Thursday, May 21, 2015

Second Life-Based Survival Horror FPS Attracts Over 1000 Players In Its First Month

Second Life SL FPS The Drowning Dreamscene

Unia, the survival horror FPS game which launched last month in Second Life, has earned over 1000 players in its first 30 days, the developer team just told me. (You can even see them on Unia's leaderboard here.) Indeed, says team PR rep Kess Crytal, some players are finishing the game's story mission (10-12 hours total play time by her estimate), then continuing to play, so they can rack up more monster kills to boost their score. "We have one player who we estimate is playing an average of 10 hours per day."

1000 players in such a short time is extremely impressive for an SL-based game. (Remnants of Earth, the popular mini-MMO in SL featured on Kotaku recently, has about 1400-1700 players after running over a year.) That's a lot of people willing to endure the heads-up display setup hassle a game in Second Life requires. For that matter, developing a game within a larger online game platform has its own challenges -- in this case, over three dozens SLers were on the development team (credits on the bottom of this page), and they had to collaborate together online, working across multiple continents and time zones:

"The challenges have been immense...let alone the cost of development," Kess says. "Two full sims for two years while in development. Staff changes were challenging too, and of course pushing the boundaries of what can be done within SL... as you can see, there was a huge number of collaborators involved which all needed to be communicated, and their input managed too."

Unia uses minimal scripts to optimize frame rate, and employs the new experience keys to seamlessly transition players from one scene to another. 

As for the game story, and the name of the game itself, there's some unique inspirations there:

Continue reading "Second Life-Based Survival Horror FPS Attracts Over 1000 Players In Its First Month"

Posted at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Don't Dawdle, 21Shoe's Deals on Limited Second Life Footwear Won't Wait for the Weekend

Essenz_051521Shoe_600
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

21Shoe is an event I don't often get the occasion to cover, simply because it's window is too narrow for me to squeeze a post about it into the schedule. It opens on the 21st of every month... And only the 21st. If you miss that 24 hour span then too bad, so sad, because the lovely discounts (and often limited editions) that come with it will soon be out of reach.

This month's lineup has a distinctly summery feel and I've picked a few of my favorite entries to share, so keep reading if you're looking for the perfect pair of virtual shoes to flaunt your avatar's latest mesh pedicure.

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Posted at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Second Life First-Hour User Experience by Returning SLer

This is a really interesting walkthrough of Second Life's current first-time user experience by someone who hasn't played SL for about 10 years:

I created an alt account 2-3 years ago, as I recall, and the on-boarding process has become even more polished and robust since then. A couple other points that emerge from watching this video:

The UI is still extremely challenging for anyone who isn't deeply familiar with MMOs, and the first-time user experience doesn't even come close to doing enough to address that. But friendly, chatty videos like this (by Beau Hindman) are in themselves a good way of introducing people to the UI and all its irksome eccentricities.

which takes me to the next thought:

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Posted at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Second Life Content Creators Cashed Out $60M Last Year, Says Linden CEO - Including Someone Making "Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars" Selling Avatar Feet. Yes, Feet.

Dinee_toes

Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg let out a couple fascinating facts about the Second Life economy during his SVVR talk yesterday (video below): Content creators cashed out over $60 million last year by selling their Linden Dollars for good old USD. That might not seem like a lot, but there's about 600,000 regular active users in Second Life, so applying the 80-20 rule, it's safe to estimate 120,000 SLers creating and selling SL content on some level, which comes out to an average of $500 per creator (on a very very rough guess). However, there's probably a lot less than that 120K creating content on a highly active, professional basis. And one of them, Altberg says, is doing extremely well:

"There's a woman in New Zealand who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars making hands and feets for avatars and feeds her family by doing that."

Yes, hands and feets. That's how valuable avatar enhancements can be. Notably, Linden Lab also once reported that a maker of Second Life avatar shoes makes close to $1 million a year

Ebbe's full talk after the break, starting at 39 minutes in:

Continue reading "Second Life Content Creators Cashed Out $60M Last Year, Says Linden CEO - Including Someone Making "Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars" Selling Avatar Feet. Yes, Feet."

Posted at 02:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Oculus & USC Developing RL Expression-to-VR Avatar Tech - Solution for Ridiculous "VR Gawk" Still Pending

VR real faces

Notwithstanding the big head-mounted display slapped to your face, the bright kids at Oculus VR and USC researchers are coming up with a way to translate your real life expressions to your VR avatar - and Philip's a fan:

The system tracks the motion of a person’s mouth using a 3-D camera attached to the headset with a short boom. Movements of the upper part of the face are measured using strain gauges added to the foam padding that fits the headset to the face. After the two data sources are combined, an accurate 3-D representation of the user’s facial movements can be used to animate a virtual character, whether that’s an ersatz person or something other than human...

“This is really cool,” says Philip Rosedale, who previously founded Second Life and is now CEO of a virtual worlds startup called High Fidelity. The company is working on enabling realistic virtual social interaction by using webcams and other sensor technology to track facial expressions and arm and hand gestures (see “The Quest to Put More Reality in Virtual Reality”).

More here, including video. The real problem I see here is what NWN reader Issa Heckworth notably termed "The Gawk": That gape-mouthed, dumbass expression you make when wearing a VR headset. ("Everyone I see with these headsets on looks terrible," as she put it.) So if this technology is introduced to the Oculus, expect millions and millions of avatars wandering the metaverse, gawking.

