Nov 102015

Betamax? Is that still around?” I pondered today as I read news on The Guardian that Sony are going to stop creating Betamax cassettes in March 2016. The main reason that Betamax appears have continued long after many felt it had departed is due to the use of Micro MV cameras, which use Micro MV cassettes in Betamax format. However all good things come to an end and over 40 years after its release and almost thirty years since Betamax lost the video format wars, Betamax finally seems to be going beneath the technical waters.

Which brings us on to Second Life. Daniel Voyager recently reported; Second Life regions drop under the 25, 000 mark. Daniel’s blog post was based on a report by Tyche “Statto” Shepherd over at SLUniverse, where Tyche announced :

Well as I predicted , a milestone of sorts was passed this week as the Grid dipped below 25,000 regions for the first time since June 2008.

The scores on the doors on November 8th were :

  • 24,985 Regions
  • 17,888 private estates
  • 7097 Linden owned

The net loss of private regions for this year stood at 712 on November 8th. However let’s compare this to some previous years to try and get a picture of what’s going on.

  • 11/11/2012 – Total Private Regions 21,334. Year to date loss of 2,523 private regions (-10.58%)
  • 10/11/2013 – Total Private Regions 19,462 . Year to date loss of 1,530 private regions (-7.29%)
  • 09/11/2014 – Total Private Regions 18,735. Year to date loss of 538 private regions (-2.8%)
  • 08/11/2015 – Total Private Regions 17,888. Year to date loss of 712 private regions (-3.8%)

Therefore we can see that this year we’re seeing an increase in the rate of net losses of private regions compared to last year, but the rate of losses is still a lot lower than in 2012 and 2013. Let’s play about with some more figures.

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Nov 072015

This weekend sees the launch of Immersive Edge, A Hypergrid Story. I initially took a look at this project a week or so ago; OpenSim Storytellers Are Developing Some Impressive Storytelling Techniques. The launch covers more than just introducing people to Immersive Edge, there will also be presentations from writers and designers regarding techniques and tools that can be used in bringing immersive fiction to virtual worlds utilising OpenSim.

Some of the techniques will also be good for other virtual worlds, but OpenSim has made some great leaps and bounds in making it easier for people to create immersive fiction than other platforms. Let’s take a look at the presenters for the launch, or more accurately, let’s take a look at Nara Malone’s blog post introducing us to the presenters; Meet the Presenters for Immersive Edge Launch.

Sande Chen

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer. Her writing work includes 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus and the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher. Sande was also nominated for a Writers Guild Award in Videogame Writing for The Witcher.

Sande is the co-author of Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform and a contributor to Writing for Video Game Genres, Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing, and Secrets of the Game Business.

Sande was profiled as one of the top 100 most influential women in the game industry back in 2006 for her work as Director of Girls in Games, Inc. On top of that, Sande was nominated for a Grammy Nomination in 1996 for music video direction.

So that’s quite an impressive bio I’d say! Sande will be speaking on Sunday November 8th at 9:00am SLT. The title of Sande’s presentation is : “How Technology is Changing Storytelling”.
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Nov 062015

I’m having a busy week with birthdays and visitors from the emerald isle, so I’m a bit behind on virtual world news but I will highlight a few interesting looking stories that are doing the rounds.

Hypergrid Business report : Daden awarded £230,000 for virtual field trips. I might need to acknowledge some bias here. I come from the same city as Daden. However I won’t allow that to cloud my judgement. The Hypergrid Business report article informs us :

Daden Limited – a virtual reality specialist based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus – has been awarded nearly £230,000 by Innovate UK for its Virtual Field Trips as a Service initiative.

The funding has been awarded in phase two of Innovate UK’s Design for Impact Competition, which aims to identify and then support innovative technology that has been proven in pilot projects in education, but is yet to have a national impact. Daden, working with The Open University (OU), the Field Studies Council and Birmingham-based Design Thinkers UK, has been awarded the funding to develop its Virtual Field Trips as a Service concept as a national service for schools and universities.

The article further states :

From November 2014 to April 2015, Daden worked with teachers and students at Washwood Heath Academy in Birmingham, virtual world educators in Second Life, university lecturers at a Royal Geological Society workshop, and a range of other stakeholders to understand the potential, challenges and key features of any virtual field trip service.

David Burden added: “Virtual Field Trips as a Service is intended to support, not replace, physical field trips. It will help students and staff better prepare for a field trip, can provide additional context and gives a focus for post-field trip data analysis, revision, virtual visits to comparative sites, and provides a catch-up for those who may have missed the physical trip. Whilst this funded project is focused on UK education there are obvious opportunities overseas, particularly for virtual ‘exchange’ field trips.”

