Friday, October 17, 2014

Watch This Weekend: A Gorgeous SL Machinima on Love Transcending Space & Time

This weekend, put aside eight minutes to watch this lovely Second Life machinima from Tutsy Navarantha, whose works we've often blogged before:

Purportedly based on a true (if virtual!) story, it's about a romance that's built by two people across different time zones within an online world. Tutsy has a clever affectation which conveys the mixed reality nature of real relationships that begin in a virtual context:

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DX Exchange Headquarters & ATMs in Second Life

DX Exchange Headquarters

Click here to teleport directly to the Second Life headquarters of NWN partner DX Exchange. That's where you can access DX's in-world ATMs, where members can access their Linden Dollars, and also get their special tell-a-friend discount voucher. They also have a number of in-world partners with ATMs listed here.

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Chestnut Reviews a Beautiful SL Sim Called The Trace

Trace Second Life sim

NWN alumna Chestnut Rau has a pictorial visit to an SL sim called The Trace, which is a place by Kylie Jaxxon with many fine details, including elements which change according to the season (at least so we're told). See more here and when you are ready, click here to teleport.

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It's Critical to be Critical, Whether You Like This Hyper-Violent Game Trailer or Not

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

Yesterday, a developer released a trailer for a game they're working on. That's not news. It's a very violent game. That's not news either. What is news is just how negative its reception has been among gamers and games writers; within hours, op-eds were springing up about how repulsive, tacky, and frankly pathetic the trailer for the game (bluntly and blandly named Hatred) seems. Of course the trailer has spread like wildfire as a result, and on YouTube it still has more "dislikes" than "likes".

There's a lot of grossness to deal with when you're talking about Hatred. It claims to be a response to the trend towards "political correctness" in games. Its developers may hold some very disturbing political beliefs. It depicts a mass-shooting days after Anita Sarkeesian and the school hosting an event for her were threatened with one. But if nothing else, the responses to all of that grossness have been very insightful and well worth reading -- especially if, like me, you've ever tried to reconcile your enjoyment of some violent video games with your utter distaste for others.

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Return of the Deep Sea Dad: Octodad's Free DLC Doesn't Disappoint

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

As much as I enjoyed Octodad: Dadliest Catch when it first came out last February, I didn't expect to be anticipating its free DLC pack as much as I was 8 months later. I thought the game's charm and the glee I felt when I played it would fade over time as these things often do.

But it didn't.

I'd been awaiting the promised free DLC for months, and when it was finally released this week I leapt at the chance to play it. In short it does exactly what the best parts of Octodad did, placing the player and the titular cephalopatriarch in everyday scenarios and essentially "letting the magic happen". Take the screenshot above for instance, shared by @mattshea369 on Twitter. That patient sure did not start out wedged in a hospital vending machine, and yet here we are. If that's not enough to demonstrate what the Octodad DLC is all about, take a look at this stream I did on Tuesday:

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Watch This Academic's Moving Speech on How Virtual Worlds Can Help People With Disabilities

Jay Jay Jegathesan is a PhD candidate from the University of Western Australia, and his thesis is about how virtual worlds (specifically Second Life) can help build communities, and this is him passionately presenting a short summary of his work so far:

"In 2009," Jay Jay explains to me, "I founded a fully immersive 3D University campus on the virtual world of Second Life [official site here], and we are now recognized as world leaders in global community development through this technology. This turned into my PhD, which examines how global communities have emerged through virtual worlds in particular among people with disability or chronic illnesses."

Here's how he explains why this is possible:

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Is This Tiny SL Avatar the Smallest Avatar in Any MMO?

Terry Shuriken created this tiny-ass Second Life avatar and it may very well be the tiniest ass avatar in the world of MMOs:

It is, writes Terry, "Somewhere between 1/3rd or 1/4th of an inch tall. This is my smallest avatar! I made it using avatar workbench/blender." But I'm not quite sure how Terry pulled this off: Can the avatar fully move its whole body, like a standard avatar? And how exactly did Terry build it in Workbench/Blender?

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Law Professor's Brilliant Solution to Curb Online Harassment: Strip Anonymity Privileges from Abusers

Online Harrassment Hate Crimes Danielle CitronOnline harrassment against women in the game industry reached a very terrifying peak yesterday, provoking a viral protest on Twitter, #StopGamerGate2014. But as great as that is, online abuse (especially against women) will likely continue at a feverish level until Twitter and other platforms which allow anonymous/pseudonymous identity have structural solutions to help address it.

