Ciaran Laval

Sep 162014

The word on the street is that some of the High Fidelity team will be heading to Hollywood in a few days for the Oculus Connect event. I would imagine that some of the Linden Lab team may be heading there too. However before that happens, the High Fidelity blog has been been having A Look at Alpha Projects in Hifi. The picture in the blog post is particularly impressive, especially when enlarged.

Dan Hope, who I believe is a new member of the High Fidelity team, highlights the work of three Alpha testers, Judas, AI Austin and Ctrlaltdavid. This is virtual space, so people have virtual space names.

Judas has been working on models created in Blender. High Fidelity currently supports the FBX format, rather than the Dae format that Second Life supports. However as both have their roots in Blender, the basic workflows are going to be somewhat similar. High Fidelity is in the Alpha stage and this is highlighted in the blog post as Judas explains how a recent update has allowed him to import avatars from High Fidelity into Blender without destroying the rig to animate them. However Judas also hits the mark about the nature of virtual worlds in terms of being social platforms. I’ve said many times that Second Life is where it’s at in terms of virtual worlds because Second Life has the people. Any new virtual world has to have that social aspect and Judas acknowledges this in a quote on the blog post :

High Fidelity is about people. A grin, a smile, a hand gesture, a wave — not some pre-recorded gesture — breathe personality into lifeless avatars. [We’re creating] an environment that normal people want to gather in, not because of polycount, latency, or server technology, but because their friends are there. Every game has amazing graphics; HiFi should have amazing people.

Meanwhile in another part of the vast virtual space that High Fidelity engulfs, AI Austin is building I-Rooms: A Virtual Space For Intellectual Collaboration. Again we have a social usage exemplified here as well as the all important collaboration angle that virtual worlds offer so very well. I-Rooms are defined as :

We have developed the I-Room virtual environment—the “I” stands variously for intelligent, information, in- teractive, integrated, and instrumented—a shared persistent space, founded on process methodologies and offering intelligent sys- tems support for interaction and collabo- ration between users, systems, and agents.

AI Austin is also testing the boundaries of what is possible with mesh models in High Fidelity. This includes a Supercar with 575,000 vertices and 200,000. I can see people in parts of the virtual world sphere frowning furiously at this right now. AI Austin also has an International space station mesh that was provided by NASA. As it stands, space is a concept that High Fidelity captures very well. There are a lot of stars in High Fidelity.

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Sep 152014

World Of Warcraft will hit the impressive milestone of being ten years old on Friday November 21st. Blizzard, who are keen to incorporate party themes into their world will be launching events running all the way through to January 2015. The launch of the latest expansion pack, Warlords Of Draenor will be just prior to the birthday, on November 13th.

In a post on the blog Blizzard explain some of the planned events :

The 10- year anniversary celebration will begin in-game on Friday, November 21 and will last until Tuesday, January 6, 2015 at 10 a.m. PST. Everyone who logs in during this time period will receive the incredibly cuddly, feisty, and fiery new Molten Corgi to love, pet, and call their own. You’ll also be able to participate in a pair of special events to commemorate the occasion.

There will be dungeons, player versus player, achievements and probably a lot of fun. However for those of us in the UK, the birthday spirit has been somewhat tarnished by Blizzard Europe deciding to rise prices for new subscribers who pay in pound sterling. This will mostly be new or returning players based in the UK. Those who pay in other denominations will not get this slap in the face. On a post on their forum Blizzard explain the situation :

We regularly look at our pricing around the world and from time to time we make changes in light of local and regional market conditions. As such, we want to give everyone a heads-up that we will shortly be adjusting the pound sterling subscription price of World of Warcraft.

The new price for recurring subscriptions will be £9.99 for one month, £28.17 for three months (£9.39 per month), and £52.14 for six months (£8.69 per month). The suggested retail price of the 60-day prepaid time card will be £20.99.

As a thank you for current World of Warcraft subscribers, we guarantee that players with recurring (auto-renewing) subscriptions at the time of the price change will retain their current price for two years, as long as they remain in the same recurring subscription without interruption. This applies to anyone who is already in, or signs up for, a recurring subscription prior to the price change, which is scheduled to take place at the Warlords of Draenor release. We will reach out to relevant players approximately two months prior to the price change with a reminder.

Happy tenth birthday to you too Blizzard Europe!

