Sunday, 31 January 2010

Radegast and the A.L.I.C.E. bot

After meeting Rock in Blue Mars he invited me to write something for his blog so I chose something that has been capturing my interest of late. Radegast.

Radegast is a light weight text client that can connect to Second Life and Opensim grids. I have tried out a number of these clients but this one grabbed my attention because it is rock solid stable, packed with features quite apart from chat handling, and something extra which has proved to be a very useful tool. It has a plugin for the A.L.I.C.E. bot.

I was able to turn an avatar into an AI bot very easily which I thought might be useful on my Second Life sim as a greeter. More especially I wanted to program my bot to help and inform new arrivals. To this end I have to find the AIML files in the Radegast directory on my hard drive and edit them with what I want my bot to say. AIML script is actually a derivative of XML and is not hard to learn. Basically, I need to edit the definitions in the file's paterns (what the user might say) and templates (how the bot might respond). For example:

{pattern}TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF{/pattern}

I have read elsewhere that people have actually used the bot for other purposes and scripted LSL attachments to control the avatar which will be my next task. I would say the bot could do a lot more and certainly I would use it in my Opensim grid when I eventually set one up (maybe). In practice I found the bot can only respond to a visitor if they use the bot's name but if they IM the bot then it will engage in conversation without the name.

Given that Radegast is a light weight with no view of the 3D world, it certainly has more features than any others of this type I have seen. Here is a list:

  • Chat (local, IM, group, friends conference and voice in version 1.12)
  • Inventory (allows manipulation, deletion of the items, moving them around, sending to other people by dropping item on their profile)
  • Ability to wear/take off clothes and attachments from the inventory
  • Backup of all scripts and notecards from the inventory
  • World map (very fast implementation using Google maps)
  • Object finder - list objects nearby, sort them by distance, name, see details
  • List of all avatars in a region (radar), and those within 300m in nearby regions
  • Movement controls via arrow keys
  • Support for activating gestures from the inventory
  • Avatar appearance - others using 3D client will see you appear correctly, and will not be able to tell that you're using a text client
  • Streaming music

The fact it has a plugins button opens it up to more tools and features. One I suggested on the forums could be an AIML editor so the bot definitions could be worked on directly in the client and tested but I don't expect that to happen anytime soon. I did actually speak to Grant, the creator of MakeAiml, via his forum and he said he was interested in making a plugin and will look into it. MakeAiml can be downloaded from  Radegast can also run the Looking Glass viewer from the tools menu if you download it. The client actually provides the chat and all the other features while Looking Glass renders the 3D world using Orge (see review of Orge elsewhere in this blog). Looking Glass is in alpha state and personally I see no use for it. For me Radegast's strong point is the bot which really doesn't need a full view of the world but it is interesting and yet another example of open source creativity in the free Metaverse community.
Images of Looking Glass with Radegast

Gaga Gracious
Saturday, 30 January 2010

New World Grid

After visiting InWorldz and Meta7 I though I might make a habit of calling in on a new grid once a week from now on, and reporting on what I find.

This week, the wanderer arrived at the New World Grid (NWG).

The first thing that struck me when I visited their website was that the site is bilingual, English and French.

NWG is owned by the non-profit organisation, Virtus Association, and the general theme of the grid is artistic and educational. The Virtual University of Edinburgh , VUE, has a region here.

 During registration you can choose your avatar's first and last names, and select from one of five pre-made male avatars, or one of six pre-made female avatars. The Hippo viewer is the recommended download, but as I have Hippo already I checked its Grid list and the New World Grid was there.

NWG has no in-world economy, but has terrific freebies available. All the signs and notecards in the Welcome area were bilingual, and had lots of help available. On the day of my visit, 30th January 2010, NWG had 349 regions, 5409 registered accounts, and 630 unique logins over the last 30 days (as reported on the Hippo screen).

The News of the Day was an announcement that they were working on introducing Voice, Hypergrid, and Groups functionality.