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, a new book from law professor Danielle Keats Citron, has a very clever proposal for doing just that: Make anonymity a privilege not a right. "Users who violate terms-of-service agreements could be required to authenticate their identities in order to continue their site privileges," she writes.

"[R]equiring users to own their own words, so to speak, has the effect of bringing online speech to a level playing field as offline speech," Professor Citron explains to me. "Offline, social norms develop as people react to speech and gauge people’s reactions. Workers are far less likely to sexually harass fellow employees because others will think badly of them and because it may in fact be cause for termination and liability for the employer." In online spaces which allow people to identify themselves by their real name or by an anonymous pseudonym -- such as Twitter -- that calculus changes:

"When only the victim is named and not the perpetrator in online spaces, others can hardly send the signal that their behavior is unacceptable and harmful. If anonymity is a privilege that can be lost, we could introduce the power of social norms back into the calculus. Perpetrators may decline to fantasize about how they would rape named individuals because they would not want to be seen as the kind of person who does that sort of thing. And bringing names into the calculus would help victims to bring legal action if the speech was proscribable like true threat. The approach is less drastic than removal, though removal should be considered for direct threats, for instance."

I ask Professor Citron if she thinks a policy like this implemented on Twitter and other social platforms would address the death and rape threats and other harassment associated with #GamerGate.

"For death threats," she says, "my inclination is to urge site operators to work with victims to ensure that posters can be traced (for law enforcement purposes). In those cases, that would be my recommendation of first order of business so that journalists like Amanda Hess can’t be told that there is no evidence to deal with graphic threats after she blocked and deleted them." (Read Hess' shocking Pacific Standard story about that.)

"Identifiability," Professor Citron goes on, "might provide a disincentive to threaten others with rape and other forms of violence. If posters know that they have to own threats of violence or lose their site privileges, they might think twice about doing it."

A solution like this, by the way, has already been implemented by Facebook around their user pages:

Continue reading "A Law Professor's Brilliant Solution to Curb Online Harassment: Strip Anonymity Privileges from Abusers"

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Lenna's Inception: Classic Gaming Style With a Modern Gaming Twist

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

If you're into indie/alt games these days then you're probably already aware of itch.io, a streamlined indie marketplace that makes it ultra-easy for developers to deliver their games to customers. Itch.io has become host to a boatload of interesting games in the past year -- some paid, many free -- and deserves some serious coverage.

It's with that in mind that I'll be reaching into my own itch.io library much more often here on NWN, starting today with a retro-inspired story of a teacher's revenge: Lenna's Inception.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Iris Wants to Know: How Long Do You Think It Takes Designers to Create Your Favorite Virtual Fashions?

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

When I read user reviews of products on the SL Marketplace, I'm often struck by how much of a disconnect there is between what customers think goes into producing an original product in Second Life and what actually does. It's a pet peeve, and something I have to struggle not to launch into a full rant about. I've even read comments that acted as though a fully modelled and textured item was little more than a sketch on the back of a restaurant receipt.

In general, there's often a tremendous lack of understanding for what many content creators actually do, even from the most respectful and reverent users buying from them. It's a big gap, and we need to bridge it.

This week, I want to hear from the consumers. I want to know how long you think it takes to develop original fashion content for Second Life. Of course it varies from item to item (and creator to creator) but lets talk about averages here. On average, how much time and energy would you say goes into a piece of mesh clothing, a skin, a hairstyle, and so on? Share your best estimates in the comments below. If you're a content creator, don't fret: You'll have your chance to respond next week!

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter May Be The Most Gorgeous Game of 2014

Vanishing of Ethan carter PC Gamer gallery
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the most gorgeous games I've seen in my entire life, and PC Gamer has the massive, high-resolution screenshots to prove it. Just take a look. While screenshotter James Snook uprezzed the game and applied a 3rd party visual effects mod, in this case that's almost excessive. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter doesn't need either of those things to look utterly stunning.

I've already watched The Vanishing of Ethan Carter played from start to finish. I know the characters, I know the locations, I know the story, I know the twists... So why do I still feel compelled to play it all again for myself?

