When writing, it sometimes helps to build a diorama of a setting. You can then place characters and examine key points from different perspectives. You can even act out the entire scene. Yes, it sounds like playing with dolls, and it certainly is... but it is a huge help to visualize an event so that you can really describe it in your writing. The problem is, a diorama can be time-consuming and sometimes even expensive to set up... and I certainly don't have much space in my home for one.
What I need is a virtual diorama. For the current project, I wish for a house with several rooms, a back yard, a small section of street, and a small piece of forested wilderness(all can be separate)... so I need a program that's fairly flexible.
First thought was to set up a local OpenSim server, but I ran into a lot of difficulty getting it running and getting content (i.e. props and houses) is a nightmare. Worse, bugs and quirks made it difficult to use in practice. After two weeks of setting up a virtual environment, I crashed the server during a backup and corrupted the whole installation. So OpenSim is not suitable for me.
I tried Second Life too, because I figured I'd rent a small piece of land and build on it. Second Life has the advantage of having a lot of content available, but getting a chunk of land big enough to do what I need is too expensive for me, and all the areas I checked out were too laggy.
Other things I tried or examined were FPS video games (with map editors) and the Sims... both presented their own problems. I'm open to suggestions on either.
Anyway, this is long-winded enough so I'm going to get right to requirements.
Here's what I need:
-3d simulation with an easily configurable environment.
-Simple to use. Need "duh duh" simple"
-Little loading or lag time.
-A reasonably good selection of objects and props such as houses, furniture, streetlights, asphalt and plants.
-The ability to place characters where I want them.
Here's what isn't necessary:
-Characters don't have to have any animation and can be as simple as cardboard cutouts.
-Doesn't have to be free.
-Doesn't have to be specific to any OS or hardware.