Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Facebook Apologizes & Tweaks Real Name Policy to Better Support LGBT Community -- But Avatar Community Should Stick With Fan Pages

Sister-roma-facebook

A Facebook executive just issued a public apology to the many drag queens, transgender people, and other folks in the LGBT community whose accounts have recently been deleted or suspended under the social network's real name-only policy. The apology also offers some insight on how this rule is enforced:

An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these [LGBT] accounts as fake. These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more — so we didn't notice the pattern.

The company vows to change its reporting and enforcement mechanisms, but also maintains (with some amendments) its real name policy:

We believe this is the right policy for Facebook for two reasons. First, it's part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm. Second, it's the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm. The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it's both terrifying and sad. Our ability to successfully protect against them with this policy has borne out the reality that this policy, on balance, and when applied carefully, is a very powerful force for good.

As longtime NWN readers know, some people who've created Facebook profiles with their Second Life avatar name have also found their accounts suspended or deleted, as far back as 2009. This has led to conspiracy theories that Facebook is running some kind of targeted purge against SLers, but there's never been any evidence of that. Instead, as a Facebook rep once told me (and as the above statement confirms), avatar accounts are generally only flagged to the company by other Facebook users. And meanwhile, the official Second Life Facebook page keeps growing, now approaching 400,000 members.

So while Facebook will probably stop randomly suspending Facebook accounts of drag queens, avatars who get their accounts flagged are not any safer. There is, however, a solution:

Continue reading "Facebook Apologizes & Tweaks Real Name Policy to Better Support LGBT Community -- But Avatar Community Should Stick With Fan Pages"

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Welcome NWN Partner DX Exchange, a Leading L$ Re-Seller

DX L$ exchange

DXexchange is one of the leading, authorized third-party re-sellers of Linden Dollars, and I'm proud to announce they're now a sponsoring partner of New World Notes. Based in Europe, DX Exchange has sponsored many Second Life communities and events over the last decade, and supports multiple languages and currencies: USD, CAD, Euro, Zloty, UK Pound, among others. For L$ exchanges, the company doesn't require real life names or billion information -- all that's needed is the user's avatar name and email address. (Users can even register for a DX Exchange account within Second Life itself, as well as withdraw L$, from the company's in-world ATM machines.) More features are coming soon, but meantime, here's a shout-out to DX Exchange for helping support NWN, and the SL community at large. Visit the official site here.

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Here Are 4 Ways Valve Could Fix Steam's New Front Page

Steam New Layout
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

It's been a little over a week since Steam updated its storefront with fresh features and a new interface. I've already gotten used to it -- and by "gotten used to it" I mean that I've started using Steam's front page as little as possible. I used to flick around looking at the new releases, sales and features whenever I logged in, but these days I don't even bother skimming. I know that I'll only be inundated with information I either already know or am not actually interested in. 

What makes it so much more frustrating is that they're so close to something good. With a few little changes, Steam's new front page could be so much more than just dead weight. For example...

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Second Life Viewer Compatible With Oculus Rift's DK2

Oculus Rift released its second generation dev kit (hence its name, DK2) a few months ago, and as it turns out, it looks pretty cool with the official (but still in Beta) Second Life viewer compatible with the Rift -- watch:

The video is by SLer Phobos Jamberoo, who's shot a lot of SL/DK2 test videos, and, he says, the results are pretty great:

Having never had the opportunity to use the DK1, I can't speak to the difference. However, as a long time SL resident, I can say that the level of immersion and presence is unprecedented. The sense of scale and realism is levels of magnitude above viewing SL on my 27" monitor. For the first time, my brain really believes I am in a virtual world.

Which isn't to say the experience is perfect:

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Marriott's Oculus Rift "Teleporter": Cool Way to Make VR Mass Market -- Or Mere Marketing Gimmick?

Marriott Hotel's "Teleporter" combines Oculus Rift technology with various hardware (like a wind machine and water spray) to simulate teleportation to beautiful places like a Hawaii beach and a London skyscraper -- watch:

Obviously this is a cute marketing stunt by Marriott to promote the hotel chain as forward thinking and hip, but it might also be a really compelling way to easily convey the power of VR to a mass market of non-gamers.

But which is it? Well, that's where you come in, dear reader and VR fan. The teleporter is touring the country now, but not in my neighborhood any time soon. So if you get a chance to check it out, and I'd love your opinion on how compelling and immersive this really is. Here's the itinerary:

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Family Portraits: This Second Life Photographer Has a Knack for Taking Snapshots of Domestic Bliss

Amelie Fravoisse Arcade Contest
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

As hard as it can be to portray static Second Life scenes and objects realistically, it's exponentially harder to get the same realistic results out of subjects in motion -- or at least that we would expect to be in motion. Most Second Life avatar photography is done with the help of poses that essentially freeze the avatar in specific positions, which can often work against the feeling of life and movement we may want to capture in a scene.