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SL Go Streaming for Second Life Now Available on iPad

IOS Second Life app iPad

SL Go is now available for iPads. The seriously cool (in my very biased opinion) cloud streaming service for Second Life from OnLive has been available for low-end laptops, for Android tablets, and on OnLive's own console system, and iPad owners can finally try it out for themselves. I don't have an iPad myself, so if you give it a whirl, please share your experience in Comments below.

"The iOS and Android versions of SL Go are in complete parity; that is, the designs are identical," OnLive Project Manager Dennis Harper tells me. "The major challenge was to port the ‘vPad’ (virtual on-screen controller) to the iPad. The video rendering of the controls and the architecture is quite different. In addition, we had to rework the interaction between Second Life and the iPad; for instance, when you touch a text input field the device keyboard automatically displays. This was very different for iOS, and caused many small bugs (which were fixed, of course!)"

SL Go is only available for iPads, not iPhones, but as Apple fans know, the company recently launched iPhone 6+, a phone so big it's pretty much a "phablet". So does that mean we can use SL Go on the 6+? Maybe, says Dennis:

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Monday, October 13, 2014

SL Land Baron on Why User-Created Portals for Second Life 2 are (Probably) a Bad Idea UPDATE: Linden CEO Responds

Desmond Shang Caledonia Blue Mars

Linden Lab plans to launch Second Life 2 without a shared first-time user experience (as I blogged last week) [note: see comment from Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg at the end of this post], and will instead encourage user-created portals. Second Life used to have a community gateway program, so the news that Linden Lab would try this again in SL 2 raised the hackles of longtime Second Life steampunk land baron Desmond Shang, who wrote a long comment summarizing his own troubles trying to run one of those in Second Life -- leading to little revenue for him, waves of griefers for his staff to deal with, and $11,000 in USD thrown down a hole:

"Even when the [SL] community gateway program 'ended' it didn't exactly end for all of us. New residents were still sent to this or that destination for years. Destinations that sort of made sense insofar as they retained residents, program or not. After that, the destination guide still sort of serves the same function.

"During the last round it literally cost time and money to retain paying customers for Linden. Sure, takes money to make money and all that; make a good gateway and maybe they'll stay with you... I get all that.

"But as it was, it cost ridiculous amounts of human effort, creative solutions (gateway advertising &c) and raw cash to even get close to covering the gateway's tier. Even worse, by the time a new resident was actually retained, good luck asking them where, exactly, they thought they started.

"I lost about 11,000 USD or so on Oxbridge; after that, it was time for some introspection. Even so I *still* chip in a little bit toward its tier myself these days to support the absolutely wonderful, selfless people who give freely of their time to volunteer."

But that' was only the start of his headaches:

Continue reading "SL Land Baron on Why User-Created Portals for Second Life 2 are (Probably) a Bad Idea UPDATE: Linden CEO Responds"

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Real Human Beings: AAA Games Want Us to Sympathize With NPCs (or Do They?)

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

Here's a disclaimer for you, right out of the gate: Today I'm sharing an article with you that was written by my best friend and published on a site I have worked with myself. I waffled about sharing it at all, because my opinion on the piece would probably seem very far from impartial. That said, Austin Walker's "Real Human Beings: Shadow of Mordor, Watch Dogs and the New NPC" has been making serious waves in the games criticism community. It's a must-read, and you don't even have to take my word alone.

Walker's article is primarily concerned with Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system, which produces unique, emergent stories in the latest Lord of the Rings game while simultaneously breathing life into the game's foes. While it's an interesting system, its biggest flaw is that it still comes down to the same power fantasies, the same good-versus-evil scenarios, and the same limited interactions we have in so many so-called open worlds. He writes:

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Here's What You're Missing on This Fabulous French Second Life Fashion Blog

Mademoiselle-_-potiron
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Eve Kazan is one of my favorite Second Life bloggers, and has been for some time. In addition to outfits assembled both popular items and unknown finds, Eve manages to find some of the most interesting sims and builds as backdrops for her work. Whenever I'm stuck looking for the perfect location or finishing touch for a shot, Eve's blog Mademoiselle is my very first stop.

