Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Why Cory Ondrejka (Probably) Told the NSA of Second Life: To Prepare It for Mainstream Acceptance as the 3D Web
Among the many revelations around the news that the NSA had a surveillance program in Second Life, this item in particular has caused a lot of concern, and (in my view), unnecessary alarm:
In 2007, as the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies were beginning to explore virtual games, N.S.A. officials met with the chief technology officer for the manufacturer of Second Life, the San Francisco-based Linden Lab. The executive, Cory Ondrejka, was a former Navy officer who had worked at the N.S.A. with a top-secret security clearance. He visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement. It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”
This fairly innocuous topic description has somehow been interpreted to mean Cory (full disclosure: I consider him a friend) was encouraging the NSA to spy on Second Life users in a nefarious way, which is somehow connected to his past as a Navy officer. I haven't talked with Cory at length for a year or two, but I do remember the broader context of Linden Lab's strategy at the time -- I was still working as a contractor with the company in 2006 when that strategy was already being executed. So I think there's a much likelier explanation: Cory was at the NSA to help prepare Second Life for mainstream acceptance, and preempt government regulation or censorship that would hurts its growth.
Here's what I mean, though it's actually also suggested by a paragraph in the same original New York Times article that broke the story, which people generally miss:
Fluff Piece: Here's How An SL Designer Is Using Materials To Tackle One of The Biggest Challenges In 3D Modelling
Fur. Fluff. Fuzz. Whatever you want to call it, it's a simple part of reality that is among the hardest things to replicate digitally. Getting confincing looking fluffiness that works on more than just one carefully selected angle is a real challenge, and it's one that's plagued 3D artists both inside and outside of SL. That's why Damien Fate's latest project stood out to me. Starting with a plain little puffball for the tail-end of his new bunny pyjamas, he's used SL Materials (A.K.A. normal mapping) to create fluffier-looking fluff in the virtual world. (If you need a refresher on SL Materials, Damien shared some very straightforward explanations on the topic with NWN earlier this year.)
Damien is a very forthcoming designer, eager to talk shop and often sharing pictures and animated gifs of what he's working on, so I asked if he would reveal a few things to us about his plushifying process. Here's what he had to say:
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Forget the Cupcakes, Fashion, and Video Games: We Need to Talk About the NSA
You know, I'm having a very hard time covering my usual beat right now. It feels pretty gross to lead in to an article about the NSA with a post about a Cupcake Festival, and it feels just as gross following it with anything else. Just as Hamlet wrote yesterday, I can't say that I was surprised by this week's revelation that the NSA has been using Second Life (among other virtual worlds and game platforms) to spy on U.S. and non-U.S. citizens alike. I'm not foaming at the mouth about this myself, but it's serious enough that I don't want to be the one bookending it with fluff.
"'Serious?' Oh come on Iris, they were probably all hanging out on Bukkake Bliss Island, so who cares? All I do is shop anyway, who would want to spy on that?"
It's time for some real talk: Yes this is serious, and even if you don't have anything to hide, even if you think you're just too mundane to be of interest to anyone, you're wrong.
The Daily Show Nails it on the NSA Spying in SL and WoW
As you might have expected, The Daily Show has a take on the revelations of the NSA spying in World of Warcraft and Second Life, and nails it:
This place is all about trust. If we thought people might not be who they say we are... the whole world would fall apart!
The Daily Show staff clearly includes some hardcore gamers (I'm guessing Jon is among them). Like I said yesterday, The Daily Show did a take on Second Life several years ago, when Philip Rosedale and others spoke about virtual worlds to Congress (which ironically, probably encouraged the NSA to keep spying). Let's watch:
Monday, December 09, 2013
Of Course the NSA is Spying on Second Life - It Would Only Be Surprise If It Wasn't
When the NSA leaks began emerging this Summer, I asked Linden Lab if it was one of the many Internet companies providing the US spy agency with users' data, a question to which I receive no reply, which was no surprise -- so I wasn't surprised to read this New York Times story that the NSA is, indeed, monitoring Second Life users, along with other virtual worlds. Because actually, the real surprise would be if the NSA wasn't monitoring Second Life. Here's some background:
- Back in 2007, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, a top Al Qaeda expert, told me jihadists were using Second Life to meet, perhaps creating anonymous groups of like-minded extremists. As I noted then, "if there are Jihadists in Second Life, there are also counter-terrorists. US Homeland Security, of course, set up a temporary SL project back in 2005 [pictured above]; it's likely that intelligence agencies and investigators like Dr. Gunaratna are already in-world, even without the Lindens' knowledge."
- In 2008, then-Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale appeared before Congress to talk about the value and potential dangers of Second Life (which led to a segment on "The Daily Show".)