Continue reading "Oculus & USC Developing RL Expression-to-VR Avatar Tech - Solution for Ridiculous "VR Gawk" Still Pending"

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

First Look at New SL Streaming Service Bright Canopy

Second Life Bright Canopy Streaming

Bright Canopy, the Second Life streaming service aiming to become SL Go's much-needed successor, had a pre-launch event today, and thanks to founder Bill Glover, I got to join the sneak peek. It's still very early days for the service, with all the kinks still being worked out, so read my brief review with that in mind.

TL;DR version: Pretty impressive and relatively economical - if you have really good wi-fi/broadband and you're close to San Francisco and/or a Canopy-connected server.

First the best points: It's optimized to run best on Google Chrome, which for my money, is the best browser on the market. Loading and launch times were pretty fast for me - under a minute. As with SL Go, you get to choose between Firestorm (the most popular 3rd party SL viewer) or the official viewer, another big plus. And the first time I launched, I loaded quickly into a great high-res view of my office (which frankly, I have hardly visited since, well, since SL Go went defunct).

Potential downsides? The $0.79/hr price is probably a bit on the high side for power SL users (and a lot costlier than SL Go's "all you can eat" pricing plans). But I'd expect that price to go down if the company started gaining more subscribers and scaling well. Also, and this might just reflect unique problems with my own system, but it seems like you need a really powerful broadband connection to pull this off:

Continue reading "First Look at New SL Streaming Service Bright Canopy"

Posted at 04:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Linden Lab Planning to "Deal With Sub-Optimal" User-Generated Content in Second Life Successor (Updated)

Project Sansar Second Life Linden Lab SL 2

Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg didn't reveal much about Project Sansar, its successor to Second Life, at yesterday's SVVR conference presentation, but as HyperGrid Business reports, he did offer a strong hint at how it'll treat user-generated content in Sansar:

Additionally the Lab is working on how to “deal with sub-optimal” content. “Users don’t necessarily know how to create extremely optimized content like a gaming studio would,” Altberg said.

This suggests some kind of filtering system (automatic or human-curated) against some user-generated content -- likely content that causes lag or other performance issues, or is just not up to a professional gaming studio's standard. [Note: Linden Lab disputes this interpretation -- see update below. - WJA, 5/20]

At first glance, I'm of two minds: It's definitely good to give new users an extremely curated, high quality experience, so some level of UGC filtering in a user's early stages is totally understandably.

At the same time, "extremely optimized content like a gaming studio" really concerns me:

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Posted at 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

Iris Wants to Know: Do You Spend More Time Tweaking Your Virtual Home or Your Virtual Self?

Pokute Burt New Cafe
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

For as long as I've been in Second Life, I've always changed my avatar's outfit almost as often as I changed my own in reality. This isn't always limited to SL, either. In both Skyrim and Dragon Age Inquisition I'm the kind of player who keeps a few different outfits on hand for a few different situations. An outfit for fighting dragons, an outfit for fighting demons, an outfit for hanging out in the fancy town with the fancy people. You know, practical considerations.

For as often as I change my avatar's clothes, however, I almost never spend too much time changing my avatar's surroundings. I'm the kind of person who updates my land or skybox once a year, if that, but at the same time I'm a big fan of some of the SL photographers on Flickr who capture their decor with as much originality and detail as avatars. Folks like pokute Burt, who created the pic embedded above, who can build a room with more character than ten avatars tied together. 

That's why I want to know, do you put more time into tweaking the look of your land, your virtual home, your skybox or whatever it is you have, or your avatar? What leads you to favor one over the other? As ever, leave your responses in the comments below.

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Posted at 12:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Second Life Bloggers: Follow Canary Beck's SEO Advice and I'll Feature Your Blog on New World Notes!

Second Life SEO blog advice

Here's essential advice for Second Life bloggers from marketing guru and Renaissance woman Canary Beck, explaining in copious details how to optimize your content so potential readers can more easily find it via Google. (What geeks call SEO, search engine optimization.)

This advice couldn't come more soon: Besides SL fashion blogs (many of which are great, albeit for a single sub-vertical of SL content), the Second Life blogging ecosystem has definitely weakened in recent years. So let me make this offer:

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Posted at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Watch the Future of VR Discussed at a Conference with a Speaker Gender Balance from the Mad Men Era

This year's Silicon Valley VR conference is happening today and tomorrow, and you can watch the stream of speakers live here:

Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, was just on discussing Sansar and Second Life, but unless I missed it, no huge revelations were revealed. But keep watching to hear more from the men running the VR industry today.

And I do mean men: Out of the 61 speakers I'm counting here, only 6 are women: Layla Mah, Jody Medich, Evelyn Miralles, Denise Quesnel, Mary Spio, and Nonny de la Peña. The work of de la Peña, by the way, was praised by VR pioneer Jacki Morie in my interview with her last week, in which we discussed how male heavy the VR industry has become, even though, during VR's first wave, a majority of the VR experience developers were women. Now, however, as you can see for yourself from the live video stream, that gender balance has entirely changed.

I should note that I discussed the gender imbalance with the SVVR coordinators last year, and can confirm they're aware of the issue. If I recall who spoke last year, there's actually a few more women speaking than last year. But the breakdown is still pretty bad.

I can already hear someone mansplaining a reason: "That's only because the tech industry in general has such a poor gender balance. That answer only raises more questions, but putting those to one side, a key question remains:

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Posted at 03:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

I Just Can't Stop Staring at this Stunning Watercolorized Second Life Snapshot

Kala Bijoux Madeline of Pleasure
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I'm head over heels for this avatar snapshot Kala Bijoux posted on her Flickr recently. Dubbed "Madeline of Pleasure" this picture is vibrantly colored and incredibly distinctive. I especially like the edges of the image, which fade from dappled color to white like an unfinished watercolor painting. The end result is ridiculously harmonious, what else can I say?

