Nov 252014
 

Any predictions on what the future holds for virtual reality theatre?” Draxtor Despres asked MadameThespian Underhill in episode 24 of The Drax Files : World Makers. MadameThespian gave a very interesting answer :

In the future I want motion tracking technology, so that our bodies can be used to flesh out the acting, be free from a keyboard and a mouse. Eventually the way an avatar can be manipulated will be so detailed that it will be like being there in real life, totally immersed. Twenty years from now when everyone is doing this and going ‘Oh wow isn’t this cool’, hey I’ve been doing this in a virtual space since 1997, I’m still here, I love it.

The above quote demonstrates quite a few things. The first being that virtual spaces have been around in one form or another for quite a while now. Another being that the future has a long way to go and a further point is that those who are involved in virtual worlds have different ideas on what the future may hold.

However the most relevant part of the quote as far as this blog post is concerned is to do with body tracking. I’ve raised concerns as to whether people are going to be comfortable wearing headsets, setting up motion trackers and whether people will actually embrace having their movements captured. I’m not totally alone in this view, even enthusiasts of new technologies admit that there are concerns in this area.

Ebbe Altberg was asked by Ben Gilbert of EndgadgetWhat is the greatest challenge that the medium of virtual reality must overcome in the next five years? Ebbe’s answer touches upon these issues of comfort :

Ease of use remains the greatest challenge. In order to truly reach the mainstream, virtual reality experiences will have to be easy, natural and comfortable to create, interact with and consume.

Ebbe also touched upon this on the Endgadget Expand panel : The Future Of VRBeyond Gaming when he admitted that after about half an hour of using the Oculus Rift he feels tired. This isn’t so much about the comfort of wearing the device, it’s more to do with frame rates and resolution in virtual experiences that were not really built with the Oculus experience in mind.

However one could imagine that having to wear headsets or get in tune with a motion sensor may well suit those who have an acting and live performance background, they are familiar with the concepts of dressing up, making eye contact and being fully aware of what their expressions may convey.

Storytelling in virtual reality is a glaring use case that goes beyond gaming and if consumers can afford to get immersed from the comfort of their own home, it’s one that could really take off. We’re in the very early stages of this here but one company who have been happily playing to their peripherals are High Fidelity and they exemplify this yet again in their latest blog post :  Rock-Paper-Scissors Showdown: Using Leap Motion at High Fidelity.

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Nov 242014
 

Looking For Salazar Jack

On September 13th 2012 Salazar Jack went missing after an accident in the Forest Of Kahruvel. This is documented on the Kahruvel website as well as a further update on the Poultry Report from December 2013 where we are told that Osprey Therian went looking for Salazar Jack.

Mysterious communications have been appearing on Twitter recently, so I decided to take a look and started my investigation at the location of the last known sighting of Salazar Jack. However all I really found was a stone pillar with a stickman adorned upon it. I decided to work backwards, indeed I went a long way back. I went to the birth place of Salazar Jack, Nova Albion.

Nova Albion Infohub

The lands of Nova Albion were discovered by Magellan Linden back in 2004 and it does in places have a feel of a land that time forgot. Nova Albion is a set of city sims, Grignano, Miramere, Sistiana and Barcola. Bay City, which was discovered later, is not that far away.

Nova Albion Resident Adverts

There’s a definite nostalgia to the place, there s a display board featuring videos from Torley. There is a resident advertising board and there’s even a prim from Blondin advertising the showcase, which morphed into the Destination Guide.

Nova Albion Street

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Nov 222014
 

show #46: unter den lindens

Episode 46 of The Drax Files Radio Hour sees Draxtor Despres visit Linden Lab HQ in San Francisco whilst Jo Yardley stays in an attic in 1920’s Berlin. Drax gets to talk to the Great Bug Hunter Of Olde Linden Town, in the shape of form of saying hello to Alexa Linden! I’m so jealous, Alexa is a legend and yes she does usually work in the Seattle office.

