Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Is Linden Labs in Self-Destruct Mode?

 Following Linden Lab's internal restructuring which saw it lose 30% of its staff, and the recent decision to close the Teen Grid, with little or no consultation, they are now about to abandon discounts for Educational and Non-Profit (EDNP) organisations from the 1st January, 2011.

Will there be an exodus of a large number of EDNP organisations after the 1st January? I think so.

Currently EDNPs pay US$147.50 per month for their Maintenance Fee. All renewals after the 1st January will be invoiced at the standard rate for Private Regions, i.e. at US$295, or double their current rate. Here are a selection of some of the responses to this news:
Oh dear, this is very bad news. Budgets for educators are often set well in advance and in some cases very fixed even looking across a grant period of some years. In our case I have just negotiated funds to renew some of our regions from 12 months from now, so changes on a short time scale that double prices are quite a shock. In one case I have funding fixed for 2years out too.
Ai Austin
As one of your Educational customers I am furious! Fiscal Year Budget planning and approval happens in Aug-Sept for most Universities then you make an announcement like this in Oct!! I just had my budget approved 2 weeks ago and now I gotta go beg my superiors to approve an increase to the budget despite budgets being cut on every level of the University due to the economy. All of our sims exceed the maxium capabilities of Homesteads and OpenSpaces so there's no way we could use them.
Ron Ghostaltar
Doubling the price of regions for nonprofit and educational use strikes me as a really bad idea. Do we really need a mass exodus of these important members of the Second Life community at this time?
Shirley Marquez
I'd say that about 75% of all educational or non-profit organizations will leave next year.
Yuukie Onmura
Ah well Linden you have finally made the decision that tips the balance for us.  I have been hanging on in SL as I still truly believe in the value of the educational community that has been built here but over the last few months it has become increasingly difficult to justify not moving to OpenSim.  This however will be the final straw as I see no way that my institution will be able to justify paying double the price for our two islands. Fortunately we still have until Aug 2011 but I suspect we will be long gone by then!
Arwenna Stardust
Of course, some may abandon their Virtual campuses altogether rather than face a doubling of their invoices, but if there is to be an exodus there has to be somewhere for them to move to. So just where is the Promised Land for EDNPs?

The obvious alternative is any of the worlds built using Opensim, the Second Life open-source clone, which will give them the same look and feel as their current regions, and allow them to use the same viewer. However, one of the prime considerations for EDNPs is to avoid having to live cheek by jowl with some of the more 'adult' activities that go on in these virtual worlds.

Fortunately, several Opensim-based grids have sprung up that cater exclusively for the EDNP communities.

Cybergrid is a German language grid for young people of 12-17, and consists of 5 regions with over 500 registered uers. It is the Homeland of Cyberland-Jugendcommunity, netzcheckers, and netbridge. Regions cost €120 setup fee, and €40/month maintenance fee.


The jokaydiaGrid Project has a number of aims including:
  • Exploring ways to ‘multi-grid’ – eg. creating strategies, techniques and best practices for creating presence across a range of virtual worlds, and learning how to best use each environment for and to its best advantage
  • Engaging kids in our virtual worlds adventures – the jokaydiaGrid gives us the freedom to create a PG environment which is much more viable for k-12 educational use
  • Learning about Opensimulator – we are excited to be joining the opensource virtual worlds community and look forward to both learning about and contributing to the development of opensource virtual worlds options for education
  • Developing new 3D educational resources – Leveraging off the flexibility available to us on the opensim platform for public and private delivery (without the scary pricetag!)
  • … and most importantly t0 Play! We aim to continue to create a community that learns, inspires, explores and shares.
Regions on the ojokadiaGrid cost $50.00au setup fee + $25.00au per month.

ReactionGrid Inc. is a 3D world development company with offices in Orlando FL and Boston MA.  Their focus is educational, business and entertainment use of  3D environments.  Similar to a modern video game but oriented towards return on investment whether that is time saved, data visualized, or collaboration sessions for training or communications. 

Their clients range from Fortune 100 firms like Microsoft, IBM, Raytheon, Siemens, to government entities like the Veterans Administration to institutions like Boston College, Future University Japan, Hong Kong Polytechnic, University Autonomous Mexico and more.

ReactionGrid Inc. hosts and develops virtual worlds, and provides products that enable you to express your 3D ideas and share them with your colleagues, peers, and community. We deliver our systems virtualized on a platform we call Harmony.

They are able to deliver templated virtual worlds for specific industry and use cases both in the cloud on their hosted servers and firewalled. They make sure your system is setup quickly and support your project needs as you grow.

Because of ReactionGrid's firewalled solutions, all the grids they host (and an example is  the jokaydiaGrid above) can enjoy security and privacy, and is thus ideal for hosting Educational Projects.

ReactionGrid has a range of prices for Regions, starting from just $75, full details here.

The goal of ScienceSim is to enable new usages in education and visualization through the construction of persistent 3D spaces build and deployed by a federation of organizations and users.

To accomplish the goal, they propose to create a foundation with three objectives:
  • Maintain a stable distribution of the OpenSim 3D application platform
  • Document best practices for the use of OpenSim in science and education
  • Provide content and applications to support those best practices
 They propose to establish the foundation in two stages. The first is an interim stage focused on developing a stable release of the OpenSim code base. The second stage creates the full foundation structure.

ScienceSim is primarily a grid, i.e. it is mainly used by EDNPs that have their own Opensim-based world on their own PC or server, and would like it to be connected to a grid of other like-minded worlds.  Currently, ScienceSim provide their grid services free of charge.

Getting Help
For  EDNPs who need help in migrating from Second Life to another grid they may wish to consider the services of  Firesabre a company that specialises in this type of work.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Haptics: The Next Big Thing for Virtual Worlds?

Some recent advances give us a clue what might next be in store for Virtual World and 3D Virtual gaming development in the not too-distant future, and they all centre around Haptics, the tactile feedback technology that applies forces, vibrations, mild electric shocks,  and/or motions to the user, to simulate the sense of touch. Here are some examples of the direction Haptic Technology has gone in recently.

The Holodeck
Fans of Star Trek will be quite familiar with the holodeck, depicted as an enclosed room in which objects and people are simulated by a combination of replicated matter, tractor beams, and shaped force fields onto which holographic images are projected, so the user appears to be in a nightclub, an alien world, their home planet, etc. Now, replicated matter, tractor beams and shaped force fields may be definitely science fiction, for now, but holographic images that can be touched are no longer in that realm, as of now, they are science fact.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo demonstrated the principles of Touchable Holography at the SIGGRAPH2009  exhibition in New Orleans last August. As they said at the time:

Recently, mid-air displays are attracting a lot of attention in the fields of digital signage and home TV, and many types of holographic displays have been proposed and developed. Although we can "see" holograhpic images as if they are really floating in front of us, we cannot "touch" them, because they are nothing but light.

This project adds tactile feedback to the hovering image in 3D free space. Tactile sensation requires contact with objects, but including a stimulator in the work space dilutes the appearance of holographic images. The Airborne Ultrasound Tactile Display solves this problem by producing tactile sensation on a user's hand without any direct contact and without diluting the quality of the holographic projection.
By using a non-linear property of ultrasound, called acoustic radiation pressure, the researchers were able to replicate the sensation of touch when a user placed his hand beneath a holographic ball, and even produced the sensation of splashes when a hand was placed beneath holographic raindrops. They really did feel like they were splashing onto the user's hand.

