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.

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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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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 (6) | 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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:

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

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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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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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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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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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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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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Sims 4 Can Be Just as Weird as its Predecessors, And Here Are The Pictures to Prove It

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

A Sims game isn't officially a Sims game until weird stories start leaking out across the internet. I'm not just talking about glitches and bugs (though there are plenty of those) but rather those strange little twists of fate and circumstance that lead to bizarre encounters and, ideally, more than a few ridiculous screenshots. 

I've had a few particularly weird situations arise in The Sims 4 since its release last week, proving that things can still run off the rails even when every system in the game is working as intended. Here are a few of my favorites:

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A 9/11 Survivor Builds a Virtual Memorial in Second Life

Thirteen years ago today, Liam Kanno was in downtown Manhattan on a perfect morning when the sky ripped apart. He was three blocks from the World Trade Center as the planes came scything in, and as the buildings and bodies collapsed around him, he stumbled into a stranger's house to survive. Shortly after, he quit his high paying advertising job, abandoned his luxury apartment several blocks from Ground Zero, and returned to school, to study humanities. He traveled the country, he visited remote monasteries, he painted.

Sundra_petrov_and_faction_starostin

As part of this recovery process, Liam submitted a design in New York's official memorial competition, but it was not accepted. But there was another call for designs, this one for a memorial site in the virtual world of Second Life. So Liam created a new design, and that one was built, and you can see it right here:

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Many Supporters Does #GamerGate Actually Have? Data Suggests About 10K (UPDATE: Some Related Videos Have Six Figure Views, If Not Supporters)

GamerGate Supporters

#GamerGate continues to attract widespread coverage, yeseterday in The New Yorker and today on NPR's "MarketPlace", which would seem to suggest that it's a large movement of gamers outraged at corruption by game journalist and/or feminist game developers and writers, but here's a strange thing I've noticed: All available evidence strongly suggests #GamerGate has very few supporters. (Roughly defining "supporters" as gamers who are actively, deeply, and regularly engaged in that topic.) Less than 10,000 is probably a reasonable estimatea.

Why do I say this? Here's a few data points:

  • Kotaku in Action, a subreddit for Redditors devoted to GamerGate, as of today only has 5083 subscribers.
  • Most of the YouTube videos tagged with GamerGate have much less than 20,000 views. (A few have somewhat larger viewerships, but those seem to be episodes from existing YouTube channels with already big subscriber bases.)
  • The Sarkeesian Effect, a crowdfunded video project which promises to "[peer] inside the world of Social Justice Warriors" (the #GamerGate term for feminists like Anita Sarkeesian), only has 230 backers. (By contrast, Sarkeesian's own Kickstarter has nearly 7,000 backers.)

#GamerGate supporters reading this, if there's other data points I'm missing, please post in Comments and if they're legit, I'll be happy to amend this post. However, first consider this: There's about 3 to 6 million extreme hardcore gamers in the West, roughly defining them as consumers who regularly buy action-oriented AAA console games, and about 50 million total who often play Xbox/Playstation/Steam games. So in stark contrast to all the media coverage #GamerGate is getting, the question becomes:

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Posted at 03:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | Bookmark

Ten Tips to Get The Most Out of The Sims 4

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

I've really come around on The Sims 4 since I started playing it last week (read my full review on Paste) but one of its biggest shortcomings is how obscured some of its best features are. These are things that give you micro (and macro) control over your simulated world, and given some of the game's other shortcomings that control can vastly improve your experience.

If you're playing The Sims 4 or planning to in the future, here are ten simple tips you'll want to keep in mind:

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Microsoft, Which Once Considered Buying Second Life, Reportedly in Final Talks to Buy Minecraft for $2B Instead

Minecraft machinima

Microsoft is reportedly in final talks to buy Minecraft creator Mojang, a source tells the Wall Street Journal, for more than $2 billion. (About the price Facebook paid for Oculus Rift!) That would be an epic rise for Mojang founder Markus Persson who I interviewed almost exactly four years ago, back when Minecraft was still an obscure online sandbox building game, and Persson was cobbling it together with a four person team.

