Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Graphics Pioneer Ken Perlin on Valve's VR System: "A threshold has been crossed, and I have seen another world."

Valve VR

Ken Perlin recently got a demo of Valve's VR system, and because Ken's a computer graphics/VR/avatar development pioneer (Valve used his software as a reference for the character animations in Half-Life 2), I'm inclined to take his assessment seriously. And he assesses spectacularly:

What is different about this demo is that they have all the little details right, and this is an area in which all the little details really matter. As you move your head, the world moves around you as though you are really there, with none of those little delays that tell your subconscious that what you are seeing is fake.

Here's a look at the demo he was seeing in full VR, and his final takeaway:

Continue reading "Graphics Pioneer Ken Perlin on Valve's VR System: "A threshold has been crossed, and I have seen another world.""

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What Second Life Thing Are You? (Warning: You Might Not Want to Know!)

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

There's yet another online quiz making the rounds... At least it's making the rounds in Second Life's narrow little slice of the internet. "What Second Life Thing Are You?" is not a quiz for the faint of heart or the fragile of ego, and you should only venture down its dimly-lit corridor of questions if you have an extremely healthy sense of humor about yourself and your hobbies.

Even so, it's a brief hit of nostalgia and a couple bitter chuckles (at your own expense) to brighten up your afternoon, so give it a shot

As for my results...

Continue reading "What Second Life Thing Are You? (Warning: You Might Not Want to Know!)"

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No Skin Thick Enough: Don't Miss This Eye-Opening Article About Online Harassment in Gaming

No Skin thick Enough
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

An interesting piece about gender and harassment in the gaming industry was posted in Polygon's opinion section today. Written by game developer Brianna Wu, the piece cuts right to the quick with a series of case studies from other women in the industry, each one debunking a specific myth about online harassment. If you've ever caught yourself saying "everyone gets harassed online" or "you just need to grow a thicker skin," please carve a few minutes out of your day to read it. 

It's a phenomenal piece, but one quote included from games journalist Carolyn Petit really resonates:

Continue reading "No Skin Thick Enough: Don't Miss This Eye-Opening Article About Online Harassment in Gaming"

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Monday, July 21, 2014

VR Expert Explains Max-Planck's "Holodeck" -- and How Poor FPS Plagues Second Life for Oculus Rift

Here's an interesting look at the virtual reality "holodeck" of the Max Planck Institute -- yes, they have one:

That's interesting in itself, and then at around 8 minutes in, the Max-Planck VR expert mentions he's tried the Second Life for Oculus Rift viewer, but couldn't use it, because the low framerate made him nauseous:

Continue reading "VR Expert Explains Max-Planck's "Holodeck" -- and How Poor FPS Plagues Second Life for Oculus Rift"

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If You Like AM Radio's SL Art, You'll Probably Love Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (UPDATE from AM Radio)

Days_of_Heaven AM Radio Second Life Terence Malick

In my Polygon profile of AM Radio, I compared his Second Life art to Terrence Malick’s 1978 classic Days of Heaven, and in case you haven't seen that film (you really should), this still above is an example of what I mean.

Continue reading "If You Like AM Radio's SL Art, You'll Probably Love Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (UPDATE from AM Radio)"

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In the Least Surprising News of the Day, The Sims 4 Will Have Premium Memberships

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

Sims fans have caught sight of something alarming in a recent 20-minute Sims 4 gameplay demo posted to the series' official YouTube channel. A banner advertising "The Sims 4 Premium" popped on screen while the hosts were en-route to check out community content sharing features, promising discounts, early access, and exclusive items. The comparison is being made to the premium memberships offered for the Battlefield series, in essence a subscription fee that provides a good deal for players who plan to buy all or nearly all of the DLC content released -- and a good deal for EA if subscribers who planned to buy decide to abstain. 

But when it comes to this particular community and this particular franchise, I don't think the issue is quite that simple...

Continue reading "In the Least Surprising News of the Day, The Sims 4 Will Have Premium Memberships"

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No Flossing Required: Here's How to Get A Perfect, Picture-Ready Pixel Smile

Jessica Pixel  tooth smile shape
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Here's a tip I'd never even considered from SL user Jessica Pixel's Plurk: If you're the kind of person who likes an expressive avatar, you might want to make yourself a special shape to get the most out of a toothy smile emote. Jessica's own animated gif, shown above, illustrates the differences between her typical shape and a smile-ready shape pretty well. Depending on the dimensions and features of your facial shape, Second Life's built-in grins might look compressed, or just not quite as nice as they could. Not every shape will need it (and not every player will want it) but for those that are interested few tiny tweaks to the mouth area are all you'll need.

As most fashion-minded SL users know, multiple subtle tweaks of the same avatar shape can be a pretty crucial part of your wardrobe, especially if you want to fit perfectly into your favorite mesh attire and accessories. Likewise, shape tweaks can help make your avatar look more consistent across a variety of skins. So if showing your avatar's pearly whites is a priority, try this out for yourself.