Kala Bijoux's name is a little more familiar for her wing designs than her work on Flickr. She's the designer behind Material Squirrel, a Second Life shop that specializing in meticulously painted avatar wings. Material Squirrel has been around for quite a while now, and takes particular pride in their array of flexible prim wings, rather than using rigid mesh to do the job. This allows her wings to move and bend, meaning that they've retained a popularity that few other flexiprim-based items can claim in SL these days.

if you want to see more of Kala's work, you can check out "Madeline of Pleasure" in all its glory on Flickr, or visit Material Squirrel Wings for yourself on the Second Life Marketplace.

Continue reading "I Just Can't Stop Staring at this Stunning Watercolorized Second Life Snapshot"

Posted at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fury Road Has the Wasteland World Inspiration We Want

Mad Max Fury Road

If you want to watch a movie that inspires your next round of post-apocalyptic world building (hello, Wasteland denizens!), you'll really want to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. The movie itself is a masterpiece (more on that below), but fans of alternate worlds will also love how Miller and his art team convey so many details about this post-nuclear future through visual and audio cues - the complex tattoos on the War Boys' bodies, for instance, or signs of mutation and nuclear sickness everywhere on most characters' bodies, or the intricate armor/face mask worn by the villain, Immortan Joe. (And for audio, don't forget the war drums, the religious chants, not to mention the electric guitar flamethrower, yes.) So much history and backstory conveyed in these elements without any long passages of dialog or text needed -- that's how to convey a post-literary society, both in film and virtual worlds.

As for Mad Max as a film? I'm still astounded:

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Posted at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Top Seven Posts from New World Notes Last Week

VR Jacki Morie Virtual Reality Women

Jacki Morie in 1990

Posted at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Glorious Second Life Machinima Inspired by Life of Pi

A perfect way to end this week is watching this new SL machinima from SamLowry Hawks, who after a long absence from the genre (his 2010 classic here; 2012's masterpiece here), returns with this visually stunning and story rich short inspired by Ang Lee's Life of Pi. In this version, however, it's the tiger who must find the boy, in a dreamscape even richer than that film:

" I wanted to try to build a scenario for the first time, simple as it is," Mr. Hawks tells me, "to bring a plot line to what I've been doing for years. These are obviously my first steps in this area, and I am not a writer, but my wish for this little film was to have a story, even a simple one, to bring another dimension to machinima." SamLowry himself plays the tiger in the machinima, an avatar which also inspired the story:

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Posted at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

US SLers: Get a Discount on L$ Purchases from DX Exchange

DX Exchange Linden Dollars Second Life Discount

Click here, Second Life users based in the United States, to get a discount on Linden Dollars purchases from DX Exchange, authorized third party L$ vendor and proud sponsoring partner of this blog. To get the discount, just jump into SL at this map location, and click the vending machine (pictured above). If you don't have a DX account, you'll need to fill that out first. After that, just choose your DX account and then select USA as your region, and then click the Coupon button to get the code. Discount will get you 10-15% off (depending on exchange rate fluctuations), so pretty good savings when buying in bulk.

Got questions? Send an IM to DX's in-world representative, MarcelEdward DX!

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Posted at 02:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Should Journalists Cover Second Life Like a San Francisco Travel Brochure, or as a Complex, Often Troubled City?

Here's a spirited debate between myself and Second Life videographer Draxtor Despres (along with his co-host Jo Yardley), inspired by the post I wrote earlier this week, and the resulting backlash it inspired among some SLers. (Interview starts at about 8 minutes in.)

Continue reading "Should Journalists Cover Second Life Like a San Francisco Travel Brochure, or as a Complex, Often Troubled City?"

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Women Used to Dominate Virtual Reality Development, But Seem All But Absent from the Industry Now

VR Jacki Morie Virtual Reality Women

Jacki Morie in 1990

Vice has an interesting interview with Jacki Morie, a virtual reality pioneer who fears the VR industry is repeating mistakes made in the 90s. She expanded on another concern to Vice that she and I were recently discussing -- the lack of women in VR content development. Which wasn't always the case, but is so now:

... I did an in-depth survey where I tried to find artistic, meaningful, very creative virtual reality experiences. This didn't include a virtual kitchen you could walk around to design your kitchen, military training scenarios we designed for wayfinding, and more functional VR experiences. It was the very creative, multisensory things, with full immersion and interesting interfaces. The 100 creations I found between 1985 and 2006-2007, 70 percent of those creators were women... Oculus is running this Mobile VR Jam, and 1,700 people signed up for it. I went through all of them and found every name that was remotely female and my best guess estimate is that 6 percent were women.

Emphasis mine, because the contrast is gobsmacking. At the same time, I'm not surprised: At the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference last year, I'd estimate maybe 85-90% of the attendees were male. Now, it's true that that's not an atypical gender imbalance for a tech/gaming conference, but in the case of VR, that wasn't always so.

But what could the current VR industry do to reverse that trend?

"They'd have to start listening and being aware of what happened before," Jacki tells me. "It might open them up to including/seeking out women for their teams."