But her blog is also in French and unfortunately that keeps a lot of readers away, even though it's perfectly easy to find out what she's wearing or where she is thanks to notes labelled in English at the bottom of every post. Either way, I've decided to translate the text of one of her most recent posts, Potiron, so you can have a litle taste of what you're missing. Check it out:

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Top Seven New World Notes Posts Last Week

Live Coding Oculus Rift

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Friday, October 10, 2014

SL 2 to Launch Without Shared First-Time User Experience

Ebbe Altberg Linden Lab

Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg recently dropped some hints about its follow-up to Second Life in an in-world interview for the "Designing Worlds in Second Life" show. You can watch the video below, which is mainly about SL, but Nalates Urriah took extensive notes, and here's the key point about SL2:

For SL2 they are developing toward user created experiences and will thus bypass a uniform path for all new users. So, the concept of a single entry door for SL will vanish. The Lab will provide retention data to experience owners. They will let designers compare their experience retention to other experiences, designs, methods, and retention rates. With solid objective data flowing back to the designers, it may be possible to find the magic combination.

I'm a bit skeptical that's the best way to launch a new world, but maybe there's more going on here. Anyway, this weekend, watch the 90 minute video below and share your thoughts in Comments:

Continue reading "SL 2 to Launch Without Shared First-Time User Experience"

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Master Second Life Image Artist Whiskey Monday is Back

Whiskey Monday SL pic

After a long absence from blogging her marvelous SL images which we loved so much we profiled her here, Ms. Whiskey Monday is back and blogging them again. This excerpt above is from a much larger image which you'll want to see bigger. Seriously, embiggenate.

And there's even more good news:

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Join the DX Club for Special L$ Sale & SL Content Offers

DX Club Linden Dollar exchange

DX Club is the special membership group for DX Exchange, one of the top third-party re-sellers of Linden Dollars (a sponsoring partner for this blog), which now has over 6000 members, and has regular special SL content offers -- some we'll be announcing here soon -- discounts on L$ purchases, a special tell-a-friend voucher campaign, and more. Registration is free, and no personal info besides an e-mail address is required. Go here to sign up.

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Popular Second Life Furniture Brand *Art Dummy Closing its Doors Next Week

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

*Art Dummy, a beloved niche furniture and decor brand in Second Life, will be closing its doors next week. Designer Gala Charron announced the closure a few days ago on Flickr and on her blog, writing:

It is with deep regret that I am closing *Art Dummy! I've been struggling for a long time with "artist's block". In addition I've been grappling with a chaotic first life. The main store will close next Wednesday, October 15. I hope to return one day.

If you're unfamiliar with the brand, Gala's work with *Art Dummy is often easy to spot -- and well worth looking at...

Continue reading "Popular Second Life Furniture Brand *Art Dummy Closing its Doors Next Week"

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Get Ready for Halloween by Looking at These Gruesome NBA 2K15 Face Scanning Errors

Operation Sports NBA 2K15 Face Scan
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

While face scanning technology may be gaining momentum as a tool for customizing player avatars, it seems like the process is still very far from foolproof. The face scanning in newly-released NBA 2K15 in particular has been getting a lot of attention for some of its more monstrous interpretations of player faces, some of which could absolutely pass for Halloween masks. 

Naturally people are having a very good time sharing the very best of the worst face scans. Operation Sports shared the haunting compilation above, while over on Gamespot you can find a video of how several of their staff members look through the NBA 2K15 lens. Sometimes it works well, sometimes... Less so. Even some of the better examples occasionally cover the avatars in strange bruises and smears, like the player spawned by Giant Bomb

So what's going wrong here? A few things...

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Half of Second Life's 50 Most Popular Sims Now Adult-Rated: A Lesson for Second Life 2

Second Life Half Porn Top locations
According to Louis Platini's Metaverse Business, a Second Life analytics company that gathers publicly accessible in-world data for its clients, here's the top 50 most popular sims in Second Life for last month, listed by their average visitor count, unique visitor range at any given period, and the sim's rank the previous month. In September, this listing saw a very peculiar milestone, spotted for the first time since I've been referring to this data:

Half of the top 50 most popular Second LIfe sims are Adult-rated, so designated for extremely graphic sexual and violent content.

I've been reporting on top SL sims since 2011, and up to now, Adult-rated sims have consistently hovered somewhere near the 30% point. In recent months, however, that evidently changed.

Now, Adult-rated doesn't necessarily mean porn. If Game of Thrones were turned into an official Second Life sim, the explicit sex and violence of the HBO series would easily earn it an Adult rating, even though it's very much considered mainstream entertainment. That said, most of the Adult-rated sim names reference prostitution, extreme sex acts, and (of course), furry sex. (Top sims 26-50, displayed after the break, are not even safe for work viewing.) Though general enthusiasm over Second Life has waned, it appears, virtual sex continues to attract an avid audience.