Continue reading "No Flossing Required: Here's How to Get A Perfect, Picture-Ready Pixel Smile"

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Top Five New World Notes Posts from Last Week

Cora Mary Scrub Werewolf

The Sims 3 is notoriously unstable the more you plug into it. And then there are the load times... Even when it's running smoothly, the game itself is sheer chaos. A simple trip to the grocery store can lead to werewolf fights and paparazzi snaps and a curse from a witch and a close encounter with an alien who's parked their space car just around the corner. Read the rest here.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Linden's Revised ToS for SL Still Troubled, Says RL Lawyer

Agenda Faromet SL lawyer Linden Lab ToS

Though Linden Lab amended its controversial Terms of Service which made draconian claims over SL-created content, real life lawyer and SL Bar Association member Agenda Faromet says the changes merely muddy the situation. Writing on the blog of her alt, Vaki, Agenda has a detailed analysis, and gives the TL;DR version too:

Really, not much has changed as of today. We have a poorly-written, overly broad ToS without much in the way of limitations, and we have a whole lot of reassurances from LL that don’t mean a lot (other than serving as an indication that their legal department is apparently not very good at translating the company’s intentions into legal terms)... It took LL a year to come up with this much. I don’t have high hopes on getting a revision any time soon.

Read the rest here. I don't have high hopes another revision will come, but perhaps not for the reasons Agenda has:

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The Perfect Male Avatar Might Not Look Exactly Like Nomak Nyori, but it's Probably Very Close

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

In case you were wondering, in case you somehow fell out of the loop in the interim between now and one of my previous posts about him, Second Life artist Nomak Nyoki continues to be the absolute gold standard for male avatars. His styling? Still flawless. His photography? Beyond compare. His boston terrier? Well that's a new edition, but I love it just the same.

Nomak shared a few new pictures on his Flickr this week, and they're just as stunning as you'd expect -- even more of what has made his face and name a force to be reckoned with in the world of men's fashion in SL, even if he isn't the most prolific artist in the scene. Whether you're looking for a dash of modern style, or you want to motivate yourself towards a head-to-toe male av makeover, his Flickr stream should be your number one source of inspiration.

Continue reading "The Perfect Male Avatar Might Not Look Exactly Like Nomak Nyori, but it's Probably Very Close"

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The Glossy, Voluminous (and Free) Virtual Moustache You've Dreamed of is Now a Reality at Hair Fair 2014

Hair Fair INK FreebieJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Second Life bloggers aren't the only ones having a little fun with their Hair Fair 2014 photography. It's no surprise that hair designers themselves have been cranking out some stunning images to promote their new releases.

A lot of the focus is on glitz and glamour (as is so often the case) which is why this snap of INK's immaculately groomed moustache, available for free at their Hair Fair booth, stands out so much. That's not to say that these handsome handlebars aren't glitzy or glamorous in their own right of course, but they certainly offer a welcome change from all the smoky eyes and smouldering gazes. 

You can pick up INK's free moustache at Hair Fair 2014 [SLURL] until July 27th.

Continue reading "The Glossy, Voluminous (and Free) Virtual Moustache You've Dreamed of is Now a Reality at Hair Fair 2014"

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Linden Lab Amends Draconian Clause in SL's Terms of Service (Months After Anyone Was Really Angry About It)

Linden_lab_logo

Way back in olden times (by which I mean last September), some Second Life users said they were very concerned and angry about a newly added clause in Second Life's Terms of Service, because it made draconian claims over content created in Second Life:

[Y]ou agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels), modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats...

Some SLers saw the dubious clause as a sneaky bid by Linden Lab to re-use user content from Second Life on other platforms without their permission. But months and months after any SL user has expressed any concern over this clause -- seriously, hardly a peep about it all this year-- Linden Lab has amended the clause:

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My Five Favorite Styles (and Snapshots) from Second Life's Hair Fair 2014

Hair Fair Oakley Foxtrot
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

I have a confession. Whenever I set out to take pictures for a Second Life event like Hair Fair, I get absolutely overwhelmed by the amazing work that other bloggers and photographers are doing. To be entirely frank and only marginally self-deprecating, at the end of the day I'm a million times more interested in showing off what others have been doing than adding my own (comparatively worse) work onto the pile. Here's what I mean...

Continue reading "My Five Favorite Styles (and Snapshots) from Second Life's Hair Fair 2014"

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The SIM-ple Life: Here's Why I'm Looking Forward to Losing Everything in the Transition to The Sims 4

Sims 4 CAS Demo  (11)
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Fans of any series are surely familiar with the excitement leading up to the release of a new installment, and likewise the concern that somehow, at some point, the developers will mess it up. Maybe it won't be as good as the previous games. Or maybe it will be a million times better. It's an emotional push-and-pull that many Sims fans are experiencing right now, but with an added layer almost unique to them.

Between the base game, the expansions, the stuff packs, the store content, the mods, and of course the sim lives created, every game in the series can be a tremendous investment of both time and money. And then the new game comes out, and you're back at square one. Even though it is a brand new game, even though the older game doesn't go anywhere, it still feels like (and is most often described as) a loss. It's a huge mental hurdle for many players to get over, and one that I personally struggled with when The Sims 3 came out back in 2009.

