Tuesday, July 08, 2014

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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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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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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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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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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