I think I know where this technology will head to. How long before the first holographic boyfriend or girlfriend makes its debut, 1 year, 2 years?

Transparent Touch Screens
Remember those amazing touchable computer graphics on glass screens in the hit movie Avatar last year? Science fact caught up with that science fiction with indecent haste. Before the end of the year Intel were demonstrating such a screen at CES 2009. This amazing screen, powered by the i7 processor, was capable of rendering almost 1 million polygons in real time.

I want one! Make that 2!

Touch Screens that Touch Back
One of the leading pioneers of haptics is the Russian scientist Dr Ivan Poupyrev, currently senior researcher at Disney Research Labs. In an article carried by the BBC last week he explained that:

The basic goal of the technology we are developing at Disney is to create a perception of texture - to let people 'feel' objects on screen by stroking them with their fingers.

We do this by applying a high voltage to a transparent electrode on the glass plate - in this case people will feel a texture on the glass. By varying the frequency and amplitude of the signal we can create different sensations.

The results can recreate the feeling of paper or a textile, simulate the smoothness of glass and even the roughness of sand paper.
While the aim of the current research is more focussed on handheld mobile devices, the scope for this technology in larger PC screens has not gone un-noticed.

Another leading light in this field is Esterline Technologies that are already offering vibration feedback technology to the medical, defense, and gaming industries, enabling display screens to give the sensation of touching back when pressed.

The advances in this industry never cease to amaze me.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

IllFonic Licenses CryEngine3 for Futuristic Arena First-Person Shooter

Denver, CO USA / Frankfurt, Germany – July 13th, 2010: Crytek GmbH (“Crytek”) and IllFonic, LLC announced today that IllFonic has licensed CryENGINE 3 for Nexuiz, their upcoming XBLA and PSN cult futuristic Arena First-Person Shooter dropping this Winter. CryENGINE®3 has allowed the IllFonic development team to achieve their vision for Nexuiz that will push the limits of what gamers can expect from an AAA digital downloadable title.

“IllFonic firmly believes in bringing the consumer the highest quality games at an affordable price through downloadable distribution channels”, said Charles Brungardt, President of IllFonic. “Switching to CryENGINE 3 has helped us stay true to our vision and build the Nexuiz arenas the way we see it without any limitations. We are incredibly proud that Nexuiz will be the first downloadable title developed on CryENGINE 3.”

"We’re delighted to have Illfonic join our community of licensees”, said Carl Jones, Director of CryENGINE Global Business Development. “It’s exciting to see a passionate group like Kedhrin and Charles’ team working with CryENGINE 3 on such a cool title. Nexuiz is going to deliver a game style that will be a blast for the console audience, matched with the best graphics possible on the consoles. We’re delighted to offer our engine to teams for XBLA and PSN titles so that gamers can enjoy the quality that CryENGINE 3 can provide, as soon as possible. Our real-time multiplatform pipeline, Live Create, is highly suited to prototyping and delivering quality for games with shorter development cycles; and you get all the benefits of the AAA features of the engine. Nexuiz is going to be a lot of fun and we’re glad Illfonic have chosen CryENGINE 3 to deliver it in style.”

"When we were strolling around GDC 2010's floor we stopped by the Crytek booth. I watched someone show off a few features of CryENGINE 3. Right then and there, I knew I had to have it. It's powerful, fast and easy to use,” said Kedhrin Gonzalez, Creative Director of IllFonic. “Crytek has been awesome to work with providing excellent support in a relationship that has really benefited us."

Nexuiz is a fast paced Arena first-person shooter with competitive game play built specifically for consoles. Featuring the innovative mutator system, players progress through the ranks opening up new mutators that allow players to alter the rules for each match. On launch, Nexuiz will feature multiplayer modes including Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag complete with full competitive leader boards designed for social networking. New games modes, models, and maps will be available as downloadable content post launch.

Nexuiz is set in a galactic war fueled for centuries by the Kavussari and Forsellians. Over time the two races entered into treaties with the Herald Accord, a union between different cultures in the galaxy. Even though peace settled across their planets, the seething hatred between the races kept the fire of war simmering under the fragile truce. Sensing their newest members could spread war throughout the galaxy; the Herald Accord gave the Kavussari and Forsellians a choice. Pit their warriors against each other in the arena rather than on the fields of war, or face total annihilation. The Nexuiz was formed, a series of battle arenas on the home planets of the Kavussari, Forsellian and the desolate planet of Atavirta.

IllFonic will be showcasing Nexuiz using CryENGINE 3 at this year’s PAX Prime in Seattle, WA, on September 3-5.

For more information on Nexuiz, go to www.nexuiz.com or www.illfonic.com.

About IllFonic:

IllFonic, LLC, was founded in 2007 by musician Raphael Saadiq, engineer Chuck Brungardt, and game designer Kedhrin Gonzalez. IllFonic is committed to delivering AAA games digitally to consoles and PC at an affordable price. IllFonic utilizes many avenues in pop culture to cross brand its products in film, television, sports, music, and clothing. With offices in Los Angeles and Denver, IllFonic has built a team of artists, developers, producers, and musicians that believe providing fun game-play means conveying the highest level of visual awe, an immersive environment and a sick soundtrack. For more information on the company, go to www.illfonic.com.

About Crytek:

Crytek GmbH ("Crytek") is one of the world’s leading independent development studios for interactive entertainment. It is based in Frankfurt am Main (Germany) and has additional studios in Kiev (Ukraine), Budapest (Hungary), Sofia (Bulgaria), Seoul (South Korea) and Nottingham (UK). Crytek is dedicated to creating exceptionally high-quality video games for next-generation consoles and PC, powered by their proprietary cutting-edge 3D-Game-Technology, CryENGINE®. Since its foundation in 1999, Crytek has created the multi-award winning PC titles Far Cry®, Crysis® (awarded best PC Game of E3 2007 and Best Technology at the 2008 Game Developers Choice Awards) and Crysis Warhead® (awarded Best Graphics Technology at IGN Best of 2008 Awards).

Media Contact:
North and South Americas/ Asia
Tricia Gray

Europe/Australia/New Zealand
Chris Clarke
Tel: 00 44 208 6708425
Mobile: 00 44 7590 509278

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Virtual Shopping

An article by Guest Contributor, Miidasu

The real life economy may be undergoing a slow, torturous recovery, but virtual world economies are thriving. Well, that’s not entirely true. Many worlds died in the last few months: There.com, Vivaty, and Metaplace. Still, Second Life announced that their virtual economy hit a high in the first quarter of 2010. IMVU is also looking at the new year optimistically, according to Tech Crunch. Even social games like Farmville are hitting the big bucks.

Virtual worlds reflect the real world in many aspects (they don't call them virtual "worlds" for no reason). In particular, user-generated virtual economies are similar to the globalized capitalist system. They rely on creative entrepreneurs to run businesses, for creators to supply and buyers to demand.