But this time around, I'm not. I'm actually, strangely enough, looking forward to losing it all. Here's why:

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People Paying $200 Million a Year to Live Kim Kardashian's Virtual Life -- Just Wait Until an Oculus Rift Version Hits

Kim Kardashian Mobile Game 200 million

An analyst estimates people are will pay $200 million a year to live Kim Kardashian's life in a mobile game, and I didn't believe that figure at first, but App Annie confirms that "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is a top grossing game across the world, currently among the top five grossing apps in 46 countries.

What are people paying for? Stuff like this:

While the game is free to play, the goal is to get users hooked on in-app purchases such as clothing or a burst of energy needed for traipsing through Hollywood. Users can spend as much as $99.99 for 175,000 virtual dollars. A trip to Beverly Hills costs 4 game “dollars,” while 400 will buy a necklace. Kardashian’s voice guides the uninitiated through casting calls and parties, while users dodge surly tweets from rivals.

Because mobile games are relatively cheap to develop ($1-3 million is typical), a lot of that forecast $200 million is going to be pure profit for the developer and Ms. Kardashian. So expect many more virtual celebrity experiences like this in the future. Expect them to get even more immersive:

Continue reading "People Paying $200 Million a Year to Live Kim Kardashian's Virtual Life -- Just Wait Until an Oculus Rift Version Hits"

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It's So Great Google+ Finally Dropped Its Real Name Policy, Said No Pseudonymous Internet User Ever

After years of contention and careful exceptions, Google finally dropped its "real names only" policy for its Google+ social network:

 

It's possible that this move will make Google+ appealing to people who want to disguise their real life identity online. But highly doubtful. Google+ has long ago been remanded to a ghost town, engagement-wise, and despite (fairly paranoid) concerns over Facebook, lots of pseudonymous Internet users have signed on with Team Zuckerberg. The official Second Life page on Facebook, for instance, keeps growing, and at its current rate, will in a year or two have about as many members as Second Life the 3D world has actual users.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kickstart This Retro Arcade Game That's Actually a Turn-Based Tactical Shooter (Developed by a Linden Vet!)

Mighty Tactical Shooter is easily among the very coolest Kickstarter game projects I've seen in years, and I'll tell you why: It's a somewhat bizarre idea that probably never occurred to you, but once you see it in action, it seems totally, badassedly obvious. Watch:

As the title suggests, Mighty Tactical Shooter is a turn-based shooter, which is a pretty rare beast, but to give that extra appeal, it's also a retro 80's arcade-style side-scrolling shooter. So all that crazy real time old school action suddenly becomes thoughtful, complex, strategic -- and still explodey. So go here to help Kickstart this already.

There's an added incentive for NWN readers: The project's the brainchild of Johnny Marshall, who SLers might remember as Johnny Linden. During his Linden Lab days, he worked with the Babbage Linden team in the company's Brighton office, helping develop the Mono scripting core. (He has a background in working on other MMOs.) In Second Life itself, he was the guitar wearing werewolf avatar who often hung in the Welcome Area.

"So why would any SLer want to help out?" he asks rhetorically, when I ask, and puts it this way:

Continue reading "Kickstart This Retro Arcade Game That's Actually a Turn-Based Tactical Shooter (Developed by a Linden Vet!)"

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Assassin's Creed is a Franchise Built on More Than Just Violence (But You'd Never Know it From This Trailer)

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

Earlier today Chris Plante shared his thoughts on the latest trailers for Assassin's Creed Unity over on Polygon, and if you're an avid gamer his post should give you a lot to think about. Obviously AC fans aren't strangers to gorey gameplay, but it feels like Ubisoft's marketing material is trying to take it to a new level, and Plante's not interested. Frankly, neither am I. He writes:

Continue reading "Assassin's Creed is a Franchise Built on More Than Just Violence (But You'd Never Know it From This Trailer)"

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Virtual Vlogger Ami Yamato is Back... in Tokyo

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

Our favorite virtual vlogger, Ami Yamato, is visiting friends and family in Japan this month, and she's chronicling her trip along the way. In her latest, Ami's walking the streets of a Japanese suburb just before midnight, camera held out, and musing about the differences between her homes in Japan and England.

If you've already taken a peek at the video embedded above but are otherwise unfamiliar with this underappreciated YouTube personality, you might be wonder why I'm talking about her as if she's a real person. While she might look like she belongs among a lineup of the latest Disney princesses, Ami is presented as a real flesh-and-blood vlogger. Every now and then she makes tongue-in-cheek references to the programs and people that have made her existence possible, but for the most part she's playing it straight, and that might just be the best thing about her.

