS Contact™ 6.0)
{note: alot of old (1998-2000) sites recommend the Cosmo player...}

The basic "castle" - [.wrl file] This is a basic example of VRML file. 1998, VRML 97. From VRML Primer and Tutorial
More basic samples can be found here. These samples generally VRML 2.0, made in 1996/1997.

BMW - [.wrl file, uses VRML 2.0] This is an example of using VRML to show an item as a manipulatable 3D object.
click to enlarge screenshot

French House
click to enlarge screenshot




Other old VRML resources


* There may be interaction problems between the Viewpoint Media Player and the "Adobe Atmosphere 3D Gallery" feature.
If there appear to be problems, you can try installing the latest version of Adobe's PDF viewer (though I can't recommended this, as the version 7.0 PDF viewer now comes with a rediculous amount of restrictions.)