It'll probably take an even more proactive effort:

Continue reading "Women Used to Dominate Virtual Reality Development, But Seem All But Absent from the Industry Now"

Posted at 04:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Kickstart This: Das Tal, an Innovative MMO Where Regular Server Wipes are a Feature

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

Typically, character wipes are a nightmare. When a game wipes everyone's characters for whatever reason (usually during its beta phases) all that hard-won loot and all those hard-earned levels evaporate into thin air, and everyone from the most hardcore to the most casual players are dropped right back at square one. Together.

It's infuriating.

Which is why it might seem a bit baffling that an MMO currently seeking development funds on Kickstarter is advertising its regular character wipes. They're not a grim necessity or an unfortunate by-product of development, but rather a feature. Something intended to improve the overall experience of playing. That's what PVP sandbox MMO Das Tal is promising, and that promise itself is fascinating.

Here's the heart of their pitch:

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Posted at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Seek: Find your Friends -- New Immersive World for iOS

Seek: Find Your Friends is a free new iOS game I haven't played yet, but offers us an immersive world ready to be explored:

According to Touch Arcade, it comes with heavy promise:

Seek, the winner of, among other awards, the BAFTA Scotland New Talent Game Award 2015, came out of the 7-week long international gaming competition Dare to be Digital, one of the premier video games development competition for University students and recent graduates. At the game's heart lies the idea of experiencing a colorful, vibrant island through the window of your iOS device. By utilizing the device's gyroscope and accelerometer in addition to the touch screen, Seek lets the player experience the island by moving the device in the same way one would move his or her head.

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Posted at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cumberbatch-y Sherlock Holmes Recreated in Second Life

Sherlock Holmes SL cosplay

The mystery of the avatar who looks like Benedict Cumberbatch deepens: Darius Godric not only looks like actor playing the BBC's latest incarnations of Mr. Holmes, but he's built out an incredibly detailed recreation of the show's 221B Baker Street location. Eddi Haskell paid a visit, and met Holmes/Godric in his study (above), as did Goizane Latzo, who has many more pics. But now that the game's afoot, visit Holmes for yourself by putting this link into the SL viewer of your choice:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/London%20Mayfair/107/77/22

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Posted at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In Survey of Second Life Sexual Activity, Over One-Third of Participants Find Virtual Sex More Fun Than the Real Thing

Sex in Second Life

Canary Beck has a really interesting summary of a survey she conducted of Second Life users, asking them about their SL-based sexual activity. Of the 267 who responded, 172 reported that they were sexually active in Second Life. From that data set, some striking results emerged, including:

  • "36% of the respondents find Second Life sex more fun than real life sex."
  • "74% wished their real life sexual experiences were like their Second Life sexual experiences."
  • "92% of those that find Second Life sex more fun wished their real life sexual experiences were more like their Second Life sexual experiences."

Her data suggests the latter result is attributable to the ability to engage through Second Life the kind of sexual activity that's likely less frequent in real life for many people for various reasons ("kinky sex (87%), and sex with different partners (89%)"). The top item mirrors the results of an academic study from leading virtual world academic Edward Castronova, co-authored with Gert G. Wagner, that people get more happiness from being in Second Life than good news from real life. Indeed, Canary concludes "The data suggests those who like Second Life Sex more are having less real-life sex than those who prefer real-life sex over Second Life sex."

That's not to say everyone's like that -- Canary's survey included an open question which includes answers like this:

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Posted at 03:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Linden Lab Seeking Second Life Musicians for Paid Performances at Upcoming Fest

Linden Lab is taking applications for its upcoming in-world live music festival, with performers getting an unspecified "payment". One likely speed bump is performers will only be booked for the festival after doing a five minute audition in front of "a panel of judges made up of Lindens and Residents". (Maybe they should do it publicly and put the performances on YouTube, ala Second Life Idol.) I suspect established professional musicians who also gig in the real world will chafe at the idea of having to do an audition, but then, they probably need to audition in front of a half-drunk, surly nightclub owners, so a virtual version is easy by comparison. Go here to read the details and start the application process.

Posted at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Iris' Social Network Guide for Second Life Users, Part 2

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

Last week I wrote about some of the most prominent social networks for Second Life users to connect with each other outside of SL itself. The article ended with a request that any networks I overlook be shared in the comments. Well, while I'd say I hit the nail on the head in regards to many of the more popular choices among SLers, I definitely overlooked enough to warrant a sequel to the original list. So here it is! If Twitter's too blah, if Plurk's too dramatic, if Tumblr's too trendy or if Flickr's too cliquey for you, just take a look at this list of further alternatives. 

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Posted at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

SL Flickr Stream of the Day: Virtual Sherlock Cosplay

Sherlock Holmes Cumberbatch Cosplay

I've seen some truly impressive Second Life-based cosplay in my day, but Darius Godric's tribute to the BBC Sherlock Holmes series and star Benedict Cumberbatch is truly profound and on-point. Click here to embiggenate. My man Godric even recreated Sherlock's 221B Baker Street exterior and Sherlock in his study.

Continue reading "SL Flickr Stream of the Day: Virtual Sherlock Cosplay"

Posted at 11:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Check Out Highest Point, an iOS Game Featuring Art from a Ridiculously Talented Second Life Designer

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

I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's surprising just how few Second Life designers get snapped up to work on games, particularly independently-made ones. There are some phenomenally talented people producing content for SL, and it seems like a big talent pool that's going more or less untapped outside of the virtual world. Not entirely untapped, though.