If you're looking for an extra dose of Ami, be sure to catch up on the videos available on her YouTube channel, and check out her new Instagram account for some unbelievably unreal selfies.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Improved Permission System May (Finally) Make Second Life a Decent Game Platform

There's a lot of pretty impressive user-made games in Second Life, but for years I've hesitated to tell non-SLing gamers about them, knowing that any attempt to play them would mean hours of aggravation. Just announced in Beta (after some years in development) Linden Lab's new Experience Keys (viewer here) improves the permission system for SL game developers, and does a better job tracking game events. Watch it in action:

I love that they're doing this demo in the Corn Field, which Daniel Linden built as a purgatory for griefers. (I sat next to him in my Linden days, so got to watch him deploy it with wry glee.) That was back in 2004-2005 when Linden Lab still called itself a game publisher and Linden staff called Second Life a game, terminology the company mainly changed for marketing reasons.

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My Twitter Account Tries to Explain My Perspective on VR

Wagner James Au Twitter

My Twitter account is now updated with photos from two recent experiences: In virtual reality, at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference in May, and doing the pillbox hike in Kailua, Hawaii, during a short visit back home in June. I'm fortunate to love both virtual and actual reality, but over the next few decades, the two are going to be in more active competition than they've ever been before. Or as Palmer Luckey put it at SVVR:

"This is one of those crazy man topics".. but "it's going to be impossible to give everyone everything they want", such as expensive consumer items. With VR, however, you can do that. It's easy for us to say, living in the great state of California, that VR is not as good as the real world, but a lot of people in the world don't have as good an experience in real life as we do here.

Then again, the Kailua photo of the pillbox also has its own virtual reality going on:

Continue reading "My Twitter Account Tries to Explain My Perspective on VR"

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Must Read: The Frustratingly Indistinct World of Gaming With Color Blindness

IGN Gaming with Color Blindness Super Puzzle FighterJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There's a new article on IGN today about the experience of being a color blind gamer, and I'd say it's a must-read if only for the valuable perspective it will offer. In addition to providing some truly illuminating visual aids like the screenshot comparison on the left, the article also touches on the many ways that developers are addressing (or failing to address) accessibility for the considerable number of color blind players out there.

For example:

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Get Inspired by the Brand New Summery Look of This Aptly Named Second Life Sim

Inspiration Point Maylee Oh
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There are so many beautiful places in Second Life, I think anyone could be forgiven for never visiting the same sim twice. At the same time, there's something very satisfying about following a location as it evolves over time, changing with the seasons (or the owner's whims.) That's probably what makes it so exciting when spots like Inspiration Point [SLURL], home of Maylee Oh's brand The Secret Store among others, refresh their look.

It shouldn't be surprising that some of the most beautiful spaces are owned and designed by Second Life creators -- they already see the virtual world as a canvas, and often want to surround their stores and workspaces with the most inspiring scenes they can. Inspiration Point is the home sim of several different shops and occasionally plays host to seasonal hunts. It also offers dozens of picturesque locations (as seen in Maylee's collage advertising the seasonal redesign, shown above) for SL bloggers, photographers, machinimatographers (maybe even virtual cartographers?) to take advantage of.

Summer doesn't last forever, though, and the leaves will be turning before you know it. Don't miss your chance to swing by Inspiration Point and check out its new look while you still can.

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Top Seven New World Notes Posts from Last Week

Sims 4 CAS Demo Nose

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Do You Want to Know What AM Radio Looks Like IRL?

Am_radios_wheat_fields

When I sent Polygon my profile of the man behind AM Radio, I also sent the editors the photo I took of him during our first real life meeting in Austin. That image never made it to the final edition that's now online, so I was about to just post it right here on New World Notes.

Then a thought hit me: While there's many SLers who've been curious to know what AM Radio looks like in real life, there's probably as many who prefer only to know him as his avatar, as pictured above. Because his avatar identity is so finely crafted, and integrated with his virtual art installations, it's likely that that's the case. I personally was fascinated to meet him in real life -- and to also contrast both of his identities while we were hanging out in the flesh.

So, a compromise: I put my photo of AM Radio's owner after the break, along with the photo that provoked Patton Oswalt to crack wise about the rock star he resembled; if you want to see them, click on, click on:

Continue reading "Do You Want to Know What AM Radio Looks Like IRL?"

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Midday Get Away: Whatever You Do, Don't Miss This Adorable Aeronautical SL Machinima

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

When I went poking around on YouTube for new Second Life machinima to share, I really wasn't expecting to come across this little gem. An adorable avatar, a gleaming red plane, a long stretch of runway, an even longer stretch of water, dotted with beachy little islands and cozy-looking homes. I'll admit that I never really understood the culture or the allure that developed around piloting virtual planes in a world where characters could fly with the tap of a button... But I think now I'm starting to get it.

If you like this sweet, cinematic little music video, you may want to poke around the rest of creator ChanAndMe C's YouTube channel for a few other outstanding videos in the same vein, including a series inspired by western films and this action-packed surfing montage.

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A Little Birdy Told Me To Watch Out for This Style at Second Life's Hair Fair, Opening Tomorrow

Hair Fair Newreem Anya Ohmai
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

It's that time of year again -- time for one of Second Life's most popular traditions and events, Hair Fair. Every year, designers get together across several sims to celebrate SL hair design and raise money for charity by releasing brand new (and occasionally exclusive) styles and generous freebie bundles... Not to mention Bandana Day, where fashionistas across the grid don customized bandanas in support of the Wigs For Kids charity.

