Starbright World (1994)

Starbright World (1994-1997) was a pioneering 3-D interactive virtual online avatar world, one of the first online multi-user world and definitely the first one in which seriously ill children in hospitals all over the United States could meet via a broadband network to play, discuss their concerns via text chat, audio or video conferencing, and forget the boredom and pain of hospital routine. Commissioned by the Starbright Foundation, I led a team of programmers and graphic artists at Worlds, Inc. to create the virtual world in collaboration with then Starbright chairman, the filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Full Description

Starbright World ran on Pentium 90 Windows PCs sponsored by Intel - at that time the fastest PC processors in the world. Sprint and UB Networks sponsored a broadband connection for Starbright World that was only accessible for the participating hospitals, in order to give the children a secure, protected connection to which no outsiders had access.

The PCs were located in playrooms in childrens hospitals, to encourage children to get out of their hospital beds and come into the playrooms where they would have contact with other children. Starbright World was visible in the display of the PC monitor. Each instance of Starbright World was assigned an avatar, so all children sitting at a single PC would be represented by that avatar in Starbright World. Children used the mouse or keyboard cursor keys to navigate through the virtual world, and to communicate with other children via text chat. There was also a video conferencing option - at that time before DSL a rarity, as few people had more than a dial-up or ISDN connection to the Internet.

Steven Spielberg requested an avatar in the form of ET, and the possibility of meeting him in Starbright World was a huge draw for the children!

There were several worlds for the children: - Tropical World, with a desert oasis - Sky World, where the children could fly, and also the Game World cloud that led to selected CD-ROM games - Cave World, with a spooky maze and strange creatures - BYOZ or Build Your Own Zone, using Active Worlds technology that allowed children to build their own structures with building blocks and other elements. The racetrack that we used for one online demo with ex-General Schwarzkopf was built by the children.

Until 1997 Starbright World ran on a closed broadband network between these childrens hospitals: - Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford in Palo Alto, California - Children's Hospital of Boston - Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh - Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta - Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

1996 Awards GLOBAL INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE (GII) AWARDS PROGRAM for extraordinary achievement on the Internet and information highway (formerly known as NII Awards) awarded Starbright World prizes in the following categories: - Winner of Next Generation Award, Finalist in Childrens category, Semi-finalist in Telecollaboration category ASAHI SHIMBUN Digital Entertainment Award SMITHSONIAN / COMPUTER WORLD Finalist in the Medicine category.

1995 Awards: CYBEREDGE Virtual Reality Product of the Year Award in the "Applications" category.

Work metadata

  • Year Created: 1994
  • Submitted to ArtBase: Tuesday Oct 13th, 2015
  • Original Url:
  • Work Credits:
    • Tamiko Thiel, Producer and creative director
    • Steven Spielberg, godfather
    • David Marvit, Executive Producer
    • Kevin Ugarte, Program Manager; Network implementation and support
    • Parker Moore, Art Direction and World Design
    • Mike Sivak, Avatar Design and User Interface
    • Wolf Schmidt, Sound Design
    • Keith Rosema, Lead Programmer (Phase 1) and Client Design
    • Ed Nanale, Lead Programmer (Phase 2)
    • Michael Spencer, Programmer
    • Susan Prosser, Network implementation and support
    • John Reeve, Network implementation and support
  • Collective: Worlds, Inc.
Want to see more?
Take full advantage of the ArtBase by Becoming a Member
Artist Statement

In 1994 the technology for online interactive 3d virtual avatar worlds, such as became popular decades later with Second Life, had just become technically possible on PCs. I was hired by Worlds, Inc. a pioneering company in this medium that had developed the first 3-D "chat" environment, in the fall of 1994 to be producer and creative director of Starbright World, a project proposed by Starbright Foundation Chairman Steven Spielberg.

The Starbright Foundation drew its board members from the Hollywood film world, the high tech world (Intel, Sprint, UB Networks), and the medical world to utilize computer gaming technology to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children. Spielberg heard of Worlds Inc.'s technology, and suggested using it to create a virtual world where children could escape the confines of their hospital beds to meet and play with each other online. I wrote and presented to the Foundation a proposal that became the core concept paper behind Starbright World.At Worlds, Inc. we then developed the initial concept for Starbright World in discussions with doctors and child psychologists at participating childrens hospitals, and in close collaboration with Spielberg.

Seriously ill children are often dependent on technology and machines; they cannot leave their rooms to run and play outside. But just as Toulouse-Lautrec and Frida Kahlo used fantasy and art to escape the confines of their illnesses, we hoped to provide a world in which children could regain a sense of bodily freedom, and which they could also shape to be their own. We created fantasy landscapes filled with animals, magic portals and places to explore, as well as the Build Your Own Zone (BYOZ) in which kids could use blocks and basic objects to create their own environments.

This 3D version of Starbright World ran at several children’s hospitals in the USA between 1995-1997, but during that time the interactive 3D technology remained very unstable. Additionally, as I recommended in my concept study, the Starbright Foundation wanted to go beyond a simple playground concept to develop a true online community, but this meant the children needed access to the system at home as well as in hospitals.

These two considerations led Starbright in 1997 to replace the 3D version of Starbright World with a multimedia website that was more stable and accessible for an average family. It was the right decision for the needs of the children, but it meant the end of a pioneering experiment in online 3D community.


This artwork has no comments. You should add one!
Leave a Comment