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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

LINK OF THE WEEK!

A time-lapse machinima clip for an upcoming SL-based documentary...

From an empty space to a neon-lit fashion runway in a minute flat, constructed to the beat of funky electronica. I stumbled into the announcement of this ultracool clip in the SL Forums, and immediately IMd its creator, Pierce Portocarrero to give me some background on its creation. It's for "The Ideal World", a full-length documentary about Second Life incorporating in-world footage with live interviews, much of that focusing on the work of design legend Nephilaine Protagonist, and her bid to launch a new fashion line.

"Neph and I used FRAPS to record her building the stage," Pierce tells me. "The entire [filming] session took around two hours. Neph created most of the objects beforehand, much like Martha Stewart [does] before a cooking segment. While Neph focused on building the stage, I repositioned the camera in a variety of locations to ensure the footage would be visually interesting after we ran it through the editing process."

After the shoot, Pierce continues, "we brought the footage into post-producing. We used the compositing software After Effects to speed up the footage by using a feature known as time remapping. We incorporated the use of zooms and pans to add visual interest to the footage which originally was just a static image." The footage was shot at 1024 x 768 resolution, though the final movie was shrunk down to a much smaller 400x 300. "We needed to use such a large original-sized image in order to increase the quality of the movement effects," Portocarrero explains. "If we hadn't, then the image quality would have been severally degraded." Final cut in place, it fell to in-world musician Torley Torgeson, to score the scene with an MP3 file loaded with Torley's characteristically fat beats. The finished product is one of the more dazzling demos of the Second Life construction process (though speaking for myself, it'd be even cooler if we also got to see one of the prefab modules built from its original plywood, simple geometric form.)

Anyway, don't just take my take on it-- check it out here.

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Monday, May 30, 2005

THE WORD MADE REALER STILL

One more way to bring the written word to Second Life (context and previous versions here and here.)

I find Moriash Moreau's prototype sitting on a picnic table in the middle of a wooded glen.

"I went with a simpler approach," Moriash explains. "It's just one prim, and runs off particles. Go ahead and give it a touch." When I do, the book on the table announces itself cheerily:

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow: Use Page Up and Page Down to turn pages. This book is best read in Mouselook... Touch the book again to bring up the additional functions menu.

"If you give the book another poke," Moriash continues, "it has bookmarking (for the owner), chapter skip, and dispenses the CCL license agreement as a notecard. I was operating under the assumption that there'd be only one reader at a time. I can see it, but only you can flip the pages and run the menus. Mostly personal bias-- I hate people reading over my shoulder!"

Instead, you read his book in first-person mouselook, which gives you pretty much the same perspective you'd have, when reading a book in material form. "Nothing too fancy," Moriash continues. "On touch, it checks the height of the user and modifies the display height accordingly. From there, it gives you the brief instructions by Instant Message-- no need to annoy the neighbors-- and captures PgUp and PgDn [for turning pages]." The book calls up the universal code for each page (already uploaded in texture form into SL), and renders them into particles. "It also loads the next page up and sets one of the faces of the book to that texture. This preloads it into your cache so you don't have to wait for it to load on page flip-- unless you flip fast."

If Moriash Moreau has put special attention into his prototype, it may have to do with its intended author-- Cory Doctorow's Boing Boing is where Moriash first read about Second Life.

"Oh," Mr. Moreau adds, "and the dimensions of the book are right. I checked Amazon."

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

WELCOME, NEW YORK TIMES READERS!

If you clicked your way onto this blog after reading "The Game Is Virtual. The Profit Is Real", Mark Wallace's fine article in the Times' Sunday Business section, you may be interested in having a look at my own profile of real estate maven Anshe Chung, a Resident mentioned in Mark's story. Tringo (the in-world game mentioned in the Times piece), became a phenomenon (and a sometimes controversial one) before its financial success; my story on that is here. Other New World Notes stories on the business and pleasure of virtual land speculation and private enterprise are linked to here-- an entry that was written, as it turns out, in response to another recent mainstream media story on in-world moneymaking.

You know, I'm continually fascinated with the press' own fascination with the world's economic aspects, especially when it's to the exclusion of almost, well, nearly everything else about it. Fascinated, but not surprised. I don't attribute this to crassness, though; more likely, it is just that it's much easier to explain the money-making appeal of online worlds to a general readership, than it is to write about the intellectual/communal/creative attributes which really comprise the core of the Second Life experience. (And I'm looking forward to the paradigm shift when we see more mainstream stories dealing with those aspects, myself.)

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

THE LONG ENGAGEMENT OF LAURA SKYE

Being a follow-up to "Watching the Detectives"...