Hair Fair opens tomorrow, so naturally many users' timelines and Flickr dashboards are already filling up with teasers from participating designers. I'll have a more detailed look at my favorite Hair Fair styles next week, but for now I want to leave you with one of the cutest (and most inventive) styles I've seen yet -- Newreem by Anya Ohmai. Anya's not only one of my favorite SL photographers, but she's also a tremendously talented virtual designer. She'll be releasing quite a few styles at Hair Fair, most of which seem to include those plump and playful little birdies, so be sure not to miss her booth if you get a chance to swing by!

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Here's Your Regular Reminder That Skywind Might be the Most Amazing Mod Ever

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

We're long overdue for another chat about Skywind, the ridicilously ambitious modding project that aims to import the entire world of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind into the series' most recent (single-player) incarnation, Skyrim

The Skywind team have begun releasing trailers for their massive project monthly, teasing everything from armor models to environments (like the Ashlands) and even the soundtrack. Unfortunately due to the scale of the mod it's hard to say when (of if) we'll ever be able to get our hands on it, but either way these haunting trailers provide a glimpse into a more updated version of a world that so many gamers hold dear.

Watch all of the Skywind trailers for yourself on YouTube, or check out the TES Renewal Project for the latest news on Skywind, as well as its sister mods Morroblivion and Skyblivion.

Continue reading "Here's Your Regular Reminder That Skywind Might be the Most Amazing Mod Ever"

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Linden Lab to Allow Real Money Payouts for Winning Games of Skill in Second Life

In a move with both potential promise and peril, Linden Lab just announced it will soon allow Linden Dollar payouts for games of skill (i.e. no casino games) in tightly regulated, zoned areas of Second Life. Since L$ can be bought and sold for US$, this basically enables online gaming with real money payouts. Many have tried to offer such a service, but for various reasons, none have really gained much traction. However, because Second Life already has a relatively large userbase using Linden Dollars, there's a lot of potential here -- if ambitious game developers are willing to jump through all the regulatory hurdles Linden Lab has waiting for them. Here's just one of the clauses:

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Unclear: My First Impressions of The Sims 4 Create-a-Sim Demo

Sims 4 CAS Demo  (7)
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

On Tuesday, many members of The Sims 3 community were invited to test out The Sims 4 Create-a-Sim Demo on EA's Origin distribution platform, ahead of the demo's public release later this summer. I was lucky enough to be among them, so I spent the better part of yesterday evening pushing, pulling, pinching and tweaking my way through the very familiar and simultaneously very alien systems. 

So how was it? There were lots of things I loved, a few things I hated, and a couple things I can't wait to learn more about as we approach The Sims 4's launch date. Until then, here are my thoughts on the Create-a-Sim demo:

Continue reading "The Good, the Bad, and the Unclear: My First Impressions of The Sims 4 Create-a-Sim Demo"

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AM Radio, Revealed: My Profile of the Acclaimed Second Life Artist Who Mysteriously Disappeared -- Now on Polygon

AM Radio revealed

Polygon is now featuring my long, lavishly illustrated feature profile of the man behind AM Radio, one of the most beloved and acclaimed artists to use Second Life as a medium -- and who, after years of fame both in SL and the outside world (he was profiled in The New York Times), rather mysteriously disappeared from the virtual world.

But thanks to the intercession of my friend Beverly "Bettina Tizzy" Nillson -- not to mention the man himself -- I learned, over a conversation that went beyond a year, the full story of AM Radio. (That's him, somewhere in the photo here, at Austin during South by Southwest in 2013, where we first met.) He told me how AM Radio came to be, why he created in Second Life what he did, the impact his rising virtual fame had on his real life... and why, at pretty much the peak of his avatar celebrity, he decided to go away. And as virtual reality returns to the fore, and we begin to wonder what kind of profound experiences we have within it, and how they will change us, AM Radio has much to teach us there too. Read it all here.

Oh yeah, one more thing to add before you go:

Continue reading "AM Radio, Revealed: My Profile of the Acclaimed Second Life Artist Who Mysteriously Disappeared -- Now on Polygon"

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Iris Wants to Know: Do You Totally Love or Utterly Hate Your Second Life Mesh Avatar Enhancements?

Snow Rabbit Nea 1
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Now that mesh bodies are starting to cement their place on the list of must-have items for many virtual fashionistas, it seems like the piece-by-piece conversion of Second Life avatars from outdated vanilla models to mesh-enhanced creations that would be at home in any modern game is essentially complete. Heads, hands, feet, lips, ears, eyelids, butts, boobs, bodies... Even I'm rarely willing to take off my animated mesh head from Snow Rabbit, though it's not the most popular (or flexible) mesh head on the market any more.

For many (including myself) mesh enhancements like these offer the opportunity to augment avatars and smooth over rough edges. For others however, they're just a pain in the polygonal backside. They're expensive, they can be quite fiddly to adjust, and they come with a boatload of compatibility concerns. Sometimes it can certaily seem like a lot more trouble than it's worth.

