I set out to evaluate 3DML for use as a 3D mapping tool for my tabletop games.

A screenshot of my Ordos Hall spot

Back in early 2000, I stumbled upon 3DML and was impressed at how easy it was to use to create 3D content on the Web. I built some spots based on the environments in the campaigns I was running at the time (Mage: the Sorcerers Crusade and Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition).

Later, when scripting was added as a feature of 3DML, I wrote a script that allowed me to toggle the camera from first person to top-down—perfect for viewing 3D maps.

What is 3DML?

3DML stands for three-dimensional markup language. The intent behind the language is to make 3D content creation on the Web as easy as writing HTML.

As surprisingly little code as what follows will be rendered as a basic 3D scene, called a “spot”.

           <blockset href="http://blocksets.flatland.com/flatsets/basic.bset" />
           <map dimensions="(5,5,1)" style="single" />
           <entrance location="(3,3,1)" name="default" angle="0.0" />
           <level number="1">

How do you view 3DML content?

Currently, the only way to view 3DML content is to use a standalone browser called Flatland Rover; the browser plugins of the same name only work with relatively archaic browser and operating system combinations.

A screenshot of Decca canals spot

Who created 3DML?

3DML was created by Michael Powers, who co-developed Flatland Rover with Philip Stevens. Michael, Philip, if you have future plans for 3DML or Flatland Rover, let me know.

What is the status of 3DML?

Development of Flatland Rover ceased in 2005. Most newer systems cannot easily run the older software (Mac OS X), plugin architecture has changed (in IE), and entirely new browsers are unsupported (Chrome, Firefox).

Much 3DML content on the Web can no longer be viewed because model dependencies (“blocksets”) originally hosted by Flatland.com have not been maintained.

And current and emerging 3D web technologies such as WebGL do not require special plugins or standalone browsers for viewing content.

A screenshot of a dungeon spot


The benefits of current 3D web technologies surpass the ease-of-use of 3DML in its current state. Also, I think I would benefit more from learning a modern toolset such as Blender than use what sadly appears to be an abandoned technology.

I have fond memories of the builder community and the 3DML spots we created. I would love to see its revival in the future.

I will continue to keep my 3DML reference materials, blocksets, and spots available.

Reference materials