As Linden Lab develops Second Life 2, there's an important lesson to be learned here:

Continue reading "Half of Second Life's 50 Most Popular Sims Now Adult-Rated: A Lesson for Second Life 2"

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Simicide: Help Me Commit the Most Efficient Virtual Murder That The Sims 4 Has Ever Seen

Sims 4 Housekeeper 2
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

On October 1st a new patch launched for The Sims 4, and with it came the first of several planned free content additions to the game. Ghosts (which become playable sims when they join a household) along with a set of Star Wars themed costumes were added, with more long-lamented features like pools promised in similar patches in the future, rather than the paid expansions they were expected to come in. It's a pleasant surprise, and a welcome gesture of goodwill towards a community that often feels used.

Naturally I've wanted to take the newly added ghosts out for a spin. So did a friend of mine, who streamed her attempts to kill a sim version of herself so that she could become a super cool ghost. After catching on fire (and surviving) at some point her sim just spontaneously transformed into an urn full of ashes -- no drama, no tragedy, and no Reaper. She got what she wanted (to become a ghost member of her old household) but it was rather anti-climactic, as if the game was saying "You want this sim dead that badly? Fine."

So I want to do better. I want to write about ghosts in The Sims 4, but before that I want to devise the most efficient, foolproof, engine of sim death that I can. And I need your help to do it.

Continue reading "Simicide: Help Me Commit the Most Efficient Virtual Murder That The Sims 4 Has Ever Seen"

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Consider Kickstarting: Neotopia, Virtual World with Citizenship/Voting Rights for PS4 from Sony Home Vets

neotopia is a new virtual world project for Playstation 4 on Kickstarter; let's take a look, shall we?

Led by game industry veterans David Dow and Ed Gladwin, who both worked on the recently closed Sony Home, the world comes with a lot of themed areas (steampunk, zombie, etc.), virtual currency and customizable apartments, and for Kickstarters, a voice in the world's direction:

Have a voice and help shape the world! Citizens will be able to vote on upcoming features and content in world and via the internet. Secure your citizenship, get exclusive items and get voting now via the £30 pledge or earn your citizenship post-release.

Looks like fun, especially for PS4 owners craving for some virtual world action, though like Sony Home, there's one big missing piece of the puzzle:

Continue reading "Consider Kickstarting: Neotopia, Virtual World with Citizenship/Voting Rights for PS4 from Sony Home Vets"

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Dear Tech Industry (and Beyond): Here's One Easy Trick to Avoid Making Yet Another Offensive Ad

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

Hot on the heels of ASUS' Twitter ad disaster and nearing the anniversary of the ultra-condescending Xbox One form email (which I prepared a free-to-use response for at the time), it seems like as good a time as any to share one simple truth with you all. Maybe you already know this (ASUS and Microsoft sure didn't) but it's surprisingly easy to avoid making an ad that will offend your customers.

There's a trick to it, and it's a trick that applies well beyond the realm of advertising to writing, art, and just about any creative field that could conceivably ever need to represent a person attached to an idea: All a creator has to do is ask themselves "why" (and care about the answer.) 

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Anita Sarkeesian Explains Why So Many Gamers Irrationally Hate Anita Sarkeesian

Only a few weeks after receiving death threats that literally drove her from her home, Anita Sarkeesian got up on stage and explained why she's so irrationally hated by so many gamers:

We witnessed just a small sliver of that hate on this very blog: After Janine and I blogged some of Sarkeesian's videos, New World Notes started getting inundated with new commenters asserting some of the very conspiracy theories she mentions above. One male (for it's almost certainly a male) created multiple sock puppet accounts, including one with a woman's name, evidently to make these allegations seem more credible. (But Typepad tracks IP addresses, so it's easy to tell when a comment's coming from the same source.)

All of which makes you wonder why: Anita Sarkeesian isn't calling for the censorship of games she doesn't like; her videos, while popular, aren't anywhere close to the popularity of the most best-known YouTube gamer celebrities; and even if one disagrees with what she's saying, she's ultimately just expressing one person's opinion. So why does she still attract such irrational rage?

Spoiler alert:

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My Most Viral Tweet This Year is Meta, Not Metaverse

In case you were wondering (and I'm sure you were), this is my most Favorited/Retweeted tweet of the year by far:

So not a Tweet about the metaverse or virtual guns, as one might wish it would be, but a meta Tweet about real guns. (But what can you do?)