So here's what I want to know: Do you love your mesh enhancements, or loathe them? Would your sooner die than wear them, or not be caught dead without them? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Posted at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (18) | Bookmark

Second Life Creators and Bloggers Are Making Low-Poly into High Art

Nana Minuet For My Little Friends
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

If you're a computer graphics snob, you might not be thrilled to see the low-poly trend that's already made its way into indie games and aesthetics. Late 90s gaming nostalgia seems like the natural evolution of all those Pixel-based throwbacks as creators who grew up with N64s rather than Super Nintendos find and share their inspiration. That's why Half-Deer's Low-Poly Lullaby set (available in Second Life) maybe won't be to everyone's tastes. Nevertheless, I doubt anyone can argue that blogger Nana Minuet's pictures of the critters and props in the set, one of which you can see above, are beyond adorable -- like something plucked from the pages of a very stylish picture book.

Even if the low-poly look doesn't appeal, be sure to check out Nana's blog for more pics and, naturally, her outfit notes. If you'd like to get your hands on Low-Poly Lullaby, drop by The Chapter Four event [SLURL] to pick them up for yourself.

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ISIS Contemplating Financing Holy War With Bitcoin (Which Would Be One of ISIS' Biggest Mistakes)

Bitcoin ISIS

Above: Title to the ISIS-associated whitepaper advocating Bitcoin financing

I was only recently marveling at how news from the Middle East feels close to cyberpunk, and now it entirely is: A blog associated with The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is seriously arguing that the terror army's war to establish a caliphate should be financed through Bitcoin. You can read the actual essay (basically an ISIS white paper), a bizarre amalgam of Salafist-Qutbist theology and virtual currency economics, at the .pdf here. Excerpt:

To set up a totally anonymous donation system that could send millions of dollars worthof Bitcoin instantly from the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Ghana,  Malaysia, Sri Lanka, or wherever else right to the pockets of the mujahideen, very  little would be done. Dark Wallet’s beta release will be published within the next  coming months, the mujahideen of DawlatulIslam would simply need to set up a wallet andpost their wallet address online. Then, Muslims from across the globe could simply copy the wallet address, login to their Dark Wallets, purchase whatever amount of Bitcoin  they wish to send, and send them over. The mujahideen would then have someone on the  other side convert Bitcoin into whatever currency they wish at optimal Bitcoin to  currency transaction rates to receive the donations from the whole ummah. 

I hope this happens, because it would be one of the worst mistakes ISIS ever made (i.e. good news for everyone else):

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Posted at 01:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | Bookmark

Monday, July 07, 2014

Update, Emily Short's Blood & Laurels: From Linden Limbo to New York Times Feature in Four Months

Blood and Laurels Linden Lab Emily Short

In March, interactive fiction pioneer's Emily Short's "Blood & Laurels", a passion project 15 years in the making, was in limbo at Linden Lab, which owns the AI-powered Versu Engine she created it with (as she told Iris then) -- but thanks to some negotiation with the company, in June the two sides agreed to collaborate on publication, and yesterday, the story was featured in The New York Times:

A more novel, even radical, form of digital storytelling with text arrived last month on the iPad in the form of Blood & Laurels by Emily Short, an author of interactive fiction... Blood & Laurels is interesting in its own right but even more so for the promise of what might come after it. Blood & Laurels was written with a software engine called Versu, designed by Ms. Short and Richard Evans, who worked on the artificial intelligence aspects of notable games like Black & White and The Sims 3.

(Evans developed Versu with Emily at Linden Lab.) Here's what the Times' Chris Sullentrop says what it's capable of doing:

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Posted at 07:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Bookmark

Upcoming MMO-Flavored Sandbox Survival Game No Man's Sky Sorta Like Minecraft Meets the Universe

No Man's Sky MMO

Memo to Iris: Let's keep keeping an eye on No Man's Sky, for in this upcoming, procedurally generated PC PS4 game, this happens:

No Man’s Sky spurns the conventional structures of pre-written narratives, set-piece action sequences, and discrete levels. There are no quests in this game. You don’t go planet-hopping to find a damsel or a merchant in distress and then fetch them three healing salves and four wolf pelts of varying colors. In fact, at the outset, you can’t hop very far at all. Each player is handed only the bare necessities for survival, dropped onto a planet on the rim of a galaxy, and left to his or her own devices. A basic life pod will putter you up to the nearest space station where you can begin to figure out how to get such devices, upgrade them, and do something useful or interesting with your life. Most people will start by either mining resources or trying their luck as a bounty hunter or freight security guard. What career paths lie beyond those basic professions is part of the exploration you’ll have to do.