He gets to talk to Michelle Linden who ensures that Ebbe Altberg doesn’t spend all day on Twitter. He talks to Xiola Linden, who has a very cool hat inworld.

Xiola Linden

He also gets to talk to Ebbe Altberg, Monty Linden who talks about the content delivery network, Brooke Linden who talks about the SL Marketplace and he goes to the basement of the Linden Lab HQ to talk to Shaman Linden and Kona Linden. I used to love playing Monty Mole on the Sinclair Spectrum. Those were the days! Where were we? Oh yes, back to the future. Drax also got a glimpse of the next generation virtual world Linden Lab are producing, whose project name is currently a closely guarded secret, to such an extent that when someone mentions the name in the radio hour, it gets bleeped out and this also meant that an interview with Bagman Linden had to be pulled from the show.

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Nov 212014
 

Finding Marketplace settings in viewer

Linden Lab have blogged that the new Viewer-Managed Marketplace is available on Aditi, better known as The Beta Grid. The blog post informs us that :

The new Viewer-Managed Marketplace (VMM), now available* on Aditi, allows you to easily manage your inventory on the Second Life Marketplace using the Second Life Viewer. Items no longer need to be loaded into the Merchant Outbox or a Magic Box, and are instead sold directly from your inventory.

VMM will allow all Merchants to get off of Magic Boxes in addition to supporting modification of listing inventory directly from the Viewer. While Merchants will still need to go to the Marketplace web site in order to edit listings, they will be able to create listings and list or unlist them from the Viewer.

The blog post is accompanied by a Wiki article and a Knowledgebase Article which both have extra information and instructions on how to use the coming new feature. The Viewer-Managed Marketplace (AKA VMM) addresses some outstanding issues from Direct Delivery. The first is a biggie, VMM allows you to list no copy items. Currently, Direct Delivery does not support no copy items and merchants selling no copy items have had to continue to use magic boxes.

Another issue is that there have been intermittent issues with the Merchant Outbox and VMM addresses those issues too because once this is fully rolled out there will be no need to move items to the Marketplace because they will be being sold directly from your inventory. At this point can I just add, I remain unconvinced that this will end well, but we’ll see!

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Nov 212014
 
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Episode 24 Of Drax Files

Episode 24 of The Drax Files : World Makers features MadameThespian Underhill, Actor-director with the Avatar Repertory Theater and Builder/seller of Victorian homes & items, pianos, harpsichords, pipe organs and scripted music. Then there’s more, MadameThespian is one of those rare beasts in Second Life, she’s a Charter Member! Even Lindens get excited when they see Charter Members. Charter Member status means that someone is rather old in Second Life terms, in this case MadameThespian has a rez date of 18th December 2002.

More importantly Charter Members played a very important role in keeping Second Life afloat during its early days. They paid an upfront fee which I believe guaranteed them a 4096m plot for life with no further land fees. However the upfront fee they paid, around USD$160.00, provided some much needed cash to keep Second Life in development.

Outside Theatre

Virtual worlds, explains MadameThespian, are an extension to the ancient art of live storytelling. The Avatar Repertory Theater have produced many shows over the years including original productions and adaptations of existing works.

They build their own sets and create some of their own items but sometimes someone else makes a better item and they take full advantage of the fact that there are plenty of other content creators in Second Life who create suitable wares for their shows.

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Acting in Second Life

MadameThespian comes from, a thespian background. She was a Chicago based actor through most of the eighties but now lives in the mountains of Montana where she is a member of the Montana Shakespeare company. However there are certain areas of acting where the virtual world provides opportunities for actors where the real world may close doors.

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Nov 212014
 

Linden Lab have done a great job in providing the press with some good images for Second Life related articles. This was exemplified well in a recent excellent interview Ebbe Altberg gave to Dean Takahashi on Venture Beat : Linden Lab explores VR for its next-generation virtual world (interview).