In their first lives, Dave Barmy asked Laura Skye to marry him more than two years ago, in the month of December 2003. She'd agreed to do so at the time, but some things happened since then, which required him to ask again. Namely, they both got Second Life accounts, and then he paid for the services of an in-world working girl, and it almost brought their real life partnership to an end. That’s all covered here, but at the time of its publication, Laura had only let me know that his act of online infidelity had almost ended their live-in relationship.

She hadn't told me how it scotched their wedding plans, too.

“Sorry,” she tells me now. “I thought I had told you. I broke it off, that was part of the arguments.”

When I meet up with Laura in-world, the young British woman is wearing a sexy cowgirl outfit, two-stepping to American country music on the dance floor of Club 69 in Redear (137, 35), a nightclub where she also performs as live-voice disc jockey, as “djsea_breeze”. (“Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8am EST time, and Saturday at 4pm EST and 6am Sunday EST.”)

But before any real world nuptials went down, Laura Skye decided it was time for them to marry in Second Life. It is possible through the company website to designate another Resident as your “partner”, so that anyone who cares to look up your in-world profile will instantly know which Resident (if anyone) you are committed to. And though they play SL at separate times (they only have one working computer at home), they selected each other as “partners”. Until, that is, she caught him cavorting with the working girl, and decided she’d had enough of that. So she went back to the same web page, and filed for separation.

That was before the private detective confirmed Dave’s trustworthiness in Second Life-- and, perhaps, in their life outside, as well. In any case, Laura re-designated him as her in-world partner, and sent out 3D wedding invitations to their friends.

“I just felt it was the right time,” she tells me, “we seemed to be getting on a lot better.”

They hired April LeMay, who has been running a Second Life wedding service for just a few months, but before that, operated a similar service in another online world for over a year. (“Then I moved here and started Wedding By April,” Ms. LeMay explains to me, “and we are now known as D!Vogue LeMay Bridals. Same great service, just new name.”)

Thing was, since they only have one computer in their home, Laura and Dave couldn’t be online at the same time, to go through the ceremony together. So they asked Jenna Fairplay to stand in for Laura, and be the bride for the service. (In other words, a roleplay wedding in which one of the members actually roleplayed her role by proxy.)

“I know it seems [bizarre],” Laura acknowledges, “but it all worked out in the end.” In the home they share, she watched the proceedings over Dave’s shoulder, while Jenna said her vows for her. She even cried, at April’s opening invocation:

In this book of life, today you close one chapter and open another. Together, you, Dave and Laura, commit here and now to share all that you are and all that you may become… From this day forward, may each page bear the word of love.

And she thinks Dave got a little misty, too. Laura even invited Markie Macdonald, P.I., the investigator who confirmed Barmy’s monogamous bonafides, to the wedding, but Laura forgets if the red-haired private dick attended.

All that done, a month later, Dave asked her to go through the real thing.

“It was more of a conversation,” she tells me. “Just said we should book the wedding and get married, basically. And I said ‘Yeah, sounds good’.”

So they'll wed in early July, two years to the day they met. The service will take place at their local government registry office.

“There’s going to be a party in the evening," she says, "and we can’t afford a honeymoon right now. But doesn’t matter for me, I’m really happy.”

I ask Laura Skye what it was like, to have her relationship tested in Second Life.

“It was very hard,” she answers. “Makes you really think about real life matters. To try to learn to trust. To try and remember it’s only a game.”

UPDATE, 5/26: Private detective Markie Macdonald IMs me an update on Dave and Laura's wedding, and the state of her investigation business: "I did get an invite," she tells me, "but couldn't make it, would have loved to have gone. Business has been steady, since the story I peeked at nearly three new cases a day (had about ten staff one day) but now has got a bit quieter, maybe one or two cases a week... I can handle that better, to be honest."

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

DUNKING LINDENS

Or, Customer service as ritual humilation...

I'm fairly sure if Honda had to issue a product recall on its latest line of hybrid vehicles to repair a major manufacturing defect, they wouldn't make the CEO sit on a gangplank in his rainbow skivvies while a mob of irate customers heaved balls at the nearby target. Then again, if the alternative is a form apology letter, it might not be a totally bad idea.

At least that hypothesis was put to the test yesterday, after Jase Byrne posted out this proclamation, in response to the brutal log-in delays of the previous weekend:

On Tuesday, the 24th day of May, at 12:00PST various persons of Linden lineage shall assemble at the Dunking tank on the Touchstone Fair Ground on FairChang Project island and make themselves available for the good people of Second Life, to dunk at their pleasure. With these actions Clan Linden holds to make good any grievance, annoyance or inconvenience inccured up the good citizens of Second Life over the past weekend.

