November 29, 2008

Building a box

I'm cooperating on a product with my friend Rika Watanabe at the moment. It is a server appliance for a specific task in SL, and the first development versions were located in your run-of-the-mill plywood boxes. As the project become more advanced, we figured it needs to be in some sort 19" server rack. I had a texture for this ready, and in fact it started to look more professional. But at the same time boring, and too possible-in-real-life. A further complication came as the device is used to rez objects, and due to technical limitations, the objects get rezzed at its center before being moved to their location.

Thinking a bit outside the box, and a bit not-possible-in-real-life, we gathered a hollow cube would be best for this. So I started to build a hollow box, and soon it became obvious this will be a "microwave on steroids". I used a technique called "baking textures" in my RL-3D application, and developed a very sci-fi like cube. Some subtle glow effects, and some equally subtle particle effects by Rika, and voilá - a very SL like version of a cube.

November 18, 2008

Two essential HUD's for shopping in SL

Within the course of a few days I came across two HUD's that will have quite an impact on shopping in SL. Funny enough the first of them, CAMsync, is almost exactly what I brainstormed about myself a few weeks ago. The other one, Treasure Hunt Radar, is certainly controversial.

CAMsync, by Lalwende Leakey, 390 L$
I am a walking-shopper. When I enter a shop I like to stroll around, walk to each display and look. Most of my friends are camming-shoppers. They root themselves somewhere in the entrance of the shop and cam around to look at the displays. Typical conversations go like this:
Them: Do you see the one with white?
Me: Which one?
Them: Over there, next to the one in yellow.
Me: On the floor we are on?
Them: Dunno, but there is a blue next to it.

It drives me CRAZY! Enter CAMsync - this clever HUD consist of a Master and a Slave HUD. You give the Slave to a friend and both HUD's will synchronize. And then your friend sees exactly the same thing you see as well. And with a click on the Master or Slave button you can swap control over the camera. The synchronization of the cameras can be stopped anytime and works within the whole sim - the avatars can be as far away as possible.
The HUD costs 390 L$ - an extensive feature description and a SLURL to the shop can be found here. Also on XStreetSL.

Treasure Hunt Radar, by Rika Watanabe, 99 L$
My girlfriend Skinkie introduced me to the suspense of treasure hunts, and since we are together I must have participated in countless hunts. Skinkie is a very skilled hunter, but even though I find the odd item, I am rather hopeless in this. Still I enjoy doing hunts, and seeing new shops and content creators, and more often then not I use the opportunity to buy items.

For the unskilled hunter like myself, Rika Watanabe has developed the Treasure Hunt HUD. You need to find at least one treasure yourself, then you feed the HUD with the name of the treasure. From then on, you simply stroll through the shop and look around, and whenever a treasure comes within scanning range, the HUD will make a sound and list the treasure in its hovertext. A simple click on the "Zoom" icon, and your camera is conveniently zoomed onto the object. More information can be found here. Also on XStreetSL.

A lot of people - among them Skinkie as well - may see this as cheating. Admittedly, it makes finding treasures very easy. While certainly a lot of people will use a HUD like this (and "object finders" are as old as hunts are) to drop in, grab the treasures and leave again, people like myself will see it as a welcome help, so I can focus more on the shop itself, and the merchandise offered while casually collecting the treasures. Or find those blasted last 3 treasures I did not find the regular way. Then again there are many content creators who set their hunt items on sale for 1 L$ and get a significant revenue from them. In those cases, the HUD actually helps increase their revenue. It all boils down to the individual user. If you are inclined to spend money, you will do so with or without HUD. If you are not inclined to, you will not - regardless if you use the HUD or not.

November 17, 2008

It's a man's world. Not.

My friend Quaintly participated in the recent Blogger's Mix'n'Match as well and got the topic to investigate into ways of "keeping new male residents engaged in SL". Gender roles in SL have always been a topic close to my heart, so I more than willing gave her detailed feedback to her minisurvey. However due to the space constraints of the mix and match she could not get too much into detail, so - in accordance with her - I publish my full answers to her survey here:

1. How did you first hear/get into Second Life?

I am an avid read of the gadget/technology/lifestyle/humour blog Throughout the course of 2006 there were a lot of articles about SL, especially about the events like concerts and lectures held in SL. When I first downloaded the client, membership came at a fee which I was not prepared to pay. In late 2006 I made a second attempt and subscribed. By that time I was much involved with industrial grade 3D development, so I also had a professional interest in SL.

2. What made you stay?

My first attempt at building was dreadful (I wish I had been more persistent back then), as I was used much better tools from my RL 3D application. I early was dragged into the BDSM subculture in which I only had a marginal interest. Both was a rather sobering experience. What made me stay where the friendships I found, and the interesting people I found mostly via their blogs.

3. How long have you been in SL?

A little over 2 years now.

4. When a resident first joins SL, everything is fascinating and new. Based on your own experience, do you think a male resident is more or less likely to remain in SL after this initial introduction period, compared to a female? Please explain your answer.

A male is less likely to stay. SL is more of a social platform than a game. In fact SL is not a game at all. It lives from social interactions between the residents, from forming relations, networks,
friendships and bonds. Males are usually not good in this. They want challenges, tasks and goals - all this is not apparent in SL. You need to find your own purpose in SL, make your own goals, find your own tasks. This makes SL less attractive compared to a kill-all-enemies-grab-all-gold type of game.

A second aspect is that SL is a very feminine world. Fashion and fashion related things take up a huge portion. Where a female resident can immediately relate to - dressing up dolls - male residents have a hard time. Not only are the offers for male residents spares, they also are likely to get into the stereotypes of Conan the Barbarian and thus ridicule themselves.

5. What might "encourage" a male resident to want to stay in SL?

I think a better appearance from the start might be a good encouragement, as male residents feel set back by the mostly ridiculous choices the get born with. As silly as it may sound, the lack of a male genital is also discouraging, as it is an important part for a male, and its not being there - not even as an option - feels like an injustice an disadvantage. With respect to the more prude new residents, a checkbox during signup whether the avatar should receive a genital or not might be good.

Finally, new male residents need a challenge, a purpose. Making the orientation station a kind of challenging game with a reward (L$ or equipment) might make a much better introduction. Also sending males to "typically male" locations (space/sci-fi, cars, weapons/combat) might be good. This void is filled by the SL red light district and is part for the bad reputation of SL. I would think that male residents who get involved in an immersive roleplay (post-apocalyptic or medieval/fantasy) early on are much more likely to stay than residents who get dumped into fashion- or striptease malls.

6. What kind of resources do you feel are lacking in-world for male residents compared to female residents?

Apart from what I said above, the mis-ratio between good female clothing and good male clothing is a big issue. Also goal driven activities. Its a stereotype, but give each new male resident a fishing rod and a shotgun, fill the Linden seas with fish and the forests with deer, reward each trophy with 1 L$ or status points or gadgets, and the crucial first days and weeks pass easier.

7. Do you feel that SL should be marketed differently to males and females? Please explain your answer.

Definitely, and I answered this in the questions above though. For women, SL is a natural environment of communication, networking, bonding and fashion. For males it is an alien place. Market the explorative aspects to the guys, the building, the gadgets, the programming, the geekiness. Maybe even market the sex appeal to them.

8. Have you ever had a female alt? Why or why not?

I have control over 3 female store alts, but they are strictly tied to a function and do not socialize (or if they do, the people know about them). I was tempted a lot to create a female alt and use it under disguise. Ultimately however it would mean I would deceive someone, most likely someone who I get close with, and I don't want to do this.

November 12, 2008

Noobish SL experience through present

[This is a guest blog post as the result of the Blogger's Mix and Match challenge. It is written by Ari Blackthorne of - the topic got suggested by Zoe Connolly of aviatrix Zoe Connolly.]

I have always been interested and dabbled in photography, moving-making, sound design and the like since i can remember. Then along came the pernosal computer and I was hooked. I've owned many varients, including the Amiga.

At the time, to me, Amiga was absolutely the best platform because of it's power at three-dimentional modelling and ray-tracing abilities. The demise of the Amiga and other systems is a story for some other time, or better yet, the WIKIPEDIA.

Suffice it to say that I have been modelling in 3D and ray tracing since my first application on the Amiga, called 3D Studio, circa 1988 or so. I've been following the 3D modelling and creation business ever since.

The 3D gaming scene caught my interest with the start of "Unreal". Not so much for the gaming aspect as for the graphics artwork created. I found myself more in-tune with creating worlds and maps for Unreal.

Then, on spring of 2006, I was subscribed to a podcast that was about movie production. And one episode covered machinima and what it is. In that episode, they featured Second Life as a large platform for the creation of machinima and i had to take a look.

My first hour in SL was not the typical experience most might have. Yes, I was a newbie, but with a 3D mindset, in awe of what I was seeing,, even though I didn't know I could actually do anything yet. My first week was simply exploring, looking at all the builds.

Then I discovered how there really is no purpose to SL, other than as a social thing. So I did as most newbies do: I mapped the bundles of dot and TP's my way around. ventually making a few friends. And thus, my SL adventure started.

The first things on my mind, for about the first two months or so had mostly to do with simply exploring, makeing friends and seeing everything that was out there.I had no agenda or particualr crave for anything. In fact, I went to classes back then, to learn the building tools and tricks of buying things and basically learning all things Second Life viewer.

It wasn't until about four or five months into it before I started frequenty the seedier side of SL. That brothels and sex orgy clubs and so on. I rand around the BDSM locations and usually laughed. But hey, I figured, SL is the great experiement. not only for Linden lab, but also for the people using Second Life.

I also frequented the 'child play' cultures. I wanted to see what's up. i learned a lot and I made some friends. They really are just in it for the fun. The whole ageplay fiasco has nothing to do with them, but unfortunately, most people live on knee-jerk emotionalism.

I peeked in at other areas of the world - art, vampire cutlures, BDSM, Gor and so one. I never really got into any sort of role playing. Even when i got my first full-sized dragon avatar (that was a nightmare I'll write about sometime) - I still wasn't much into role playing.

I eventually bought a sim. It was and is relatively successful. I don;t know why i did it - I don;t even try to make any kind of profit from it. I guess it's just fun providing for other people because i'm able to do it. Nothing more than that.

I do now role play. I role play in the Gorean community and before you go rolling your eyes, please - at least read the books and you'll see it's nothing at all like you've heard about.

Now, I spend my time running a role-playing sim and dealing with drama. In the two-plus years in Sl, the "magic" is definately gone. I come into Second Life for the people I know, not Second Life's wonderful worlds. It really is become just a fancy social hangout to meet and be with people you know.

In a nutchell: Second Life was utterly magical and exciting. Thrilling. Uplifting. And now that I have been here a while, all the skeletons are plain to see. The drama, the accusations of I.P. theft, the strife and tribulations that go on among the resdients. The constant controversies.

It really is a different world. It's a lot like real life in fast-motion:

You see the world with wonder and beauty as a child. And as you grow, and gain knowledge and experience, suddenly that same world is full of deceit, danger, and headache.

But I still come don't I?

Don't you?

Ari Blackthorne and

November 01, 2008

The truth about temporary prims - a fun experiment

In the recent discussion about OpenSpace/Void sims, one argument heard often is that people abuse these kind of sims with so-called "temprezzers". There are several extra attributes a prim can have:
  • Physical: the prim gets affected by gravity and impacts with other prims
  • Phantom: the prim can be permeated by other prims abd avatars
  • Temporary: the prim will get deleted without trace after a short while
Temporary prims do get counted on the parcels primcount, but do not get limited by the parcels prim limit. So if a parcel has a prim capacity of 400 prims, you can still have temporary prims exceeding this limit.

The main intended use for temporary prims is to have an object rez props that are only needed for a short time. Many of you have seen palmtrees where every now and then a coconut falls out. The coconut is usually a temporary (and physical) prim, so it vanishes by itself after a short time without littering the parcel and without the need to manually clear it up. Another use for temporary prims are projectiles from weapons like arrows or bullets - again not caring about the parcels prim allotment and not needing to clean up are the main reasons.

However due do the tight prim economy, a second use for temporary prims was found, the so called "temprezzers". A temprezzer consists of a 1-prim base of a regular prim, and then rezzes a complex object (a tree, a yacuzi, a boat - you name it) as a temporary object. As soon as this object gets cleaned up by the simulaor, the temprezzer rezzes a new instance of it. With a temprezzer it is easy to rez way more objects than the parcel prim allotment would otherwise allow.

Now where do these extram prims come from? A full sim has a prim limit of 15000 prims, an OpenSpace/Void sim has a prim limit of 3750 prims. My understanding so far was that a temprezzer "loans" (other people say "steals") free prims from the sim's prim allotment. So if the sim has 14000 of the 15000 prims used, a temprezzer could use a maximum of 1000 prims until it meets the hard limit of the sim's prim allotment.
SL artist and blogger Raul Crimson has a different opinion. He claims that there is an unlimited amount of temporary prims (very much like there is an unlimited amount of prims avatars can have attached to themselves regardless how full the sim is), and that this is one of the problems encountered with OpenSpace abuse.

Time for a test, it seems. Together with Ivanova we logged into the Beta Grid and found an empty sandbox with 15000 prims available. The next question was how to rez 15000 prims. Ivanova experimented a bit with self replicating prims, and we were discussing how a "kill switch" could be implemented since 150000 channel listeners would probably lag a sim down to a halt. Recursive rezzing however proved to be quite mind boggling, and while she still had her head in the script, I started to rez and duplicate cubes. It turned out that by always doubling rezzed cubes, fairly quickly I was able to have piles of 2048 prims so the prim allotment could be used quickly.

Finally we had 14999 prims rezzed and therefore only 1 prim available. The last remaining prim we turned temporary, and then there were two options:
  1. We would not be able to duplicate a second temporary prim (the 15001 on the sim), thus proving me right and Raul wrong.
  2. We would be able to rez more than 15000 prims using temporary prims, thus proving Raul right.
With some suspense, I selected Edit on the temporary prim, and shift-dragged it in order to produce a copy. And to my huge surprise, I was able to make a copy thus having effectively 15001 prims on the sim.
However what was strange is that I could not shift-drag two temporary prims in order to go to 15003 prims. I could make many many surplus prims by shift-dragging a single temporary prim, but I was not able to create bulks of temporary prims. Further investigation would be needed how this affects temprezzers. But fact is: you can have more than 15000 prims on a full sim.

It is interesting to note that the 15000 prims produced quite some lag. Especially mass editing huge piles of prims slowed down operation significantly, not only getting the prims into edit mode, but especially moving and duplicating them. After Ivanova has left, I took on the task to clean up the sandbox (I did not want to have 15000 prims returned to my Lost+Found). So I thought it would be a neat idea to turn them physical (and temporary).

The effect was kind of neat, the piles collapsing in slow motion like in a Matrix movie, with cubes even get propelled away in slo-mo, however the lag was pretty severe. Still, it was fun.

I was pretty surprised that you can in fact exceed a sim's prim allotment with temporary prims. While I considered temprezzers up to now - dependng on their use - as unfair to the sim neighbours as it "steals" their prims, I can see now that they might even pose a real problem by exceeding simulator limits multiple times. However, further investigation is needed. Still the experiment was a lot of fun.