Also almost exactly four years ago, it's worth noting: Microsoft was rumored to be making "overtures" to purchase Linden Lab, creator of that other online sandbox building game, Second Life. (The rumor was never officially confirmed, but many months after the fact, some insiders confirmed to me a Microsoft overture of some kind had been made.)

Why did Microsoft pass on Second Life but looks to be buying Minecraft? Short version of the likeliest factors:

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Developer Uses OpenSim to Create 3D Art for RL Card Game

OpenSim make RL game content

OK this is seriously cool, and a great real world application of OpenSim, the open source spinoff of Second Life: Subquark, an Australian development studio, used Sim-on-a-Stick to create 3D art for a real life card game, Mint Tin Aliens, which they developed. (As depicted above, and blogged about here.) Sim-on-a-Stick, as the name suggests, is a portable version of OpenSim, making it easy to create and transport 3D art files at an extremely low cost. (You could use Second Life for doing this, but thanks to SL's thorny IP rights, you'd have to create the 3D content on a simulator you were paying for, and make sure you had the underlying rights to the all the 3D content used in your 3D art.) For that matter, standard 3D modeling software tools come with their own high costs and licensing challenges.

This isn't a conjectural application, by the way, because this game actually already exists: "It was used for the final deck of Mint Tin Aliens and six copies of that game have already been sold," exlains Ener Hax, who did the OpenSim development.

See for yourself:

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How to Use a SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse With Second Life (Even Though It's No Longer Supported)

SpaceNavigator Second Life

SL blogger Nalates Urriah has a useful tutorial for using a 3D SpaceNavigator mouse with Second Life. A tutorial which is needed, it turns out, for as he notes, "It works with everything BUT Second Life... Then I find out that 3D Connexion no longer supports Second Life. Eek!" Indeed, eek. If I remember right, Linden Lab used to officially sell a packaged version for SLers. (Indeed, 3D Connexion still has an official page for Second Life on its site.) So this is strange, especially because I know so many SLers who are SpaceNavigator fans. Anyway, I'm asking the company about this, and meantime, if you want more 3D mousing in your Second Life, read Nalates' tutorial.

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Iris Wants to Know: What Do You Play, and Why?

The Sims 4 selfie
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Here on NWN I write a lot about the games I like to play. I gush about exploration games, building games, open-world games, RPGs and storytelling worlds, simulations and fantasy, and over the years I've gotten a lot of great feedback from readers about games across the spectrum. Many of you love exploring the different facets of and possibilities in massive games like The Sims and Minecraft as much as you like being exposed to much smaller and more "niche" titles. 

But there's one thing that consistently bugs me. The fact is, you have a much better idea of what I like than I do about what you like, and I want to change that.

Continue reading "Iris Wants to Know: What Do You Play, and Why?"

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The New Apple Watch Will Have A Customizable (and Kind of Creepy) Emoji Avatar

Gizmodo Apple Watch Emoji
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

A few hours ago the Apple Watch was unveiled (alongside two new iPhones) and of all the features that people anticipated would be in this new piece of wearable tech, well, I doubt this creepy customizable emoji was on anyones list.

Apple Watch users will be able to pull on this little guy's face to get a variety of different expressions and contortions, then send them to their fellow Apple Watch owners. You can think of it a bit like a simplified version of character facial manipulation in The Sims 4 or upcoming Korean MMO Black Desert. It's certainly novel, and it might be something I'd try out if it were included on a device I had any interest in (sorry Apple), but beyond being a neat gimmick I'm just not sure who this is actually for... And I say that as someone who already uses and abuses the standard iPhone emoji selection.

Then again, maybe it's for you. Let me know in the comments if this strange little add-on has caught your eye.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Veteran Game Developer Yoz Grahame Helps Expose the Misleading Rhetoric Driving #GamerGate as Only Yoz Can

Yoz Linden

The ongoing controversy over #GamerGate, which is supposedly a gamer community protest over ethics in game journalism (a claim which doesn't hold up on its face), is, in actuality, largely or mostly "a sustained attempt to drive feminists out of the gaming community". (As The Daily Dot put it succinctly, summarizing recent, dramatic revelations made by its primary target, Zoe Quinn.)

Because of all this, many or most of the claims made by #GamerGate advocates are consciously misleading and patently untrue. As a perfect example of that, please read this jaw-dropping exchange between a #GamerGate advocate and game developer veteran Yoz Grahame.