That's what makes Amelie Fravoisse's SL photography stand out. Although her gallery offers a solid variety, it's her intimate little family snapshots (like the one above, her entry for SL event The Arcade's photo contest) that tend to leap out at me. Everyone is always doing something, and no one looks like a piece of furniture. These are much more natural scenes than I'm used to seeing when I look at images of avatars, even though they're each carefully staged so that everything is precisely where it needs to be to look effortless and inviting. Amelie's family screenshots float around somewhere between the realm of reality and the realm of what you might find painted on a series of almost overly-precious collectible plates. Every scene is uncannily perfect, but still manages to be believably human.

Be sure to visit Amelie's blog for details on all the items shown in the picture above, as well as many more adorable family-focused SL pics.

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Here's Why Everyone's Talking About the Latest Lord of the Rings Game

ShadowofMordor_Screen6-1024x576
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

If you've been hearing some chatter about newly-released Lord of The Rings RPG Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, it seems like it's not just because its the flavor of the week in gaming circles. With movement inspired by Assassin's Creed, combat inspired by Batman: Arkham Asylum, and a story rooted in one of the most successful fantasy franchises of all time, there's certainly a lot of meat on this title's bones.

But none of that is what's got me interested in the game. All of those things are just gravy on top of the real draw to Shadow of Mordor: The Nemesis System, a mechanic that's already behind some tantalizingly unique player stories. All you have to do is look at some of the game's early reviews to see what I mean...

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Why Are Videos of People Playing Videogame So Popular? Janine "Iris" Hawkins Explains

Videogame play videos

Did you know that YouTube videos of people playing videogames are so incredibly popular that the top channels are bigger than those devoted to most Hollywood and pop music stars? Yes, it's true. Among the biggest, for example, is a dude name PewDiePie, whose YouTube channel has over 30,000,000 subscribers. (That's more viewers than a lot of well-known TV shows!)

Why is this? In Janine "Iris" Hawkins' latest post for Paste Magazine, she explains how this came to be: "Let's Play videos are phenomenally popular among gaming fans," as she puts it to me. "Some are about skill, some are about speed, some are about humor, but others are just about relaxing. They cater to gamers who experience ASMR." I.E., Autonomous sensory meridian response, usually a pleasant tingling sensation. Yes, there are game-watching videos devoted to creating that soothing feeling. (One ASMR video channel, as Iris notes, has over 30,000 subscribers.) That in itself is fascinating, but as she goes on, this also speaks to a larger game industry shift empowered by user-generated content:

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Watch This In-Depth Look at Character Creation in BioWare's Highly Anticipated Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age Qunari Chargen
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the games I'm anticipating the most as we approach the end of the year, so naturally my eyes have been glued to the archive of the Inquisition stream that BioWare ran on Twitch.tv earlier today.

In addition to a little taste of the actual gameplay, the reason this stream is so very interesting is because it shows a pretty detailed slice of the game's character creation tools, with a particular focus on the Qunari. This is the first core Dragon Age game where the Qunari will be a playable race, so I've been eager to get a better look at what will differentiate them from the series' other more familiar races. I won't pretend the assortment of horns available is a surprise, but the variety and depth of the available skin tones certainly was...

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These Second Life Snapshots are Utterly Fierce (and Photoshop-Free)

Loverdag The Touryuumon Saga
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

SL artist Loverdag recently took a trip to Red Dragon [SLURL] and came back with quite a few gorgeous, Photoshop-free pictures for her Flickr gallery, including the one shown above. While their snapshots may be free of post-processing, they do take advantage of the incredibly popular Chouchou Cinematic HUD, which provides virtual photographers with a letterbox overlay for their Second Life snapshots without needing to process the images through any 3rd party software. I addition to being a prominent recurrence across much of Loverdag's gallery, a quick Google Image Search will turn up some jaw-dropping SL photography made possible with the Chouchou HUD, so it should be clear why so many SL artists seem to favor it.

Be sure to visit Loverdag's Flickr gallery for more screenshots in her Red Dragon set, as well as quite a few other breathtaking (and Photoshop-free) pics.

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Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

Ello Social Network No Ads

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Cannibalization Conundrum: Will Linden Lab's Second Life Sequel Meet the Fate of Blizzard's Titan?

Second Life Blizzard Titan

When Blizzard announced it was cancelling Titan, its long-delayed MMO, a game developer veteran friend who knows some Blizzard staffers told me this was one of the key reasons why: "Blizzard is terrified about cannibalizing World of Warcraft". Which of course made me instantly wonder: Will Linden Lab ever worry that its recently announced Second Life sequel will do the same to SL? After all, World of Warcraft and Second Life are roughly the same age, and while starting to wane, both are still profitable (the former much more than the latter, of course).