So pretty much Minecraft meets the known, explorable universe. Speaking of which, there's still some contention whether this game qualifies as an MMO, or just MMO-like -- here's why:

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Posted at 04:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | Bookmark

Good Guidelines for Productively Dealing with Online Sexism

Leigh Alexander has an excellent starter guide for dealing with sexism online, which we sometimes have to contend with on New World Notes. One particular point stands out to me as strongest, because it illustrates the tension of confronting sexism while not allowing it to define the victim:

Boost the individual and her work, not her victimhood. No woman who experiences sexism in her profession wants to be known primarily for “being a woman who experiences sexism.” It is right to defend and support women, and it is right to condemn sexism, but sometimes the best way to do that is by supporting their work. Hundreds of hair-tearing tweets protesting all the terrible sexist things that are happening to so-and-so can actually have the same ultimate effect as sexism: In both cases, the woman is reduced simply to “victim of sexism”.

Obviously applies not just to Twitter, but any online community. Plus, fellow dudes, read this, take it to heart:

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Posted at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | Bookmark

These Materials-Enabled Second Life Weather Effects Will Have You Singing in the Rain

Ante Flan SL Materials Rain
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Where the heck was I in January when Second Life user Ante Flan shared first shared this video of his materials-enabled rain effects? I'm such a sucker for seeing SL Materials (a term referring to the implementation of specular and normal mapping in Second Life) in action, I even had to make a gif out of it. 

If you're looking for a slightly more technical explanation of what you're looking at (beyond "Ooh, pretty," anyway) Ante's got you covered:

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Posted at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | Bookmark

Joy Versus Violence: When Child-Like Play is More Mature Than a Gruesome Gunfight

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

There's a gem of a post by Leigh Alexander up on Gamasutra today, and while it's rather lengthy anyone who found themselves a little uninspired by the guns, guts and goreshow at E3 last month should take the time to read. In it, Alexander presents the idea that the games with content labelled as "mature" may actually be more juvenile than the games that give us beauty, creativity and good old fashioned joy but get labelled as casual or kid-oriented.

Alexander's interview with fellow critic Michael Abbot was particularly interesting, and seems to crystallize a sentiment picking up steam among developers and consumers alike:

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Top Seven New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

Frog Princess SL

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Holiday Weekend Read -- Excerpt from Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life

Virtually Sacred MMO spirituality

Virtually Sacred, a new book from Oxford Press by Robert M. Geracia Manhattan College professor who often writes about virtual words, explores the spiritual dimensions of Second Life and World of Warcraft. Here's a long excerpt reprinted with permission by Robert (SL avatar name: Soren Ferlinghetti). Read more about and order the book here (it officially publishes on July 14) and click here for a chance to win a free advance copy

The allure of the World of Warcraft mythos means the game competes against traditional stories and religions. As we shall see over the coming chapters, World of Warcraft gives its players very appealing commodities—communities, opportunities for reflection, a sense of personal meaning, even transcendent experiences. In an age where thin wafers of bread do not always seem to carry a divine personality and where the historical authenticity of almost every religious text has been called into question, the communities and experiences enabled by virtual worlds offer something completely novel to the spiritual marketplace.

Even where the worlds lack epic narratives, they provide opportunities for their residents to create one. In Second Life, a world where everything is the responsibility of those who log in, religious stories have exploded into being. On occasion these are created ex nihilo, as new religions that may not even be possible to think through in conventional reality. More often, though, they are formed by reframing and reconstructing the old religious ways and ideas. Many people come to Second Life to live out their religious lives in a new world: they build churches, temples, mosques, and even forest glades in virtual reality. Then they gather and celebrate together, often with neither permission from, nor relationship to, their communities’ conventional counterparts. Instead of letting the old hierarchies dictate who they are, what they must believe and do, and where they must go, these virtual world residents are happily rearranging and reassembling religious life and telling entirely new stories about gods, providence, and themselves.

To a considerable extent, the story of Second Life is, itself, a story of religious redemption:

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Posted at 10:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | Bookmark

Does Second Life Have a Class System? Spoiler: Yes

Frog Princess SLJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

It's a question that Second Life designer Aranel Ah posed on Plurk recently, and one that saw a pretty surprising range of responses. Does Second Life, across (and within) its many diverse communities, have a class system? Some were quick to dismiss the idea, ohers said it was more like a hierarchy (which in this case is just a synonym for class system, folks.) 

It's tempting to think of the virtual world as a place where everyone is on equal footing. We all start the same way after all, ugly and confused and probably looking for the best dance clubs. The reality of it is that even though we may all start in the same place, we don't stay that way for long.

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Posted at 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (28) | Bookmark

Reality Becomes BioShock: FOX Illustrates News of Extreme Anti-Immigrant Movement with Art from Game About Extreme Anti-Immigrant Movement

Yesterday, anti-immigrant protesters converged on a California town waving American flags and chanting “USA! USA!” in order to block buses containing hundreds of immigrant families from entering a Border Patrol processing center. To illustrate this news story about anti-immigrant protesters, FOX News ironically used this image of the Statue of Liberty:

ZZ3A9587AA

But that wasn't just ironic because the Statue of Liberty actually symbolizes how America welcomes immigrants. To make the irony even more keen, the "Defending the Homeland" sign beneath Liberty is a knockoff of BioShock Infinite logo:

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Why Keeping Second Life 2 Closed Source is a Good Idea, Expressed in a Single Screencap

Many SLers are upset at the announcement that Linden Lab's follow-up to Second Life will be closed-sourced, so I was planning to explain why keeping SL 2 closed source is actually a good idea -- at least to start -- when this popped up in my Google Alerts, and pretty much did my work for me:

CopyBot Second Life 2 Linden Lab

So a forum for CopyBot users (yes, these exist) is not happy about the closed source aspect, not happy at all. Why? Well, one likely reason: An open source Second Life 2 would make it much easier to build some kind of CopyBot-type program for creating unauthorized copies of SL 2 content. (In the same way that open sourcing the Second Life viewer in 2007 also made it much easier for CopyBot-type hacks to arise and spread.)

