Sep 302014
 

Linden Lab have announced in a blog post that some improvements are heading the way of Second Life. The improvements aren’t exactly what you’d call sexy but they do have the potential to be rather impressive, if all goes to plan.

The first change mentioned is with relation to how graphic settings are detected. Linden Lab are doing away with the old graphics table and using a new benchmark to detect your graphics card instead. On first glance this seems to be more accurate, you may see something like this :

An Image Should Be Here

New Graphics Card Detection

The point of this is described in the blog post from Linden Lab :

Maybe this has happened to you: you got an awesome new graphics card, fired up SL… only to discover your graphics settings are set to Low, and can’t be changed? No more! This Viewer does away with the old GPU table and instead uses a quick benchmark measurement to detect your GPU to assign appropriate default graphics settings on startup. The settings on shiny powerful hardware should really let that hardware shine.

My graphics settings stayed exactly where I expected them to but yes, the new tool did produce more accurate results regarding my graphics card. However if you want to test out this new feature, you will need to download a project viewer, which you can get here : http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Release_Notes/Second_Life_Project_Benchmark/3.7.17.294710/ There’s a Jira issue linked to this entitled Death To The Gpu table but that’s not viewable.

The next change discussed is to do with the login screen, which has been covered brilliantly by Inara Pey already. I recommend reading Inara’s blog post about this because those using the Second Life viewer will see these changes in the near future and Inara’s post has plenty of details on those changes.

The changes currently in the works for the login screen include the addition of a my favourite places dropdown to allow you to login to, well, your favourite places directly from the login screen. This is on top of still having the last location and region option that are already there, but really, read Inara for more information.

The final part of the blog post covers two projects that compliment each other and should bring improvements to the Second Life experience.

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Sep 262014
 

Admiring The Bookshelves

Linden Lab continue to impress with their Destination Guide promotion and their latest blog post highlighting the destination guide contains some real gems. One that particularly caught my eye was The Chamber Library and so I popped along for a deeper look and was fortunate enough to bump into the creator and owner Storm Septimus.

The Chamber Library officially opened just a few days ago on September 21st and is already being expanded, with Storm hoping to have a new chamber open by September 29th. Storm has been working tirelessly on this build, filling the bookshelves with notecards for books on subject matters such as Poetics, Dream & Short Stories, Demonology & Horror and Superstition. The works of famous authors such as The Brothers Grimm, TS Eliot, William Shakespear, TS Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle, Voltaire, HG Wells and Oscar Wilde are featured. There’s also a section for budding Second Life authors, more on that later.

Looking at work of SL residents

The build brings together two of Storm’s greatest loves, literature and art. Storm explained to me some of the inspiration and work that has gone into the build :

The library was built on the advice of someone who told me …. in SL everything has been done to death , so give them something that they have never seen before. So I have tried. Another chamber should be completed by September 29th, I am almost there on one chamber and there are two more empty but I have a good idea what I will place in them so it should come together quickly.

I commented to Storm that the build was wonderfully atmospheric and it appears that Storm has been getting good feedback about the build, although she also told me that the work she has put in so far has been exhausting.

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Sep 252014
 

USMP In Second Life

When Linden Lab ditched the education discount a few years back a few people felt that education in Second Life was dead. However it wasn’t and has been given a boost in the not too distant past by the return of the education discount and Linden Lab showing a more proactive role in promoting education within Second Life.

This is exemplified by Linden Lab’s blog post : Introduction to Second Life for Educators – a Course in Spanish 2nd Edition.

The course is from the University of San Martin de Porres Perú and is aimed at Spanish speaking educators who want to learn how to use Second Life for education purposes. The blog describes the course as :

The Virtual Worlds Project of The University of San Martin de Porres from Perú starts this September 29th the second edition of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) entitled “Introduction to Second Life for Educators 2nd. Ed.”. The course is free and is designed to train Spanish speaking educators on the use of the virtual world Second Life, and to provide knowledge that allows educators to benefit from its potential, especially in the education field.

The course starts in a few days time on September 29th.

Inside the building

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Sep 242014
 

Hamlet Au over at New World Notes has a blog post about Blizzard’s decision to cancel Titan. Titan was a planned new MMO from Blizzard, a long rumoured new MMO, indeed seven years long and it never seemed to see the light of day but it was supposed to be the next big thing.

Hamlet’s article has a link to a Polygon post on the same issue : Blizzard cancels its next-gen MMO Titan after seven years. That article has some great quotes from Blizzard’s co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime and Blizzard’s senior vice president of story and franchise development, Chris Metzen. Linden Lab should pay careful attention here to what is being said and what has happened. Mike Morhaime is quoted as saying :

We had created World of Warcraft, and we felt really confident that we knew how to make MMOs, So we set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn’t come together.

Linden Lab have created Second Life and I’m pretty sure that they feel really confident on how to make virtual worlds. They have now set out to make the most ambitious virtual world that one could possibly imagine, but will it actually come together?