The question I have is why is there demand? Granted I am not in college anymore; don't mistake this as some sort of academic inquiry. I am just an intrigued metaverse lover. I understand the desire to create items, but purchasing items with money I can use for a real material object? What's the reason for it?
What is the appeal of virtual goods? Understandably, there are functional goods that increase performance, give more features and such. However, what entices people to purchase the aesthetic goods, like clothing, furniture, or even poses, with money they can use for real world items.

There are plenty of academic studies on why people purchase virtual goods, features, performance enhancements. Maybe I am way behind on my academic reading, but I am surprised that I have not seen the subject of accessibility included in some articles.

The Information Age is known for accessibility. I can get information in seconds, download musics and movies in minutes, in short, get what I want when I want it. We are a generation that craves instant gratification--we want to achieve goals now, and for short-term satisfaction. Case and point: instant tea versus a fresh brew, microwaves versus cooking, movies versus books, and so on. In the same way, virtual goods are easily accessible. A massive dose of instant-gratification at the tip of your fingers.

Getting around a few worlds can be difficult,  but shopping for clothes and other items is increasingly easy. IMVU and Frenzoo have shops that are easy to navigate. Trying on items is available without demos, the details are listed in one place, and there is no transferring of products.

Shopping in Second Life is more difficult, especially for those who don't know how the world works. Still,  Second life is fun because it is the most interactive shopping I have experienced, at least in the three worlds I am apart of. I used to have Friday night shopping sprees with a friend across the country. We would explore shops with our avatars, try on items, and ask each other what we thought. It's almost like a real world shopping experience. That's not to say other worlds aren't interactive. IMVU shop owners are getting creative and making boutique rooms: rooms where they display their items. Standing on a node next to that item opens options to purchase or try on. Of course, you have to find the correct boutique by searching through an endless list of rooms.

The point is that shopping in virtual worlds is more accessible than shopping in real life. I don't have to fight my way through traffic. In fact, I don't have to get up at all, and I am still achieving a goal (the goal being a sense of satisfaction). Not to mention, virtual worlds are almost always open. Even when there is little money in your wallet, virtual worlds are there for a leisurely escape, a social chit chat, or a good old exploration.

They are almost always open, 24/7, for your entertainment. Instant-gratification fix at your pleasure.

Enjoy, shopaholics.

Copy-Editor of Frenzy, a Frenzoo.com magazine
Thursday, 6 May 2010

Virtual Farming: Where there's muck there's money!

Although I am taking a sabbatical from writing for a while, I just could not resist this one.

Business Insider reports that Zynga, the company behind Farmville, the popular game in Facebook has been provisionally valued at US$4 billion! When did lost kittens, lonely cows and manure get so popular?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Diary: 25th April, 2010

I am taking a break from writing and updating my blog for a little while, while I work on finishing a book. I hope to continue the blog at the end of May, or early June.

Have fun, and if in the meantime any of you would like to submit an article, on any aspect of Virtual Worlds, from whatever angle you like, then feel free to contact me via a Comment to this post, and I will be happy to publish it on Chapter & Metaverse.

Best Regards

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Birth and Adolescence of Web.Alive and the 3D Web

For some time Nortel had been pondering what the 'connectedness' of the Internet, broadband access, camera phones, voice-over-IP, instant messaging, social networking, video uploading, etc., all meant for businesses and organizations, and how this connectedness could be turned into a competitive advantage.

To answer this question Nortel commissioned IDC, the global market intelligence firm, to conduct a global study of almost 2,400 working adults in 17 countries. The study focused on quantifying the state of today's connectedness, tracking its acceptance and use across devices and applications as well as determining the pace of its growth and impact on the enterprise. The report was released in May 2008, under the title: "The Hyperconnected: Here They Come", in which they stated that 16 percent of business users were already hyperconnected, and predicted that that number would increase to 40% over the next 5 years.

The following month, in June 2008, Nortel released a demo of its virtual world in a browser, web.alive, that it had been working on for years, under the codename, Project Chainsaw. This was a step-change from the hardware-focused telecommunications giant, into the realms of software and services.

Things then began to move quite rapidly. In August 2008 Nortel acquired Diamondware in order to provide integrated 3D voice to its platform, and in January 2009 they licensed the Unreal Engine 2.5 to replace the existing engine. They hoped that talented creators of content for Epic's Unreal Engine-based games, would bring their skills to web.alive.

At the same time, Lenovo, the laptop maker, announced that they would be launching an e-commerce application, an eLounge named the Lenovo Virtual Showroom,  using web.alive. This was an expansion of Nortel's original marketing view of web.alive, which was focused on enterprise level collaboration and training applications. A very nice tour of the Lenovo eLounge then appeared on Dennis Shiao's It's All Virtual, blogsite.

Not all was well though in Nortel, the parent company. Despite the strength of their web.alive team, Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009. Nortel then went into finacial meltdown and over the course of 2009 went into massive sell everything but the kitchen sink mode. However, keen interest had been displayed in the Enterprise Solutions unit, which included web.alive, by various suitors, so an auction was organised. The eventual winner was Avaya, and by the end of 2009 the sale of Nortel Enterprise Solutions to Avaya had been completed, and with it web.alive and the entire web.alive team. The reported price being $915 million.

During the meltdown, Nortel continued to develop web.alive, which was still in beta. It was a great platform, it was web-based, so no huge downloads were required, and it would be available to anyone who had a browser, regardless of the Operating System. In November 2009 web.alive beta 2 was released, which had an impressive array of features, including the ability to drag and drop documents into web.alive to make presentations.

Now that the future of web.alive has been secured, what about the future of the product itself?

Since the acquisition of its first customer, Lenovo, web.alive has acquired a few more, and the following have been identified (with the help of user wa 723, in the web.alive community forum):

My first impressions were not so good. By the time it took to load the browser plug-in, and for the avatar to be ready to start moving around, I had started to lose interest. I could have explored the first three or four products in a regular 2D store by the time the 3D store was ready to explore. I then found that wandering around a virtual store was nowhere near as focused as a 2D store. In a 2D store I could do a search for all laptops under $500, get a list and start to examine their looks and specs, something I could not do in the 3D store.

Clicking links in a 2D store is also a whole lot quicker than walking around a store (virtual or real). Of couse, it is also claimed that one of the benefits of a 3D virtual store over the regular 2D website, is that you can interact with salesfolk and other customers, and get great feedback. However, in every store I visited (and I visited over 80 in total, not just the web.alive-based stores) I never saw another soul. It was as much a ghost-town experience as I usually encounter in my visits to Second Life or the OS Grid. Could it be that sales staff only keep US office hours?

I also found, unlike 2D websites, I could not have more than one instance of web.alive open at the same time, for comparisons. When I tried, I got this:

Only one instance is permitted
Judging by the activity on the web.alive forum, where there are just 20 posts across all the topics to date (and the earliest post I found was dated  December 16th, 2008) it does appear that web.alive is not generating the kind of interest its designers had hoped for.