Now, before any flames arise, let me quickly add this:

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Posted at 08:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (22) | Bookmark

SL Oculus Rift Integration Seems to Need Serious Tweaking

Second Life Oculus Rift

Linden Lab gave Gizmodo's Jordan Kushins a hands-on, in-person demo of Second Life integrated with the Oculus Rift, and things went, well, wincingly:

Though the picture was pretty clear, the lag time to align graphics with my head movements was enough to make me feel nauseous. At one point, swathes of black obscured my vision...

"Also," he adds (and I can relate to this quite a bit, having tried the Beta version, as pictured above):

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Early Access: Failbetter Games' Sunless Sea is Anything but Bleak... At Least for the Player

Sunless Sea Early Access
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The city glittered like a wet-backed beetle as you approached, lamplight occasionally faltering as though a dew drop had been dislodged from London's polished carapace. At least that's what the zailors would say as they shared in the short-lived comforts of home. If one was already caught up in the romantic notions of a life spent zailing the vastness of the Unterzee, they could be forgiven for missing the tremble in their voices, or the dread that lived in their hollowed eyes. 

Euphemia was a creature who fed on little more than milk and ink. That's metaphor of course. She was a poet, a rather soft one at that, but not to be mistaken by a careless reader for one of the shrouded monstrosities one might find at the Bazaar, carting about carefully capped milk bottles brimming with viscous black fluid. 

If you haven't guessed yet, I've been playing Sunless Sea, Failbetter Games' successfully Kickstarted follow up to free-to-play browser-based narrative adventure game, Fallen London. Sunless Sea was released in Early Access on Steam just yesterday, and boy do I ever want to tell you about it...

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

SL Mesh Wireframes Avatars Probably Can't Be Copyrighted, Says RL Lawyer (Comment of the Week, UPDATED)

Agenda Faromet

UPDATE, 7/4: Agenda just made some clarifying comments here which you should also read, and I've corrected inaccuracies in my post title/text to reflect them.

A real life lawyer who lectures and practices in Second Life as Agenda Faromet (and sometimes posts in comments here as "Vaki") made a really good point in NWN comments last week (also summarizing this blog post she wrote): Mesh avatars wireframes and mesh body parts developed for Second Life avatars can probably not be copyrighted. This has, as she notes, "implications for those [SL] creators who are investing significant time and money into making mesh body parts, and hoping to be able to protect them." However, she argues, they probably can't. Here's why:

"Short version: the one good case we have on copyright in wireframes found that the specific ones in question weren't copyrightable, because all they did was reproduce, in wireframe, something that already existed.

"Mesh bodies are reproducing something that already exists: the SL avatar mesh. Even if they aren't actually using the avatar mesh itself as a guideline, or looking at the actual SL avatar mesh, they're derivatives of the avatar mesh. With a derivative work, a creator can only have a copyright in his or her own independent creation, so -— assuming Linden Lab is permitting all uses of its avatar mesh —- a body creator could not get a copyright in the entire body, but only in the things that are different from the avatar mesh.

"To clarify," she goes on:

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Posted at 03:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (15) | Bookmark

Second Life Successor Intended to Be Multi-Platform & Attract "Hundreds of Millions" -- I.E. Very Different from Second Life

Ebbe Altberg Linden Lab

Two of the most interesting things said by Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg about Second Life 2 in his Engadget interview? First of all, it's going to be "Multi-device from day one" (including phones, he mentions). Second of all, this:

"We're building the next-generation platform for hundreds of millions of people; not for millions of people."

In other words, very different from Second Life in some fundamental ways. Also, these stated intentions should lead us to this conclusion:

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When it Comes to Fashion Photography in SL, Don't Be Afraid to Flaunt the Details

Brandi 62214
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

We're well into summer now (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) and even in the virtual world minds are drifting to sunny beaches, strappy sandals, and flattering swimwear. There's a great deal of summer-inspired blogging going on too, and of all the beach-based snaps I've been seeing lately this one by Brandi Monroe might be my favorite.

Obviously the focus of most fashion photography, virtual or otherwise, is going to be on the clothes, but that just makes me appreciate pictures like this one even more. Offering a little flavour to a set is important, as is focussing in on the details that might be all to easy to lose in the background of a larger shot.

Be sure to visit Brandi's blog to view the rest of this Summerfest-inspired set and see her complete styling notes.

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