The issue of virtual field trips keeps coming up. Field trips are certainly seen as a good use case for virtual worlds and virtual reality so it’s encouraging to see a company who are embracing the concept.

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Nov 062015

Blizzcon 2015 has started, a celebration of all things Blizzard related, including games and a movie. The opening ceremony was broadcast free to watch, although you wouldn’t have got caught up in the atmosphere like those in the Anaheim Convention Centre if you watched it via a stream. This means that many people who haven’t even got a virtual ticket have been able to view part of Blizzcon.

Blizzcon gives fans the chance to meet developers, artists, voice actors, view cinematics, engage in sports, cosplay and apparently there’s a tavern there too. Linkin Park will be making an appearance too, so it’s a costly affair to put together and I can’t think of a virtual world conference that would even scratch the costs of Blizzcon. However that doesn’t mean that virtual worlds can’t pick up some tips from Blizzcon.

The first point to note came to me whilst I was watching the opening ceremony via a Twitch stream. As noted earlier, the opening ceremony was a free to view affair, so it wasn’t a dodgy stream. As we all know, when it comes to Second Life, Twitch are the bad guys. However Twitch does have a rival in the shape and form of YouTube Gaming. Second Life has an auto generated channel there, but there’s also an official Linden Lab channel too, although I’m yet to see any live streaming from that quarter, but there is potential.

So why would you want to stream a virtual world conference via an external service? Well for a start, as much as we love being in the virtual world, watching a virtual world conference via a stream is likely to be more comfortable and less crashtastic than trying to cam in from a neighbouring region because the region where the conference is taking place is full. This should also leave room for me in said conference region to take photos as part of my role as the seeker of truth and justice!

Alternatively a live stream could be viewable on YouTube Gaming and also in other regions via media on a prim type solutions, so regions could share the load but have more people inworld watching the event.

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Nov 052015

Project Sansar Concept Art

Linden Lab’s Project Sansar remains under a shield of secrecy, even on Linden Lab’s newly revamped website. We have picked up bits and pieces from interviews, such as when Tom’s Hardware spoke to Linden Lab’s Senior Director, Global Communications, Gray Of The Lab From San Francisco (AKA Peter Gray) :

Peter Gray likened Project Sansar for VR to what WordPress has done for the Web; the idea is to make it possible for anyone to create a virtual experience, without the need for a software engineering background. However the WordPress analogy may have fell just a bit short of exemplifying the message Linden Lab were trying to convey, so they’ve added a new analogy, YouTube.

John Gaudiosi of Fortune has been speaking to Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and posted an article entitled; How ‘Second Life’ Developer Hopes To Deliver The ‘YouTube For VR’. The YouTube analogy is a good one because it encompasses more than just the creation aspect, as Ebbe Altberg explains in the article :

“Much like YouTube, Sansar will empower people to create, share, and profit from their own social virtual experiences,” Altberg says. “Doing that today requires an engineering team—it’s hard and expensive, and that limits the use-cases for VR. That’s similar to the old days of the web, so we sometimes also use WordPress as an apt analogy.”

Unless you work for Linden Lab or are in the top secret Alpha you won’t know which analogy works best, time will tell on that front. However YouTube is widely known as a platform where people create content and make money. Whereas that link between creation and income isn’t so clear when it comes to WordPress, although that route is available via use of WordPress too.

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Nov 032015

First of all I’ll cover some old ground and take us back just under four years to November 21st 2011. Author Salman Rushdie had been embroiled in a row with Facebook because they wouldn’t allow him to use the name “Salman Rushdie”. This was due to the fact that Salman Rushdie’s first name is actually Ahmed and initially Facebook changed his account to use that first name.

Eventually, Facebook saw sense and Salman Rushdie was allowed to use the name Salman Rushdie. A name he’s widely known as. Fast forward almost four years and numerous articles about the pro’s and cons of Facebook’s real name policy, Facebook are still at it when it comes to being stubborn over names, despite claims that they are relaxing their real name policy.

Alex Hern, in the linked Guardian article writes :

The new rules still officially require the use of “authentic names” on the site, something which has previously resulted in criticism from varied groups including the drag community, Native Americans, and trans people. While Facebook does not require the use of “legal names” on the site, it does demand that users identify with the name that other people know them by.

That doesn’t sound like much of a watering down of their policy to me. However further in the article Alex Hern writes :

Firstly, the site will now allow users to “provide more information about their circumstances” in order to “give additional details or context on their unique situation”.