Governor Marley has some related thoughts, and a close analysis of Blizzard's "Titan is dead" announcement:

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A Second Life-Based Mini-MMO Called Godswar: The 100

GodsWar Second Life RPG

Godswar: The 100 is a SL-based roleplaying game and mini-MMO which plays out on a single sim, and it has a cool premise:

"[It's] based around the idea that the Gods and mythical creatures are real," explains player and longtime SLer Arwyn Quandry. "The lore is incredibly deep -- you can be there for months or years and not know everything about the story, which was originally written by the owners as a tabletop roleplaying campaign. It had two previous versions, New Babylon and Lost Vegas, but the current version is based on alternate timeline at the very beginning of the story, where 100 people are discovering that they have supernatural abilities and being drawn into a battle that will end civilization as we know it. And yes, they die -- it's a permadeath sim with an advancing plotline driven by the players, all grounded in a real-world roleplaying system (Tri Stat dX)."

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It's The Beginning of The End for Sony's Console-Based Virtual World, Playstation Home

Playstation Home Clothing Ad
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Playstation Home, Sony's answer to the virtual world boom of the mid-to-late '00s, will be closing its digital doors worldwide on March 15th 2015, after about 7 years in operation.

At the time of its release (at the height of the Second Life publicity bubble) Playstation Home was surrounded by equal parts hype and skepticism. During the game's debut period, NWN's own Hamlet Au wrote a piece about how Home was doomed to fail based on shortcomings he saw when it was held up against Second Life and its competitors. "After an initial burst of post-launch interest," he wrote, "I would be extremely surprised if Sony Home garnered more than a few hundred thousand recurring users, or if it's not discontinued outright by the end of 2009."

But Home did last (albeit quietly) for years, and its closing probably shouldn't read as failure.

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Famed Second Life Photographer Mr Godard Gets Meta With His Latest Snapshot

MR Godard LTD Magazine
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

This might just be the most perfect way that Mr Godard, a Second Life artist known for his gritty, grainy, hyperrealistic virtual world photography, could have announced his collaboration with a popular SL magazine. Godard is a guest photographer in the September/October 2014 issue of LTD Magazine, an in-world and online publication that focuses on design and decor in SL, and their work together is just about everything you could hope for:

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Does Euclideon's SOLIDSCAN Capture Reality, or Just Hype?

What you're looking above, supposedly, is this:

Euclideon SOLIDSCAN takes an ordinary laser scan and enriches its resolution by around 200 to 1000 times, The data compresses down, and runs in Euclideon's Unlimited Detail engine, using Unlimited detail's streaming system - loading scenes in less than a second.

Well that might be, but longtime readers may recall Euclideon is the same company which did this 2011 demo video, provoking extreme skepticism (to put it nicely) from Minecraft creator Markus Persson and 3D graphics pioneer John Carmack, who told me:

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Curious About Curators? Here Are Four Steam Curators Who'll Find You Great Games

Steam Curator
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Steam's curator feature is the most helpful addition to the service introduced in its latest overhaul. It's easy for me to make such a definitive statement in this case, because the other "helpful" features introduced are recommending that I buy games that have been removed from sale because their devs vanished, or games that have been on my wishlist for quite some time already. If it wasn't just a poorly programmed algorithm I'd mistake it for the sales guy at a local game store who likes to condescendingly recommend games that I've "probably never heard of". You know, like Assassin's Creed

But curation is different. Curation has potential. Curation presents everyone with the opportunity to find someone whose taste matches theirs, but who has perhaps a little more knowledge of or experience with what's out there. Even gaming sites are now curating their own "official" collections and although some are wasting space on large titles that don't really need the promotion, most are peppered with a solid array of indies and niche titles too.

If you'd like to scope out a few choice Steam curators, here are a few of my favorites to get you started:

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thoughts on Avatar & Gender Identity in Second Life

Vax Sirnah in RL and SL

"People whose avatars are a different sex than IRL, how do you let others in SL know?" is a good question with some fairly thoughtful answers on Reddit's /SecondLife community. Here's one from Caitlin_Tobias:

After being in SL for over 7 years, I have long ago decided: I will treat and address anyone to the gender they portray in SL. It is SL, if someone looks like a guy and acts like a guy, for me... it is a guy. It is not only simplifying my own SL, but also I think it is a form of respect to not doubt or question someones RL gender.

Which brings up this reply from VeliciaL:

Coming from a trans background, this is considered a common courtesy in those circles. If someone is presenting as a certain gender, it's pretty likely they want to be referred as that gender. Not doing so is kind of a dick move.