- By 2008, Congress was late to the party, since by then, most branches of the US military, and major government agencies like NASA and NOAA, either had an official presence in Second Life, or were actively exploring it.
So with all that US government activity in Second Life we already know about, it's really not a surprise to find the NSA is there too. The more interesting question is whether this is a good idea, and whether it should be Constitutionally permitted at all. As it happens, leading jurist and legal theorist Judge Richard Posner discussed this in Second Life, when he appeared in SL to talk about his book on Constitutional rights in the age of Al Qaeda:
Got A Sweet Tooth? Create Your Own Custom Mesh Cupcakes For Second Life's Upcoming Cupcake Festival
If you're eager to flex your creative muscles (during the few moments you might have to yourself this month) there's an event coming up that you might want to consider applying to. Atelier Kreslo's Cupcake Festival will be opening at the end of January, and they are currently accepting applications for cupcake designers looking to contribute limited edition works of bakery-fresh art to the event.
Here's how it works: Participants will be given a full-permission mesh cupcake kit created by the talented Flutter Memel. Cupcakes can be customized to your hearts desire, and will then be sold at the event for L$40, with 25% going to fund Atelier Kreslo's maintenance and 75% going to the creators. You won't make millions, but it's an excellent chance to flaunt your artistic flair and participate in a pretty unique event.
Applications for Atelier Kreslo's Cupcake Festival close on December 22nd, so be sure to submit yours before it's too late. If you want to know a bit more first, check out their Tumblr or their Flickr for a peek at past Atelier events and items.
Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week
- Can We Improve Our Recall With a Virtual Memory Palace? UCLA Grad Student Testing Just That - And You Can Help
- Why Bitcoin Euphoria Reminds Me of Second Life Hype
- Second Life's Private Sim Revenue in 2013 Forecast at $48M, Down From $61M in 2010
- Don't Miss This Must-Watch Virtual World Performance of The Nutcracker's "Waltz Of The Flowers"
- Why We Shouldn't Accept Sexism from Established Gamer Communities
Friday, December 06, 2013
Oculus Rift Compatible Second Life Viewer Ready for Release
Very good news scoop by Nalates Urriah, citing a Linden Lab developer known as Void Pointer Linden during Second Life-based meeting:
"Oculus Rift support is now feature complete. We should see it release Linden ‘soon’... [Void] also mentioned he was using Oculus during the meeting... Apparently no one has tossed their cookies in testing. Void says he has a pretty hot machine, but he is getting close to his normal FPS. So, it may not be that much of an additional load."
More here. Hopefully the viewer goes online before the end of this year.
Iris Wants to Know: Do You Think Barbie's New Digital Dress Could Be a Tipping Point for E-Textiles?
A few months ago Hamlet and I had a discussion inspired by an animated Second Life dress that involved whether or not "e-textiles" would become The Next Big Thing, and what role SL might have in testing possible designs on eager shoppers. While I was doubtful that such styles would be anything more than flavor-of-the-week impulse buys in a virtual world, I was equally skeptical that e-textiles would be anything more than a modern version of the laughable retrofuturistic fashions produced in the middle of the 20th century.
Well, I might have to eat my words now that Barbie herself is getting on the e-textiles train.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Can We Improve Our Recall With a Virtual Memory Palace? UCLA Grad Student Testing Just That - And You Can Help
Nicco Reggente is a PhD candidate in UCLA's Cognitive Neuroscience department, and as part of his work, he wants to create a castle in Second Life - specifically, a virtual version of a "Memory Palace", also known as the Method of loci, an ancient means of memorizing information:
"The MoL technique is designed to exploit the remarkable vividness of our visuospatial memories by using spatial environments as scaffolding for memorizing non-spatial content," as he explains. "[O]ne is typically instructed to conjure up a familiar structure (e.g., a childhood home) in their imagination that will serve as their 'memory palace'. While mentally navigating through this environment, one can imagine 'placing' a list of to-be-remembered items in different locations. When later attempting to retrieve this list of items, one simply has to navigate back through the environment and 'observe' the objects in their previously placed locations. My proposal would give this classically powerful mnemonic technique a virtual makeover by creating virtual memory palaces and allowing participants to volitionally place to-be-remembered objects in locations of their choosing."
As it happens, the Memory Palace idea is one of Philip Rosedale's inspirations for the creation of Second Life, so I think Nicco is on the right track. However, the challenge is creating such a palace in SL, under some very specific criterion he has. However, he has a budget to pay an SL creator (ideally who lives in the Los Angeles area), and, you know, it's For Science. If you're interested, e-mail Nicco Reggente at nreggente at psych dot ucla dot edu.