When it comes to land in NWG you basically have three choices:
  • You can join your own OpenSim regions or grid to the NWG, free of charge.
  • You can buy or rent land on the Mainland or centrally hosted Islands, for a fee and tier, but at around 25% of SL prices.
  • As much land as you need, centrally hosted, free, if the project fits within the charitable aims of Virtus, i.e. artistic or educational.
While roaming around NWG I came across Christi Maeterlinck, a retired psychologist, working on a major retirement project, a full reconstruction of the Mount Grace priory in North Yorkshire, covering 4 regions.

However, Christi had a real problem. He explained it thus:
The default avatar size, which most people have never calibrated against the grid, makes them used to having an oversized shape, and that, coupled with the camera distance behind the avatars head, means that its actually very difficult to walk round a realistically reproduced dwelling.

I could see what he Christi meant. Rooms in SL are typically 10m x 10m, which is wholely unrealistic. He had a height measuring device there, and when I tried it on it told me that my height was 2.22m or 7ft 3in tall!

Now, for a virtul architect like Christi this posed many problems. He was trying to build an actual replica of Mount Grace, scaled correctly. But when he invited me to see inside a monk's cell I couldn't get in. I was just way too tall. And  it was near impossible to look around inside, due to the camera distance behind the avatar.

Of course, Christi could employ fixes, such as making the walls around doorways phantom, so that tall avatars could walk through, and advising all who come to visit to switch to mouselook (first person) mode, so they could view the inside of small rooms. However, to Christi, this is compromising the whole experience, as he wants normally sized avatars to experience the environment and space (or lack of it) that the monks endured.

He asked if it was possible for the grids (and I think he meant by implication, the developers of OpenSim) to provide a standard Ruth height of 5 foot 9 instead of 6 foot 5, or whatever it is.

This could be somewhat problematic, as avatar heights have been oversized for so long now, both in Second Life and in OpenSim-based grids. Buildings, clothes and animations have been  created to suit these heights, and many buildings and clothes have been ported from Second Life to the OpenSim-based grids, that it is now too late to introduce a new standard.

I would be interested in hearing other's views on this.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Linden Labs buys Avatars United

Today (29th January, 2010) M. Linden announced that Linden Labs had acquired Avatars United (AU) from Enemy Unknown AB of Stockholm, Sweden. And who is Avatars United, you might ask?

Think Facebook for inhabitants of 3D games and virtual worlds.

AU was the brainchild of three Swedish friends back in 2007, with Thor Olof Philogene as its CEO. It opened in Beta in early 2008, and two years on it is still in Beta.

Although primarily focussed on gamers AU caught the attention of Linden Labs who see synergy with their virtual world, Second Life.

M. Linden explained Linden labs wish to give Residents new and better ways to connect and share, through features like the following:
  • Searchable profiles
  • Friend and activity feeds
  • Widgets and viral content
  • Optional registration and sign-in using credentials from other properties (Facebook, Yahoo!, etc.)
  • APIs that enable developers to create widgets, tools, and sites pulling from selected SL data feeds
he went on:
Avatars United lets you make some of those connections that I'm talking about above.  It's a great site.  Check it out and add me, T Linden, and others to your friend list. As you do, you'll start to build an activity feed (similar to Facebook or Twitter) that keeps you in closer touch with the people you're connected to in Second Life. This is one of the most exciting things about the acquisition, this ability to reach my friends more easily, with more interesting information (and photos!), and in a more meaningful way. As we go, we'll be adding to these capabilities -- and because Avatars United provides developer APIs, anyone else can add to these capabilites as well.

What is not clear from this acquisition is what is going to happen to the existing members of AU that come from other games, such as World of Warcraft, and other virtual worlds, such as the Opensim-based grids, and Blue Mars.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Apple Launches the iPad

Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive finally broke the silence over the long anticipated new product offering from Apple, the iPad.

The incredible new touchscreen device was unveiled at an event in San Francisco.

The new device will cost between $499 and $829 in the US, and fills the gap between smartphones and laptops.

