Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
A contributor to Gamasutra approached last weekend's one-hour SimCity beta with an interesting plan in mind. Unlike a lot of players he wasn't trying to find the magic planning layout needed to maximize city population, or the most efficient arrangement of residential, commercial, and industrial zones--Mike Rose was trying to figure out how a town with a relatively modest population of approx. 15000 could have rush hour traffic jams that would give urban centers a run for their money.
The results are incredibly interesting and seem surprisingly accurate, but that doesn't mean we should expect SimCity to be capable of providing serious solutions to real life urban planning issues... Especially not at launch. Here's why:
Story-Building Platforms Like Linden Lab's Versu and dio Are Already Succeeding -- Which is Why Versu and dio May Not
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
The more I think about Versu, Linden Lab's latest storytelling platform (which I covered late last week), the more it bothers me. Why? Maybe I'm cynical, but it feels like one more clever and creative little thing that just isn't going to go anywhere--even though it absolutely could and should. Interest in interactive stories like these is probably higher now than it's been a decade and a half at least, and lots of other little engines to create and support such stories have been springing up and developing devoted followships. So where does that leave Versu, and its older sibling, dio? Hint: Not in a very good position...
Hands on With Versu: First Impressions After My First Hour With Linden Lab's Latest Storytelling App
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
This morning Linden Lab launched Versu, an interactive storytelling app for the iPad (other platforms are in the works) with a relatively respectable pedigree behind it. Hamlet posted an overview of Versu as well as its launch trailer earlier today, so I wanted to talk about what it's like to actually use this app, and what I think of it beyond the trailers and the PR (a bit like what I did with dio almost exactly 2 weeks ago.)
Roll up your sleeves because this might get messy.
Not long ago in Second Life, an artful Frenchman named Sextan Shepherd created an underwater steampunk city that paid tribute to Jules Verne, with more opulent detail than I'd ever think possible. Not happy with just doing that, Mr. Shepherd went on to make a reflecting mirror in Second Life, something that's supposed to be flat out impossible full stop. But boom, baby, voilà:
"Mirrors are fun," Sextan said, "aren't they?" Why yes they are, especially when they're supposed to be impossible to make in Second Life. And then Sextan Shepherd proceeded to tell me how he did it:
Uccello Poultry has a thorough review of the (mirada)smartCAM, a new system created by Damien Fate which helps you create customized, preset views of Second Life -- a useful resource for SL photographers. Another useful function of the system, which will probably prove handy to lots of folks: "You can give a special HUD to anyone else and their view will synchronize with yours with the press of a button," reports Ms. Poultry.
If the earliest days of Second Life resemble the first century of American history (and they do) then the most recent years of the world seem to be replicating the last couple decades of the Internet in miniature form. Throughout 2004, SL was an obscure medium for gamers, techies, and assorted early adopters— not unlike the Net’s Usenet groups of the 80s and early 90s— then somewhere in mid-2005, began attracting substantial interest from real world businesses and the mainstream media. Which, much like Netscape’s initial public offering in 1995, led to the mini-dot com boom we’re awash in now, with massive brick-and-mortar corporations throwing money at the world with a kind of frantic urgency. (And like the original boom, usually ending up with lightly-trafficked sites of ambivalent success.)
Right on schedule, the peer-to-peer, open source movement that consumed the Internet of the late 90s arrived to Second Life’s community in recent weeks, beginning with the idealism of talented hackers creating cool applications— which quickly careened into widespread protest, accusations of IP theft, and economic chaos.
Welcome to the Napster era of Second Life. This time, the part of Shawn Fanning is played in part by a tiny pink cat, while everyone else in the world gets to be Metallica. But if I recall right, Lars Ulrich never tried to crush Fanning with a giant boulder.
First, the cool hack from idealistic coders: it begins with libsecondlife, a group of Residents attempting (with Linden Lab’s explicit blessing) to reverse engineer an open source, modified BSD-licensed version of the Second Life client. The ultimate goal are limitless versions of the client, operating on thousands of independent servers insuring Second Life’s spread through the entire Net. While the group has been operating for months, in the last week or two they introduced an in-world demonstration of their client that very quickly became the buzz of the community. The libsecondlife team had figured out a way to log automated avatars into the world, using their scaled down version of the client.
With Eddy Stryker
“The client is a small command-line program written in C# that has all the code needed to ‘speak Second Life’, so to speak,” libsecondlife member Eddy Stryker explained, when he showed me the technology last week. “From the server's point of view it looks and acts exactly like a normal client logging in to the grid, going through all the same steps, it just sends less data… Basically they look and act just like a normal client with a lot of options turned off or turned down.”
The hack suggested a way of finally introducing AIs and non-player characters into the world, creating endless possibilities for game development, simulation, and more, but that wasn’t even the coolest part. Because not only had they figured out a way of introducing artificial avatars, they’d also hacked up a way of cloning existing avatars, clothes included. Not just one or two clones, but over a dozen, dropping out of the sky like godspawn.
Edited in double-time, this video demonstration features me, Talila Liu, and Gwyneth Llewelyn and our several dozen doppelgangers:
“It logs in to SL, reads the appearances of the closest
avatar, and sets its appearance exactly like that person had theirs set,”
Stryker explained to me, while I stood amid a
“So the one bad thing I see with this is designers of clothes and stuff bitching,” Talila Liu observed, after her run through the cloning process.