But first, read the guidelines he has in mind - they will probably require the Second Life game creation tools released earlier this year:
This Blog Devoted to Digital Plant Life Will Give You A New Perspective On Game Worlds
When you're playing a video game do you rush through every level, or do you ever stop to smell the virtual roses? A new blog has popped up recently devoted to the art and appreciation of digital plant life, and although Video Game Foliage might seem just about as "nichey" as you can get, I suspect this screenshot-laden site will appeal to just about anyone who appreciates the work behind the beauty of virtual creation.
But why not avatars or cities or scenery as a whole? What is it that makes plants so special? Well...
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Why Bitcoin Euphoria Reminds Me of Second Life Hype
"Bitcoin Euphoria Is Eerily Like Second Life Hype (and I Should Know)" is my new Internet Evolution essay pointing out the similarities between rising mainstream media euphoria over Bitcoin and the 2006-07 buzz over Second Life when it was being featured on the cover of BusinessWeek and beyond. (And as I suggest at the end, Second Life does have powerful, fun, and worthwhile applications, which is why I still write about it -- my comparison of SL with Bitcoin is to the "OMG it's the next generation of the Interwebs!!1!" rhetorical overreach from that period.) In the post, I point to enthusiasm over SL/Bitcoin despite little evidence of substantial user growth, and excitement over SL/Bitcoin's potential applications despite little actual usage. But to be sure, there's many other comparisons, among them:
The Universe Is Your Playground In Space-Based Sandbox Game Starbound, Coming to Steam Early Access
One of the most hotly anticipated indie games of the past two years will be making its debut on Steam Early Access today, and if you like building, crafting, procedurally-generated worlds, and most importantly spaceships and super cool aliens you are absolutely going to want to check it out.
Starbound is sandbox-meets-space exploration, and its very transparent development process (which has been bursting at the seams with screenshots and teasers) has already led to a significant number of fans... And pre-orders.
Anyone who pre-ordered the game will be getting a Steam key in their email... Right about now, actually. And since that includes me, I'll be regaling NWN readers with stories my adventures in procedurally-generated space next week. For now, here are a few things you should know if you're not sure if Starbound is for you:
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Second Life's Private Sim Revenue in 2013 Forecast at $48M, Down From $61M in 2010
Crunching the numbers from Tyche Shepherd's Grid Survey data, Ener Hax has a new forecast for revenue Linden Lab is earning from private sims: $47,700,000 in 2013, which is down from $60,624,000 in 2010. Back in 2011, Linden Lab's spokesman told me just under 80% of the company’s revenue is from land fees, so this could be a fairly sharp drop in overall revenue for the company. At the same time, Linden Lab seems to be getting pretty good revenue with Blocksworld, its new iOS app, while it's also boosted promotion for its monthly Premium subscriptions for Second Life, so it's possible some or even much of this private sim shortfall has been made up for by other revenue streams.
And yet again, as I've saying for several years, this also means Second Life needs new users to survive. Oculus Rift integration could bring many in, as could a robust mobile version. And yet again, no, as I keep repeating about as much, lowering private sim fees will not stop the loss of private sim revenue, only make it worse. Here's why:
Don't Miss This Must-Watch Virtual World Performance of The Nutcracker's "Waltz Of The Flowers"
Lovers of art, avatars, dance, music, and machinima, gather 'round and drop everything because boy do I have a treat for you. Loony Columbia's latest machinima, "A Pemberley Nutcracker - Waltz of The Flowers", might be everything you've ever wanted in a virtual world dance performance. While The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition in the world of ballet and beyond, it can be incredibly difficult to pull it off in games and virtual environments. The more dancers there are, the more points of failure you have to contend with. It can be even more troublesome when you have to worry about recording it. But this? This is flawless.
Watch the full performance for yourself after the jump!
Monday, December 02, 2013
Why We Shouldn't Accept Sexism from Established Gamer Communities (Comment of the Week)
Last week's post from Iris complaining about Xbox One's sexist advertising campaign provoked a lot of comments, including one from a reader who suggested that the sexism of gamers shouldn't be changed, because it's part of their community's established culture. Which in turn generated this great response from grad student Austin Walker (his cool website here), who eloquently explained why we can and should change gamer culture for the better:
"There's a lot of ways to tackle your beef. We could talk about how communities are always-already fluid, unstable things that grow and change. Or about we could have the debate about whether or not, in fact, there are times when we absolutely SHOULD try to rebuild some communities from the ground up.
"But we don't actually need to have those conversations, because there's a more fundamental problem with your premise. In your thesis, women -- and presumably others like ethnic minorities and LGBTQ individuals? -- should accept the social rules and standards of 'gamers.' When in Rome, you say, they should act like Romans do. Problem is they were in Rome all along, dawg."