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Want to Put Your RL Face on Your SL Avatar? New Company Seeking Alpha Testers Who Want to Try Just That

Game yourself avatar

Click here to subscribe to try out new technology to convert your real world face onto your avatar, a technology that the folks at GameYourself are Alpha testing for Second Life right now:

"We are developing a face scanning technology for games that allows users to have their own face for their character," GameYourself's Balint Barlai tells me. "The mobile application we are developing works like this: after the user records a video of his face with his mobile phone, the application produces a 3D model that can be used in a game for one's character.

Continue reading "Want to Put Your RL Face on Your SL Avatar? New Company Seeking Alpha Testers Who Want to Try Just That"

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Welcome NWN Partner Shuggles/Besieged, Sellers of Full Perm Mesh/Clothing and Scripting HUD

Custom full-perm mesh clothing; scripts & HUD for creators

Shuggles and Besieged are now a sponsoring partner of New World Notes, I'm very proud to announce. Managed and owned by SL partners Fantasy Bonham and Shuichi Shinji, these are two stores alongside each other in SL (teleport link here) which complement each other quite well:  Besieged offers custom-created, full-perm mesh sneakers, plus textured, HUD-driven sneakers (among other clothing), while Shuggles sells scripts and tools for creators, its main product being the mpHUD (Multi-purpose HUD) system, which allows creators to easily build a HUD for their own products, e.g. shoes, mesh dresses, and body parts like hair, and can be used for the full-perms sneaker models available from Besieged.

Continue reading "Welcome NWN Partner Shuggles/Besieged, Sellers of Full Perm Mesh/Clothing and Scripting HUD"

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Hey ASUS, I Fixed Your Incredibly Offensive Gamer Ad

ASUS Gamer Ad
ABOVE: ASUS' original, hastily-deleted sexist ad - see my new and improved version below!

ASUS posted a gem of sexist advertising on Twitter yesterday. Although they were pretty quick to delete it after a less than favorable reception, the internet seldom forgets. By the time they'd scrubbed their Tweet the gloriously bad ad (shown above) had already been saved to hard drives around the world. Including mine.

There are a lot of problems with this ad. The one that should hit you in the face immediately is that the "Hardcore Gamer" is male, and the "Casual Gamer" is female. In the context of gaming and general geekdom, the terms "hardcore" and "casual" are often used on clearly gendered lines. It's a tired old trope already, but it persists. I also have a hard time accepting the use of hardcore and casual to describe games themselves. The ad above defines The Sims as a casual game (and treats it like it's a game played in short bursts -- was this ad made by a fake gamer boy?) but I know people who are ten times more hardcore about The Sims than many fans of "true" "hardcore" games like CS:GO or DOTA 2 are. Any game can be hardcore or casual; it all depends on how you play it. 

Even if you're the most run-of-the-mill, advertisers-wet-dream male gamer around this ad should piss you off because yes, it's talking shit about you too. To ASUS, you're some bro who can't take care of his things, can't control his temper, and can't pry himself away from the glow of his monitor or hum of his console even for an instant. In short: This ad doesn't flatter anyone.

But hey, don't you worry your pretty little corporate head about this, ASUS. I've got your back. I made a few changes to your ill-conceived little ad, and I think they're all vast improvements...

Continue reading "Hey ASUS, I Fixed Your Incredibly Offensive Gamer Ad"

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Monday, October 06, 2014

This Guy is Live Coding Virtual Reality While Inside Virtual Reality - Similar Feature Being Developed for High Fidelity UPDATE: More Background on This Project from the Creator

Update, 10/7: More background from Brian in Comments.

A guy named Brian Peiris figured out how to write code for graphics in virtual reality while in virtual reality itself, so he sees the changes as he implements them, and it's mind-bogglingly cool -- watch:

Specifically, as he explains, "I built a live-coding web app for the Oculus Rift where you code in JavaScript using Three.js and watch the world change around you in real-time."

"Very cool," said Philip Rosedale, when I showed him this video. "I want to hire the kid!" Rosedale of course, founded Second Life and is now creating High Fidelity, a new fully VR-integrated virtual world. As it happens, he and his team are already developing a comparable feature for High Fidelity:

"We are doing very similar stuff already with live Javascript code editing in Hifi," he tells me. "[T]he existing editor is live, and we are already displaying parts of the UI in the Oculus. So we'll definitely try this sort of approach."

