After more than 2.5 years in the making, Next Island is quietly launching its ambitious virtual world with a time travel theme.

The brainchild of serial entrepreneur David Post, the new world is now available for people to visit and is getting a once-over from journalists. By January, Post will trumpet the site to consumers at large. The enterprise is a test of whether virtual worlds have a place in the modern landscape of gaming, where most of the excitement revolves around social games such as FarmVille, mobile games such as Angry Birds, or traditional console games and PC online titles such as World of Warcraft.

A handful of virtual worlds that raised tens of millions of dollars have failed this year. The victims include, Vivaty, and Metaplace. But that doesn’t deter Post, who says, “I haven’t seen anything that measures up to the quality of what I wanted to do. We are creating the first 3D virtual world for the mass market.”

As we wrote before, Next Island is a sci-fi adventure paradise built on top of infrastructure created by MindArk, which has created the massively multiplayer online virtual universe, Entropia Universe. The universe consists of a number of planets such as Planet Calypso. Next Island is a new planet in the universe. Unlike other worlds, the time travel theme gives Next Island a chance to have a wide diversity of imagery. The first major section that visitors can travel to is ancient Greece. Within that sub-world, players can go on a variety of missions. Other sections will come online over time.

Next Island will be run as a free-to-play game, where users can create, purchase and trade virtual goods within the world. What’s distinct about Next Island is that users will be able to cash out, converting virtual money into real world money. That’s possible since Entropia runs its own virtual bank, which has been recognized as a real bank by Sweden (Entropia Universe is based in Sweden.) Over time, users will be able to travel from era to era and from planet to planet.

Post founded Next Island in 2008. He was a serial entrepreneur who founded and sold both pager company Page America and Cellular Systems. So he funded Next Island himself in the hopes of reviving a childhood fantasy. Each day for a brief time when he was young, starting at the age of nine, he wrote the story about the parallel universe of Next Island, where it seems like paradise, but where danger lurks under the surface.

The back story is that the rich people of the world buy a set of islands and then create an isolated paradise hidden from the rest of the world. One of the islands has a portal into time that can be used to visit places such as ancient Greece. Players will teleport from age to age. If players acquire weapons in a modern age, they won’t be able to take them back to an earlier age. They’ll have to earn new weapons and use them to hunt monsters. You’ll also mine for valuable resources and use them to make things that can be sold for virtual currency.

Post (pictured right) said he waited a decade to put together this business. About three years ago, he got serious about doing a virtual world. He met the MindArk people and decided to leverage all of the planet-building resources they had already developed. He recruited  John Jacobs, who goes by the avatar Neverdie in Calpyso, to help head his development studio. Jacobs became famous in 2005 because he mortgaged his house and spent $100,000 in real money on a virtual asteroid in the Entropia Universe. He opened a place called Club Neverdie and turned it into a real business. Post also recruited other luminaries in the game industry. Post has three employees and has hired 18 Neverdie developers to build his world.

At first, Post expect fans of Second Life and other virtual worlds to be interested in his world. Post wants to target people who appreciate the quality of something like World of Warcraft yet don’t have the time to devote to it. Post believes that “power casual” users, who play casual games such as FarmVille yet are looking for a step up, will be a key audience.

So far, Post’s outside investors include Loeb Partners, former Merrill Lynch media analyst Hal Vogel, Katlean de Monchy, Jon Jacobs and an unnamed banker from Citi.