And so Lindens gathered by the dozens at the Touchstone Fair, Jase's amusement park with educational trimmings (sample images right column, first three pics), where a capacity crowd (lynch mob? clown vigilantes?) were waiting, to unleash soggy revenge. One by one the Lindens came, mounted the dunking pool gangplank, while a Resident took up a ball, went into first-person targeting mode, and took aim at the trigger target. No Linden was spared-- not the CEO, not the VP, not the community-minded Liaisons, nor certainly, not the programmers. (When I arrived, mild-mannered coder James Linden was gamely emerging from the pool in his tightie whities. "Okay, back to 1.6.6 database load reduction work for me.")

Then again, I assume that I'd be exempt, being the mere reporter, but from the moment of my arrival, the throng is in a water frenzy and cannot be appeased.

"Hamlet in the hotseat!" Jase Byrne roars.

FlipperPA Peregrine is even more direct. "THE MEDIA! GET HIM!"

I backpedal protesting. "I'm the fourth estate! That means my butt stays dry, or something!"

"Hamlet," Olmy Seraph reasons, "if Philip gets wet, so do you!"

Torley Torgeson assents: "ALL YOUR LINDEN ARE BELONG TO US!"

To clamor is so loud, I finally strip my shirt and jacket off, and get in position, above the pool (which someone has helpfully added a shark and a pirahna to). But I still demand some kind of fair explanation.

"I want to hear good cause for why I who have not an inkling of blame for the load issues must now be tossed South like so much lobster in the drink!"

The answers are varied.

"Guilty by association," katherine Mullen suggests, grinning.

"PEER PRESSURE," Syless Calliope offers.

Brace Coral is more pragmatic. "Cuz we wanna see the seethru white suit?"

"For the sins of the media," Nigel Linden shouts from the sidelines, "get in the seat!"

"Take it like a man!" Cailyn Miller bellows.

And a splashing cuts across the sky.


Screenshot of Philip Linden pre-dunk by Sean Gorham, originally for Snapzilla, generously republished here with the photographer's permission.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

LINKS OF THE WEEK!

Welcome two new SL bloggers: Moriash Moreau, who recently posted a cool how-to on creating flashy, no-script pendulums, and Hiro Pendragon, who has a detailed analysis of Second Life as Metaverse, with some fascinating proposals for its future in, well, transforming the world:

... Quite simply, if The Metaverse is going to be scalable, there can't be any one central device. Period. The concept is completely backward to that of how the Internet was designed; that is, namely, that if part of a system is hosed, the rest of the system should work independantly. (Thanks, Cold War fears of nuclear attack for ARPANet's distributed model!)

But I see another key missing feature: Reverse Compatibility...

Some heavy server load issues caused significant log-in delays last weekend (which mostly seem to be resolved now). Lordfly Digeridoo interpreted these as Linden Lab's failure to fully grasp that elusive concept known as human nature:

Namely, inventory size and outbound e-mails... The inventory asset server is nearly on fire, because people are natural packrats (some folks have reported having 18,000 objects in their inventory... christ almighty. I thought I was bad with 3500...). And, due to e-mail being the only reliable way to get outside data in and out of SL, the Linden Lab e-mail server is being hit several hundred times a SECOND.

Over at the "preview grid", which was sometimes the only version of Second Life available during those dark days, Osprey Therian reports on a mini-protest over the log-in problems.

On to matters more mythical, Olympia Rebus has a rundown on the pantheon of Greek gods brought to Second Life, and the SL Herald has an anonymous author's visit to Port Kar, a Mature private island inspired by the controversial subculture that emerged from the fantasy novels of John Norman.

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

GAME ON: GAME MATCHER

(Another featured game for SL-E3-- background here.)

Developer Jonathan Shaftoe on his game project:

So, Second Life has board games, but how often do they sit idle and unplayed, as there's never two people in the same place at the same time wanting to play? Game Matcher solves this, implementing board games (Go, currently) and a mechanism for finding online people to play against.

Jonathan Shaftoe on Game Matcher's key features:

There are two main parts to the project.

The first, obviously, is the board games themselves. Doing anything complex and interactive in LSL is always a challenge given the restrictions of the language and prim-count. But if a fully functioning
implementation of Go is possible, as I've shown it is, then many other games should also be possible. I hope to at least get Othello/Reversi done, too.

The second part is the key game matching part. I'll be creating a mechanism whereby players can register a permament interest in playing a type of game. Someone who wants to play can then send a message to all those online who have registered an interest saying 'I want to play now', so formalising the process of finding opponents and making it much easier to find people to play against without the need for formal events. A natural progression of this would be to include win/loss statistics, and maybe develop some form of rankings mechanism, but that's for the future.

Jonathan Shaftoe on the biggest challenges in creating Game Matcher:

My main concern is just finding the time to finish the project-- currently there's just the one of me, and given the twin demands of work and parenthood finding spare bits of time to do LSL coding is challenging. I've also not played that much with making things work cross-sim before as will be necessary for this. So though I'm fairly sure it's theoretically possible to do what I want to do, there may be gotchas I'm not yet aware of. Also, it's currently just me, and though I can code, I can't really build, so I may need to recruit a good builder at some point to try to make it all look good.