However, he adds, there's one challenge they need to solve:

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Worlds in Decline: When MMOs Slip Into Maintenance Mode

Lotro moria-thumb-600x337-123556
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The slow decline of an MMO can bring about a lot of intense and complicated feelings for those who wiled away hours within its virtual walls. While Lord of the Rings Online still boasts a strong community and steady income, there's no denying that the games glory days have passed. According to Ian Williams, who recently wrote about the game for Paste, the popular Tolkien-based MMO is "teetering on the edge of maintenance mode, the point in an MMO’s life where the patches and new content slow to a trickle or stop completely." 

His article isn't solely devoted to where the developers/publishers went wrong, or where the fans have gone, or how it all could have been avoided. It touches on those things, but at some point Williams becomes more interested in celebrating what the game was and still is, and exploring the bittersweet sentiment that can come from playing a game for years, following its existence from peak to valley:

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80 Days: How Mobile Developers Can Make the Most of Their Art Assets

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

When I played stylish mobile globetrotting sim 80 Days back in August, I recognized immediately how clean and beautiful its artwork was. What I didn't realize at the time was how efficient and economical it is, too. It turns out that this bold, contrasting style actually serves the same purpose that a lot of modern pixel graphics do, but with a much more eye-catching end result. 

Over on Gamasutra, Joseph Humphrey (co-founder of 80 Days' developer inkle) shared his thoughts on why they chose the style they did, how it worked both for and against them at different points in development, and how other developers can find inspiration and follow suit. It's a fascinating read whether you're looking for ideas or just wanting to take a peek behind the dev curtain. For example, he writes regarding one of their artistic miscalculations:

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Top Six New World Notes Posts from Last Week!

Second Life Oculus Rift DK2

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Read About Virtual Reality Hollywood This Weekend

VR storytelling

"The Last Medium" is a new long feature on California Sunday Magazine by my colleague Carina Chocano on the coming convergence of virtual reality and Hollywood. As she explains to me:

"The idea was to talk to people who were interested in creating narrative experiences in VR-- how will the medium be used to tell stories? What language will it develop to tell them? The coolest thing about it for me was this idea that every new narrative medium creates its own storytelling language. The things that are great about VR (the feeling of presence, the added element of space) are also the things that present the biggest challenges. I didn't know much about VR when I started, and it was really interesting to approach it like a creative problem to be solved. Everyone I talked to had great ideas, and was passionate about VR as a storytelling medium."

Related to that, here's an interesting passage on the creation of a Game of Thrones VR experience:

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How to Turn SL-Based Images Into Visual Art

Second Life screenshots as art

Cajsa Lilliehook just posted a new collection of beautiful SL-based images which transcend being mere screenshots or Photoshopped screenshots to being works of visual art that stand on their own. What I especially admire about Ms. Lilliehook is she goes far beyond saying "Oooh pretty" by providing a smart analysis of how these images work aesthetically. For instance, for this one here, "Window" by Sadbad Shan, here's some of what she says:

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There Are Ethical Concerns in Gaming, but Progressive Opinions Aren't One of Them

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

Leigh Alexander has written a lot about games over the years. A lot. She's written everything from everyday bland news posts to personal essays that will rip your figurative guts out. In August, she wrote about how the "Gamer" label is fading from relevance. She noted that as more people incorporate games into their lives, an identity created essentially by abrasive and exclusionary marketing practices is starting to be shrugged off by a community that's outgrowing it. Naturally, an angry mob of gamers (who will go on and on about how much they're against censorship, if you ask) interpreted this as an attack on their very existence. They contacted companies sponsoring the site where she wrote that piece, convincing Intel to pull their ads -- presumably because no one in Intel's marketing department was willing to Google the issue for five fucking seconds to form their own conclusions.

Those railing against journalists and writers like this say that they're championing ethical concerns in gaming and games journalism. But Alexander knows what those ethical concerns within the industry really are, and surprisingly they don't look a thing like what the mob is going after. Today she shared a partial list of real ethical concerns in the world of gaming, and it's well worth adding to your weekend reading. It's a lot of things that others have been thinking, tweeting, and wrestling with over the past two months in particular, but that Alexander lays bare in the clearest way possible.