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Sep 132014

Joe Miller (AKA Joe Linden) passed away on July 27th after a battle with cancer. Joe was Linden Lab’s VP of Platform and Technology Development between 2006 and 2010. The sad news was reported yesterday by Linden Lab in a blog post : Remembering Joe Miller and a further blog post by Hamlet Au over at New World Notes : RIP Joe Miller, Linden Lab’s Beloved Former Platform VP. Hamlet’s post contains a link to a memorial page about Joe.

Joe joined Linden Lab in 2006 and in a press release from Linden Lab he said :

I’m thrilled to join the team responsible for Second Life, the most interesting interactive platform in existence today. By drawing upon my background in product design and user experience, I look forward to helping make Second Life even more accessible to residents worldwide.

Joe was interviewed by Catherine Smith (AKA Catherine Linden) back in January 2008 regarding the work Linden Lab were doing in Second Life. The interview was part of a podcast series called Inside The Lab and can be listened to here. In the podcast Joe talks about how the Lab were moving away from their downtime procedure. Older residents will remember that the grid used to be taken down for several hours whilst updates were rolled out to the grid. Joe also talked about :

  • Sim stability – with the launch of Havok 4.6
  • Sim performance – with the introduction of Mono for script compiling
  • Viewer stability – by introducing a new crash reporter and graphics card drivers
  • Viewer performance – via Windlight and the new Dazzle UI

Whereas this podcast is more than six years old and many improvements have been made during that time, it still makes for interesting listening because it talks of the challenges of a user generated content virtual world and those challenges are still very relevant today.

Joe also worked on one of the large changes to Second Life, the introduction of voice :

For me, Second Life has always been more about human communication, collaboration, and spirit than about technology. When I talk to Residents about their experiences, one of the recurring themes is improving our communication methods. For so many, Second Life is a place to make and meet new friends and collaborate with others, whether that’s in a business, educational or purely social context.

That’s why today I’m pleased to announce our intention to bring integrated voice capabilities to the Grid. This will enable all Residents to speak with each other if they wish, in addition to the existing Instant Messaging and group chat functions.

Many of you know that voice has always been part of the long-term plan for the Grid, and we truly believe voice can be a transformative technology that will lend more immediacy and dynamism to the way Residents communicate.

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Sep 122014

Nara Malone isn’t happy; “It’s like being caught in your curlers” she purrs as I whip out my camera, but there’s a glint in her eye as she stands amidst the scene of an in progress exhibit from Fuscia Nightfire.

Nara Malone

Nara is showing me around the build which is an interactive exhibit featuring machinima, which is playing on the floor and surrounding walls. The finished exhibit will feature the use of Non Player Characters (NPC’s) and Nara has been demonstrating to me just how easy they are to create in OpenSim.

Nara rezes a poseball and then explains the process to me : “I click the ball once it records my appearance, it runs the animation I put in the poseball. I can change those out or run a string. This is our simplest character maker.

With that said Nara clicks the ball and few second later another Nara is in my view, this one sitting down tying her lace, which is the animation inside the pose ball. However how resource hungry are they? Nara explains that they are not that resource hungry at all : “Its just an animation running…very easy resource. We can have 20 or so at a time with 10 users online. We have more complex versions but this is the starter one. We can make them talk, Program them to interact so they are very helpful with storytelling and with the immersion. The characters draw readers in.

Nara is a storyteller and of course her stories must be told. However she’s not alone and the exhibit she’s giving me a sneak preview of is part of her group’s work for the OpenSimulator Conference in November. Whereas the big names are keynote speakers such as High Fidelity’s Philip Rosedale and Oculus Rift’s Steve LaValle, many from the general OpenSim community will be there too and exhibiting their wares.

Nara explains to me that her group will have a total of eight examples of their work running at the conference. Whereas there’s a lot of storytelling, there’s also a lot of scripting involved and Nara tells me that scripting guru Fred Beckhusen is on their team.

So just what are Nara and her team working on? Nara passes me a note with some preliminary but rather ambitious details.

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Sep 092014

Other Side Of Main Landing

This is all a bit outside of my comfort zone, it involves fashion and shopping in Second Life. These are two activities I’m not that enamoured with. Now if there were Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, fashion and shopping, then I’d be more interested in events such as The 24 Squared.

However for some reason this event, which has been running since September 5th and runs until September 13th, caught my eye. According to a blog post from Siren Productions the event features :

  • 1 Week…
  • 98 Designers…
  • Menswear!
  • Womenswear!
  • Accessories!
  • Skins!
  • Hair!
  • Make-up!
  • Oh My…

Unfortunately there don’t appear to be lions or tigers or bears. However there are models around.