Here's the problem with seeing gamer culture as a guys-only club:
Believe It Or Not, These Stunning Second Life Landscapes Are 100% Photoshop-Free
Understanding color, lighting, depth, and most of all composition in photography (be it virtual or real) isn't something everyone is able to do innately, but it can also be pretty easy to take for granted. That is, until you see all those things employed so masterfully that they put anything you've done (and usually fudged with editing tools like Photoshop) to shame.
That's the experience of going through Loverdag's Flickr gallery, in a nutshell.
Top Three New World Notes Posts from Last Week
- We Got Your Back: Here's How to Respond to Microsoft's Incredibly Sexist Xbox One Email
- Here's Second Life's 25 Most Popular Sims This Month
- Twilight Town Reborn in SL for Kingdom Hearts Roleplay
Friday, November 29, 2013
Start Your Virtual Holiday Shopping This Weekend at One of Second Life's Favorite Seasonal Events
Winter gacha season is almost upon us, and The Arcade, one of the most popular fashion and decor events in SL, will be opening its doors once again this Sunday. For the uninitiated, gacha machines are like a lucky dip where you pay a very low price (usually less than L$100) for a random chance at any of the items inside, including rare ones.
Gacha events are fun year-round, but they're particularly great around the holidays. They make great places to pick up gifts for friends and family in the metaverse because, with a few rare exceptions, most gacha items are transferable. This is so that you can swap or sell the random gachas you may get but don't want to keep, but this also means that gifting them is easy as pumpkin pie. It doesn't hurt that many of the items in this upcoming round are quite festively themed, including the holiday decor set from Apple Fall pictured above.
One more thing: If you decide to drop by during the hectic early hours of this wildly popular event, don't go in unprepared. You can plan you gacha shopping spree in advance using The Arcade's official December 2013 shopping guide.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Iris Wants To Know: What Are You Thankful For This Thanksgiving... In Second Life?
Well, it's Thanksgiving... At least in the U.S. it is. Being in Canada myself I had my fill of turkey in October, but nevertheless it's hard not to consider what I'm thankful for, even when it comes to SL.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
We Got Your Back: Here's How to Respond to Microsoft's Incredibly Sexist Xbox One Email
Earlier today, the Xbox One marketing team pushed this little gem out into the world; a form email that you can send to your loved ones to really drive home how much you want this particular console under the Christmas tree. (Playstation 4? More like Playstation BORE, amirite? #teamxbone)
The letter is peppered with green sections that you can click to swap around with various other predefined words and phrases. You can address the letter to your "sugar daddy" and tell them how much you want to "experience the golden age of pirates" in hot release titles like "Zumba Fitness: World Party". I guess that explains why they didn't set the blank sections to randomize, but it definitely doesn't explain why they chose the default options that they did. [Update: The site has since been tweaked so that all those changeable sections are now blank by default. It's actually the second change they've made, the first being when they changed the line about knitting, visible in the header image, to one about taxes. You can find a screencap of that and the rest of the letter, unchanged, here.] Although there are plenty of more neutral choices available, perfect for a non-specific and ideally inoffensive preset, they decided to string together the most sexist, bullshit letter they could manage. Good hustle, team.
It's so dumb and so blatantly sexist that I'm not going to spend the next 700 words unpacking it piece by piece. Instead, I'm going to write the kind of reasonable response you might expect to see from someone on the receiving end of this trash. Enjoy.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Twilight Town Reborn in SL for Kingdom Hearts Roleplay
I first came across the Second Life tribute to Kingdom Heart's Twilight Town totally by accident in 2006, when I was randomly exploring the virtual world while giving a talk about it at a Creative Commons event in San Francisco. When it fully loaded, the audience gasped. It disappeared from the world for awhile (sad to say), but now it's back, and it's just as beautiful if not moreseo - watch:
There's also rules here for Kingdom Hearts-themed roleplay in the city, which are pretty elaborate -- such as:
Walk The Streets of Glitch Once More With A Loyal Fan's Ever-Expanding Recreation of the Beloved, Defunct MMO
Twitter user and Glitch fan @revdancatt has been working on a rather interesting project since Tiny Speck released assets from their defunct MMO into the public domain last week. It started with a simple HTML5 recreation of Marrakesh Meadow, unveiled just a couple days after the assets were released. While you could move your view of the scene back and forth to observe some rather well implemented parallax scrolling, that was about it. But a few days after that, Rev Dan Catt had released a slightly more expanded version of the world, with street after street connected together. It's all still a bit broken but development is ongoing, so who knows how far this unassuming little recreation could go?