How about RL women portraying SL males? That's covered too. This from ElderSign:

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Ello I Love You Won't You Tell Me Your Name (On This New No-Ad, No Real Name-Needed Social Network)

Ello Social Network No Ads

I'm @hamlet on Ello, a new no-ad social network in early Beta. (Thanks for the invite, @apolymorph!) It's getting a bit of buzz among some friends and colleagues as a better alternative to Facebook. (Then again, a lot of them are talking about Ello on Facebook.)

"Disaffected Facebook users are abandoning ship," @wizardgynoid asserts to me, "led by the LGBT crowd, in particular the Drag Queens who Facebook gave the ultimatum to this week. Second Life avatars have the same issues with the Drag Queens and so they are finding Ello an attractive, nonjudgmental alternative." Maybe so with drag queens, but seeing that Second Life's official Facebook page has about as many fans as Second Life itself has active users, Ello has with them a long road to go.

Dinosaur rock interlude:

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The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown: First Impressions of the Newest Take on a Classic Dungeon Crawler

Gauntlet main menu
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of 
gaming and virtual world style

Remember last month when I said I wouldn't buying Arrowhead Game Studios' Gauntlet on day one? After the game's release date was pushed back I was more convinced than ever that I'd be taking the wait-and-see approach, but evidently eagerness and nostalgia (and some really fun looking video coverage) got the better of me. Well, I suppose since I ended up preordering over the weekend (on day negative-three, but who's counting?) that day one thing wasn't technically a lie.

Having only completed the first section of the game I'm in no place to write a proper review, but I do want to share my early impressions for those out there in the position I would have been in (if I had slightly more self control and Gauntlet hadn't been priced so very reasonably.) Keep reading for my thoughts so far.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Blizzard's Cancellation of Titan Could Cancel Future of All Next Gen, Big Budget MMOs (At Least for Awhile)

MMO WoW Titan cancelled analysis

"The real news here isn't that Titan was cancelled," a longtime MMO developer and expert friend tells me, speaking about Blizzard's cancellation of an MMO that was seven years in the making, "that was kind of expected after its years of development hell." The real news, he went on: "Blizzard has apparently decided they don't want to make any more MMOs for the near future. Which is kind of a big deal."

"I wouldn't say no to ever doing an MMO again," as Blizzard co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime put it. "But I can say that right now, that's not where we want to be spending our time."

And because World of Warcraft is the only major big budget MMO from the West that's consistently had several million or more subscribers, I'd agree that this is a big deal, and speaks to a move away from the industry developing big budget MMOs at all:

Continue reading "Blizzard's Cancellation of Titan Could Cancel Future of All Next Gen, Big Budget MMOs (At Least for Awhile)"

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The "Smarter" Storefront: Steam's Dramatic New Look Makes a Terrible First Impression

Steam New Layout
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Digital distribution platform Steam has undergone a serious facelift this week, and it's safe to say that initial reviews are mixed at best. Steam's problem of late has been that the increased volume of new games being released on the service has made it difficult to find the new content you'll actually like. In some ways the new layout and features are trying to address this issue, but I'm not sure they're doing so very well.

Case in point: When I loaded up Steam this afternoon and flicked through the games it had determined I would enjoy, I came across The Stomping Land. The Stomping Land, for those who missed the hype a while back, is a crafting and survival game in early access that prominently loads of awesome dinosaurs. I like dinosaurs, I like survival, I like crafting -- check, check and check. So what's the problem? I'll tell you.

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Bot or Not? NWN Reader Posting Same Comments on Second Life Over & Over Again in Dozens of Posts for Years

Speaking of the Turing Test and bots, New World Notes apparently has a bot problem of its own. For the last 2-3 years, a reader -- or bot -- named "RULosingHair" has been posting the same comments and links over and over again in dozens of posts. Since NWN has a "cocktail party-civil" moderation standard, most of these comments are deleted. (They're usually not directly apropos to the current conversation, and worse, not really, you know, conversational.) But it remains a mystery on whether RULosingHair is a bot of some kind. (We've had them on NWN before.) With that mind, I copied copies of the comments from "RULosingHair" for further discussion below. Warning: Reading RULosingHair may make you wonder if you are losing something else:

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Dispatches from the Apocalypse: What Happens When a War Photographer Embeds in a Video Game

The-last-of-us-remastered-ashley-gilbertson-6
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

These days we're no strangers to evocative screenshots. Games look better than ever, no matter what art style they choose, and screenshots of games that venture down the path of realism can even be mistaken for reality. Some amazing virtual photographers have emerged thanks to increased visual fidelity and the rise of sharing gaming experiences online.

