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Raph Koster's Areae finally pulls back the wraps

Raph Koster's Areae finally gives some details on what it's doing.

For what has seemed like nearly an eternity, online game god Raph Koster has been mum about Areae, the company he formed after leaving his previous job as chief creative officer at EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies publisher, Sony Online Entertainment.

At conference after conference, Koster has spoken, representing Areae, but really never revealing even the slimmest of morsels, beyond an initial statement that the company was gong to "reinvent virtual worlds," about what the San Diego startup was up to.

On Tuesday, however, that finally changed when Areae unveiled some details about its product, Metaplace, at the TechCrunch 40 conference in San Francisco.

For those of us that weren't able to attend, we were left to sitting in front of a computer, hitting refresh on a browser, waiting for the Metaplace Web site to be updated to reflect the product's details.

In my case, that also meant IMing with my colleague, Rafe Needleman, who is at the conference, and who is sending me details as they emerge.

"We are re-inventing virtual worlds that stop working like AOL," Koster said, "and start working the way the Web does....You can build a massive multiplayer game in minutes there are style sheets to make building easier.

Koster said that Metaplace would allow users to employ Web 2.0 tools like tags, wikis and forums in the pursuit of quickly and easily making usable, fun virtual worlds.

"Virtual worlds have enormous potential," Koster said, "but they are obsolete, built on 20-year-old technology. We don't know what you'll do with [this], but that's the power of this new medium and that's why we're so excited."

And then he walked off the stage.

So, what we know is that Metaplace is likely some sort of virtual world construction set, that will allow people to build online games "from Tetris up to role-playing games," though without Koster telling us exactly what it is, we're still only guessing.

If that's what it is, it's not the first to come along. The Multiverse Network has already staked out a pretty impressive position in that field.

But with Koster behind the wheel, Areae is certainly going to have to be taken seriously.

On its Web site, which is now live, it says, "Build a virtual apartment and put it on your website. Work with friends to make a huge MMORPG. Share your puzzle game with friends. We have a vision: to let you build anything, and play everything, from anywhere. Eventually, anyway. We have to finish first."

It also says, "Metaplace is a next-generation virtual worlds platform designed to work the way the Web does. Instead of giant custom clients and huge downloads, Metaplace lets you play the same game on any platform that reads our open client standard. We supply a suite of tools so you can make worlds, and we host servers for you so that anyone can connect and play. And the client could be anywhere on the Web."

Now if only they would tell us what's really going on.