Author notes: - In 2013, I had been conducting heavy research into WorldsAway in an attempt to make sure I could match my memories with actual facts. During this time, I came across a website that mentioned somebody named Mika ‘Lumi’ Tuomola had created “avatar/game world designs” for WorldsAway (ICL-Fujitsu 2000).
I’d never heard of this before and my curiosity peaked. I later got in touch with Mika and we had a nice email exchange over a three day period where he was forthcoming with a lot of interesting information I’d never heard before regarding a project named “WorldsAway Europe - The Machine Age”.
I’d always meant to follow up with him to gain a little more insight into things, but sadly, Mika ‘Lumi’ Tuomola passed away in 2016 in Milan, Italy.
Mika had given me permission to share the files and information he shared with me in 2013, however as he is no longer around to ask more questions to, I am presenting this interview in a different format than usual. I’m sharing my email correspondence with Mika, interspersed with files that he sent me.
I definitely recommend reading the files as they fill in a lot of blanks to the story regarding Fujitsu, ICL and WorldsAway getting ready to embark on an adventure together. I have some more information regarding this which I will share at a later date once I’ve been given permission, so check this interview again in the future to see that.
Rest in peace Mika.
Stuart Cass - 6 Nov 2013, 10:19 to mika.tuomola
Are you the same Mika Tuomola who produced avatar/game world designs for
Fujitsu's WorldsAway product? I found some information on this site that
suggests that might be so:
If so I am interested in hearing about what work you did on the product,
I'm currently researching/documenting the place and would love to hear
your contribution to the place and make sure everyone else gets to know
about it too.
Tuomola Mika - 7 Nov 2013, 06:59 to me
Yes, I am the Mika. ;-) Can you please brief me a bit about your own affiliation and where and towards what purposes you are doing your research?
The designs we created for "WorldsAway Europe - The Machine Age" got never actually used in the final product (as ICL-Fujitsu sold the company and it became independent VZones).
The sketch designs of myself and comic book artist Christer Nuutinen were submitted to the company among my 50 page research report (please see the Contents attached), which I may be able to share now, since time has passed since 1998…
At the time, we (the Coronet Interactive company) were just ordered to do the background research for a larger scale project proposal in order to build up a European operated site, in which I suggested to use Commedia dell'Arte (CdA) as a design metaphor, as the WorldsAway technology itself was interactive, very 2D (as a CdA platform) and masked social performance (like CdA).
You, of course, know that the WorldsAway application itself was based on the first avatar world 'Habitat' and purchased then 1992 from LucasArts and Entertainment. There's a good article about Lucasfilm Game's first steps in the cyberspace (and many notions in it inspired me to look at the improvisation rule bases, like CdA, when I started my work on 'WorldsAway'):
Morningstar, Chip & Farmer, F. Randall: "The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat" in Cyberspace: First Steps (Michael Benedikt, ed.). MIT Press 1991.
My own CdA article on the 'WorldsAway' artistic and design research was published by Digital Creativity in 1999 (much shortened from by entire research report):
Tuomola, Mika: "Drama in the Digital Domain - Commedia dell'Arte, Characterisation, Collaboration and Computers" in Digital Creativity Journal Vol 10 No 3. Swets & Zeitlinger 1999.
The design parameters introduced in the article have later been successfully applied also, for example, by Alex Mayhew's Zero-Game Studio in Interactive Institute, the Avatar Body Collision performance group and in research (mainly in Virtual Worlds and distant performance classes in Cambridge, UK, and Riksteatern, Sweden, as well in our studio, of course, e.g. by Leena Saarinen in "Comedy Machine : interactive comedy as rule-based genre" and our 'Accidental Lovers' production):
& Ursu, Marian F; Thomas, Maureen; Kegel, Ian C; Williams, Doug; Tuomola, Mika Lumi; Lindstedt, Inger; Wright, Terence; Leurdijk, Andra; Zsombori, Vilmos; Sussner, Julia; Myrestam, Ulf; Hall, Nina: Interactive TV Narratives: Opportunities, Progress and Challenges. Accociation for Computing Machinery (ACM) Transactions on Multimedia Computing, Communications and Applications
(TOMCCAP) Special Issue on Interactive Digital Television Vol 4 No 4. ACM Press 2008.