No, there are still no avatars to control, no platforms to jump, no vendors to shop at, no resources to gather. No homes, no sound, no chat, no dozens of other things that made Glitch what it was. Maybe there never will be. But if you would like to revisit some fond memories and favorite locations from the world of Ur, it's well worth your time to explore this project.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Here's Second Life's 25 Most Popular Sims This Month -- But Should I Revive This as a Regular Feature on NWN?
Courtesy Louis Platini's Metaverse Business, a Second Life/OpenSim analytics company that gathers publicly accessible in-world data for its clients, here's the top 25 most popular sims in Second Life for this month so far, listed according their average visitor count, the unique visitor range at any given period, and the sim's rank the previous month. I haven't blogged this chart in awhile -- not since last March, actually -- and there's two related reasons for that:
This Screenshot Blog Will Blow You Away With Stunning (And Highly Technical) Game Photography
If you're a game enthusiast, Dead End Thrills is one hell of a site to follow. This blog is acked to the brim with screenshots that could be mistaken for promotional images or, in the case of the shot above taken in EVE Online, even concept art.
These shots aren't simply point-and-click (or even point-and-PrntScrn), but taken using mods, tricks, techniques, and tools that can improve lighting, alter the player camera perspective, and of course allow for stunningly high-res results. Of course all of this info is shared (along with a high-res download link), however not every aspect can be easily recreated without some technical know-how. To recreate the shot from EVE Online, for example, Dead End Thrills recommends "CCP 'Jessica' toolset, 3:4 and 2:1 ratio viewport, 15K tiledshot rendering, high in-engine antialiasing, custom FOV."
While you or I might not necessarily be able to take shots like this one ourselves, Dead End Thrills also has a sizable community, along with a Flickr group open to any screenshot-minded gamers looking to share their work. If you're looking to lose an afternoon ogling some of the most amazing virtual environments you've ever seen, Dead End Thrills is certainly a good place to start.
Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week
- If Bitcoin is Such a Revolutionary Virtual Currency, How Come Few Apparently Use it As, You Know, Currency?
- The Best Part of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag Might Just Be The Employee Bathroom
- Hatch Puts Face-Punchingly Cute Virtual Pet on your iPhone
- Second Life's Mesh Deformer Is Dead, But Project Fitted Mesh is Ready to Take Its Place
- Upcoming Second Life Graphic Improvements (Region Caching & Contextual Loading) Should Help Grow Userbase
- Anita Sarkeesian Explains The Problem With Ms Pac Man In The Latest Tropes Versus Women In Video Games
Friday, November 22, 2013
Coming Soon to SL Mobile Lumiya App: Block/Mute Feature
Lumiya, the 3D Second Life viewer for Android devices (which I'm proud to have as a sponsoring partner of NWN) is getting a powerful new feature in an upcoming update: a block/mute list. (Sneak preview above, though it'll be polished when it's pushed as an update.) Lumiya developer Alina Lyvette is adding it, she tells me, "because of the recent spike of griefing behavior in SL. I should have done it a while ago, but now, as it seems, there's an increased need for it." Go here to get it in the next update.
Metaverse Whovians Rejoice: Second Life's Geeks'N'Nerds Fair Opens This Weekend
Whether you're a Whovian, a Trekkie, a Potterhead (that's what they're called, right?) or a fan of any other facet of geekdom, there's a Second Life event opening this weekend with you in mind. The Geeks'n'Nerds Fair will be running from this Sunday right until December 8th, and with designers steadily finishing work on their fair exclusives we're already getting a peek at what's in store.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
If Bitcoin is Such a Revolutionary Virtual Currency, How Come Few Apparently Use it As, You Know, Currency?
Bitcoin keeps getting written about as a revolutionary virtual currency (as on TechCrunch here, and CNN here, and also GigaOM here, and that's only a small sample of coverage from this week alone), and all this attention makes me feel like I'm eating crazy pills. Because here's the thing: Far as I can tell, hardly anyone is actually using Bitcoin to buy and sell goods and services. That was true three years ago, and to the best of my knowledge, despite constant media coverage, is still true now.
So currently, there's less than 70,000 Bitcoin transactions a day, which suggests little absolute growth from last April, when there were around 64,000 transactions. Even assuming each transaction represents a single user, that's a tiny, economically meaningless number. Or to put it another way:
The Best Part of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag Might Just Be The Employee Bathroom
My favorite thing about Assassin's Creed IV, released for PC earlier this week, might just be the unisex bathroom.