If the 3D Web is ever going to supplant the 2D Web, it needs to address some key issues:
  • 3D web pages need to load as quickly as 2D web pages
  • 3D web pages must be capable of being multi-instanced
  • The ability to search across products in a 3D store must be at least as easy as in a 2D store
  • The ability to teleport instantly to any product in the search results is a must
  • Companies must think about manning their virtual stores 24/7 to cater for all all time zones
I am still not convinced by the 3D web, and my lonely journey across it seems to confirm that I am not the only sceptic out there.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Vivaty: RIP

Continuing the recent trend of failing Virtual Worlds (e.g. Metaplace, Legend City Online, There.com), yet another company has bitten the virtual dust.

Vivaty have recently announced that they are closing their doors with a Shutdown Party on the 16th April.

Vivaty was yet another 3D Virtual Space that was spawned during the golden age of 2007-2008, who firmly believed in the 3D space concept, where people could inhabit 3D virtual rooms they could decorate, and invite friends in to join them for chat and other activities. Unlike the market leader, Second Life, Vivaty was web-based, and its scenes could be embedded in Facebook, blogs and other websites. They hoped that it could make money by selling Vivabux, the virtual currency that users could use to buy clothes for their avatars, furniture for their virtual homes, and other virtual goods and services. However, in a very frank statement, Jay Weber, Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Vivaty said:

Our business model was to earn money through Vivabux sales, but that has never come close to covering our costs. We tried for months to find a bigger partner that would support the site, but that didn’t work out.

Whether this is simply a consolidation of an over-populated market place, where just a few key players will survive, or indicative of a general decline in the market itself, is still to be seen.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Blue Mars Roadmap: Second Stop

Today saw the launch of another significant Blue Mars release, with important updates to the Client, MyPage, and the SDK, although I will confine this article to just the Client and MyPage.

As there were so many changes to the Client the new release was a full release, Version 0.0.8237.0, rather than a patch. So, what's new?

Well, there are no new cities in this release, but there are some changes to existing cities. The Welcome Area gets better Time of Day, so it is not as dark now (but cloud shadows still drift across the land, when there are no clouds anywhere near the sun), plus some bug fixes; and Beach City has a "recent golf games" board in the Golf shop.

The main changes are these:

Private Messaging:

  • Click on a friend's name in your Friends list to open a private chat with them.
  • Currently has full logging enabled for PM.  Your chat text will be saved in the window even when you exit the Blue Mars client.
  • Handles multiple tabs of private messages which can be closed separately.
  • Click the minimize button on chat window to close window.
  • Note: The Friends list will be scrollable in the next release of the Client.
There is an immediate bug with this new functionality. If someone sends you a PM you get no notification that they have, in order for you to respond. A little like having a phone with no ring function (how do you answer it if iit does not ring?). I then checked MyPage to see if some test PMs sent by Friends inworld showed up in the Message Inbox. They didn't.

Unfortunately,  the Friends Lists still has the bug that if you have a lot of friends, only around 22 of them can be displayed, as this next image shows:

so if you wanted to PM someone, and their name is not in the first 22 displayed names, you cannot (except through your MyPage). This needs fixing asap.

  • Mouse wheel can now be used to control the camera distance.
  • The Camera View Change button in the Menu Tray has changed. 
  • Screenshot facility (undocumented, see note, two paragraphs below))
It did seem to me that the mouse wheel did not change the camera distance smoothly. Previously if you kept clicking on the Camera icon you cycled from 10m behind the avatar to 5m behind, to 1m behind, to First Person View. It now seems to me that the mouse wheel just replicates these 4 settings, with no interpolation between the settings, giving a jerky feel to the 'zoom'. I hope this is remedied in the future, and the range is extended to much further than 10m behind the avatar. In other Virtual Worlds, such as Second Life, you can zoom the camera over the Draw Distance, which can be set quite high. I usually have mine set at 512m, so zooming out gives a broad perspective of a region or City. It should be even higher for Blue Mars, given the huge sizes of Cities compared with the regions of Second Life. At least 1Km I would recommend.

I also do not like the use of a movie camera icon now for the camera (the previous camera icon now being reserved for a future Screenshot facility. But I have found that the Screenshot facility is already working. Just press F12 while the main window has the focus, then navigate to the My Documents\My Games\BlueMars\Screenshots folder, and your screenshot will be there). I would recommend the standard magnifying glass icons for the camera zoom functions, and the camera icon for screenshots.

The Preferences (brought up by clicking the Spanner icon, or by pressing Escape when the main window has the focus) has a new look, and more settings:

Screen Resolution: Change window size. Default is 1280 x 720.
Rendering Quality: Change render quality.
Set to High for better quality, set to Low for better performance.
Display Name: On: Display your avatar's name overhead.
Off: Hide your avatar's name overhead (but others will still see it).

Pointer Click Sound: On: Play a sound when you click the ground.
Off: Do not play a sound when you click the ground.

Show Bubbles: On: Show chat bubbles.
Off: Turn off chat bubbles.
Text Size: small: 50%, medium: Default, large: 200%
Max Distance: Distance that the other avatars' chat bubbles will be visible.
0m: Only your avatar's chat bubbles are visible.

One bug already found with switching chat bubbles off, is that it also switches off the display of avatar names above the heads of nearby avatars. The QA team are aware of this and are working on a fix.


  • All Pages
    • Added proper labels to each page on browser header and tabs
    • Loading icon now appears center.
  • Message Management (Message Page)
    • Fixed issue when adding a large amount of friends when composing a message.  Should now be contained in a scrollable text area.
    • Added counter for each message folder (inbox, sent, trash).
  • Friend Management (Friends Page)
    • Added background coloring
    • Added search filtering when searching for a friend on Blue Mars
    • Able to compose a message through the Friend's list
    • Scrolling through the friend's list is now smoother (only when using mouse).
I found that searching for Friends had several bugs. When I searched for the AR staffer, Summer Studios, using 'Summer' in the avatar firstname box, I got several hits with avatars using 'Summer' as their firstname, or part of their firstname, but I also got several hits of avatars with no sign of 'Summer' anywhere in their names. I also searched for Zoomer, who is on my Friends List, but a search for 'Zoomer' produced zero results!

But hey, it is still in beta, so these bugs are what they are expecting us to report on.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Diary: 30th March 2010

OpenSim preparing Version 0.7
The core developers at OpenSim are busy preparing Release 0.7 of their opensource virtual world framework.

Release 0.7 will be the first one featuring the recent major refactoring and rearchitecting work that replaced the resource services and servers previously known as UGAIM, with one single server shell called ROBUST which can now run any combination of services within it.

The planning for Release 0.7 has been posted on the OpenSim wiki site. Speaking of sites, Opensim have also given us a sneek peek at their new redesigned website, which is a huge improvement, in my opinion.

More SL Creators are Testing the Blue Mars Waters
I see that Mako Magellan that "Purveyor of apparel for princes and paupers, princesses and premises, poseurs and parcels" of Second Life fame, is to open a store in Desmond Shang's Caledonia in Blue Mars, after trialling some of his creations in Beach City. The problem of where to get my tux for some of those more formal Blue Mars occasions is now solved :)

News from Myst Online
Myst Online: Uru Live is a massive multiplayer online game (MMOG) unlike anything else. Instead of repetitive kill/take/buy gameplay of other MMOGs, the very essence of Myst Online is to explore vast, fantastic worlds; savoring and uncovering new areas and new information at every turn. It is an amazing hybrid of MMOG and Virtual World.