The iPad weighs in at 1.5 pounds for the Wi-Fi model, and 1.6 pounds for the Wi-Fi + 3G model.  The size is 242.8mm x 189.7mm and is only 13.4mm thick.

The display is an impressive 1024 x 768 pixels, full touchscreen, and under the hood is a 1GHz Apple A4 custom-designed, high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip. Memory comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB flash drives. The battery life is estimated at 10 hours while surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music.

To get an idea of what the iPad's all about, take a look at this video on the Apple Web site, introduced by product designer Jony Ive.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Commercial Virtual World Software: The Top 5

Back in December I looked at opensource/free or nearly free virtual world platforms and software. Since then I have been looking at commercial virtual world software to see what they offer, and how much they cost.

After much experimentation with demo versions I finally came up with my Top 5. I was hard pressed to pick a clear winner, as the feature sets varied somewhat, so I will just list the Top 5, in no particular order.

3DVIA Virtools 5

3DVIA Virtools 5  includes five key components: the Graphical User Interface to develop sophisticated applications by visually assembling objects and behaviors; the Behavior Engine to run interactive applications; the Render Engine to render graphics in real-time; the Virtools Scripting Language to create low-level specific functions without any C++ line; and the SDK to create custom behaviors.

The open-ended architecture of 3DVIA Virtools 5 supports a wide variety of 3D formats. 3D Content Capture plugins support most commonly used DCC software formats (3ds Max®, Maya®, XSI®, Lightwave®, Collada®) for importing/exporting 3D XML files, making real-time 3D technology easily available.

3DVIA Virtools 5 allows users to imagine, share and experience highly interactive 3D content. 3DVIA Virtools 5 Platform enables easy development of virtual experiences such as driving, shopping, product use, maintenance and marketing tests.

3DVIA Virtools 5 also extends the range of target environments for deploying 3D experiences: MicrosoftTM Windows® and AppleTM MacOS® computers, Wii and Xbox 360 game consoles, Intranets via Office and XE Players, Internet via the 3DVIA player, as well as immersive environments via the VR Library.

This broad scope highlights the diversity of potential deployment options and provides a large range of communities with a powerful solution to create andexperience life content.

Pricing is not generally published, and is only available on request, however I read in a forum that the cost was somewhere around $9000 plus over $3000 per year for subscription, but a free trial was available.

Download the 3DVIA Virtools 5 datasheet here.

Vizard Virtual Reality Toolkit is everything you need to build interactive 3D content. Designed for rapid prototyping, Vizard gets you creating fast and provides the resources to deploy even the most challenging applications. With Vizard, even someone with no programming experience can leap into the world of interactive 3D content.
Vizard is extremely feature-rich, a full detailed list of all of its features is here.

There are three editions of Vizard: the Vizard Lite Edition;  the Vizard Development Edition; and the Vizard Enterprise Edition, ranging in price from $49 for the Lite version, up to $9,200 for a single commercial license.

Download the interactive demo here (10MB).

DX Studio
DX Studio is a complete integrated development environment for creating interactive 3D graphics. The system comprises of both a real-time 3D engine and a suite of editing tools.
Using DX Studio you can build complete real-time interactive applications, simulations or games, for standalone use or for embedding in other Microsoft Office/Visual Studio applications.

DX Studio comes with a Freeware Version (installer is the same for all the different licenses), a Standard Version, and a Pro Version, and with non-commercial and commercial licenses. Prices range from $0 for the Freeware Version, up to $800+ for the Pro Version with a commercial license. Here are just some of the features.

Don't let the small logo fool you. This suite is BIG on features.
Visual3D is a complete simulation and game development platform that integrates all of the necessary tools and technologies needed to build 3D applications into a single software product.

Visual3D's All-in-One Game Development Toolset enables rapid development of 3D interactive simulations, virtual worlds, and next generation games using C#, .NET and XNA.

With a powerful development API and comprehensive set of visual design tools that automate core design tasks, teams can complete their applications rapidly and cost effectively. With this power in hand, a growing list of leading professional game and simulation developers are using Visual3D.NET to get their applications done.