Highest Point is a new game available on iOS that features quite a few assets created by Anya Ohmai. From the game's description on the App Store:

In a long forgotten time where wild animals roamed the lands, there lived a small cowardly man. To protect his family from danger, he moved to the Highest Point - a spot so far out, he believed nothing could harm them. Alas, no matter how high they were, threat followed. Lucky for him, his wife was fearless and naively in love with him. Can she protect them from harms way?

The longer you survive, the higher your score, the more you can level up and improve your odds further.

In addition to taking some damn fine snapshots Anya Ohmai is also one of the more skilled 3D modellers in SL, even though she tends to keep a pretty low profile. I'd say it shows, too, because Highest Point looks vastly better than much of its competition.

If you have an iOS device with iOS 8.3 or later, consider checking out Highest Point for yourself.

Continue reading "Check Out Highest Point, an iOS Game Featuring Art from a Ridiculously Talented Second Life Designer"

Posted at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Why the Second Life Community Needs Positive Media Coverage (Comment of the Week)

Some readers misread yesterday's post to infer I was slamming Second Life, so I've written an update to it. I was confused how the post (which entirely reflects points I've written before) apparently upset some folks, but this comment from "HaveWhat" gave me a chance for some reflection:

In Eric Grundhauser's article, he did a fine job of covering many of the main aspects of SL, and please note, he did mention the sexual angle as well. Sex is alive and well on Second Life, but it is by no means the sum of it. The same is true for the internet as a whole, there is enough sex there for everyone and their dog. But, when introducing the internet to some remote village in a far away land, do you classify the internet as a primarily pornographic tool? The fact that it has a large seductive presence should not distract from the fact that there are vital sites with valuable information on any subject known to humankind, at your finger tips. A warning to a new audience is necessary, but coverage of its positive features is both helpful and rounds out the experience with accuracy. SL has a static, biased reputation, even though it contains gems all over the grid (The arts, music, machinima film, literary events, vast charity fund raising, schools, social gatherings for specific interests, and for those with various handicaps, and many more venues besides). Eric's article if anything, will promote what is already good in SL. So please keep in mind, his article was written as an introduction of Second Life to Real Lifers. I think we deserve to finally be heard beyond our formerly tainted reputation.

Emphasis mine, because it bears emphasis. I actually agree with this entire comment (though I'd add an "at the same time..." in several places), but I can't expect every reader of this blog to read this massive article I wrote on Polygon last year about the Second Life art community (even though Grundhauser mentioned and linked to it in his own article), nor can I assume new/casual visitors have noticed that countless posts about great SL content/community members. (Like, over 12 in just the last 2-3 weeks -- scroll down, see for yourself.) I often remind Iris that we should expect a rush of readers suddenly showing up from a Google search or a social media share, who've never read New World Notes or know its history, and we have to write with that assumption in mind, and I should have followed my own advice.

So to be clear:

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Theme Park to Integrate VR Experiences Within RL Settings

Way back in the 90s as a seriously naive kid, when virtual reality was enjoying its first hype wave, I sent a fan e-mail to Howard Rheingold, and stupidly said, "Hey wouldn't it be cool to use VR headsets while moving around a huge soundstage with various physical obstacles like ramps , etc. so when our VR headset displayed, like, a mountain, we'd actually have to climb the ramp?" Howard agreed that that sounded like a good idea, and I was totally surprised someone didn't build a VR soundstage right there and then.

Well, 20 years later, someone finally has:

Welcome to the Void (which is a pretty dark name for a theme park, but OK):

[S]et to debut in 2016 in Pleasant Grove, Utah, [The Void] is meant to be the first of many such centers around the world. The rooms are continuously reconfigurable and can even have their surfaces changed. This means that if your VR headset has you hiding behind a tree, you could feel its rough bark. If you're trying to open a spaceport, you could feel the metal beneath your hand.

Laser Tag is a pretty popular past time, so I can see a VR version taking off. But I'm pretty sure the video above is overselling what the Void can actually deliver. Group experiences, for instance, are probably impossible to pull off as billed:

Continue reading "Theme Park to Integrate VR Experiences Within RL Settings"

Posted at 01:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Reporter Who Only Gets Expert Tour of Second Life Only Gets Part of Second Life's Story Right (UPDATED)

SL Flux by blotto Epsilon and Cutea Benelli

A reporter named Eric Grundhauser recently visited Second Life for a site called Atlas Obscura ("the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places"), and came to this conclusion:

To be honest, when I decided to delve into Second Life, I half-expected to find a dying world of outsiders and bronies gleefully recreating pornographic impossibilities. But that simply doesn’t seem to be true. What I found, and mind you, I was only able to visit a strikingly miniscule portion of the available spaces, was that Second Life is still a fascinating and vital world that is constantly changing and pushing the boundaries of what a virtual space can be.

The article itself is worth checking out, because it's a compendium of truly great locations and builds in Second Life, but the summary above is not accurate at all. So why did he reach it? Probably because Grundhouser's visit through SL was tightly guided by Linden Lab staff and the excellent Ziki Questi, one of Second Life's best community curators. Consequently, Grundhouser gets to visit places like the Petrovsky Flux (above) and other classics like Insilico, Kowloon, and AM Radio's "Faraway". (Notably, most of the regions/locations featured in the article have been around well over 5 years, a whole generation in Internet time.)

