labyrinth: a proto-vrml browser

In early 1994, Tony Parisi and I prototyped the very first 3D browser for the World Wide Web. Labyrinth demonstrated that the Web could be more than just text and images - it could be objects, worlds - the metaverse.

I recently discovered a version of Labyrinth on an old website I've maintained since 1994. To my surprise and delight, it still works!

If you'd like to see what the very first steps into a 3D web looked like, you can. You'll need a PC running Windows 10.

One: Install Labyrinth

Right-click and download the ZIP file containing Labyrinth here.

Create a folder for Labyrinth. The best place to do this is within the "Program Files (x86)" directory, but anywhere will work.

Extract the .EXE file from inside the ZIP file, and put it into that folder.

Rename the file to "LABYRINTH.EXE"

NOTE: Windows Defender may complain about this .EXE - it's so old that it's not registered. It's not a virus - but we'll understand if you want to avoid installing it.

TWO: compatibility SETTINGS

Labyrinth was written for Windows 3.1 - but it can run on Windows 10, with the correct compatibilty settings. Right-click on the .EXE, select "Preferences" from the pop up menu, then select the 'Compatibility' tab.

From 'Run this program in compatibility mode for:' select "Windows 95"

Select the 'Reduced color mode' checkbox, then select '8-bit (256) color'

Select 'Disable fullscreen optimizations'

Select 'Run this program as an administrator'

Then click 'OK'


Double-click on the .EXE file.

You should see a dialog with basic program information. Click "OK"

And if all has worked as planned, you should now see the Labyrinth viewer.

If the viewing area is not black, your settings are not correct.

Four: load the cyberbanana

The original piece of 3D content is a model of a banana - the 'cyberbanana'.

Select the menu item "File >> Open URL", and in the dialog type the following URL

Click "OK"


If all has worked, you'll see the Cyberbanana rendered within Labyrinth. Congrats - you're now exploring the origins of the 3D web!

Use the crosshairs in the lower-right hand corner to navigate. Be warned: today's computers are hundreds of times faster than they were in 1995, so the navigation is very quick. If you lose site of the Cyberbanana, simply select "View >> Restore" from the menu.

If you'd like to create your own proto-VRML content, have a read through the original specification document here.


Big thanks to Tony Parisi, Servan Keondjian & Kate Seekings, Paul Strauss and Gavin Bell (Andresen), Peter Kennard & Owen Rowley, Brian Behlendorf, Rikk Carey - and all the other folks who helped bring VRML to life!