Second Life Image - Island Village

I mean that looks like my kind of village and the next one doesn’t look bad either :

Venice

The main difference between the top and bottom one is that I know where the bottom one is because Ziki Questi added a comment on Flickr. The second photo is of a sim called Venexia. Now obviously this Flickr resource is merely designed to provide decent images of Second Life, rather than the old outdated ones, but for those of us who like to explore, it would be nice if at least the name of the sim appeared.

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Nov 202014
 

Linden Lab have blogged about the reasons for the maintenance this week : The Hardware Issues Behind Recent Region Restarts. The problem, the blog explains, was down to a hardware failure which first manifested itself in July when the hardware failure took down four of Linden Lab’s new generation hosts. These things happen and Linden Lab put it down to, these things happen. I’m not surprised, that would be my first port of call too because you don’t want to think it may be a nasty hardware fault.

However in early October the same thing happened with another four hosts, which would have raised suspicions. A fortnight later the same fault manifested itself with another four hosts, at which time Linden Lab fully realised that this wasn’t just one of those things. Linden Lab’s blog post is very transparent on what happened here and also gives us some insight into how things work server side :

Each host lives inside a chassis along with three other hosts. These four hosts all share a common backplane that provides the hosts with power, networking and storage. The failures were traced to an overheating and subsequent failure of a component on these backplanes.

After exhaustive investigation with our vendor, the root cause of the failures turned out to be a hardware defect in a backplane component. We arranged an on-site visit by our vendor to locate, identify, and replace the affected backplanes. Members of our operations team have been working this week with our vendor in our datacentre to inspect every potentially affected system and replace the defective component to prevent any more failures.

Now the question some may have is “Why didn’t Linden Lab explain this at the start of the week?” The answer I suspect is that Linden Lab wanted to be sure that the issue was being fixed during this maintenance window before informing their customers of the details.

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Nov 202014
 

Nalates Urriah has posted a very interesting blog post about about DMCA Abuse. The post highlights that Automattic, the people behind WordPress and other ventures have been Striking Back Against Censorship. The post is almost a year old so I’m a bit surprised we haven’t heard more about this in Second Life circles. Where this should be of interest to Second Life and other users is that this is about abuse of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The DMCA process is something that frustrates many Second Life content creators.

The issue for Automattic is what they view as abuse of the DMCA process to censor opinion. On their blog post Automattic write :

The DMCA system gives copyright holders a powerful and easy-to-use weapon: the unilateral right to issue a takedown notice that a website operator (like Automattic) must honor or risk legal liability. The system works so long as copyright owners use this power in good faith. But too often they don’t, and there should be clear legal consequences for those who choose to abuse the system.

However whereas this is all very good and well when the DMCA process is used in good faith, Automattic were seeing an increase in the number of cases where good faith does not seem to be being applied, they also highlight one of the issues with the DMCA process that makes people uncomfortable, having to provide your details to the person making the complaint :

We receive hundreds of DMCA notices and try our best to review, identify, and push back on those we see as abusive. Our users have the right to challenge a DMCA complaint too, but doing so requires them to identify themselves and fill out a legally required form saying that they submit to being sued for copyright infringement in a place that may be far away. If they don’t, their content is taken down and could stay down forever. This tradeoff doesn’t work for the many anonymous bloggers that we host on WordPress.com, who speak out on sensitive issues like corporate or government corruption.

So we’re talking blogging and sensitive issues here, not whether someone really created a texture. However the issues raised are similar to those that confront Second Life users in terms of the process and the abuse of the process. One of the big issues that people in Second Life complain about is that it’s too easy to abuse the DMCA procedure.

Automattic assist their users when they see what they feel are abusive uses of the DMCA procedure, they even have a Hall Of Shame where they highlight some examples of what they feel were improper takedown notices.

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Nov 192014
 

Philip Rosedale was interviewed by Signe Brewster at Gigaom Roadmap 2014 yesterday and Gigaom have posted the interview in an article entitled : The gap between virtual reality and sci-fi is shortening. Philip talks about virtual worlds, including Second Life and not surprisingly, High Fidelity.