That's not a slight against the game at all. Though I've yet to finish it, so far it seems to have taken all the best lessons from the run away success of Assassin's Creed 2 as well as the mixed reception of 3, leading the series' latest iteration to blend the fun characterization of the former with some of the impressive mechanics introduced in the latter. Top everything with a healthy dose of game industry self-awareness (right down to notes in the lore files) and you have a recipe for one hell of a game.
Then, you step back from all the freerunning, shark-hunting, and swashbuckling... And by "you", I mean the character you're actually playing.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Hatch Puts Face-Punchingly Cute Virtual Pet on your iPhone
Hatch is a virtual pet game for iOS which officially launches today and as you can see from the picture above and the video below, the pets are face-punchingly cute. I interviewed Phill Ryu, Hatch's lead developer, for my book on game design last year, and for this NWN post when the Beta version launched. Since then, he tells me now, they've added new features where you can name your pet Fugu, and take photos with it. The idea with Hatch is to create an emotional bond between the virtual pet and iPhone owner, and because of that, the developers saw some interesting emergent behavior during the Beta testing process:
Second Life's Mesh Deformer Is Dead, But Project Fitted Mesh is Ready to Take Its Place
Project Interesting isn't the only news out of the lab this week. If you were wondering what was happening with Qarl's crowdfunded mesh deformer, or if it would ever be implemented in Second Life, you may not be surprised to hear that the deformer is dead in the water. The twist, however, is that Linden Lab already has an alternative, and it's available for testing today.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Upcoming Second Life Graphic Improvements (Region Caching & Contextual Loading) Should Help Grow Userbase
Project Interesting is Linden Lab's latest attempt to improve the Second Life user experience at the fundamental level of graphics. Watch:
The biggest improvements: region caching (a much-requested feature), so frequently visited areas load faster, and contextual loading, so the world unfolds in relationship to the user, so you're less likely to find yourself walking into a wall right in front of your face that didn't exist a couple seconds before. All this is great for existing users, but I'm just as hopeful that this will slowly, slowly grow the userbase:
'Tis The Season: Bring Winter To Your Virtual Home With The Help of SL Home Designer Barnesworth Anubis
There are a few creators doing their best to make the process of winterizing your Second Life home as easy as possible with snow that's perfectly fitted to their prefabs. Although many home designers use this as an opportunity to push only their newest houses or design special houses just for the winter, Barnesworth Anubis (a granddaddy of the prefab home business in SL) has released snow caps for every home he's created in 2013... Skyboxes excepted, of course. That means you won't have to move into a new house just for a little seasonal atmosphere, if you already live in one of his stylish prefabs.
These aren't just for your roof, either. They include piles for the stoops and stairs, uneven and brushed away where you would see regular foot traffic, as well as a few decorative piles for the yard. That's a nice detail, but even nicer is the fact that they can be retextured with the snow texture of you choosing, even the ground texture used on the sim if you have it handy.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Attention, Indie Devs: Glitch Art & Code Goes Public Domain!
This is a great gesture: Stewart Butterfield and the other developers behind Glitch, the innovative-but-defunct MMO with a cult following, have released all art and code associated with the game to the public domain. As Iris noted last week, Glitch has already inspired an endless runner game for iOS, so now that the game's uniquely quirky art assets are free for the world to play with, we should see any more Glitch-inspired experiences. Free idea for all the many Second Life fans of Glitch: How about reviving Glitch as a mini MMO in SL?
Anita Sarkeesian Explains The Problem With Ms Pac Man In The Latest Tropes Versus Women In Video Games
Stop the Internet presses everyone, because there's a brand new video in Anita Sarkeesian's beloved (or reviled, depending on who you ask) Tropes vs Women in Video Games series.
I've been looking forward to this particular video for some time, because it's the first video that is moving beyond the bleak little world of the damsel and towards the slightly more complicated or less obvious tropes that plague womens roles in gaming.
The subject of Sarkeesian's first post damsel video is definitely worthy of the series. After the jump, find out all about the "Ms. Male Character".
Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week
- Linden Lab ToS Update: SL Content Creator Union Requests Changes from Linden, But Doesn't Specify New Wording
- The Politics of Gaming: Liberals Tend to Like GTA, Conservatives Play Madden; Everyone Loves Mario
- Trove, New Voxel-Based Game From Makers of Rift, Looks Like Minecraft (But I Don't Care & Neither Should You)
- Philip Rosedale on Connecting High Fidelity's VR Tools With Second Life -- and When We'll Get Those Tools to Play With
- Winter is Coming: Stave Off The Frost With Botany-Based Indie Game Reach for the Sun, Now on Steam
- Relive The Glory Days Of Defunct MMO Glitch In This Endless Runner for iOS 7
Friday, November 15, 2013
Linden Lab ToS Update: SL Content Creator Union Requests Changes from Linden, But Doesn't Specify New Wording
The United Content Creators of Second Life have posted an open letter to Linden Lab requesting changes to the company's new Terms of Service, which claims "all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats". As I blogged last month, Linden Lab says it's attempting to revise the ToS to allay these content creators' concerns over such overly broad language. However, the new UCCSL statement doesn't always quite specify (in exact legal terms) the changes that it wants. For instance:
The language "for any purpose whatsoever in all formats" is far too broad and unacceptable. We would prefer that language be limited and would appreciate your input in this regard as we are not convinced that the language above adequately recognizes the rights of different categories of content creators, for example visual artists.