But what happens when you bring in a real life conflict photographer, someone acclimatised to taking pictures under significantly more serious circumstances, and ask them to point their lens towards a game? TIME did just that, asking photographer Ashley Gilbertson to embed in the gorgeous but gruesome world of The Last of Us Remastered. Along the way, Gilbertson made some interesting observations both about his role as a photographer and the virtual scenarios he was presented with:

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Real Handwriting Can Now Be Virtual, Because Robots

Virtual Real Handwriting

How to tell when a robot has written you a letter is a new Medium post by my pal Clive Thompson, who calls real handwriting "the next Turing test". Here's why:

I first heard of these human-machine handwriting differences in a conversation last week with Brian Curliss and Daniel Jurek, the cofounders of the startup Maillift. If you need to send out 200 personalized letters to sales leads but haven’t got the time to handwrite them yourself — or if your handwriting is, like mine, grotesque — then Maillift will generate them for you, using teams of genuinely carbon-based people. (What sort of person enjoys handwriting letters for others? “Teachers,” Curliss replies. Apparently teachers have spectacular handwriting, take enormous pride in the craft, and want to make some extra coin in their evenings and weekends.)

Notably, this dovetails with a recent major movie about artificial intelligence:

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Watch Demo of Oculus Rift's New Crescent Bay Prototype

Announced last weekend, here it is:

New features:

The new headset features built-in headphones, 360-degree motion tracking, a higher-resolution OLED screen, updated optics and improved ergonomics.

Discuss!

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It's Easier Than You Think to Mod The Sims 4

Sushigal007 Sims 4 Eccentric mod
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

If you've ever wanted to try your hand at modding The Sims but have never had the courage, this post might be for you.

Modder Sushigal007 released a couple modest little mods that tweak two traits in The Sims 4 -- the "Bro" trait is now the slightly less abrasive "Wanker", while original trait "Insane" (which could be considered ableist) has been defused to "Eccentric". Even if you're not interested in altering either of those traits, Sushigal's post also explains how to make your own mods to change "strings" from the game (meaning changing existing game text to say something else). With the right tools, the process is surprisingly simple. She explains:

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Autumn in the Metaverse: This SL Snapshot Will Make You Forget Summer Even Exists

Annan Adored Where The Light Enters
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Tuck all your bright and beachy interior objects back in your inventory and bring out the autumnal goodies, It's officially the first day of fall, and Second Life decorators are already springing into action. SL may not have seasons, but its users aren't immune to seasonal inspiration. Just check out the work of SL photographer and blogger Annan Adored above and try not to feel that brisk draft or hear the rustle of dry leaves skipping over each other in the yard. Amid a lot of recent fall-themed SL art, Anna's picture stands out because of how comfortable it looks. Everything's rustic, worn-in, and just untidy enough to be inviting.

Be sure to visit Annan Adored's blog for complete notes on everything included in her cozy scene. Likewise if you're looking for a good location to take some seasonal snapshots of your own, you may want to visit the area surrounding popular SL store Izzie's [SLURL] which recently received an inspiring autumn makeover.

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Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

Avatar playback High Fidelity

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Cthulhu Can't Cover the Rent! Beautiful Lovecraft Tribute Faces Deletion From SL If Not Saved by Supporters in Time

Second Life HP Lovecraft Tribute

Innsmouth, a very beautiful (if ungodly horror is beautiful) Second Life sim-wide tribute to the works of HP Lovecraft, is in jeopardy of leaving Second Life, according to the blog of the HP Lovecraft Roleplay Group (HPL-RPG) in SL:

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..." As a result of this notice, a number of Second Lifers 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.

Emphasis mine, because it needs emphasizing. Go here to get involved. And, of course, click here to visit Innsmouth while there's still time.

Continue reading "Cthulhu Can't Cover the Rent! Beautiful Lovecraft Tribute Faces Deletion From SL If Not Saved by Supporters in Time"

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Watch Christina Hoff Sommers' Ridiculous Anti-Feminist Gamer Video Debunked in Awesomely Ridiculous Auto-Tune

Gamers angry at feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian have been gleefully passing around this video from the right wing think tank American Enterprise Institute featuring right wing, self-described feminist Christina Hoff Sommers as PROOF THAT ANITA SARKEESIAN IS WRONG*, even though the video is so thoroughly deceptive and disingenuous, it's exhausting to even begin to point out how, and why. Fortunately this dude Jonathan Mann figured how to do so in under 5 minutes, and auto-tuned the whole thing for extra entertaining excellence.

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Posted at 04:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (10) | Bookmark

Iris Wants to Know: Is Your Virtual Style More Important to You Than Your Virtual Space, or Vice Versa?