Chris Metzen is quoted as saying :

We were losing perspective and getting lost in the weeds a little. We had to allow ourselves to take that step back and reassess why the hell we were doing that thing in the first place.

Linden Lab need to ensure that they don’t find themselves in this position with their future virtual world, that they don’t find themselves making something that isn’t fun, that isn’t really progressing how they would like it to and that might not be worth their time at the end of the day.

Then there’s the World Of Warcraft factor. World Of Warcraft may be in decline but it’s still quite healthy. The same can be said of Second Life. Chris Metzen confirmed that Blizzard will continue to support World Of Warcraft, indeed he goes further and says :

My hope personally is that we’ll support it forever

Linden Lab have said that they will continue to support Second Life, I’m sure there are people at the lab who hope they will support Second Life forever.

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Sep 232014
 

There’s an interesting blog post on the official Second Life blog : An Inside Look at How The Ops Team Collaborates. Many a support person the world over will notice the lack of references to expletives, head desking, people asking silly questions and people not wanting to part with information because it will delay them in their aim of fixing the problem, even though that short delay means the helpdesk can provide information to end users if end users contact them.

The use of IRC is strong at Linden Lab and the blog post makes a very strong point as to why communications such as that are pretty damn important :

Running an incident response in a chat channel is also an incredibly effective way of passively disseminating information to a wide audience. A large number of people can quietly lurk in a chat channel unlike in a physical space. More formal status updates to various parties, like support, are of course sometimes necessary but enabling those parties to follow along in real time gives them context that would not otherwise be conveyed in a terse status report.

As a final bonus, we are able to respond to a problem at peak efficiency regardless of where anyone is at that moment. Issues don’t wait for office hours to crop up. Being a distributed team, this is really our only option, but it rocks that being distributed is an advantage in incident response.

Whereas in smaller operations the chat is more likely to be by telephone or shouted across the office, with people openly denying there’s a problem whilst the helpdesk phones are ringing red hot. Then there’s the pause, the WTF moment, the end of the denial, the pass the parcel finger of blame experience and then eventually the fix. Then you have the post-mortem which involves everyone agreeing to be more organised and in full communication mode if this happens again, and then forgetting that was ever said five minutes later.

Linden Lab seem to be very well organised and the fact that they use chat means the existence of chat logs, the use of which are explained well in the blog post. Linden Lab can look back over the logs to identify what exactly happened, they can even educate new staff by letting them read old logs too.

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Sep 182014
 

Innsmouth Bar And Cinema

Innsmouth in Second Life is a dark place, abandoned in the 1930’s and with a mysterious sea creature off the coast, it’s a town with a secret. However the dark forces that have plagued the town have not put everyone off, there are still a few hardy souls around. However now Innsmouth faces it’s greatest peril yet, a peril that many have fought within Second Life. Innsmouth may very well disappear from the Second Life grid.

A  blog post on the HP Lovecraft Festival site has issued a call for help : SAVE INNSMOUTH SIM in SL. The post explains the very real peril Innsmouth finds itself in :

On September 15th, Darmin Darkes, the owner of the Innsmouth-themed Sim announced the following: “Innsmouth sim is for sale. I’m giving first dibs to you folks in the hopes that someone will want to keep some of the build. Worst case is having to flatten it and sell it. I just can’t afford it any longer. I’m not leaving SL, but I have to cut back my sims. Thank you for your years of support and friendship and the passion you’ve given to Innsmouth. It’s only pixels and I’m sure there are better versions waiting to be built.” — Darmin Darkes

As a result of this notice, a number of Second Lifer have been working together, through a group called, “The Innsmouth Preservation Society,” to help with the upkeep and potentially to purchase this sim, then maintain it.

If you would like to be a part of this important group, please contact Arik Metzer or any member of the group who can invite you. More updates on our progress will be posted here.

**IMPORTANT FIRST MEETING TO DISCUSS THIS ISSUE**: Thursday 18 September 2014 — 2 times: 11 AM SLT and 7:30 PM SLT, both at the Innsmouth SIM .

The first meeting was taking place as I blogged this piece. A second meeting will take place at 7:30 PM SLT today. Whether Innsmouth can be saved only time will tell but it’s a fascinating sim with a theme that is better viewed inworld than in snapshots.

Innsmouth Fair

Innsmouth featured on the Eureka Destination Blog back in February 2010 when Limey Linden spoke to the owner Darmin Darkes. Those Eureka posts were good. Anyway, Limey visited back in 2010 and was impressed. At the time, Darmin, who had been a driving force in creating the sim had purchased the sim for herself. At the time Darmin said :

I’ve just purchased Innsmouth, so it will stay as it is until I think of something to tweak and improve. I hope it lasts forever! I like that it’s so low key… no club or shopping to detract from the atmosphere… but that may have to change. I get so many positive comments from visitors and it pleases me to be able to make something they appreciate so deeply. When you see something you love about SL, you should always try and thank someone.

Alas it seems that that will not be the case and I can completely sympathise with Darmin over her decision.

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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 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 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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