Another Female Model

Now even if this really isn’t your sort of event it’s worth a visit because this seems to be a well designed location, low lag, plenty of wide spaces, but also making good use of scenery to prevent your graphics card trying to eat every texture on the sim too quickly.

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Sep 052014

Second Life Image - Friends

I am not quite sure how long Linden Lab have been pointing people to a Flickr pool for promotional snapshots, but I will say it’s a bloody good idea and I’m going to dip into it! Discover Magazine had the same idea as me for the above picture too … wait wait I’m getting confused, I saw it there first! Anyway, Discover Magazine have an article up regarding skin colour in Second Life : Skin Color Still Matters in Video Games . The headline is a little misleading, I’ll get to that shortly.

The article is based on research by Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee : Does virtual diversity matter?: Effects of avatar-based diversity representation on willingness to express offline racial identity and avatar customization. I haven’t read the research paper, only the brief information on that linked page but Discover Magazine delves into it a bit deeper and explains how the study worked :

Lee gathered 56 study participants — half identifying as white and half identifying as black. She then had them read a fabricated magazine story titled “Meet the Coolest ‘Second Life’ Residents.” The eight “Second Life” avatars profiled in the story were either all white, in the low-diversity scenario, or an equal mix of white, black, Hispanic and Asian, in the high-diversity scenario.

She then had them perform two tasks: Create and customize their own virtual avatars, and rate their willingness to reveal their real racial identity through the appearance of their virtual avatar.

She found that black participants reported less willingness in the low-diversity scenario, and that they also created whiter avatars, as judged by objective raters. By comparison, white study participants were largely unaffected by either the high-diversity or low-diversity scenarios.

So this is a small study and doesn’t involved enough people for it to be the sort of vibrant study many would like to see. Another interesting fact is that the 56 people did not actually engage with Second Life in a social sense. They weren’t left to wander around and report their findings.

However the problem with a study such as this is the environment. There are quite a few issues with skins in Second Life. I’ve often seen people bemoaning the lack of choice of darker skins. There are several reasons for this but the main ones seem to centre around darker skins being far harder to give life to in a world like Second Life. The textures don’t stand out as much and therefore fewer content creators want to make them and fewer customers find them appealing. This may explain why the black participants created whiter avatars, those avatars may have just looked more appealing on the screen due to the design challenges of darker skins.

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Sep 042014

The Fort Worth Weekly isn’t a publication I generally read. This is no disrespect to the publication, it’s just that it’s not on my radar. However this week’s edition has caught my eye because it has a feature about Matthew Broyles, a singer songwriter who performs in Second Life : Second Life’s a Stage. The tag line is also eye catching : Real-world performers are making real-world money in virtual reality.

The article makes one or two faux pas’ in the eyes of some parts of the Second Life community, the first is with calling Second Life a game :

Broyles and the virtual concertgoers are part of an elaborate computer game. In Second Life, their avatars are human-looking, and they interact across detailed replicas of real-world places like New York City and Chicago. Unlike most computer games, which emphasize fantasy universes and defeating opponents, Second Life is for folks seeking to re-create everyday experiences via virtual reality, including music concerts.

Personally I think people take the “Second Life is not a game” meme a bit too literally and it’s really not worth getting your knickers in a twist over, but hey that’s me. The more important part of that quote is pointing out that Second Life allows people to re-create everyday experiences via virtual reality, including music concerts. That’s the beauty of a user created virtual world.

The second part where the article rubs people up the wrong way is actually based on a quote from Matthew Broyles and again I don’t think this is worth getting your knickers in a twist over :

Broyles, who also performs in the hillbilly hip-hop outfit Shotgun Friday, said most of his friends dismiss his virtual pursuit as frivolous, but he’s quick to remind them that behind every “pixel person” is a real person.

“A lot of them are shut-ins, disabled, or otherwise unable to leave the house and see gigs,” Broyles said. “So I’m performing for people who aren’t ordinarily able to see shows. I find they are more appreciative than some bar crowds who are there to drink and make out.”

Really, all we’re seeing there is that Matthew points out there is a real person behind the avatar and that some people who enjoy the virtual world experience would struggle to see gigs outside of a virtual world due to personal circumstances. Again this is one of the beauties of virtual worlds. One use case cited for the more immersive future is the ability to see music concerts from remote locations. Obviously the idea is for the attendance to be far larger than Second Life can manage, but Second Life is already delivering this use case.