The video is interesting because Philip talks about the past and future of virtual worlds as well as discussing how science fiction is a good influence for him. The interview runs for about half an hour and that includes a Q&A session.

There’s a really interesting part of this interview where Philip talks about body language. New devices allow virtual worlds to capture the body language of the person behind an avatar and reproduce that body language inside a virtual world. High Fidelity staff conducted an experiment where they were each interviewed in High Fidelity using the same avatar and then those videos were later played back to all of the staff without sound. The staff members quickly realised that they could recognise who was who based on the face gestures and body movements of each avatar.

When asked about what he has learnt from Second Life Philip talks about economies, virtual communities and how people will self organise. This may explain why High Fidelity is more of an open source venture than Second Life was. Philip has witnessed that people will self organise and presumably he also feels they are capable of self governance. Philip does point out that technology has changed since Second Life was created, for example there was no cloud computing back then and he does state that they tried to make Second Life as open as they could. This is a comment that has a lot of merit. Whereas Second Life isn’t open in the way High Fidelity will be, it remains very open in the concept of user generated content.

Philip talks of how reading science fiction is almost an instruction manual for building virtual worlds and his big influence in this area is, not surprisingly, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

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Nov 182014
 

Back on March 1st 2006 Philip Rosedale and Cory Ondrejka presented a Google Tech Talk : Glimpse Inside a Metaverse: The Virtual World of Second Life. I’ll embed the video at the end of the post, it’s around an hour long but it gives a fascinating insight into where Second Life was over eight years ago.

An interesting point to note is that the presentation demonstrates Second Life in action but due to a database upgrade, the demonstration of Second Life could not be shown on the main grid. This exemplifies well the improvement in maintenance practices that we see in Second Life today, that sort of downtime generally doesn’t happen these days.

The video demonstrates well why Second Life was considered to have such great potential. Philip talks of the economy, the growth in land mass and how people could earn money and withdraw it via Paypal, which they can still very much do today. There’s no shipping involved in this sort of commerce, there’s no Visa requirements to work in an international market. Things have of course changed recently with identification requirements being more strictly applied, but you still don’t get dinged with shipping fees and you still don’t need a work Visa. However it should also be noted that a question is raised about IRS regulations, so even back in 2006 it seems that these things were on the horizon, people could see it coming.

The video demonstrates some of the creations of Starax, especially his wand which at the time, Cory suggested. cost USD$30.00, which took Philip by surprise although he does say how cool the wand was. He also discusses the success of Anshe Chung. There’s also an interesting point to be noted in terms of demographics. Back then the population was 43% female with an average age of 32 and an international population of 25%. I have no idea what the demographics are today but it would be interesting to see them.

The answer as to why Second Life didn’t have a standard scripting language such as LUA is answered here. However there were plans, after implementing Mono, to move towards using more standard scripting languages. Interestingly High Fidelity has gone a different route and is embracing Javascript and the hints are that Linden Lab’s next generation virtual world will also use a more standard scripting language.

There’s an interesting comparison between the World Of Warcraft model of using shards and Second Life’s one world model. Philip suggests that Second Life at the time was about as big as one World Of Warcraft shard. He also gives a nod to the fact that Eve-Online has a one world design, rather than shards.

A really good point with this video is that is explains a lot about how Second Life works, in pretty easy to understand terms. Cory describes the Second Life client as being “Incredibly dumb“. This isn’t an insult to viewer developers or the excellent strides they have made, it’s simply pointing out that a lot of Second Life’s work takes place server side, that content is streamed rather than stored locally. Now this is back in 2006 when the high speed broadband many of us experience today simply wasn’t available and yet, it worked.

However this was partially because by 2006 the cost of bandwidth had got a lot cheaper. Philip suggests that five years earlier they would probably have been out of business due to the cost of bandwidth.

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