Emphasis mine. I'm not an expert negotiator, nor do I play one on the Internet, but generally speaking, I think it's a good idea to set out the terms that you want, rather than letting the other party frame them for you. Or to put it another way:
Watch It This Weekend: Minecraft Documentary Shows Us How It All Began, How Far It's Come And More
Whether you're interested in a behind-the-scenes view of one of the most popular games in the world or you just want to hear some cute kids talking about their new favorite sandbox, 2 Player Productions' Minecraft: The Story of Mojang is the documentary for you. Better yet, they've posted it in full on their YouTube channel for everyone to watch, ad-free.
2 Player Productions are known for their documentary work in and around the games industry, which includes collaborations with Penny Arcade and Double Fine, but The Story of Mojang might just be my favorite project from them yet. Watch it for yourself after the jump.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
The Politics of Gaming: Liberals Tend to Like GTA, Conservatives Play Madden; Everyone Loves Mario
A fascinating new study co-authored by USC research director Johanna Blakley compares people's political beliefs with their tastes in pop culture, and finds that they vary greatly according to ideology -- including the videogames they play:
"Moderates’ favorite games were Mario (14%), Donkey Kong (12%) and Madden NFL (11%)," Blakley tells me. "Although liberals are more likely to play Grand Theft Auto than other groups, conservatives favor auto racing." Conservatives generally don't play a lot of games, she added, "but when they do, Madden NFL and Mario are their favorites." Mario, above all, is loved regardless of ideology: "Mario was the most popular game across the political spectrum."
Why do liberals tend to like the Grand Theft Auto games, which after all, are ultra-violent, nihilistic, and don't depict women very well? Here's Johanna's take:
Trove, New Voxel-Based Game From Makers of Rift, Looks Like Minecraft (But I Don't Care & Neither Should You)
A new Twitter account popped up yesterday. Well surely thousands did, but @TroveGame was established to tease Trion Worlds' upcoming game, Trove. Their first tweet posed an ambiguous question: "Where will you go?". Today, they tweeted the image above and asked, "What will you find?"
Trove hasn't come entirely out of thin air. Trion, who are better known for their MMORPG Rift, have been leaving breadcrumbs about Trove for some time, including a handful of Trove-related domain name registrations. The image above certainly gives us a much clearer idea about what Trove actually is, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions, and acres of room for unfounded speculation. Will it be an MMO? An RPG? A sandbox?
Here's what we know (and what we don't) about Trion Worlds' latest project:
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Philip Rosedale on Connecting High Fidelity's VR Tools With Second Life -- and When We'll Get Those Tools to Play With
Philip Rosedale's new startup High Fidelity is working on the next generation of virtual reality, which is why he entirely left work at Linden Lab/Second Life earlier this year, but that doesn't mean the two are totally unconnected. In fact, he tells me, "I bet there are lots of interesting ways we will be able to integrate with Second Life. How exactly, I'm sure we are too early to tell."
I asked about this because to judge by a recent interview with him on Singularity Hub, virtual reality at High Fidelity seemed quite different from how he sees Second Life:
Winter is Coming: Stave Off The Frost With Botany-Based Indie Game Reach for the Sun, Now on Steam
It's safe to say that Reach for the Sun is unlike anything else on Steam, and it some ways it's a surprise that it's even there. Though it sticks out like a sore thumb from Steam's new releases, this beautiful, educational, and unconventional indie simulation/strategy game doesn't appear to have been through Greenlight, Steam's somewhat flawed community gatekeeping process for games that aren't attached to a big (or big enough) publisher. Given that it won Best Gameplay at Games for Change 2013 it certainly deserves to be on Steam, and it's not unheard of for promising games to get a pass, but... An educational plant sim?
I'm not complaining, though. Even if I don't understand entirely how Reach for the Sun made it on to Steam, I'm very glad that it did... And even more glad that I talked myself into picking it up. Here's why:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Relive The Glory Days Of Defunct MMO Glitch In This Endless Runner for iOS 7
If you ever had a chance to play Glitch, screenshots like the one above may give you a little pang of loss whenever you come across them. The beautifully unique MMO world of Glitch has been gone for almost a year now, yet that picture up there is entirely new.