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Janine "Iris" Hawkins Reviews Sims 4 for Paste Magazine!

Sims 4 Review Janine Hawkins

After teasing about it here last week, NWN's Janine "Iris" Hawkins has a full-blown review of Sims 4 on the prestigious Paste Magazine site, writing incisively about all that's good, bad, and meh about the hotly anticipated new game.

Some of the bad:

As much as it does to increase my engagement with individual sims, The Sims 4 seriously drops the ball in terms of making me feel like part of a living, breathing world.

Some of the good:

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Watch SL Designer Anya Ohmai in Action as She Sculpts One of Her Iconic Digital Piggies

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

Second Life designer Anya Ohmai shared this amazing little video recently, testing out 3D modelling software ZBrush's recording feature with a speed-sculpt of one of her favorite subjects: A super-cute little piggy. Watching some Second Life designers in action, it's hard to understand why more of them haven't been snapped up by game developers looking for fresh talent. I know I'd play the heck out of anything with characters that Anya had modelled.

Even if you don't know much about 3D modelling, Anya's quick and confident sculpting is pretty impressive. In the original discussion thread on Plurk, Anya admits that since she's sculpted a lot of these little guys the shapes and details come pretty easily, while the features of animals she's a bit less well versed in can take longer to come together. But, as anyone familiar with her work in Second Life will tell you, they always come together beautifully anyway.

You can find more of Anya Ohmai's ZBrush models, Second Life creations and screenshots on her Flickr page.

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Don't Look Back -- Look at This Stunning Second Life Snapshot Instead

Don't Look Back Kirsty Oherlily
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Some of the best screenshots (and pictures in general) are more than just pleasing assortments of shapes and colours. They tell a story, or at the very least gesture towards one while leaving the details unsaid. Second Life user Kirsty Oherlily's picture, "Don't Look Back, You're Not Going That Way", does just that, presenting us with an impression of what's going on much clearer than the misty background. I'll admit that I even saw the second image shared alongside it on her blog as a follow-up, and for a moment (before I realized that the two were unrelated) was relieved that this character had found a pleasing and peaceful life away from whatever it was they were leaving behind.

Okay, so maybe I was reading a little too far into the stories these snapshots are telling. Either way, be sure to check out Kirsty's (slightly NSFW) Flickr stream here.

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Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

Second Life reporter

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Lack of Avatar Racial Diversity in an MMO Makes Black Users More Likely to Create White Avatars & Hide Their Real Race, Academic Study Suggests

Erika Therian Second Life avatar

According to a study by Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee at Ohio State University, Discovery Magazine reports, a lack of avatar racial diversity in an MMO impels black users to create white avatars. Lee's study was conducted in Second Life, but seems generally applicable to MMOs in general where it's possible for usres to designate their race:

Lee gathered 56 study participants — half identifying as white and half identifying as black. She then had them read a fabricated magazine story titled “Meet the Coolest ‘Second Life’ Residents.” The eight “Second Life” avatars profiled in the story were either all white, in the low-diversity scenario, or an equal mix of white, black, Hispanic and Asian, in the high-diversity scenario. She then had them perform two tasks: Create and customize their own virtual avatars, and rate their willingness to reveal their real racial identity through the appearance of their virtual avatar. She found that black participants reported less willingness in the low-diversity scenario, and that they also created whiter avatars, as judged by objective raters. By comparison, white study participants were largely unaffected by either the high-diversity or low-diversity scenarios. [Emph. mine]

In other words, when the "cool avatars" are presented to be all white, black users tend to choose white avatars for themselves, while keeping quiet about their real race. This academic study matches the anecdotal reports we've been writing about on this blog, beginning in 2006 with "The Skin You're In", in which a white user experienced prejudice after she started using a black avatar. (An experiment another white user tried last year.) African-American users like Eboni Khan have told me about this phenomenon from their own perspective too:

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Must Read: To Fair-Minded Proponents of #GamerGate

Fair-Minded Proponents
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

If you're tuned into either side of the "GamerGate" fiasco, this weekend you should do yourself a tremendous favour and read this article on Medium. It's all about addressing the concerns of many of the GamerGate movement's supporters, and it is one of the most levelheaded pieces that's been written about it to date. Writer L. Rhodes took the time to ask GamerGate's proponents what they saw as the key issues, and how they wanted them to be resolved. Their answers varied widely, and Rhodes' own responses are informed and comprehensive. This section in particular struck me:

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Watch This Dreamy Japanese Machinima Shot in Second Life


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

I absolutely love this intensely soothing machinima, filmed by Yana Kawanishi at the Intro sim. If you're already familiar with Yana's blog or Youtube channel then you already know about her well-dressed trips around some of Second Life's most beautiful and unique sims. Sometimes she focusses on taking snapshots of the digital landscapes laid out before her, and sometimes she takes some machinima along the way, too. Yana likes to hone in on the little details of the builds, making her machinima in particular feel very sentimental.

In her exploration of Intro, a surreal white dreamscape, you can see her pirhouetting about as a luminous jellyfish girl... Would you call it a jellymaid? I'm not at all sure. Either way, you'll find her corresponding blog post and snapshots of Intro here, but be sure not to miss out on the rest of her blog, including these gorgeous farm pics she shared just today.

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Second Life's Top In-World Reporter Now a Tiny Alligator

I was wading through Second Life videos on YouTube, which are now cluttered by scams and griefers, when I stumbled on this gem, featuring a tiny alligator exploring and reporting in Second Life. (Warning: Somewhat NSFW.) Meet Argyle Alligator, cub reporter:

To me, this is actually a lot funnier than most griefer videos (hello, Esteban) while also being much more accurate to how Second Life really is:

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Here Are the Five Cutest Things You'll Find at Second Life's Favorite Seasonal Gacha Event

Aisling_0914-1024x1024
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The Arcade, one of SL's most popular gacha shopping events, always has a pretty eclectic mix of items available for sale, but something about this fall's lineup is almost too cute for words. There are some stunning antique-inspired sets of course, others drawn from mermaids and princesses, still others focused on pulpy sci-fi, but for me the latest round of The Arcade is being utterly dominated by cute, and it goes well beyond the animated mesh puppy I wrote about a couple weeks ago...

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My Take on #GamerGate in a Single Tweet

#GamerGate is another recent controversy around women in games. Very quick summary: A small group of hardcore gamers are enraged over indie game developer Zoe Quinn for getting favorable coverage on Kotaku, allegedly (but entirely unproven) for corrupt reasons. (Read a summary here and a longer story here.) Since it's largely driven on Twitter, I'll just share my own Tweet on the topic here. More on my account.

Update, 4:50pm: Full conversation from this Tweet here.

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We Are Living in Philip K. Dick's Virtual World & That's OK

Via Boing Boing and this site, a video from 1977 that explains everything, except possibly nothing -- legendary author Philip K. Dick on his sudden realization:

It gets real (or unreal) at around 3:50:

We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs. We would have the overwhelming impression that we were re-living the present - déjà vu - perhaps in precisely the same way: hearing the same words, saying the same words. I submit that these impressions are valid and significant, and I will even say this: such an impression is a clue, that in some past time-point, a variable was changed - re-programmed as it were - and that because of this, an alternative world branched off.

I love that PKD anticipated (if inadvertently) a theory that actual scientists are now testing. (Or for that matter, Keanu Reeves would help dramatize.)

Beyond that, however, there's some poignancy here too:

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

NWN's Post-Summer Open Forum: What Should We Be Blogging About on New World Notes This Fall?

New World Poke

I was going through my Summer photos (hence the poke on a Pringle chip above), when I suddenly realized, Hey, Summer is over. A good time for an open forum with an open-ended question:

What should we be blogging about on New World Notes this Fall, and why?

And yes, self-promotion is OK, possibly even encouraged -- as long as you include a lot of useful links, especially SLurls if it's Second Life-related.

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The Antbassador Cometh: Don't Miss This Free Game from the Makers of Octodad

Antbassador 3
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Recently thousands of game developers got together for another round of the Ludum Dare game jam, creating a mountain of games in the space of a single weekend. The theme for the most recent jam was "Connected Worlds," and plenty of devs took it in unique directions. Among them was the team behind Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Together they produced Antbassador, a game whose comically loose physics and lighthearted attitude make its lineage clear.