MO:ULagain is the currently available reincarnation of everything in MO:UL in a free, donation-supported, server run by Cyan. It is the first step in “opening” MO:UL. Cyan is planning that the client, servers and tools of MO:UL will soon become open source, allowing fans to continue developing the game and its universe.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Ups and Downs of vSide

As far as Virtual Worlds go, I don't think any have had such a roller-coaster ride as vSide. When you think vSide, think Habbo Hotel, IMVU, and Club Penguin, and you are not too far off the mark.

vSide was created by Doppelganger Studios of San Francisco, founded in July 2004 by Andrew Littlefield and James Lee, and with Tim Stevens as its CEO. Interestingly, Littlefield and several others holding high management positions at that time had all come from BAE Systems.

vSide started life back in May 2006 as the PCD Music Lounge (or the Music Lounge, or just the Lounge for short), a hangout for teens, which one blog described as 1 part MySpace and 1 part World of Warcraft. Doppelganger said at that time that the big selling point for the PSD Lounge was the fact that any questionable content or sexual innuendos would be left at the door, as they wanted good clean fun for all teens to enjoy.

Gen Digital questioned this business plan:

How a nightclub can portray good clean teen fun, when most of the time you have to be 21 just to get in one, kinda goes over my head. What kid doesn't thinking about alcohol and meeting the opposite sex when they go clubbing?

That observation became somewhat prophetic, as we shall see.

In August 2007 The Music Lounge evolved into vSide, following a major redesign. Two new districts were added, RaiJuku and LaGenoaAires, to the existing New Venezia (where have I heard that name before?), and several suppliers of virtual goods were strategic partners, including Kitson and Rocawear. There was no user-created content in vSide then. All creating had to be done by Doppelganger.

Built on a modified Torque 1.3 game engine using Java and MySQL for the backend, vSide reportedly raised a further $11m in 2007, bringing the total of its investment to over $25. It described itself then as the New 3D Facebook.

In April 2008, Doppleganger formed another partnership, with Degrassi: The Next Generation, a very popular TV show. The press release said:

A virtual version of The DOT Grill -- so familiar to our show's viewers -- will serve as the hub for all Degrassi-related activity in vSide,"  Chris Jackson, Director of Digital Media and Merchandising, Epitome Pictures, said in a statement. "The notion that our fans will be able to interact with each other (and with our cast!) in vSide, while enjoying Degrassi video and music content makes vSide the perfect complement to Degrassi's existing on-screen and online presence.

Despite a lively community vSide generated insufficient income, and the following year Doppleganger announced that vSide was shutting down on July 16th, 2009. The assets of vSide were put up for sale, and Virtual World News reported the following:

A source has told VirtualWorldsNews that by the time bidding closed on vSide assets -- which included art assets, the code set, animations, characters, and modifications to the Torque Engine (TGE 1.3.4 codebase) on which the teen virtual world was built -- were sold at "fire sale" prices.

 Following the sale of the vSide assets, Doppelganger was acquired by Canadian company Hip Digital Media in August 2008 for a rumored $40 million, with Doppelganger having spent in excess of $26m on the development of vSide, and having successfully attracted brands such as Kitson, Rocawear, Pussy Cat Dolls, Tyra Banks and MTV.

ExitReality is an Australian company headed by Danny Stephanic, with offices in San Fancisco, London and Melbourne, and made a name for itself in creating 3D virtual worlds out of 2D web pages, by using a browser plug-in.

vSide and its forums were only down for a short time, and during that time its Facebook page said:
We know you all can't wait for vSide to come back online. That's why we're working late nights and weekends to make sure it happens asap. We don't have an exact date yet, but the vSide Forums will be up next week. More updates coming soon.
vSide opened its doors again in late September 2009.

So, where to now for vSide?

It still caters for a rather narrow demographic, and it is primarily aimed at the early teenager, who do not have the spending power needed to generate the kinds of income that Virtual Worlds need to survive.

It also severely limits user-created content, which will discourage many others from making vSide their virtual home. At present, user-created content is limited to creating clothing in the built-in editor, accessible via the My Design tab after hitting F5 to get into your wardrobe. Textures for new clothing items are created offworld, in programs such as Paint, Photoshop or Gimp. Once an item has been created, it needs to be submitted to vSide for approval, who will then pay you 100vBux, and your work is then theirs forever.

With a limited demographic, restrictive creation, and with established competitors such as IMVU, Habbo, and newcomers such as Frenzoo (backed by the formidable Anshe Chung), it is difficult to see how vSide can make a real go of this.

Time will tell.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Avatar Reality Raises $4.2 Million in Additional Capital

Trent Ward, Games Industry Veteran, Joins Management Team as VP of Design

HONOLULU and SAN FRANCISCO — March 23, 2010 — Avatar Reality, creator of the massively multiplayer online virtual world platform Blue Mars, announced today that it has raised an additional $4.2 million from investors including Henk Rogers and Kolohala Ventures.  To date, more than $13 million has been invested in Avatar Reality.

 “We are extremely pleased by the progress the Avatar Reality team has made with Blue Mars,” said Henk Rogers, co-founder of Avatar Reality.  “Blue Mars is the inevitable next step in immersive 3D virtual worlds.”

“For the past three years, we’ve been laying the foundation for Blue Mars so developers can create extraordinary 3D experiences and share them in their own personalized virtual world that is scalable and secure. This investment is a strong endorsement of the progress we’ve made towards providing the next generation in virtual world platforms,” said Jim Sink, CEO of Avatar Reality. “With that goal in mind, I’m thrilled to announce that Trent Ward has joined Avatar Reality as our new vice president of Design. Trent has a track record for creating amazing user experiences and he is leading our efforts to make Blue Mars a more intuitive, effective, and fun destination for participants at every level.”

“This is really the culmination of a dream for me. Blue Mars makes it possible for anyone to bring their own high definition 3D worlds to life and occupy them together with thousands of others from everywhere in the globe simultaneously. Using Blue Mars, anyone can create games, meeting places, and social media experiences that reward users, encourage community and really push what’s possible online,” said Trent. Prior to his work with Avatar Reality, Trent served as creative director for Foundation9, Ubisoft, and Electronic Arts.  Last year he was named by Edge Magazine as one of the Hot 100 Game Developers of 2009.

About Blue Mars and Avatar Reality
Developed and launched by Avatar Reality in 2009, Blue Mars is a premium 3D virtual world platform featuring unparalleled fidelity, scalability, security and connectivity.  Blue Mars enables artists, game, and application developers to create and distribute amazing 3D games and applications for a global audience.  Blue Mars launched in Open Beta in October 2009 and began selling virtual land to third party developers in January of 2010.

Avatar Reality was founded in 2006 by interactive entertainment visionaries Henk Rogers - best known for introducing Tetris to the world - and Kazuyuki Hashimoto, former CTO of Squaresoft and Vice President at Electronic Arts. The Avatar Reality team includes world-class experts in casual games, PC games, console games, virtual worlds, and virtual economies with leadership experience at Microsoft, Sony, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Linden Lab, and Foundation9.  Privately held, Avatar Reality is led by CEO Jim Sink, and has more than 30 employees in Honolulu and San Francisco.  For more information, visit http://www.bluemars.com.