Templates header
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Avatar fashion has been a priority for me since well before I ever found Second Life, so it should be no surprise that that's exactly what I gravitated towards when I started. When you give me a dollhouse, my first priority will inevitably be the dolls themselves -- that's just how I am, and I have the sim households to prove it. That's not to say I'm not interested in what my spaces look like, but usually I care about the appearance of those spaces only in relation to the "dolls," as an extension of them (or even just a backdrop.) If I'm forced to choose between character customization and home customization, I'm probably not going to humm and haw about it terribly long.

But for every fashion-focused SL user who treats their virtual spaces like one big photo backdrop, there's someone else treating it like a canvas; placing everything just so, spending hours perfecting, tweaking, and upgrading it. Even if their shoes are dated (and honestly who even cares) there's no denying that their front foyer is current and on trend.

So what about you? I know for some it will be a tough choice, but here's what I want to know: If you had to choose between virtual fashion and vitual decor, which side would you choose and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Posted at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (12) | Bookmark

Snap Up These Tempting SL Teacups While You Can

Apple Fall Kustom9 teacups (2)
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Chalk this post up in the "Second Life designers are agonizingly talented" category, because I can't deal with the gorgeous little teacups that Apple Fall has released for Kustom9. He shared a few work-in-progress shots via Plurk earlier this week. They're almost beyond belief, and although each of the three in the set is stunning, the pearl-draped variation pictured above absolutely takes the cake.

It's no exaggeration to say that Apple Fall is one of the highest quality decor brands in SL these days, which shouldn't be any surprise if you've come across their work before. For instance, this set inspired by ancient Greece is another Apple Fall favorite of mine, as was the Breakfast at Tiffany's set they released for The Arcade a while back.

These immaculate little teacups (and loads of other items) are available at the Kustom9 gacha event [SLURL] until the end of the month, so don't dawdle if you're interested. You can also check out the full set on Apple Fall's Flickr, or visit Apple Fall on the SL Marketplace or in-world [SLURL] to see more.

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Posted at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | Bookmark

Play for Free This Month: Hitman GO, an Elegant & Beautiful iOS Strategy/Puzzle Game

Click here to get a free download (available only this month, thanks to IGN) of Hitman GO, a seriously beautiful and elegant strategy/puzzle game for iOS which turns the stealthy assassin franchise into a chess-like board game. Watch:

Hitman GO has been my go-to "quick break" game over the last couple weeks; challenging, fun, beautiful to experience (the UI, the art, and the ambient sound are gorgeous), with a wry, ironic wit, I totally recommend it, even if you've never played the original games (which I haven't).

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Posted at 11:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Bookmark

Thursday, September 18, 2014

High Fidelity Develops Strange Days-Style Playback Technology, Except for Avatars

Avatar playback High Fidelity

High Fidelity, Philip Rosedale's new startup which is creating a new virtual world incorporating avatar interactions connected to Oculus Rift and other VR hardware (now in Alpha), has a seriously cool new feature that evokes the technology in Strange Days, Katherine Bigelow's cult cyberpunk movie from the 90s: Avatar playback. In other words, the ability to record your avatar's movement (which can be connected to VR suits, so you can record real world physical movement too), and then have that movement playback on your avatar or another avatar. (That includes NPC avatars.)

There's a bunch of ways playback can be put to use in High Fidelity, as company developer Chris Collins explains to me:

  • "Machinima: Pre-record all the avatars in the scene and create a large interactive crowd." (The image here, for instance, is from a bar scene with multiple avatars that High Fidelity's Ryan Downe quickly created using playback.)   
  • "Heavily interactive environments: You could fill up your world with recorded interactions to go with your own interactions. e.g. recreate a city like NYC, or a bar. 
  • "Training: Run through a training scenario while recording yourself. Then allow others to run through the scenario as you OR watching the recorded avatar."

Then like I said, there's the Strange Days-type application, except with avatars:

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Posted at 03:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (9) | Bookmark

Kitty Powers' Matchmaker (iOS/Android): A Mobile Game That Gets Romance Right

Kitty Powers Matchmaker iOS (10)

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

A lot of games try to tackle the subject of romance, and it's safe to say that the majority of them don't get it right -- especially when it comes to integrating that romance into the actual gameplay. That's where terms like "kindness coins" come in, describing the kind of transaction-based relationship mechanics that games trying to represent dating and courtship often use. Tell someone what they want to hear, dress like they want you to dress, give them things they like, and eventually you'll earn enough points to win.

... Their love, I mean. Win their love. How romantic.

In reality, that's not an act that anyone can keep up for ever. Sooner or later a relationship built on nothing but white lies and pandering to your partner will fall apart. Most games don't care about addressing these inevitable Unhappily-Ever-Afters, but Kitty Powers' Matchmaker isn't most games.