Antbassador may be short, but it absolutely left me wanting more. Here's why:

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Males Who Hate & Fear Anita Sarkeesian Should Read These Posts by Male Writers to Understand What They're Missing (Since They Won't Listen to Anita Sarkeesian)

Anita Sarkeesian male responses

Last week's NWN posts about Anita Sarkeesian are covered in an accretion of sock puppet replies and arguments so off-base, inaccurate, or plainly confusing, to try and even understand them is to risk getting dumber in the process. (There's lots of worthwhile comments in these posts too.) So to start this week off, here's some good posts to reference. Ironically, they're all by male writers, but the thing is, since Anita Sarkeesian's angriest, most off-base critics are male and are rejecting her arguments essentially because she's female, they're not likely to listen otherwise:

The New Statemen's Ian Steadman does an in-depth look at and refutation of the most common criticisms directed at Sarkeesian, all of which have shown up in comments here on NWN. (Such as links to the widely-distributed video purporting to prove she's wrong about a mission in Hitman: Absolution.)

But why would gamers manufacture so much outrage over one woman's opinion? It speaks to their feelings of powerlessness and being ostracized, which Devin Feraci at Bad Ass Digest unpeels from a sympathetic point of view:

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Watch Live: The Sims 4 is Here & We're Playing the Hell Out of It

The Sims 4 Painting
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I have a confession: I stayed up until 7 am playing The Sims 4. My feelings? ... They're complicated, and they still need a little more time in the oven. 

But I'm not going to leave you empty-handed.

If you haven't had a chance to play the game yourself (and you're sick of watching video content designed with 100% pure uncut marketing in mind) you might want to set aside a slice of your afternoon/evening to watch a Sims 4 streaming mini-marathon that I'll be participating in. As those who follow me on Twitter and Plurk might know, I regularly stream games as part of Stream Friends, which includes a pretty lengthy let's play series for The Sims 3

The stream will be starting shortly after this post goes up and running well into the evening, so if you want to see The Sims 4 in action swing by and watch for yourself, or check out the archives that will be posted later this week on the StreamFriends YouTube channel.

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If You're Sick of Juggling Appliers for Your Second Life Mesh Body Parts, Omega Might Be for You

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

One of the worst parts of being a skin designer in SL is the number of 3rd party mesh attachments you're expected to support. There's the mesh butts, the mesh boobs, the mesh hands, the mesh heads, the mesh heads, the mesh bellies, the mesh feet -- and in none of those cases is there one single brand that everyone's united on. It's a pain, plain and simple.

If you're a designer looking to streamline the process, Omega Appliers from Love N Lust might be worth looking into. It's a good option for consumers as well (as Alaska Metropolitan demonstrates in her latest tutorial video above) since Omega offers conversion kits for more mesh body enhancements than I even knew were on the market.

The applier process is a big step up from the days when all we could do was tint our mesh appendages to match the rest of our avatars, but it's still a bit of a mess and long overdue for a slightly more unified approach like Omega. Be sure to check out Love N Lust's blog for more info.

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Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

Controller

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Monday, September 01, 2014

The Sims 4 Goes Live at Midnight: Here's How to Pass the Time Until You Can Play

The Sims 4 Twitch Streams
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There's something extra stressful about waiting for a highly anticipated game to be released... On a holiday. Every hour you should be relaxing can feel absolutely agonizing when all you're thinking about is playing that damn game. Well I've got good news and even more good news if, like me, you're chewing your nails and watching the clock until The Sims 4 is released.

First of all...

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Your Second Life Snapshots Can End Up in the Strangest Places

Cara Olivieri Ice Bucket Challenge
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

When SL user Cara Olivieri was putting together her clever take on the Ice Bucket Challenge for her blog, I doubt she was expecting her picture to turn up where it has. Cara's image is the latest Second Life pic to end up in the last place you'd expect: Bizarro conspiracy theory websites. It's not unheard of to catch a Second Life snapshot being used (presumably without permission) in a cluster of links about Goji berries and Jennifer Aniston and housewives with one cool trick, but time... This is something really special.

It was virtual fashion designer Shai Delacroix who caught sight of Cara's image as a thumbnailed clickbait ad about the Ice Bucket Challenge's "true" meaning. And what is that meaning? I know you're just dying to find out...

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