Visual3D has a Free Trial, available from here,  while prices ranges from $175 per developer for the Indie Edition, to $495 per developer for the Pro Edition. Source code is also available, but are expensive.

More information on Visual3D's features are available here.

Real-time Scene Editing (Scene Design, Part 1) - Visual3D Game Engine from Visual3D Game Engine on Vimeo.

Last, but not least in my Top 5 comes Quest3D.

February 20 2008, Leiden, The Netherlands, version 4.0 of Quest3D® is now available from Quest3D resellers and the Quest3D website.

With the release of Quest3D 4.0, Act-3D™ B.V. lifts its flagship to an even higher quality level of real-time 3D application development. New functionality contains real-time support for COLLADA, Newton Game Dynamics, Advanced Weather Simulation, 3D GUI Support and a fully Object-Oriented development model.

Demo movie

The new release is a giant leap forward in real-time 3D software development. High-end 3D software projects, such as 3D architecture visualizations, product and design presentations games and training simulators benefit from the newly supported technologies in Quest3D.

There are three versions of Quest3D: the Creative Edition; the Power Edition; and the VR Edition. Pricing ranges from 1,249 to 9,999. 

Quest3D has a demo version, available from here.


Sunday, 24 January 2010

United Nations Citizen: Is this for real?

Like many others I was intrigued when the first reports of a new virtual world, called United Nations Citizen (UNC), first appeared in mid January, especially when it appears to be built on the CryEngine2. Like many others I was dismayed to find it was more of a marketing tool than a virtual world after watching the promotional videos on their website.

However, the more I looked into UNC the more confused I became, then the more suspicious. Was this an elaborate hoax, or a scam, or was it for real?

The only official press release I could find was this, from Christy Wilson at the HeadsAndTails website. The release states that:

Cisco Systems and Equifax have partnered with Heads & Tails TV, Faithful Friends TV & Montage Systems, to create United Nations Citizens, a virtual living environment for consumers and businesses, unveiled today at the 99th Annual National Retailers Federation Expo in New York.

The webpage then gives three Links, to,, and (curiously, there was no link to the main UNC website). The above press release also gives the name of the new virtual world as United Nations Citizens (plural), while the official website of UNC gives their name as United Nations Citizen (singular).

On visiting the website I could find no mention of this collaboration with Equifax et al, nor any mention of United Nations Citizen. To be on the safe side, in case I missed something, I did a Google search on their entire website and this too failed to find any references whatsoever.

I then visited and found this to be a free parked webpage on The whois for this site does not give a name for the registrant, but the address is stated to be Bonsall, California (UNC also state on their website that they are located in Bonsall).

Undeterred, I then visited the website of Equifax, the credit rating agency. Again, I could find no mention of this partnership with Cisco, and a Google search of their website confirmed what I had found, nothing. The UNC website gives this for the role of Equifax:

EquiFax provides the backend geo-targeting real-time data mining to ensure that content distributed matches the consumer demographics, psychographics and profiling opportunities only available in-world.

Data mining? Profiling opportunities?

I got the same result with Montage Systems, but I did have some luck with Faithful Friends TV. Their website did have a link back to the main United Nations Citizen website. However, the contact us link on their website brought up my Outlook Express with the To: field made out to , yes, the same Christy Wilson at the source of the original press release at Heads and Tails TV. Full circle.

I then turned my attention to the  99th Annual National Retailers Federation Expo, after all, this is where UNC was unveiled. The Exhibitor list for this Expo does not list United Nations Citizen at all, nor does it list Faithful Friends, Heads and Tails TV, Montage Systems, nor Avatar2154. Cisco did have 5 booths at the Expo, but the notes did not mention United Nations Citizen, nor anything remotely connected with virtual worlds either.