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Posted at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Bookmark

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Argyle Alligator, Reporter: We Interview Gaming's Most Adorable In-World Reporter

Second Life reporter

He's tiny, he's toothy, he's relentless; he's Argyle Alligator, and he's the cutest fricking in-game reporter to visit Second Life. After this video went fairly viral, I wanted to find out more about Mr. Alligator. (IRL a guy named Brad.) He shares that below, and if you're an SLer, please suggest other communities in Comments where Argyle should visit in his next in-world report from Second Life.

What inspired you to report from Second Life?

I previously did reports within the video games Rust, Arma 3 and Garry's Mod. I always knew about Second Life but I had an epiphany to do interviews within the game because of it's voice chat and consistent player base. I also am aware that Second Life has players of all walks of life, so I thought it would be a perfect venue to report on. I had a pretty good response to my approach on most of the worlds that I visited randomly. A few people did think I was griefing and gave me a hard time but I'd just move on to the next world. It was great experience overall.

Beyond the SL video, what's your favorite in-game report -- and why do you like it?

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Posted at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | Bookmark

Sims 4 Modding Already Has a Hot, Surprising Trend Which Totally Improves EA's Original Avatars

Face Overlay by Plumb4
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Sims 4 modders have really hit the ground running since its release at the beginning of the month. Mods for the game, including recolors of vanilla content already number in the hundreds -- or thousands, if you include the build-in sharing tools that let players browse the rooms, lots, and households made by others. It's been a much smoother period for modders than The Sims 3's launch was, largely because early access to the CAS demo and developer transparency about how the game itself works have allowed experienced modders to get straight to work without having to spend nearly as much time figuring out how.

Amid the usual clothes and hairstyles and furniture and so on, there's one type of mod that's been gaining a lot of ground in spite of its unassuming nature. In fact, you'll find more of these than you will freckle mods or even eyeglass mods. What are they?

They're facial shaders.

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Posted at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | Bookmark

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Janine "Iris" Hawkins Selects 8 Sims-Like Games for Paste

Redshirt Indie Game like The SIms

NWN's Iris has a new post for the prestigious Paste Magazine: 8 Games to Play if You Like The Sims, featuring a lot of titles you probably haven't heard of, like cult favorite Dwarf Fortress, or the indie game Red Shirts, which she blogged about for NWN.

If you're wondering if she mentions Second Life, I'll say no right up front, but as she tells me, there's a good reason for that:

"Second Life is just a big open thing, it can kind of be like any game.

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Posted at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Bookmark

The Congress: A Movie With Great Ideas About Virtuality Which Actually Needed a Stronger Story

The Congress Virtual Reality movie

So last weekend I saw The Congress, which as I wrote a few months ago, is about an actress named Robin Wright (played by Robin Wright) who becomes an avatar so she can save her son's life. And well, it was not that good. That idea (which is a good one) isn't really explored all that deeply before the writer/director apparently loses interest in it and unexpectedly plops Wright into an animated dream world which is not a virtual world, but a kind of collective hallucination, which is fun to look at it, but again, not very well fleshed out with any kind of logical consistency, and has little to do with the premise I just mentioned up top. Even odder was this:

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Posted at 03:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | Bookmark

Budding Machinima-Makers, Please Stop Wasting Your Time With Watermarks!

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

One of my biggest pet peeves when I'm browsing new Second Life machinima on YouTube (or any gaming footage in general) is just how many potentially interesting videos have been ruined with watermarks from free or trial versions of recording software. I get it, if you're just getting your beak wet with something like machinima you may not want to commit to buying a piece of software to do so. But it doesn't have to be this way, it really doesn't. You don't need to settle for watermarks all over your recordings.

There is a free alternative, one that works on both Mac and Windows, that allows you to combine game sound and mic input, that gives you an easy way to position multiple windows and overlays, and that most importantly doesn't leave your finished videos with any big glaring watermarks. I should know, because I've been using this particular program every week for just about a year now.

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Posted at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | Bookmark

Death of a Simsman: It's Hard Work Killing Off Your Sims in The Sims 4

Kotaku The Sim Who Refused to Die
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Kotaku's Patricia Hernandez recently published a piece about one of the most contentious issues surrounding The Sims 4: The ability to kill your sims. Developers have spoken about how they wanted to make it harder for sims to die accidentally compared to previous games (one expansion to The Sims 3 make it possible for sims to be spontaneously hit by meteors for instance) because it's not very fun to lose a sim in the middle of your game. At the same time, when you sit someone down with a simulation they will instinctively test for its limits -- and "simicide" is a big part of that. She writes:

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Posted at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Bookmark

Monday, September 15, 2014

Minecraft Became So Big Because It's Extremely Popular With Girls & Women -- Another Reason Why the Game Industry Needs to Solve Its Sexism Problem

Microsoft bought Minecraft creator Mojang for $2.5 billion (as Iris just blogged), and here's a photo which explains a key reason why it went for billions:

Minecraft slumber party girlsMaddy, Hannah, along with Lola Dibbell (left to right) playing Minecraft on mobile

These are girls playing Minecraft at their slumber party, and even though one of them, Lola, is the daughter of Julian Dibbell, who's wrote a number of acclaimed books on gaming, they are actually very typical Minecraft players: As I reported a couple years ago, according to Google stats, the Minecraft site gets far more female visitors, than male. (Notably, Mojang's lead business developer was surprised -- and skeptical! -- by this fact when I told them.)