Avatar Reality and Blue Mars are trademarks or registered trademarks of Avatar Reality, Inc.

Press Contact:
Glenn Sanders
Tel: 415-729-5775

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Heritage Key VX - A New Historical Virtual World

Heritage Key is a content-orientated online community aimed at those with an interest in history and culture. It features both media resources and an interactive experience. The company behind Heritage Key is Rezzable Productions Ltd, a London-based company, headed up by CEO, Jonathan Himoff, and Director John Griffin, Chairman of Addison Lee,  a large transport company, also based in London.

Available content includes podcasts, streaming videos, news articles, interviews, discussion groups and blogs. The content is often created in conjunction with archaeologists and historians, such as the Egyptologist Dr Zahi Hawass and John Julius Norwich. Heritage Key combines this content with an online 3D virtual experience, or virtual world, that recreates artefacts and archaeological sites.

The Heritage Key VX provides access to a 3D Virtual World filled with accurate representations of many of the Ancient World's treasures and sites, and the collection is growing.

Built on the OpenSimulator platform, and using an adaptation of the Imprudence 1.2 Viewer, this is one of the best Opensim grids I have ever visited.

Let's start the Tour
Before entering HK you first need to create an account, you do this on the HK website. You then download their Viewer, and you are ready to login.

On arrival you will find yourself in Welcome Alpha, about 50m from the main teleport hub. The reason for this short walk is that I often found staff members on this walkway, only too keen to help out and provide guidance.

Arrival in Heritage Key
The Main Teleport Hub in Welcome Alpha
Even when no-one is on duty the place is filled with helpful notices


The currently available destinations from the teleport hub are:

  • The Skills Centre
  • The Avatar Outfitting Area
  • The Travel Hub 
  • King Tut's Treasures

The teleporters are collision devices, so just walk straight into one or left-click it, and you will be teleported automatically.

The Skills Centre
The Skills Centre

This centre provides all you need to know about using and exploring Heritage Key. It uses a series of tutorials covering

  • How to Use the Information (and hidden details) provided
  • How to Interact, and use your camera and activate media
  • How to Navigave around the HK World
  • How to Communicate with others (explorers and staff members) add friends, and take snapshots
  • How to manage your Inventory
Once you have brushed up on your skills there is a handy teleporter to take you to the The Avatar Outfitting Area.

The Avatar Outfitting Area
Avatar Outfitting Area
Choose your ready-made outfit here

In addition to several ready-made avatars (with shape, skin, hair, and explorer's clothes), you can customise your avatar further by taking (for free) a range of hair styles, pants, shirts, jackets, boots, belts, glasses, and other accessories, with more coming soon. Changing rooms are also provided, the Mens' up at 425m and the Ladies' up at 600m.

The Mens' Changing Room, up at 425m, with pose stand

Once you have got the look that suits you best it is time to do some serious exploring. Fortunately, at the end of the The Avatar Outfitting Area there is another convenient teleporter to take you to the Travel Hub.

 Travel Hub
Travel Hub

As its name implies, this is the main portal to all that Heritage Key has to offer. Intriguingly, it does not ask you where will you go, but rather when will you go.

Currently, the following  are available:

  • Virtual King Tutankhamun
  • The Valley of the Kings
  • Stonehenge
  • Life on the Nile
  • Collectors Gallery
Coming soon are:

  • The Xian (Terracotta) Warriors
  • The British Museum
Travel Hub Teleporters

King Tut's Treasures
This telepoter takes you to the Valley of the Kings, and the digs of the famous Howard Carter.

Valley of the Kings and the Delightful Winged Heron

It was here that I met an explorer from Second Life, named Winged Heron. She told me that Heritage Key was not just about exploring, she also told me about the Quests. This is what she had to say:

Winged Heron, Freelance Reporter, Angelic Explorer and Celestial Poet, reporting for Rock Vacirca and others on HK:

Currently you find me exploring Heritage Key. I met Rock while on tour of the Valley of the Kings. Introduced to Heritage Key, by some friends, I am slowly becoming hooked. As a long time citizen of SL, I am on an exciting quest in the Valley of the Kings located in HK.

Rock caught me searching for the six elusive pages from the diary of Howard Carter, which have been deposited around the Valley of the Kings and in the tomb. He met me as I was looking for the first page, having found the other five. This quest commences at either the first tent to the Valley of the Kings or in Howard Carter's tent. A small hint, once you have located the pages, if you haven't collected these in order, go back and do them in order. The reward is a something wearable and seen in many old movies which were set in Egypt, Morocco and other North African countries. No don't think Lawrence of Arabia, more like the guys in Casablanca but not worn by Humphrey Bogart.

After some successful tips from Rock on alternate viewers, we parted company and I completed the first quest, ten minutes later, finding that damn elusive last page. Finding the Scarlet Pimpernel would have been easier. Only joking, but if a quest was easy it would be an Easter Egg Hunt. In the tomb of young King Tut you will find there is a further quest. This too, like all good quests, must be completed in correct order. Once completed your reward is well worth it.

Quests can also be found at Stonehenge, the first place I explored. I like to do things in historical order. It is much more tidy that way. Next stop will be the actual Tut exhibit in HK.

So what do I like in HK that I can't find in SL? Well I like the fact that historical accuracy is aimed for, especially since the offending potatoes and tomatoes have been removed from the menu at Stonehenge, another quest or set of tasks to be completed. The visual recreations of the sites and artefacts is amazing. The factsheets are also presented in a novel way. And finally, for people who have no chance to travel for various reasons in real life, they can virtually experience the wonders of archaeology and anthropology.  I suspect even the world-renowned archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's answer to Indian Jones, would be pleased with the exhibits, if he had time away from the real thing.

I look foreward to more contributions from Winged Heron in the future.

I also liked the fact that you could take an aerial tour over the Valley of the Kings by Hot-Air Balloon, complete with audio commentary on what you were passing over.

Hot-Air Balloon Tours of the Valley of the Kings

Again conveniently, as I am now starting to take as given in Heritage Key, so well thought out is their design, is a teleporter to take you to the Collections Gallery. Be prepared to be amazed, I mean, really amazed.

Collections Gallery
Dark, moody, and full of Ancient Egyptian atmosphere, the Collections gallery showcase the great treasures uncovered in the tomb of the boy-king, Tutankhamun.

Every piece in the collection can be made full size by clicking on the Enlarge helper, and full audio commentaries are available for each piece too, explaining what the relic is, and its function, and much more besides.

This Gallery has to be seen to be believed
The Famous Mask of the King

Was there really a curse on this Mask?

At the end of the Collections Gallery is a Quick Teleports board, to take you to various destinations, but one which had me intrigued was the Cosmic Gallery, so I headed there next.

Cosmic Gallery
Cosmic Gallery

Boy was I glad that I checked the Cosmic Gallery out! I will not describe this Gallery any further, you have got to travel this path yourself. I have been to a lot of Virtual Worlds in my time, but never anything remotely like this. Quick tip, do not use the quick teleport helpers to get around the Cosmic Gallery, walk the path instead!