Oh, and I also need a better name than Game Matcher!

Shaftoe on the above screenshots:

The red and green translucent squares are the "position selection" mechanism, which takes two clicks to select a square to play in, thus reducing prim count considerably. You can see how they 'zoom in' from picture 1 to picture 2.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

GAME ON: EVA

(Another featured game for SL-E3-- background here.)

Developer Shakuhachi Muromachi on his team's game:

The Extended Virtual Agent is a functional "world-bridging toy", in a genre similar to Wild Divine, InnerLife, Neuro Programmer, and Mind Surfer. Combining mind entrainment techniques such as binaural beats and visual stimulus with our custom systems, EVA extends human existential experience by "bridging" virtual and un-virtual via the collective "mind conduit".

Shakuhachi Muromachi on EVA's key features:

The capability Second Life offers our project is via the embedded "mind grid" of its "SecondLifers". EVA uses their intellectual, emotional and existential experience as an "engine"-- with thousands of live
minds to draw upon, SL offers the equivalent of a massive "brain cluster"-- a unique opportunity
perfectly suited to our research.

Shakuhachi Muromachi on the biggest challenges in creating EVA:

Most of our challenges arise from the complexities of human-machine interaction and the quirky, even chaotic nature of virtual agent extension.

The team has responded adeptly to these issues without exception, but accidents in our line of work are potentially hazardous and we have had our share of complications. One successful avenue we've found is the SL community-- we welcome the interest of all SLers (see resources).

Resources:
Contact our sponsor for an exciting volunteer research assignment:

Unvirtual Realities, Inc

EVA Project.

In-world group "EVA Project", secondlife://Hikuelo/160/200

First image depicts an architectural overview of EVA design.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

GAME ON: THE BOARD

(Another featured game for SL-E3-- background here.)

Developer Tiger Crossing on his team's game:

Imagine an ancient artifact, a pair of hinged wooden shingles like a book with intricate designs carved on the inside. Imagine two children finding it and thinking it looks like an unfinished board game. Imagine their crayons, scavenged bits of other games, and the first roll of the dice...

The artifact from an evil past has awakened and taken over. And now it is up to you and your friends to save the children, the town, and everyone in it. But you are playing by The Board's rules, and friends may not stay friends for long. And yet... Rules are rules, and even The Board is bound by the theme imposed by the innocent children. Evil... Candyland?

Freely walk the pathways of The Board, complete quests and tasks to open new avenues, search out the hidden secrets and rules, play mini-games along the way, and free the captured townfolk and, ultimately, the children themselves.

Tiger Crossing on The Board's key features:

The look of The Board is a large part of the immersion factor. It needs to look like a boardgame exploded and incorporated an entire town. Even the people. There's a ton of building and art to get done. (The screenshots here are mere stand-in art, only a very small portion will still be in use by the end of development.)

Tiger Crossing on the biggest challenges in creating The Board:

The pathways need to track the players' movements. Not an easy task with hundreds of spaces ranged all around in 3D. Add in NPC elements that roam the board freely, which also need to be tracked, and there's a lot going on in there. The biggest challenge is to get all this working with as little impact on performance as possible. The solution: re-write, test, re-write, test, re-write... Make every element as efficient as possible. When it's this big, you HAVE to.

"The original story (no longer accurate) was created when the contest was announced and can be seen here," Tiger adds. "As the game progresses, this will be replaced with more up-to-date information."

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GAME ON: KRYTTERZ

(Another featured game for SL-E3-- background here.)

Developer Kermitt Quirk on his team's game:

Krytterz is mostly about collecting and duelling pets, which are customized by the players. A player’s pets can face off in challenges to advance and prepare for tournaments. Pets will sometimes choose to breed instead of fighting, creating offspring that are different from the standard choices.

Kermitt Quirk on Krytterz's key features:

Using the Second Life attachment system has enabled us to create a fairly complex network where players can manage their pets and find other players to compete with. Also the dialog system has been used to offer the players their options as battles progress, and the battle is played out by animated pet models for everyone to watch.

In the background, XML-RPC is being used to allow the in-world attachments to communicate with an off-world server that utilizes Java and a MySQL database to store information about the pets and their battles. Since Second Life allows us to store our data externally, it opens up other possibilities, like a web interface where players can see their stats and rankings.

Kermitt Quirk on the biggest challenges in creating Krytterz:

One thing we've had to consider while building Krytterz is that the animated models that play out the battles need to be rezzed whenever someone is challenged. This is a stumbling block we're trying to get around by allowing either players' attachment to rez all the necessary components. We've also provided public stations, which will manage the rezzing if the players don't have anywhere else to go.

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