Thanks to the work of a former Glitch developer, you can run through the strange and sprawling world of Ur once more, free of charge, on your iOS device of choice. There's more to this story than just another endless runner, though...
Reddit Gets New Second Life Group to Escape Downvote Drama in Original Second Life Group
/sl is a new subreddit for Second Life users on Reddit which is a direct outgrowth of drama from the original Second Life Reddit group which has effectively become useless (despite having 1300+ subscribers) due to aggressive downvoting of nearly every new submission. This is the darkside of the upvote/downvote mechanic: typically, only a small minority of an online community uses that feature (I believe it's under 10% on Reddit), so it can become very easy for an even tinier minority to negatively impact the overall ecosystem. The new SL group on Reddit warns users not to downvote submissions which fit the guidelines, but it will probably be difficult to surface high quality content without encouraging at least some downvoting; it'll be interesting to see how well /sl does on that front. Anyway, here's the new Second Life group on Reddit, which also comes with thumbnail pics!
Monday, November 11, 2013
If You Want Your Work to Stand Out, Take a Lesson from These Bobbleheaded Second Life Avatar Portraits
There are a lot of Second Life-based pieces of digital art that stand out because of their composition or their beauty or their lighting or any other number of qualities... But there are only a handful at a time that are really doing something different, where you can clearly see the creator experimenting with and expanding on their skills in a dramatic way.
If you visit Sana Dagger's Flickr page, you'll find a lot of beautiful and skillfully-edited Second Life pics-- some girls, some guys, dramatic lighting, and lots of clever little artistic tricks-- but in amongst those there are five shots that really, really stand out. Her newest, "90's", is on the left, but if you're somewhere where bare breasts won't get you fired you should also check out her earlier pictures in this style: "Nusidoll", "Sweet Ballad", "Like a daisy in my lazy eyes", and "Just Me... My doll...".
The inflated-head look is certainly reminiscent of more than a few popular fashion doll lines (think Bratz, Moxie Girls, Monster High, and their pricier cousins Blythe and Pullip) but Sana's seamless avatar styling helps her make this look her own. Hopefully she'll keep coming back to this style in the future.... But still branch out and try some even newer ideas as well. That's really the lesson to be learned from much of Sana's work, especially if you're fashionista photographer yourself. If you want to stand out, you need to take risks. Any risks, even tiny little silly ones. Swim against the current every now and then. What have you got to lose?
(Hat tip: Anya Ohmai)
Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week
- Why You Should Help Kickstart Ever, Jane, a Jane Austen-Themed MMO from a Linden Lab Alum
- Japanese-Themed Hosoi Ichiba Sims Leave SL for Kitely
- This Brace-Wearing Skyrim Race Might Just Be The Weirdest User-Created Mod Yet
- Successful Comedian 1st Built His Career Performing in Second Life
- Leap Motion in Second Life: Watch This Clip of Gesture-Based Avatar Controls In Action
- Sympathy For Botgirl: Popular Second Life Academic, Artist, and Blogger Talks About Her First Life Indifference
Friday, November 08, 2013
Why You Should Help Kickstart Ever, Jane, a Jane Austen-Themed MMO from a Linden Lab Alum
Ever, Jane is a seriously innovative MMO set in the world of Jane Austen with gossip and scandal in place of killing rats and dungeon quests. It's playable right now, but the development team has launched a Kickstarter to fund its continued operation and further development:
Ever, Jane is the brainchild of Judy Tyrer, who was a senior engineering manager at Linden Lab, and is applying her experience with Linden and Second Life to make Ever, Jane possible:
"Second Life is a user-curated experience and often there isn't a lot of curation," as she tells me. "I think [SLers] will enjoy this because we are dedicated to curating the experience. We offer all the tools they need. It will be less about them building worlds than just living out their stories." And given the high amount of user-generated stories in Second Life, I suspect SLers will enjoy generating ever more stories within an established, belovedf fictional context:
Japanese-Themed Hosoi Ichiba Sims Leave SL for Kitely
Hosoi Ichiba, a Japanese-themed SL market which supported six very beautiful sims, has entirely left Second Life, moving to the OpenSim-based Kitely. The sims had attracted a community of some 150-200 SLers, owner Amiryu Hosoi tells me, "All very active in samurai, geisha and villagers roles", but the collapsing real world economy made it difficult for Hosoi to maintain those islands.
During its heyday, he says, "There were months Hosoi Ichiba earned about $4000 USD/month and every dime flooded back in the project... I had 5 people working for me assisting customers and helping them find what they needed." Then the bottom started to fall out: