Monday, 23 November 2009

Leaving Opensim

Below is the text of the post I made to the OpenSim core-devs about my decision to leave the OpenSim project.

I have decided to leave the Opensim project. You will probably not even notice if I leave, as not being a programmer my only inputs were the writing of the step-by-step tutorials, the drafts of the OpenSim User Manual on the Forge, and helping out in the IRC channels, for newcomers. You may find my reasons for leaving Opensim interesting though (and please do not construe any of my reasons as an attack on anyone).

1. The Platform
I raised this several times in the past in IRC, and made posts on my blog about the product lifecycle of the platform. I believe that the platforms underpinning both Second Life and Opensim are quite long in the tooth now, and I questioned how much product lifecycle there was left, particularly given that Opensim is now nearing 3 years of development, is still in Alpha, and if the current release of 0.6.7 is any indicator, then still only around two thirds into the development cycle. With the (inevitable) coming of much superior platforms, such as Blue Mars (as a virtual world); and Unity, for browser-based Virtual Worlds; and now UDK (for creating sandboxes, standalones, and open grids), then I fear that Opensim has missed the boat as far as the remaining lifecycle of the platform is concerned. When you show people what is possible with these engines (for example this avatar editor for the forthcoming APB (using the Unreal Engine):  or this city  (using the CryEngine), then neither SL nor Opensim stands comparison.

2. Lack of Support for Currency in Opensim
I felt the impact of this when I first made the switch from SL to Opensim. I had a thriving RP sim in SL (over 50 people, mainly female) and they all agreed to follow me over to my Opensim and the OSGrid. However, within a month they had all left, citing the same reasons, the lack of places to shop to buy the quality stuff they wanted (skins, hair, clothes etc), as a quality appearance, and the fun of shopping is what all the females placed high on their requirements from a Virtual World. They drifted back to Second Life, and the guys followed them. I have always believed that the lack of support for currency in the core was a mistake, but that is just my opinion.

3. Marketing
I have also raised this issue several times, and blogged about it. It is far from clear just who an eventually released Opensim is actually aimed at. I think that any company that is interested in a firewalled corporate solution to collaboration and prototyping will already be looking at the Enterprise solution that is currently available from Second Life; that any indie group that is thinking of running a themed grid will need an economy to stay viable; and any individual who is looking for a private sandbox solution for their SL work will need full compatibility (which is not the case with the OS version of LSL diverging from the SL LSL). So, just who is the platform aimed at? I was also very disappointed in the view of one of the core devs who said that 'marketing is a null concept for us'.

I am currently designing and creating cities for Blue Mars, and involved in a team for proving the UDK as a platform for the design and creation of sandboxed or standalone Virtual Worlds (as opposed to purely games), and with so much documentation available for these mature engines (particularly for the UDK, Blue Mars lags behind somewhat in that department, but are working to put that right), I am achieving the productivity I want, building the worlds that I want, with stable crash-free platforms.

However, I do wish the Opensim team the very best in their endeavours, and I sincerely hope their goals are eventually achieved.

If anyone would like to take over the main Opensim Tutorials pages and the Additional Tutorials (they will need some updating following several changes) then I am more than willing to pass the posts over, and of course the Opensim User Manual is there in the Forge for anyone to develop further.

Best Regards and Good Luck

Friday, 13 November 2009

Diary: 13th November, 2009

Blue Mars Progress Painfully Slow
I have been stalled in my city creation for weeks now. This has been mainly due to a lack of information on scripting, vehicle editing, and understanding the differences between the editors. I see in the Developer Forum poor Takuan has been soldiering on, with little or no support, in trying to get to grips with Lua scripting. He must be very frustrated.

I hope more resources become available soon so I can resume my build.

UDK Development Making Good Progress
I have been working on a proof-of-concept virtual world development using the Unreal Development Kit I blogged about earlier. With another developer from Blue Mars and a modder named Ridders from the UDK forum, we have been conducting experiments to establish a net-wide interface to enable a server running a map or game to be accessed remotely by another client across the net. I am happy to report that these experiments have been successful, and remote connections are now possible, and understood. The need for experimentation is also due to the lack of good quality step-by-step documentation, but in general the wealth of documentation available to UDK modders is huge, compared to the documentation available for Blue Mars.

Here are some of the resources I have been using:

UDK General Features with much useful Info

UDK Getting Started 

UDK Content Creation

UDK Programming Home

UDK Documentation Forum

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Now the Unreal Engine 3 is Free

Epic Games, Inc. announces the launch of the Unreal Development Kit (UDK), a free edition of Unreal Engine 3 that provides community access to the award-winning toolset like never before. This software release is available to anyone interested in using 3D game engine technology, including game developers, students, hobbyists, researchers, creators of 3D visualizations and simulations, and digital filmmakers. Anyone can start working with the industry-leading Unreal Engine 3 toolset by downloading UDK at, where detailed product features, technical documentation, commercial licensing terms, support resources and more are also available.

An unprecedented milestone in game development, the release of UDK awards free access to the same world-class tools and technology used by many of the world’s best video game developers and publishers. Unreal Engine 3 is a constantly evolving game engine, and UDK contains all the most recently added features and technological enhancements, including many that have yet to be seen in an Unreal Engine game. Furthermore, Epic Games will release ongoing, upgraded builds of UDK for free.

There is no charge for noncommercial or educational use of UDK. Over 100 academic campuses currently use Unreal Technology as part of teaching game development-related courses, and colleges with plans to incorporate UDK into their curricula include the University of Pennsylvania, North Carolina State University, The Art Institute system of schools, Drexel University, Westwood College, DeVry University and Atlantic College, with many others to be announced.

Individuals and companies wishing to develop software for commercial purposes should refer to licensing terms at Commercial terms have been structured to make it easy for independent developers, start-up firms and seasoned professionals to use UDK with minimal financial barrier from concept to deployment. UDK is currently for PC use only, although console support is under consideration. Developers approved to make games for Xbox 360® and PLAYSTATION®3 may inquire for more information by emailing

Benefits of UDK include the following:
  • Immediate access to Unreal Engine 3, the critically acclaimed 3D game engine technology for cross-platform game development.
  • Easy content creation with the Unreal Editor, a fully integrated suite of top-tier development tools, which comes complete with:
    • Unreal Content Browser, a revolutionary tool for browsing, searching and organizing game assets with collaborative metadata tagging system.
    • UnrealScript object-oriented programming language and Unreal Kismet, a visual scripting system that enables rapid prototyping on the fly.
    • Unreal Matinee, a powerful tool with movie director-class controls for building in-game cinematics and gorgeous cut scenes.
    • Unreal Cascade, an advanced particle physics and environmental effects editor that aids the creation of fire, fog, explosions and other visuals.
    • NVIDIA® PhysX®-powered physics system with Unreal PhAT visual modeling tool for creating character and object physics rigs.
    • Unreal Lightmass, a global illumination system that dramatically lights and shadows with minimal effort required by artists and designers.
    • AnimSet Viewer and AnimTree Editor, which give animators precise control over every muscle and bone movement.
  • Time saved thanks to technology integrations with leading game development middleware tools including SpeedTree®, Bink Video®, and FaceFX®.
  • Output of standalone applications: Games created with UDK run entirely on their own with no additional software required. This means anyone can make UDK content and distribute it for free.
“I’m excited about the possibilities the Unreal Development Kit opens to those who are looking to get into the game business but don’t otherwise have the means to acquire world-class technology and tools like ours,” said Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games. “UDK is Unreal Engine 3, which has been used to create games in a wide range of genres, as well as military simulations, 3D architectural walkthroughs, animated movies and more. Users are only limited by their imaginations. Go ahead make something Unreal!”

Psyonix Studios (, a game studio based in San Diego, Calif., created the first proof-of-concept game using UDK in less than two months using a two-man team of one artist and one programmer. “Whizzle” is a downloadable vertical scroller in which players swim through underwater levels as an adorable sea creature that collects items and frees allies from captivity. To read more about “Whizzle,” view the developer diary video, or download technical documentation, visit

Until now, noncommercial access to the Unreal Engine 3 toolset has been available only through the PC versions of games such as Epic’s “Unreal Tournament 3” and “Gears of War” games. Users made new game experiences, called modifications or “mods,” by changing existing game assets or creating original content through the Unreal Editor tools that ship with every game copy. Many of these mods have been showcased through the $1 Million Intel Make Something Unreal Contest (, which awards over $1 million in cash and prizes to aspiring game developers.  While mods require running the original game for interaction with user-created content, UDK provides a standalone experience every time, meaning a smaller digital footprint and no additional software requirements.

“The Ball,” an award-winning “Unreal Tournament 3” mod by Toltec Studios (, is available now as a free UDK-powered download at Anyone authoring mods for Epic’s PC games can port their original content over to UDK.

Support for UDK includes over 200 pages of newly unlocked documentation at the Unreal Developer Network (, dedicated forums (, as well as other resources available through the UDK web site, 3D Buzz also hosts hundreds of free video tutorials for using Unreal Engine 3 technology at

Furthermore, Sams Publishing and 3D Buzz recently published two definitive guides for learning the Unreal Engine toolset, “Mastering Unreal Technology, Volume I: Introduction to Level Design with Unreal Engine 3” and “Mastering Unreal Technology, Volume II: Advanced Level Design Concepts with Unreal Engine 3.” Both books are bundled with a free, downloadable copy of “Unreal Tournament 3” for PC.

About Unreal Engine 3
The award-winning Unreal Engine is known for cutting-edge graphics and its best-of-breed toolset. Unreal Engine 3 maintains those features in addition to multi-core processor support, Xbox 360® and PLAYSTATION®3 optimizations, massive world support, and a highly mature tool pipeline. Unreal Engine 3's consistently evolving toolset is designed to accelerate developers' productivity for PC and console games, visualization applications, training simulations, and linear animated content. Additional information on Unreal Engine can be obtained through the Unreal Technology Web site at

About Epic Games
Epic Games, Inc., based in Cary, NC and established in 1991, develops cutting-edge games and cross-platform game engine technology. The company has created multiple million-selling, award-winning titles in its “Unreal” series, including “Unreal Tournament 3” for PC, PLAYSTATION®3 and Xbox 360®. Epic’s “Gears of War” won over 30 Game of the Year awards, and the sales of "Gears of War" and “Gears of War 2” have eclipsed 11 million units. Epic's Unreal Engine 3 is the three-time consecutive winner of Game Developer magazine’s Best Engine Front Line Award and is this year's Hall of Fame inductee. Unreal Engine 3 has also been recognized as the number one game engine by Develop magazine. Additional information about Epic can be obtained through the Epic Games Web site at

© 2009, Epic Games, Inc. Epic, Epic Games, Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Unreal, AnimSet Viewer, AnimTree Editor, Unreal Cascade, Unreal Content Browser, Unreal Development Kit, Unreal Editor, Unreal Engine, Unreal Kismet, Unreal Lightmass, Unreal Matinee, Unreal PhAT, UnrealScript and Unreal Tournament are trademarks or registered trademarks of Epic Games, Inc. in the United States of America and elsewhere.  All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
Thursday, 5 November 2009

Codename: Nebraska

Yesterday, November 4th, 11:15 am - 12:00 pm PST, Doug Thompson (Dusan Writer in Second Life) moderated a mixed-reality panel at Enterprise 2.0 in San Francisco and Metanomics inworld with:
  • Mark Kingdon, Linden Lab's CEO, 
  • Neil Katz, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Director IBM Virtual Spaces, CIO Office Innovation Initiatives, 
  • Steve Aguiar, Program Manager at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center's (NUWC's) Metaverse Strategic Initiative,
  • Douglas Maxwell, Program Technology Lead also at NUWC's Metaverse Strategic Initiative.

Mark Kingdon

Mark Kingdon, CEO of Linden Lab, unveiled “Nebraska”, the LL code-name for a stand-alone solution based on the technology that runs the popular Second Life virtual world. “Nebraska” is the much-anticipated behind-the-firewall solution which allows enterprises to host their own virtual world environments within their organizations, which was first introduced back in April.

Mark spoke about the benefits of the platform, the intended audience, and how it fits into the broader challenges and opportunities of “enterprise 2.0”. Mark was joined by a number of customers who had used Nebraska during the closed beta phase of development.

Nebraska consists of two rack-mounted servers, hosting two software packages: a world server and a voice server, which can be installed on an enterprise's network, and as it does not have to stream all the content that LL normally streams for Second Life, it is blazingly fast. Similar to the standalone version of Opensim, but much more polished.

The avatars in Nebraska are all 'suits', with none of the Pamela Anderson and Professional Wrestling lookalikes that seem to predominently populate Second Life. The package supports up to 800 avatars over 8 regions, each of which can be turned off, and replaced with another using a different theme. So, you could have training regions one week, then replace the regions with conference and show regions the next, saving to, and loading from, the region inventory at will.

But how much does all this cost? Well, the mooted price is US$55,000, plus US$14,000/year in fees, which should bring a big sigh of  relief to the open-source Opensim community.

Nebraska is aimed at providing enterprises with a SL-looking virtual space for their corporate activities, without the seedy association of SL itself.

In addition to Nebraska, Mark also introduced the Work Marketplace, where corporate customers could download ready-made regions, providing solutions for virtual conferences, events, exhibitions, training, marketing, etc., and a selection of business and work-related avatars, office suites, and much more, for their Nebraska customers, under a site license.

It remains to be seen whether this is a major new direction for Linden Labs.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Unity now for Free & FriendsHangout

Early in 2009 I mentioned the recent trend in Virtual World design that required little or no downloads, and where all content was streamed directly to your browser (basically, if you can watch streamed movies on your PC you can use streamed games and virtual worlds). As we approach the end of 2009 one company stands out as the leader of this trend, Unity Technologies.

The Unity software allows anyone, with no programming experience whatsoever, to quickly develop games and virtual worlds, that can be run in a browser, using simple drag and drop tools. A player can start a game or visit a world on their home PC, then continue on the move via their mobile phone!

Up until recently, the Unity software came in two main flavours: Unity Pro, at US$1,499 and a cut-down version, Unity Indie, at US$200. That has now changed. Unity Indie has now been renamed to simply 'Unity' and is now available at zero cost, while still allowing the user to create commercial applications. The main restriction between Unity and Unity Pro is that Unity is limited to a maximum of 20 avatars per 'world', which is ample for most applications. Unity is available in both Windows and Mac versions, and versions are also available for creating applications for both the iPhone and the Wii.

The Unity download comes complete with a simple but powerful Editor, and a sample project, Tropical Paradise, which is available to browse, along with other projects in Live Demo format on the Unity website.

Models and objects for your world can be created in almost all current 3d applications. A list of 3d formats, image formats, video and audio formats supported is available on the Unity Asset Importing page.

Of course, once you have created a virtual world you will need to host it so your customers/friends can access it through their browsers. Hosting can be on a dedicated server, a Virtual Private Server, or even on your home PC if your upload speed is fast enough. So, what do you do if your ISP does not quote your upload speed? The answer is - you measure it. Use one of the internet connection speed measurement services. The one I like best is SpeedTest.NET Just select the recommended server to test with (click on the yellow pyramid), and it will measure first your download speed, then your upload speed. My upload speed is 1Mb/sec and it handled myself and a visiting friend with no problem at all. I did not check how many avatars 1Mb/sec could handle (but hey, you have to have something to check yourself, right?).

Many Games, 3d Chat Rooms and Virtual Worlds have been built now using Unity, and  one such company that provides over 4000 chatrooms, virtual worlds, and custom 3D worlds, using Unity, is FriendsHangout (terrible, unimaginative name, I know). You select the World you wish to visit from a rotating set of destinations boards (think Blue Mars Destination Island here, but rotating).

 There are no facilities for creating objects in FriendsHangout (that privilege is reserved for the creator of the world), but if you are looking to update your avatar, you will find clothing and animations to bring your character to life in your own custom style.

You can also create your own custom chat room and virtual world and buy furniture and various props to add your own design to each and every item in their catalogue.

Give it a try.