But yes, see the screengrab from Google Ad Planner for yourself:

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Posted at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (19) | Bookmark

Microsoft, Minecraft and Mojang: Here's How to Make Sense of Microsoft's $2.5B Purchase

Minecraft Kokeshi
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

After some speculation, it's official: Microsoft has purchased voxel-based sandbox game Minecraft for $2.5 billion. Maybe that makes perfect sense to you and maybe it doesn't. This past weekend as we discussed the massive purchase, my mother asked my why on earth Microsoft would want to buy Minecraft for anything approaching that much money. My answer? That it might be better to think of it in terms of why a company might want to buy Barbie or Lego. They're monolithic brands; highly recognizable, widely available and beloved by huge swathes of customers, both young and old. There are already teenagers who look at Minecraft with nostalgia right alongside people experiencing it for the very first time. It's a cultural touchstone.

But there's more to it than that. If you break this purchase down into its most basic economic terms, as analyst Michael Pachter did at GamesBeat 2014, it makes perfect sense. Polygon's Owen Good has picked the juiciest bits out of Pachter's comments on Microsoft's acquisition of Minecraft, and summarizes the issue succinctly:

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Posted at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (12) | Bookmark

You Won't Believe What This Second Life Picture Looked Like Before Photoshop

French Perfume after
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Xantheanne Resident (or Xanthe for short) is a damn talented Second Life photographer with consistently gorgeous output, and her blog is practically a visual feast for any fashionista who crosses its path. It's Xanthe's latest post that's caught my eye today -- particularly for the glimpse it offers at her snapshotting skills.

"French Perfume" is dark and decadent in the post-processed pic above, but what makes it stand out even more is the unprocessed version of the picture that Xanthe shared in advance on Plurk. Exactly how much work did she do to get that shot as flawless as it is? Just take a look at her original snapshot straight out of SL:

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Posted at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (11) | Bookmark

Top Eight New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

Minecraft machinima

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Friday, September 12, 2014

This Weekend, Try Out a New Sims 4 House by a Familiar Second Life Designer

Barnesworth Anubis Sims 4 builds
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I'll be cooling it slightly on the Sims 4 posts starting next week (I promise!) but I just had to mention this for the sake of anyone planning to play this weekend. Barnesworth Anubis, one of Second Life's most experienced and most popular virtual home designers, has been hard at work in The Sims 4 creating some of the most elegant houses I've seen yet. You won't find many cozy cottages or cramped starters in Barnesworth's portfolio, but if you're looking for a big beautiful space for your virtual family his creations are a great place to start.

Check out his designs in The Sims 4 gallery under the username "BarnesAnubis" or in his Sims 4 album on Flickr. And while you're at it, scope out some of his Second Life builds on the SL Marketplace.

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Posted at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | Bookmark

Home is Where the Craftybot is: Fan Remakes of Defunct MMO Glitch Are Making Serious Progress

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Fans of Glitch are still hard at work on their projects to revive the closed (and subsequently open-sourced) MMO. Just this week the team behind one such project, named Eleven, released a video demonstrating the housing system in action. Unlike most tech demos the point of this video isn't to reveal anything new or surprising, but rather to demonstrate how faithful their reconstruction is -- to stir up the nostalgia and fondness that Glitch fans have for the defunct game. They also recently released character customization, so you can rebuild the Glitchens of your past or start completely fresh.

Eleven isn't the only Glitch remake in progress, however...

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Posted at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Bookmark

RIP Joe Miller, Linden Lab's Beloved Former Platform VP

Joe Miller Linden Lab exec

Joe Miller, a computing and gaming pioneer who was Linden Lab's VP of Platform & Technology Development from 2006 to 2010, lost his life in recent months after a battle with cancer, I'm very sad to report. Linden Lab staff past and present are mourning his loss, for he's a widely admired and beloved man. SLers may remember him by his avatar Joe Linden, a cheery old robot who'd announce shiny new products like the integration of voice technology. I briefly met Joe after my tenure as a contract writer with Linden Lab, and found him to be a warm, brilliant, lovely person who was passionate about Second Life and making it better for its users. If you have fond memories of him that you'd like to share (I received the family's permission to post this) go here to Joe Miller's memorial page.

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Posted at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | Bookmark


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