I still pursue the investigation of CdA as an interactive storytelling method (among e.g. Topeng and Noh theatre) in my teaching and research.
But more later, this should suffice for a start of our exchanges. :-) Now I conclude with one of my favorite quotes by Mihail Baktin, referred to in my article:
"The primitive notion, usually developed among normative circles, of some linear development forward will be done away with. It will be found out that any truly relevant step forward is always accompanied with returning to primeval beginning, or more correctly, with renewal of the beginning. It is possible to move forward only by recollection, not by oblivion." - Mikhail Baktin
So true, specially in the investigation of digital media, too often developed blind-sightedly forward without recollection, and thus leading to very short-term successes....
Best, Mika Lumi
PS. Interestingly, Commedia dell'Arte has also been used in the study of political systems, e.g. in "Political Organizations and Commedia Dell'Arte" by Barbara Czarniawska-Joerges & Bengt Jacobsson: http://oss.sagepub.com/content/16/3/375.abstract
Thank you for the very in depth email you sent! It's interesting to hear about this as until recently I had never even known about this collaboration between ICL/Fujitsu and bringing WorldsAway to Europe. Did ICL/Fujitsu approach the Coronet Interactive company directly with the aim to expand into Europe? Also the name "WorldsAway Europe - The Machine Age" sounds very steampunk to me, was that the kind of direction you were going in? It sounds like it never got beyond the planning stage which is a shame.
It's actually very interesting to think of CdA being used as an inspiration for your design methodology. It's similar to how it worked in the early days of the Dreamscape world with the mythical Oracles, the somewhat improvised performances, etc.
I'd love to see that report if you felt comfortable in sharing it, the sketch designs interest me greatly.
I actually work for VZones myself right now, I work there as a Systems Administrator but I am also a long time member since 1996 (I will send you a brief email from my vzones.com address just to authenticate this). I'm also a self styled historian of the place. I recently decided that due to the technologies advanced age and things being lost/forgotten that I should record all of these memories and preserve them for future generations.
I aim to interview people who worked on the product/were affiliated with it and share these interviews on my website along with detailed write ups regarding each year of its history. I want to share exclusive images, video/audio and other items too so it's a fully comprehensive piece of work anybody can use for enjoyment or research material. I'll only share what people let me though and full credit will be given so if you have anything you can share you won't need to worry about that.
Your quote by Baktin is very apt :) We are living in an age where virtual reality isn't necessarily what we thought it would be in the 1990's but the medium continues to evolve. With the advent of Second Life and MMORPG's, I don't want people to forget where the roots of this all started. Even though it began with Habitat, I feel WorldsAway is an important part of that history and it's one that has been overlooked by a lot of people. My aim is to change that :)
Author notes: - Mika CC’ed in Heikki Leskinen, Scott Moore and Hunter Lee Brown on this following email exchange. I have redacted their email addresses for privacy reasons, but left the contents of Mika’s email unchanged.
Tuomola Mika - 8 Nov 2013, 05:18 to hunter, Scott, heikki, me
(FYI, Heikki, Scott & Hunter - a long time no see! Nice music still coming up, H!)
I can't remember for sure how the deal started back then (Heikki Leskinen in Cc was our company CEO, while I was the artistic director). I believe it was the ICL-Fujitsu's technology-director, named also Heikki… something, who made the order first to Coronet Interactive.
Yes, I think the direction we were planning to do was "steampunky" (from the old contiment :-)), as you can see from Christer's images in the attached research report.
Yes, the Oracles (as kind of Masters of Ceremonies) were also an inspiration to me back then. By the way, my "Oracle" and major source of information in the San Jose WorldsAway studios, when I was doing this research, was the worlds manager (?) Scott Moore (in Cc) and he gave me the most significant information considering the WorldsAway product back then in 1997-8. Did you know each other? Also, we had a lot of exchanges with the systems-developer (?) Hunter Brown (also in Cc), should you wish to interview them, when doing your History of WorldsAway.