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Sep 022014

VHA Building

Episode 22 of The Drax Files World Makers – Virtual Health Adventures, has caught me somewhat by surprise as I thought the final edit was being published today, with the actual episode going live tomorrow. This is all my own fault as we can see from the blog post from Linden Lab, sponsors of the series and from the excellent review of the episode from Inara Pey, others understood that the final edit meant it would be published today! I’ll embed the video at the end of the post.

This episode deals with usage of virtual worlds, why their immersive nature can be far more productive than a traditional website and it even exemplifies people using The Oculus Rift for even greater immersion. Pay careful attention to that because you’ll see how that issue of where the keyboard is, is a very real issue when you’re using The Oculus Rift. However also pay attention to how important the immersive environment is to this episode and of course The Oculus Rift can help to make an environment even more immersive. The main theme however is one that people probably don’t associate with a virtual world such as Second Life, that theme is working with amputees to assist them to overcome emotional trauma.

Sandra L. Winkler, assistant professor at NOVA University in Florida, who teaches occupational therapy says :

“Second Life is the perfect place for amputees to overcome emotional trauma by sharing stories and realizing they are not alone!” 

Dr Winkler, who unlike her namesake Henry, hasn’t yet jumped the shark, is working on a three year study funded by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That study is roughly halfway through its three years and whereas Dr Winkler admits that at this stage it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions from their current work, she does feel that the virtual world environment combined with new technology is a significant next step in tele-healthcare.

Dr Winkler’s research is aided in Second Life by the development work in virtual worlds of Virtual Ability Inc. who have long had a presence in Second Life.

Admiring Scenery

In the episode we see amputees embracing the virtual world and going through exercises as well as putting a virtual wheelchair into a virtual car. There is scientific evidence that this sort of process does indeed help people to be able to transfer these skills to the real world and this was something we also saw in The Drax Files: World Makers Episode 13: Creations for Parkinson’s.

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Sep 022014

The new Skill Gaming Policy officially arrived in Second Life yesterday. However it arrived with an apparent late twist to who is authorised to participate. The last blog post on the subject stated :

If you live in a jurisdiction where skill gaming is permitted and you plan on playing these games in Skill Gaming Regions in Second Life, you should not need to do anything differently. However, adding payment information on file now is a good way to help ensure you’re able to play as soon as Skill Gaming Regions are live.

However it seems that there had either been an omission or Linden Lab decided they needed to be a bit more careful regarding who can participate. On August 29th, after some venues had been approved, a change appears to have been made to the FAQ. The change to the FAQ is a sensible one and one that really should have been mentioned before. The change to the FAQ points out that to participate you must have current payment info on file and you must be 19 years of age or older. On top of this you can’t be connecting from a prohibited state or be a resident of a prohibited state.

The change to requiring current payment info on file is likely to throw those who wanted to go play on their alts, although those who are determined to do so know what needs to be done to allow them to access Skill Gaming Regions.

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Aug 302014

Bookstacks Isle

Bookstacks Isle is a place all about books and the people who love them — you know, readers. The group holds regular book clubs and readings, and the activities board is a wonderful resource for keeping up on all the literary events in SL.

Visit in Second Life

Bookstacks Isle is a place where readers can discuss books. Kghia Gherardi and JJ Drinkwater, director of The Libraries of Caledon seem to be the main driving force behind the place, although Second Life’s Queen of Storytelling, Seanchai’s very own Caledonia Skytower, also has a presence there.

Don't burn books!

Inside The Hobby Horse pub we see bookcases and posters. One poster tells us that Books cannot be killed by fire and that books are weapons in the war of ideas.

Inside The Hobby Horse

Other posters advertise science stories. This is a place for discussion, I’m not sure how well up to date the informational notecards are. One from Simeon Beresdord advertises Science Fiction Saturdays :

Jago Constantine organises hour-long event I list as Science Fiction Saturday in Events.

Which we now host at Bookstacks giving people a chance to talk about science fiction in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

It meets every Saturday at 2pm SLT in the pub on Awen.

Got something to say about the book you’re reading? Share your insights with us! You’re welcome to come and just listen too!

We’ll happily discuss sci fi books, television and movies … but mostly books!

If you think you might come along, bring some thoughts on the last science fiction you read, what you’re reading now, and what you want to read next!

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