Which is all fine, but by presenting this wonderful content with that conclusion, it presents a distorted picture of Second Life that ultimately does a disservice to SL and its best creators, while doing nothing to help grow its userbase. Here's why: 

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Posted at 02:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Don't Miss Spiegel.tv's New Documentary About Second Life, Virtualize It

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

If you happen to know a bit of German (or be fluent, as Second Life has a substantial community of German users) then there's a brand new documentary that you may want to check out. Mixed reality documentarian Draxtor Despres tipped me off to Virtualize It, a 40 minute foray into virtual worlds and the people who use them directed. Draxtor himself makes an appearance alongside a cast of others including gamemakers MadPea, mocap animators Humanoid, and musician Mimi Aly (who performs in SL as Mimi Carpenter) who each explain the ins and outs of their virtual lives. 

... Well I assume that's what they're explaining, anyway. Unfortunately, I don't speak German. As I skimmed through the video I couldn't pick out much beyond Draxtor's brief mention of Call of Duty and some chatter about Minecraft. Luckily English subtitles are on the way, so if you don't have a working knowledge of the German language you'll still be able to enjoy this documentary in the near future.

You can watch Virtualize It completely free on Spiegel.tv. If you'd rather wait for the subtitled version, then keep your eyes peeled here on NWN and we'll update you when they become available.

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Top Five New World Notes Posts from Last Week

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

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Why VR Isn’t Ready to Be a Marketing Platform (Yet)

Gossip_detection

Why Virtual Reality Isn’t Ready to Be a Marketing Platform (Yet) is my new post for theMIX agency, cautioning everyone excited about using Oculus Rift and other VR platforms for marketing purposes, based on years of painful experiences when Second Life was the Next Big Marketing Platform thing. Sample:

If you experience a VR version of driving a car (as Volvo is doing), does it make you any more likely to buy an actual model? That doesn’t follow at all, and compelling case studies are scant. I helped launch or wrote about dozens of virtual reality marketing campaigns in Second Life, some of them quite clever, and I can summarize the ROI for nearly all of them: Nada. Second Life users, exploring the virtual world to play games, build, socialize, or (of course) have virtual sex, would suddenly find a real world brand intruding on their fun like a kind of 3d billboard. They’d enjoy the best campaigns, like a virtual gossip game promoting the Gossip Girls TV show [above], but then just move on to consuming other Second Life content. 

Read the rest here, and have an spectacular weekend (virtual and/or otherwise)!

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Second Life Artist Wins RL Art Fellowship from Red Bull

Aemeth Lysette SL artist

Well this is excellent: The SL artist Aemeth Lysette, who creates vivid real life portraits of avatars, has now won a real life art fellowship from drink giant Red Bull:

I’ve been given a couple of months to create a new body of work. At the end of the fellowship, I’ll reveal all of the pieces at an opening in Detroit, Michigan. The internet has influenced me a lot as an artist, so I decided to focus on the net and women in general for this collection... Here’s a picture of me [above] painting Airedine, of the now-defunct store Adore & Abhor... I picked out a couple of avatars (and their real-life counterparts) to work into the exhibit, as well. Not everyone will fit in this round, but I’m going to be painting in this style for a while.

So if you're anywhere near Detroit, keep your eye on the show launch announcement -- Facebook page here.

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Ample Avi Debuts New Second Life Avatar Shape Just in Time for Mother's Day (NWN Partner News)

Ample Avi Mother's Day

Ample Avi, proud sponsoring partner of New World Notes, is releasing a brand new shape today. Eve [Click here to see her on the SL Marketplace] has a curvaceous plus-sized figure and is out just in time for Mother's Day here in North America. Like most Ample Avi shapes she also comes copy-modify enabled so that you can adjust her as needed. 

Every now and then on these sponsored posts we get comments asking why on earth anyone would pay for a shape when Second Life provides everyone with the tools to make their own for free. This is a pretty common (and pretty old) question in Second Life fashion, but it's also one with an easy answer. Second Life gives you the tools to make a lot of things yourself for free, but that access hasn't magically made me a capable scripter or a world-class builder. Yes everyone can make a shape, but not everyone can make a good shape. Then there's the fact that even those of us who can make a decent avatar shape may want to experiment with something different every so often. The ability to slip into a completely new aesthetic on a whim is one of my favorite things about avatar customization, and shapes are a huge part of that.

You can pick up Eve for yourself at Ample Avi's in-world location [Teleport link] or on the Second Life Marketplace. If you're intending to give this gift to someone special this coming Sunday, don't forget that the SL Marketplace allows you to purchase something as a gift and delivers it automatically to their inventory when you do. And if you're one of those shape shop skeptics, remember that you can pick up Ample Avi's sample shape Rita v2 absolutely free.

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Why Prejudice Against Second Life Avatar Roleplay Exists

Second Life avatar roleplay predjudice

Kara Trapdoor has a provocative post about SL user prejudice against other Second Life users who roleplay, which somewhat ironically spins off from a Facebook thread which starts with this SLer's rant (lightly edited for grammar):

I am adult I can't roleplay a kid, I am accused or being a pedophile -- I assure you I am not. I am male and I can't roleplay female, I get accused of being gay -- I am not. I am white and I can't roleplay black, I get accused of being racist -- I am not. I can't roleplay an animal, I get accused or being weird. What do you do, roleplay yourself? Where's the fun in that? I thought Second Life was about pretending. Get an imagination.

To which Kara offers her own perspective, including this passage which makes a rather centrist argument for roleplay:

We would like others to [roleplay] how we do but of course everyone plays their own way. If I am not close to someone I don't care, but if I am close, even if they don't look or act remotely close to what they would in RL, to an extent I'd still like to be aware of that if I have formed a real bond. It doesn't mean I would give them a hard time, though. Plus there are rules about age play, just saying, so with that, I get why people would be upset. I think it depends what people are doing with their alternative forms.