I really do embrace your initiative, Stuart, and wish to see the history web site up soon. Please keep me/us updated! By the way, may be you could start by updating the rather short Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WorldsAway
You are right that the current virtual worlds have a lot to learn from the old ones, as Jessica Mulligan quite brutally puts it in her Biting the Hand column 2013 http://www.skotos.net/articles/bth.html:
By the way, late 2004, we had a wonderful lecture and WS by Jessie in our Games & Storytelling course: http://fullhouse.uiah.fi/gamesandstorytelling/Jessica_Mulligan.htmla>, while she was participating the Media Lab Helsinki 10 Years celebrations - well, next year we are 20 years and time keeps flying by…
Best of everything,
PS. If you use passages from the Digital Creativity article or this report, please refer to me as Mika 'Lumi' Tuomola, as my avatar/player 'Lumi' has also become my sort of artist name that is often used in my other publications nowadays as well.
Mika 'Lumi' Tuomola, Director
Crucible Studio - 'Storytelling New Media'
Media Lab Helsinki, Department of Media
Aalto University ARTS (School of Arts, Design and Architecture)
PO Box 31000, FI-00076 Aalto, Finland
Visiting address: Room 334, Hämeentie 135 C, 00560 Helsinki
As mentioned earlier, Mika wrote an entire research report and you can view it here. It’s actually 45 pages, with another 55 pages included that contain images and chat transcripts from the Dreamscape in 1998.
Stuart Cass - 8 Nov 2013, 08:36 to Tuomola, hunter, Scott, heikki
Thanks for the research report! I'm still going through it now but this is very interesting indeed and I'd certainly love to use some excerpts from this on my site (with your permission of course). I just wish this steampunk idea had panned out as it's something I do enjoy. In recent times one of our most talented member artists was actually planning to do something much like what you describe in your research report. He had drawn a bunch of new artwork and was developing an entirely new area with a storyline of its own.
Also thanks for CC'ing Scott and Hunter in. I've actually spoken to Scott a few times over the years (most recently the other day) but I've wanted to pick his brains for a while now about all this anyway and I actually emailed Hunter the other day too. It is a small world indeed.
I will definitely keep you posted as to the progress of the site. It's going to take some time as I'm still reaching out to people and seeing who is interested in talking at the moment and I'm gathering as much WA related information as I can find too (press releases, info from websites, screenshots, scans, memos, e-mails, files, videos... the list goes on). I actually edited some of the Wikipedia page for WorldsAway a couple of years back as there were some factual inaccuracies. There still are a couple of things that need tweaking on there but I never got around to it. I wrote up everything that needs changing on the talk page though as it happens.
I'll be in touch soon :)
Stuart Cass - 8 Nov 2013, 08:49 to Tuomola
Oh and sorry to send yet another email but I just stumbled across this in your references!
"Knowles, Sheryl (1998). The Ten Commandments of Creating Art for WorldsAway Worlds. Unpublished, available from USFujitsu/ICL as a training material for the WorldsAway 2.x world builders."
Would you still happen to have a copy of this at all? When the technology was licensed to VZones none of the existing documentation was transferred over so something like this would be a goldmine if you had this somewhere. Any training material would be amazing but I'm fairly sure after the WorldsAway group had been sold off that this sort of thing would have been disposed of. It is a shame.
Also Trashka is still around in the Dreamscape! I don't remember Lady J but Trashka eventually went on to become an Acolyte, then an Oracle and eventually a World Manager. She lurks around as a member now and nobody really sees her but she does still pop in. We do offer a free two week trial if you were so inclined that you wanted to drop her an ESP mail for old times
Tuomola Mika - 8 Nov 2013, 09:40 to me
Sorry, Sheryl's documents were only available for reading in the San Jose studio - I hope you can reach her somehow as well… And say hello from me or even put us in touch.
How nice to hear about Trashka being still online - how about Crydias the Golden Knight? I found this old conversation about "Smilph Unselfishness" with her (I'm "Lumi", of course). I've recorded this as a meeting about the legend and performance I actually created with a bunch of people (we arranged an alien visitation that you can read about in the dialogue). Sorry that I cannot find more material about this, as it was just an attachment in a research report about my past work on virtual worlds).
So, yes, I must consider using the free 2 week trial and see, whom I can still find around...
I also include a couple of sketches by Christer Nuutinen.
Yes, you are of course welcome to use the material I've sent you, as you just remember to reference the source (Coronet Interactive Ltd.: Christer Nuutinen on the new images and my article/report with my name Mika 'Lumi' Tuomola).
Wishing you continued inspiration!
Yours, Mika Lumi
Here is the chat transcript with Crydias - Golden Knight from 1999 that Mika mentions in his message.