I'm not even going to spoil it here. Just roll up your sleeves and dive in.

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There Aren't Enough Feminist Geek Stories With Happy Endings (But Here's a Pretty Good One)

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

When it comes to the intersecting worlds of feminism and geekdom, "feel-good" stories are often far too hard to come by. That's what makes this one special. Recently, fantasy writer and geeky dad Peter V. Brett wrote a post on his blog about his superhero-loving daughter and a particularly disappointing encounter they had with the board game Justice League: Axis of Villains. After receiving the game from a friend, Brett writes about the experience of opening the box with his daughter:

... [W]e opened up the game to find four player heroes to choose from, and at least two dozen villains, and not a female in sight.

“What girl can I be?” Cassie asked, digging through the game pieces.

“I don’t think there are any girls, sweetie,” I said, anger building in me. Cause really, DC & Wonder Forge? WTF? You know it’s 2014, right?

Cassie put down the game pieces. “I don’t want to play this, then.” She turned and moved to leave the room, and it broke my heart. In part for her, and in part because I love superheroes, and this should be something we can share.

They managed to turn of some fan-made resources to add a few of his daughter's favorite female characters to the game, and normally the story would end there. But this time it doesn't.

Continue reading "There Aren't Enough Feminist Geek Stories With Happy Endings (But Here's a Pretty Good One)"

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Falconry Becomes a Mini-Game in Second Life

OK, this is pretty cool: A HUD and flying falcon for falconry in Second Life:

You know, I've played dozens of medieval-era MMO and RPG games, and even though falconry was an extremely popular sport during that era, I've never seen any with a falconry mini-game. So looks like a first? Created by Calli Kit, it's available in the Marketplace here.

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Welcome NWN Partner Ample Avi, Shop Specializing in Full-Figure Female Shapes for Second Life Avatars

Ample AVI Second Life full figure avatar

Ample Avi is now a sponsoring partner of New World Notes, I'm very proud to announce. Founded by Xme Xue In 2008, her shop was (to our knowledge) the only one specializing in full-figured shapes. Since then, full-figured shapes have become more common, while the emergence of mesh shapes has made full-figure shapes even more popular. Still, Ample remains one of the only shops specializeing in voluptuous, curvy female shapes. "All sizes," says Xme, "different heights, different widths - but all curvy and all female." If you're looking for a shape like that, I hope you consider looking her way. Visit Ample Avi's Marketplace page here and click here to directly teleport to her shop in SL.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Game Industry is Getting Torn Apart by a Tiny Anti-Feminist Movement

GamerGate small on Reddit

Intel buckled to an anti-feminist campaign by pulling ads from a top gaming site, as The Verge reports today, an operation run by supporters of #GamerGate. It's the latest update in an ongoing crisis that's been wracking the game industry for several months, and is a constant discussion point among game developer and journalist colleagues. And while there's a lot that can be said about this Intel news, for now it's important to point out a key point I made a month ago: As far as we can tell, #GamerGate is numerically tiny -- probably under 10,000 supporters.

Why is this a likely estimate? For one, /KotakuInAction, a central planning hub for #GamerGate supporters on Reddit, has less than 10,000 subscribers, and if you look at how many times the #GamerGate hashtag is used on Twitter (see below), it's a safe bet that just about 10,000 supporters are making those Tweets.

Yes, it is true (as some #GamerGate advocates pointed out to me) that some related videos get views in the six figures, but as far as we can tell, those views aren't reflective of the core group. (A video that's been Tweeted or upvoted on Reddit by several thousand people can easily get that amount of views.) It's possible the movement is larger than this estimate suggests (evidence is lacking there), but even were it ten times 10,000, it would still be a small fraction of the broader market of gamers, which is roughly 150 million.

So all that said, one immediate question comes to mind:

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Top Four Tips for Flawless, Photoshop-Free SL Snapshots

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

Show me a Second Life user who doesn't want to take Photoshop-free snapshots as gorgeous as SL artist Loverdag's and I'll show you someone who's lying through their prim teeth. But getting that level of gorgeousness without the help of post-processing tools is rarely as easy or effortless as it looks, and there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account.

If you want to up your Photoshop-free virtual photography game, here are four tips you'll want to keep in mind:

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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

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

Sister-roma-facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DX L$ exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Second Life Viewer Compatible With Oculus Rift's DK2

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

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

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

Which isn't to say the experience is perfect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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