“Yeah,” Eddy Stryker acknowledged, “it could be a problem at some point, and that's a general issue for Second Life overall. This specific bot, though, doesn't save any information, so when you turn it off all the temporary data is erased.” Eddy already had an application of his own in mind. “I am working on a project for a client right now that needs these mannequins,” he said, “which is going to have an early preview in the first week of December. But at the same time, the libsecondlife library is open for anyone to use, and we have a channel of developers that are all working on their own projects.”
He said that last week, and in retrospect, it was an ominous statement. Because while libsecondlife’s cloning bot didn’t save any information about the avatars it imitated, a similar libSL application, CopyBot, did. Intended by the group as an offline debugging tool, it existed in their site’s source code repository, and someone took advantage of the group’s open library to compile a version— and start selling it in-world. Several more people got into the CopyBot sales business.
And within a few days, as Talila Liu had predicted, CopyBot was savaging the community of Second Life content creators. But they did more than bitch about it
Vyrnox Ming typed in 13 command lines the other day, and the world changed. "I'm not counting the flicker function I made up," he amends, "but if I did, that'd be a whole 16." To be specific, a flock of multi-colored prims emerged from a nearby sphere, and within seconds, had whipped past us in all directions, flattening out and shifting in place, until they'd formed a giant cube. (Video here.)
And the thing of it was, none of this involved Second Life's build interface, because those 13 commands brought in data from the Web, and that's what did the work. Vyrnox calls this program Chisel, and he used it to create the cube's properties off-world, via the Web-- then at will, imported the data that into SL, where it rezzed immediately.
In a country once ravaged by war, tyranny, and poverty, a virtual niche emerges in the new world economy
The man behind the avatar known as "taelin Ng" begins his mornings
in District 8 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in the small apartment he shares
with his mother. He only lives with his mother, because taelin's other
parent died in the notorious re-education camps constructed in the wake of
To get to work, says Ng, "I ride bike, just like others." The
streets of Ho Chi Minh teem with mopeds, in numbers far eclipsing cars, or even
pedestrians; it's seemingly an entire city that transports itself on two
wheels, even if that means several people squeezing themselves onto a single
bike. (It's not uncommon to see an entire family of four or five on one
moped.) Like Ng, most of them are on
their motorbikes to get to work, because while the hourly wages are paltry (minimum
Swarms of moped-bound workers veer off toward garment and shoe factories, while other wheeled phalanxes make their way to semiconductor assembly plants, or to the docks where all those goods are loaded onto massive crates that are craned onto the mouths of behemoth cargo ships which, once engorged, lumber off to the ports of developed nations across the globe.
Not that Ng particularly likes the commute by motorbike. "I hate it," he tells me. "My butt hurts."
When he arrives at his office, his own role in the global economy is waiting for him on a glowing screen. Like many of his fellow citizens, Ng works at a factory that outsources goods and services to the developed world’s consumers at bargain rates. It’s just that his production line involves the assemblage of cubes and spheres into a miniature city of vaulting towers and glass domes that cut through the fog of a digital sky.
Meeting Starax in 2004...
Those who met Starax Statosky and saw the wonders he made, loved him. Especially those who held the wand he crafted in their hands, marveling at its ability to summon things like robed worshippers and falling cows from thin air with a single command. (He sold that device for thousands of Linden Dollars, but no one considered that price too high.) So when Starax's account unexpectedly dematerialized a few months ago-- taking his wand with him-- it caused not a little consternation, and quite a lot of wild speculation (as here, or here).
As it happens, Starax lives on in Second Life, albeit in another form, through an avatar he'd rather not reveal. I recently spoke with him in-world, and since he was reluctant to speak for the record, we passed a notecard back and forth, cobbling together a statement he was comfortable with sharing. In the end, it wasn't much, but here it is, an update in his own words:
An ambitious creative venture merges Japanese animation with immersive commerce...
"I haven't done anything but eat sleep breath and dream anime for the past 6 months," Neil Protagonist tells me, and I believe him. Neil's an accomplished particle effects artist, both in real life, where he's worked for a couple renowned computer game studios, and in Second Life, where he's brought his particular wizardry with smoke and fire to numerous projects, including the famed handguns of Francis Chung. But I hadn't heard from him for near a year, and a couple weeks ago, when he was ready to unveil the project he'd devoted so much time to in the interim, I found out why.
Nakama (direct portal here) is not just a tribute to Japanese animation, because it's an island that includes several sub-genres of the form, transitioning from one to another in a way that's jarring, delightful, and elegantly evocative, with multiple video billboards that fit the theme of each district (or ku) and ambient sound effects that establish a vividness of presence. (Somehow, despite the in-your-face coolness of a gutted building where an exposed power line casts sparks, or a bustling commercial district that instantly reminded me of a Katamari Damacy level, my favorite spot was, more modestly, a sun-drenched swimming pool where you can sit and listen to the crickets and the passing train.)
To get a sense of it, take this quick airborne tour through Kawaii Ku, several city blocks of cuteness, right into the futurist wasteland of Ayashii Ku:
(Musical accompaniment by Torley)
But just as fascinating from another perspective is the commercial model that Neil designed for Nakama. A look at that, and more of Protagonist's running commentary on Nakama, after the break.