There is so much more to see in Heritage Key. I did not have time to visit Stonehenge, and the Life by the Nile region, and with all the various Quests, and new Ancient World destinations to look forward to, this is not a World I am going to tire of anytime soon.

If you missed the Tutankhamun Exhibition when it toured the world, then head over to Heritage Key right now. It awaits.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Clouds are Gathering

This past week in the Games Developer Conference (GDC 2010) in San Francisco has seen three major announcements concerning rendering in the cloud services.

First up, on the 10th March, was the GamesBeat keynote speech by OnLive's CEO Steve Perlman, who showcased the company’s game streaming technology, which allows high quality 3D games to be played  without a console, by doing all the graphic-rich rendering in the cloud, then streaming it to a lightweight client.

OnLive also put pressure in their competitors by announcing finally a firm release date, of  June 17, 2010. At launch, the service will be available in all Continental US States, but look out for international announcements later in the year.

The service will cost $14.95 per month for the base service, although this can be reduced by purchasing multiple months at a time, and then additionally users need to purchase games and rentals from a menu of titles.

For early adopters, OnLive will waive the service fee for three months for the first 25,000 users to pre-register here.

Perlman provided a remarkable demo, playing games like Crysis on a large screen TV, then continuing the game on his iPhone. Other features included streaming movies and what looked like Xbox Live community features.

OnLive will be available for the PC and Mac only at launch.

On the same day, AMD, OTOY and Super Micro announced that they plan to bring Fusion Render Cloud Servers to market in the second quarter of 2010.

Announced by AMD CEO Dirk Meyer at CES 2009, the AMD Fusion Render Cloud (FRC) is AMD's next generation breakthrough CPU/GPU server platform. Built on top of OTOY's cloud streaming technology, FRC is designed to deliver thousands of concurrent HD games, remote desktops, and live HD video streams to any internet enabled device with virtually no latency.

These servers will permit content providers to deliver video games, PC applications and other graphically-intensive applications through the Internet “cloud” to virtually any type of mobile device with a web browser in a manner designed to help maximize battery life and to efficiently process the content. The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will transform movie and gaming experiences through server-side rendering – which involves storing visually rich content in a compute cloud, compressing it, and streaming it in real-time over a wireless or broadband connection to a variety of devices such as smart phones, set-top boxes and ultra-thin notebooks. By delivering remotely rendered content to devices that are unable to store and process HD content due to such constraints as device size, battery capacity, and processing power, HD cloud computing represents the capability to bring HD entertainment to mobile users virtually anywhere.

The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will also allow remote real-time rendering of film and visual effects graphics on an unprecedented scale. Gaming companies can use the AMD Fusion Render Cloud for developing and deploying next-generation game content, to serve up virtual world games with unlimited photo-realistic detail, and to take advantage of new delivery channels as open and diverse as the web itself.

"Supermicro brings its long standing experience in the design and production of high-performance, high-efficiency server solutions, and its strengths in GPU-optimized platforms, to this exciting new breakthrough technology," said Don Clegg, VP of Marketing and Business Development at Supermicro. "With the multi-core CPU and graphics processing power of AMD and next-generation cloud development software OTOY, Supermicro CPU/GPU supercomputer server solutions now empower developers to create HD video and gaming environments delivered over the web in real time, for the first time."

"In 2003 AMD changed the server market with the launch of the AMD Opteron™ processor, ending the sole source enterprise technology barrier. The industry embraced this change as there are now more than 2 million AMD Opteron processors driving Cloud Computing today," said Charlie Boswell, Director of Digital Media and Entertainment, AMD. The AMD Fusion Render Cloud is poised to help ignite the next evolution in cloud computing by enabling server side rendering of fully interactive HD content.

"The launch of the Fusion Render Cloud platform through Supermicro’s product line marks a major milestone for cloud computing, “said Jules Urbach. “Streaming high performance games and graphics remotely is an indisputably disruptive technical achievement. The very idea has invited both excitement and skepticism during the 14 months since AMD and OTOY announced their plans to enter into this space. With the addition of a major OEM supplying servers to datacenters next quarter, this technology will be commoditized by an eco system of partners as diverse as the web itself. The future of graphics in the cloud has never been brighter."

OTOY’s software fully leverages AMD’s CPU core density and graphics leadership to create an open streaming platform for cloud delivery. OTOY software, hosted on the AMD Fusion Render Cloud is designed to achieve a scalable solution, lowering the average power footprint per user. This is first order requirement of economic viability for any Cloud solution. AMD’s Fusion Render Cloud specification, now productized by Supermicro, is designed to scales to thousand of users per rack. Together, this consortium of technology partners is enabling the massive deployment of Cloud rendering technology in 2010.

FRC Hardware Specifications:

  • 125 1U rackmount servers - available pre-racked in Super Rack configuration
  • 500 ATI ‘Cypruss’ based GPUs
  • 250 AMD Opteron™ 6100 series processors
  • <100 Kw, 40 sqft of space per 1 PetaFLOPS of computing power

FRC Technical Specifications:

  • Up to 3,000 concurrent HD streams (720p/1080p or higher @ 60hz) for streaming AAA video games, high end CAD programs and full virtual desktops for all major Operating Systems
  • Up to 12,000 concurrent SD streams @ 120 hz
  • Ultra fast HD encoding < 1ms per megapixel
  • Token based metering system built into driver stack for easy cost analysis and resource provisioning

About Super Micro Computer, Inc. (NASDAQ: SMCI)
Supermicro, the leader in server technology innovation and green computing, provides customers around the world with application-optimized server, workstation, blade, storage and GPU systems. Based on its advanced Server Building Block Solutions, Supermicro offers the most optimized selection for IT, datacenter and HPC deployments. The company's system architecture innovations include the Twin server, double-sided storage and SuperBlade(R) product families. Offering the most comprehensive product lines in the industry, Supermicro provides businesses of all sizes with energy-efficient, earth-friendly solutions that deliver unmatched performance and value. Founded in 1993, Supermicro is headquartered in Silicon Valley with worldwide operations and manufacturing centers in Europe and Asia. For more information, visit www.supermicro.com.

About OTOY
OTOY is a leading software and content developer and provider of convergence technologies and special effects for the video game and film industries. OTOY works with a wide range of studios, game developers and visualization companies to create leading-edge visual and entertainment experiences. In 2008, Variety magazine listed OTOY CEO Jules Urbach as one of Hollywood’s top 10 innovators to watch in the next 12 months.

About AMD
Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) is an innovative technology company dedicated to collaborating with customers and partners to ignite the next generation of computing and graphics solutions at work, home and play. For more information, visit http://www.amd.com.

For more information
Marie Sheehy

Finally, David Perry, chief creative officer at Acclaim said he has a new company, Gaikai, that will do the same thing as OnLive but without some of its drawbacks. Gaikai only requires broadband, a browser, and the leatest Adobe Flash Player [note this, folk with iPhones, or those with iPad ambitions, Apple does not support Flash on either of those devices].

“I was going to reveal it at the E3 trade show, but the OnLive news has forced my hand,” said Perry. Gaikai is nowhere near as developed as OnLive or the AMD/OTOY offerings, but it was interesting to see that other companies are also thinking hard about rendering in the cloud.