Emphasis mine. TL;DL: Roleplay is fine, as long as it's always understood as roleplay.

Another commenter writes:

"SL is one place where you can experience your dreams and fantasies without being judged."

This, however, is entirely incorrect: Your fantasies and dreams will be judged in Second Life by other users -- not by all of them, not by most of them, but you will be judged, and to think otherwise is to set yourself up for shock and disappointment.

Why? Well, it's been a recurring theme in my writing through countless posts, but to summarize it here:

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Iris' Social Network Guide for Second Life Users

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

Second Life may have its own built-in communication and networking tools, but they've never fully contained its community. If you're looking to make friends and keep in touch with other users what you do outside of SL is just as important as what you do inside of it. But where to even begin?

From Twitter to Tumblr to Flickr, many of the most popular social networks have accumulated their own Second Life communities, but each one is a little bit different from the others. For the Second Life resident who doesn't have much of a social footprint yet, it can be pretty daunting to pick the 'right' place to be. Here's how to figure out where you fit in.

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SL Flickr Stream is a Great Guide to Excellent SL Places

Explore Second Life is an indispensable Flickr stream for beautiful images from across the metaverse, but as the title suggests, it's also an explorer's guide: Each image comes with a SLurl, so if you like what you see, you can click to visit. (Like this place above, captured by Maddy Eclectica.) It's managed by SL social media star Strawberry Singh, so you know you're in good hands; here's her guidelines for submitted new images.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

"Sansar", Second Life 2's Now-Confirmed Official Working Name, is So Bad, Let's Just Keep Calling It Second Life 2

Linden Lab just publicly confirmed that the official working name for its Oculus Rift-compatible successor to Second Life, often called Second Life 2, is actually called... Sansar:

... and so sorry, Sansar seems such a silly name, I'm personally inclined to keep calling it Second Life 2 for now. Though I am curious where the name "Sansar' came from. I have two theories:

Sansara is the oldest and most complex of all mainland continents in Second Life. Just as notable, "Sensarra" was Philip Rosedale's original proposed name for Second Life before it was dubbed Second Life. I discussed this in my book, in a passage I hope Linden Lab reads when they finally land on the official name for Second Life 2, whatever it ultimately is:

Continue reading ""Sansar", Second Life 2's Now-Confirmed Official Working Name, is So Bad, Let's Just Keep Calling It Second Life 2"

Posted at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

"You're Being RIPPED": Second Life Designer Challenges Pricey Photosourced Fashions

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

The pricing of virtual goods is always a controversial topic, especially when it comes to Second Life fashion. There are two words that can make it even more so: Templates (a topic I've covered to death here on NWN) and photosourcing. Photosourcing in SL fashion generally means using all or part of a photographed image of real clothing to texture your virtual goods, and while the results can look more realistic (but not necessarily 'better') than painstakingly created original textures, photosourcers seldom have the rights to use the photos they use, commercially or otherwise. Sometimes they do have the rights, or they're using assets specifically intended for that purpose. And sometimes they're just window shopping on the Agent Provocateur website, plucking their future releases from among sample images. Many such designers will charge a premium for their work, too. Agent Provocateur may not know it, but they're probably the most popular lingerie designer in all of SL.

Long story short, it's just one more complicated issue that some consumers may not even realize is there.

Roslin Petion (coincidentally the designer behind almost every piece of lingerie I've worn in NWN's sponsored posts for Ample Avi) recently posted a mini-rant on the subject of overpriced photosourced virtual lingerie over on Plurk, and it's too good not to share. Here's what she had to say:

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It's Official: Oculus Rift Launching Early 2016 (If You Care)

Jacki Morie Virtual Reality

No more speculation: Oculus Rift just officially announced its commercial launch as Q1 2016. So almost 8 whole months to figure out how not to repeat the mistakes of the 1990s.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Fractal Lab Project Puts Awesome 3D Graphics in a Browser

Fractal Lab is a jaw-dropping project that displays progressive rendering of fractals in WebGL, which is pretty much geekspeak for, "OMFG lookit this cool 3D animation in mah web browser!" Watch:

Fractal Lab 2015 Demo from subBlue on Vimeo

Video and website via Lee Perry of Epic Games, who knows more than a bit about epic 3D. The Fractal Lab project is really a portfolio sample by a crazy talented programmer/artist called Tom Beddard, and unsurprisingly, it got him a good gig. On the down side, that means it'll likely be awhile before we get to play with it too:

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This Unbelievably Gorgeous Second Life Snapshot Will Take Your Breath Away

Boudicca Amat The Delphic OracleJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

If I had to name the Second Life artist whose work impresses me the most consistently, Boudicca Amat would be the easy choice. Her latest pic, "The Delphic Oracle", is a perfect encapsulation of why. Boudicca often recreates classic paintings using the virtual world as her canvas, but sometimes she finds her inspiration from poetry, prose, and even quotations instead. Even when she's not directly recreating real world masterpieces, she invokes them and makes it look utterly effortless.

Anyone who's fiddled around with a Second Life snapshot in Photoshop can probably see the other reason I find this image so impressive. The way the light and shadow fall across the avatar's body is so natural, so believable, that it's almost hard to believe it's an avatar at all. It's almost easier to tell yourself that it's a full digital painting than to accept that the original image underneath the post-processing came from Second Life.