According to the company’s VP of Growth, Alex Schultz, this should allow Facebook to accurately assess whether the name supplied fits with the rules. Additionally, he says: “It will help us better understand the reasons why people can’t currently confirm their name, informing potential changes we make in the future.”

Initially, that sounded a bit more positive, although it still requires users to jump through hoops and be authorised to use a name they are already widely known as. To highlight why this is still very much a problem we need to turn to Hamlet Au over at New World Notes who has been covering the Facebook problems faced by R.U. Sirius, AKA Ken Goffman.

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Nov 032015

Twitter, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to change Favourites, which had a star icon, to Likes, which have a heart icon.  By Akarshan Kumar, Product Manager, announced the change on the Twitter blog; Hearts on Twitter. The blog explained Twitter’s reasoning for the change :

We hope you like what you see on Twitter and Vine today: hearts!

We are changing our star icon for favorites to a heart and we’ll be calling them likes. We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use, and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers. You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.

The heart, in contrast, is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people. And in our tests, we found that people loved it.

The reaction on Twitter, hasn’t exactly been sharing that love. I’m more than a tad bemused as to how anybody could find a star confusing, a star is a pretty universal symbol too whilst being less irksome and patronising than a heart.

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Oct 312015

High Fidelity keep people who have registered informed on their progress, whether or not they having been logging in recently. They do so via way of a monthly email update and this works very well.

The news letter usually appears on the High Fidelity blog, the September Newsletter was posted on September 30th. The October one hasn’t yet appeared but it will soon I would imagine. I should add at this point that finding the blog from the main High Fidelity website isn’t as easy as it should be using Windows 10 with a Chrome browser. The link to the blog is at the bottom of the main page in light on light text, or from a dropdown at the top of the page via company.

So what have High Fidelity been doing in October? The newsletter informs us that they have been working with a company called BinaryVR who develop facial tracking software that is intended to be used in virtual reality :

We have been fortunate to work with so many great entrepreneurs doing amazing stuff with VR hardware, BinaryVR is one of these companies. BinaryVR develops facial expression tracking technology for virtual reality, enabling users to create a personalized 3D face from 2D facial photos to track and retarget their facial animations in real-time in any transformed CG character or avatar mode. BinaryVR have integrated their technology into High Fidelity, allowing your mouth to be tracked while in the HMD.

I will include a couple of animated gif’s in this post, but for a better perspective of what’s going on in them please view the short video I’ll embed at the end of the post. Here’s a gif of mouth tracking in action :

An image should be here

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Oct 302015

I’ve spoken to Nara Malone a few times now. Nara is an author, a storyteller and storytelling is something I’m somewhat passionate about. Back in June Nara showed me around OpenSim and gave me some insight into how they were using NPC’s. Things have progressed since then.

On November 7th – 8th An Adventure Game in Open Sim will be launched. Nara informed me that the team behind this immersive storytelling projects includes 25 creators from various grids, including Second Life. They will be exploring stories told with NPCs. Here’s a trailer :

The key thing to note with a project like this is how much collaboration there is between different people. Coders, designers, storytellers are all working on this project, adding their expertise to create the whole and it looks absolutely fascinating.

One of the tools used is The Story Sequencer, Nara talks about it more here.

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Oct 302015

An image Should Be Here

Episode 33 of The Linden Lab sponsored Drax Files : World Makers takes us to Luxembourg, but in a sci fi style twist it takes us to Luxembourg in 2015 and Luxembourg in 1867 at the same time.

The main protagonist in this episode is Second Life resident  Cyperpiper Roelefs (AKA Pit Vinandy outside Second Life). What makes this episode particularly interesting is that the physical world footage takes place not only in the streets of the City of Luxembourg, but also in the Fort Thüngen Museum and the City Museum of Luxembourg

An image Should Be Here

Inside the museum lies an exhibit; Pfaffenthal 1867 – A virtual walk through the historic Pfaffenthal. This is an exhibit that visitors access through computers as they enter the virtual world of Second Life to find some pretty damn impressive recreations of the historical location.

An image Should Be Here

This is an exhibit that also takes advantage of more modern developments because as well as ten computers, there are also two Oculus Rift headsets available for people to immerse themselves deeper in the virtual experience.

At its heart this is a history exhibit, which utilises the virtual world environment to tell the story of how in 1867 there was a bit of a crisis in Europe (this is not unusual by the way!) when France wanted to buy Luxembourg. However those pesky British were having none of it and during negotiations it was decided to allow Luxembourg to become an independent nation. The aim was partially to prevent war between Germany and France. There’s a lot more to it than this!

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