But what ARE the drawbacks of rendering in the cloud to which Perry referred?

By far the biggest obstacle to overcome is latency. In Role Playing Games and Virtual Worlds, this is not so much of a problem, but in fast-paced high-action games, where life and death is measured in millisecond reaction times, the latency involved in you pressing the trigger, and that information being relayed back to the servers, then the stream being sent back to your (and other's) client, so that action is reflected on-screen is maybe just too long for serious gamers to bear. Most of that latency is also not under the control of the Cloud companies, in it mainly in the hands of the Internet Service Provider between the gamer and the Cloud. One figure I heard mentioned, was that users must be no further away than 1000 miles from the Cloud servers. If that is a partial solution to latency, then that in itself introduces another problem, of geolocation. Will the Cloud companies install large server centres in places such as Alaska, or Iceland, or other remote locations, to serve the gaming communities there?

We'll see.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A Tourist's Guide to Blue Mars - Part 1: New Venice

So, you have arrived in Blue Mars, you have checked out the Welcome Area, met some people there, and now you are ready to do some serious exploring, but where to first? My favourite City in Blue Mars is New Venice, or Venezia (they made an announcement a few months ago that the name was changed from New Venice to Venezia, but I have seen no evidence of the name change elsewhere as yet). I would recommend going here first.

Places Browser
To get up the Places Browser you can either login to Blue Mars, and you will arrive there immediately, or if you are already inside Blue Mars just click the House icon on the toolbar.

Places Browser
Select New Venice, and then click the Download text in the top-right of the browser. Once it has finished downloading click Refresh to add it to the browser. To visit, just click its image, and then Go.

Arriving in New Venice
On arrival in New Venice you will be in a lovely garden. Behind you is a small gazebo, but don't go inside, as this is a teleporter to the Condo (more on that later).

Arrival Point in New Venice

From here get onto the path, and move away from the gazebo, at the far end of the garden is an archway, and this is the exit point. As you pass under the arch you will see some information terminals.

Arrival Area Gardens

Information Terminal (News and Maps)
If you click on the activation orb (and you will see these all over New Venice) the map will open for you.


As you click a portion of the map, then hover your mouse over the selected portion of the map, it reveals places of interest to visit.

Circular Garden
For the time being, I just left this area, and continued out and was faced by a huge circular garden. I could hear soft music at this point. These gardens in New Venice are spectacular and lush. You may have also seen small spherical bots flying about. These have no function, as yet.

Inside the Circular Garden (bot and butterfly in foreground)

Teleporting in New Venice
One of the nice functions that the creators of New Venice (VSE) have included, is the ability to teleport anywhere inside the City. This is really useful, as at 4km x 4km, New Venice is one of the larger Cities, and 16sq Km is approximately the size of 256 SL regions, so is more like a mini-continent than a City. Another useful feature, is that it is not actually you that teleports, it is your camera, so you can have a look around a destination before deciding to teleport there in person (by pressing 'Q' on your keyboard).

To teleport ensure that the main Blue Mars window has the focus (not the chat window) by clicking on the top blue title bar. Now press F3 and the teleport menu will apppear.

Teleport Menu (Click blue Title Bar at top of window, then press F3)

The teleport menu gives you a choice of 9 destinations, by pressing any of the numbers 1-9 on your numeric keypad to the right of your keyboard (NOT the numbers 1-9 at the top of your keyboard).

Teleport Destination #1
This is the RC Boat Racing venue. Currently the racing is not activated, but it is still a great area to explore. The croquet greens are nearby.

RC Boat Racing Arena

Corresponding Place on the Map

Teleport Destination #2
This is the Bocce Ball Court destination. Again, not functional at present, but well worth the visit.

Bocce Court

Bocce Ball Court on the Map (the large grey circle on the bottom island)

Teleport Destination #3
This will take you to the Sail Boats. These do work, after a fashion :)

Don't blame me for what happens though. Taking a scuba kit with you might be advisable!

Sailboats (that broken bot needs fixing!)
As is normal in New Venice, use the activation orbs to use them

Teleport Destination #4
This destination just takes you back to the orginal landing point. Useful to get you to the Condo.

Teleport Destination #5
Now I am not sure about this destination. It is actually a little circular garden with an old knarled tree in the middle. However, there is an activation orb, and when clicked the entire garden become an elevator, and delivers you (sometimes) to a lower level, as these two pics show.

Garden Elevator (upper level)

Garden Elevator (lower level)

Be careful on this thing! The script is not perfect, and on one occasion I ended up in orbit over New Venice. Here is the proof!

Unintentional Orbit Mode

Teleport Destination #6
A regular destination this time. At this location are water taxis, a telescope (with a game inside), and stairs leading up to The Floating House.

Telescopes (each has a find objects game inside)

This destination is just above the Boat Taxi 4 location on the Map:

Boat Taxi Stop 4 (that square corner near the top-right of the island)

Clicking on the telescope brings up a menu which allows you to use the telescope in the regular way, or to search for objects for points.

Telescope Menu

Find Objects Game

Teleport Destination #7
This takes you to halfway up the staircase to The Floating House

The Midway Point up to The Floating House
There is a regular elevator ( to take you back down to the lower level only), and a staircase to take you up to The Floating House. Take these stairs!

When you get to the top of the stairs the beautiful Floating House, with its majestic waterfall is before you.

The Floating House

Entrance to The Floating House

Carry on through the archway, and straight ahea to the back of the house. There is a curious activation orb here. Click it, and stand back and wait to be amazed!

The Flying Elevator

The orb calls the amazing Flying Elevator. A gazebo-like device that flies you back down to the lower level near to the water taxi area. An incredible ride (but again, is temperamental, so you could end up anywahere!).

Teleport Destination #8
This is an odd one. Mostly it does not work, but on one occasion I was sent into orbit again, only even higher this time. Sometimes I have arived at the activation orb for the Flying Elevator.

The Chat Speaks for itself!

Teleport Destination #9
Back to earth again (or back to Mariner Firma), and this is Boat Taxi Stop 4, below Teleport Destination #6.

Flying in New Venice
You can fly in New Venice! Or at least the sensation of flying (actually it is your camera that flies). To do this, press F3 again to bring up the teleport menu, but do NOT press any number. Instead, aim your camera upwards by holding down the right mouse button and dragging the mouse to tilt the camera upwards, then press your Up Arrow.

When your camera arrives at a location you like, just press 'Q' on your keyboard and you will teleport to that destination instantly.

The sample Condo in New Venice is gorgeous! To get there you can use the Teleport Travel Gazebos in either the arrival garden (Teleport Destination #4) or the other beside The Floating House.

Condo Interior

There are TV screens inside the Condo, music, and a hidden teleporter that will take you to a bar! Walk to the circular door and it will open magically, leading the way to a patio area with spectacular views.

Condo Exterior

Other Oddities
One other strange thing I found, was if I pressed the number 1 on my numeric keypad, without having the teleport menu up. It spawned a blue sphere, that only I could see. Continued pressing spawned more, and they do not seem to do much except jump up and down at times.

Strange Blue Spheres

I was able to stack some vertically, before they fell and bounced around. These spheres are one of several mysteries in New Venice. I will leave you to find the rest.