Unfortunately you'll need a (free) Flickr account to see the image in all its glory there, so here's a bigger version just for the Flickr-less masses:

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Posted at 01:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

How Old Can't Guess How Old Wrinkle-Free Avatars Are

Cajsa Lilliehook SL age

Microsoft's How Old app could fairly accurately guess the age of my avatar, but look how wackily off it is for the various avatar variations of Ms. Cajsa Lilliehook, anywhere from 6 to 28.

"In most of the pics," Cajsa tells me, laughing wrly, "it's a PXL skin which is one I prefer because it looks older." (Click to embiggen.) Looks like the lack of any wrinkles or age contours confuses the crap of the program. Which helps to illustrate a larger truism about avatars: Perfection and ageless beauty is easy to stimulate - the opposite, not so much.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

HoloLens Promises of Immersive AR/VR "Basically a Lie" - Also Makes You Look Like Kim-Jung Il

After months of anticipation based on videos like this one, everybody in tech was excited to see the Microsoft HoloLens in action, and assorted developers/reporters finally got their hands on a demo last week. The Verge for one was impressed on a certain level, but also cut through the hype:

Short version of the Verge's take: The HoloLens has a great display screen, but has nothing like the fully immersive, wraparound images that were promised in its promotional videos. Which means HoloLens' potential as an augmented reality platform is more limited than many of us thought, and is a VR platform not at all.

Also: It's surprising how few people are commenting just how dorky these things look. Like worse than even Google Glass. I mean, just look:

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How to Increase Your SL Blog Traffic (Hint: SEO, Yo!)

Canary Beck has a good long post on why search is so important to increasing views to your Second Life blog. (Or for that matter, any blog in any particular vertical.) As I told her in an e-mail, New World Notes gets about 30% of its 110K-190K+ monthly views through search, which is more or less a good target to shoot for. If I could add a TL;DR to her post (which you really should read in full here), I'd put it this way:

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Posted at 02:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Kotaku & Cracked Give Janine Hawkins & NWN Nice Nods

Robin Williams Roleplay Gamer

NWN senior writer Janine "Iris" Hawkins' post on the Steam paid mods controversy got a nice mention on Kotaku. Also gratifying to see Cracked.com cite NWN in this smartass listicle post, "6 Dorky Hobbies That Shatter Your Image Of Famous People", noting our tribute to Robin WIilliam's love (and artistic inspiration from) roleplaying games.

Posted at 01:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reader Comments: Fond Memories of the Wonderful World of Svarga in Second Life

Svarga_plant_life

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

Last week I asked readers to share memories of the first user-maintained Second Life sims they remember visiting. The responses are great to read through, whether you're looking to stir up your own memories of the sims mentioned or just invoke a sense of general nostalgia.

My absolute favorite comment came from Sepp, who reflected on (and shared some trivia about) one of the most interesting sims in Second Life history:

Svarga, Laukosargas Svarog's experimental virtual ecosystem. In mythology, Svarga is the heavenly abode of the Slavic god Svarog, the supreme god of the Slavic pantheon and the god of fire and blacksmithing. In Second Life, Svarga was a sim with not only a castle, hidden caves but rain clouds, flowers puffing spores and insects buzzing around. There was a wasp ride to give you a tour around the sim, magical places and a fantastic echo sound experiment area.

I remember spending days and days there, there was a thriving vampire community, lots of friendly people, waterfalls and mushrooms to sit on. There was a dream dancing event and contless[sic] photo sessions.

Svarga has been around since 2006. Amazingly it's still featured in the destination guide, although I dont think Laukosargas is involved any longer.

I have some wonderful memories from Svarga. I met the most wonderfuil[sic] person there.

You can read all the responses (and leave your own) on the original post here, or check out Hamlet's article about a nascent Svarga from way back in 2006 here.

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Top Five New World Notes Posts from Last Week

Jacki Morie Virtual Reality

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Insilico: Meet the Faces Behind Second Life's Top Cyberpunk Roleplay Destination

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

Drax Files Insilico

Ask many long-time Second Life users about the best location to soak in a dystopian cyberpunk future and Insilico will be the first name on their lips. At this point it's an institution, a thrumming neon node on SL's map that's been a constant for years. Insilico has been my own go-to futuristic backdrop for virtual world photography for as long as I can remember, but I never had a concept of who was working behind the scenes to build and maintain this unique and enduring place. In my mind, Insilico always just... was. 

That's why it was a pleasant surprise to see that mixed reality film maker Draxtor Despres took on the story of the Insilico sim for the latest episode of his Linden Lab-sponsored YouTube series, The Drax Files: World Makers. If you've ever wanted to know what's going on behind the gleaming facade of one of Second Life's most recognizable cyberpunk sims, now's your chance to find out.

Watch the full episode above, and be sure to drop by and see Insilico [Teleport link] for yourself afterwards. You can also check out Draxtor's YouTube channel to catch up on more of his fascinating series.

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Posted at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

So How Old is Your Avatar? Please Don't Say 24

Age Detection Site

How Old, as the URL name suggests, is a site (from Microsoft) that analyzes and estimates the age of the person in any photo you upload. It's been viral for the last few days, and of course I wondered if it would analyze the age of avatars in screenshots I uploaded, and of course it does. 34 sounds about right for my Second Life avatar, though it's notable that my MyIdol avatar is slightly younger. My guess is most Second Life avatars will land in their late 20s/early 30s, and if anyone happened to upload their IMVU (bleh) avatar, he or she would be in their early 20s. But maybe I'm wrong!

Give it a shot and report your stats in Comments!

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