UNC may be for real, but until I see an official press release from Cisco, I will continue to have my doubts.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Meta7: Interview and Preview

Continuing my tour of Virtual Worlds based on the OpenSim platform and derivatives, and that have an in-world currency and an economic system in place, I had the pleasure to meet up with an old acquaintance from my early OpenSim days, Sacha Magne, who (unknown to me) had started his own grid and who is known there as Laurent Meta, when on duty.

Unlike some OpenSim-based Virtual Worlds that come and go, Meta7 has a real company behind it, Magne Metaverse Research, LLC (MMR) which was founded in 2008 by Laurent (Meta).

Meta7, formerly known as K-Grid (see this blog article for the story on the change of name), has a professional-looking website, at From the site you can Register a new account and set up your avatar name. There is no restriction on the lastname, as in Second Life, where you can only select from a list of available lastnames. In Meta7 you can have what you like.

Meta7 uses its own viewer, a customised version of the popular Emerald Viewer, which allows it to implement some very cool new features, such as LightShare (more on this later).

The website also has a forum, a wiki, and a link to the Meta7 IRC channel, which is also available inworld, and automatically connected when arriving at Help Island, allowing staff to greet newcomers and assist them.

There is a Support Center to help with any bugs a resident may encounter, and there will soon be a Support Chat facility available for premium members.

Meta7 is not officially open for business yet, they wish to get the platform fully stable and feature rich before throwing their doors open, however they are open right now for preview, so I took the opportunity of going inworld and speaking to two of the proprietors, Laurent Meta and  George Meta.

Interview with the Proprietors of Meta7
Q. Tell me something about the history of Meta7
Laurent Meta: I was looking to any alternative and found opensim, I had some freetime and gave opensim a hand. I made some small contributions and started testing that on my own PC. Then I asked friends to help me test things and discovered I needed to use a more powerfull system, so I rented a server for that and started a small development grid of just 2 or 3 regions. That was 2 years ago.

At that time, I had several sims in SL and was sad that I would not to be able to preserve them, so I decided to let other people backup / create their sims on my little grid, and it started slowly growing. During that time, we organised some events, like "The Milk and Cookies show", a radioshow in SL, but ported to our little grid, it was a good way to test it.

With time, the grid started to grow and eventually reached a size where I needed to make some decisions about stopping, or moving forward. I was alone to do all this at that time, but a few friends helped me and we took the road to Meta7.
Q. What are your goals and aims for Meta7?
George Meta: I think one of the things that continue to worry new residents of virtual worlds is sustainability. Can a Grid or virtual world continue to function on a day to day to basis and well as fund investments into their technology? We are fully sustainable now and stagger our growth responsibily.

Laurent Meta: we invested a lot of real money to buy our servers, to put them in a datacenter. It's not a few hundreds dollars a year. We also aim not to follow others either, we much prefer to lead.

Q. Meta7 is based on the Opensim platform. Are you happy with this choice of platform?
Laurent Meta: Opensim is the only working platform, with its qualities and its faults. We have a team of four developers working hard on that platform to customise it.

George Meta: We utilize our team in a way that is most effective to maintain stability for our residents. Voice is not currently enabled here but we will look at implementing that feature when the timing is right for us.

Laurent Meta: We don't follow SL, we innovate. This region is using our latest inovation, LightShare, as an example. This feature has been requested in SL for years, but we accomplished it.  Unlike 99% of the independent grids, we are really doing things. The first physical vehicle in opensim was coded by us. Our team has got some physics specialists, some well-known developers too, all of that make us unique.

LightShare in action

[Rock: In SL you can customise all your sky and sea with those wonderful Windlight effects from the Environment Editor. However, only you see the changes you have made, everyone else does not. Wouldn't it be super cool if you could share your settings with everyone else who visits your region? Well folks, that is precisely what LightShare does! You can then do other cool stuff with this facility, such as slipping into a red haze when you get wounded in a fight, or even fading to grey or even black as your character dies. A very powerful feature]

Q. What is your stance on content theft, copybots, etc?
Laurent Meta: We have strict policies on that.

George Meta: We are a legal LLC in the USA with our own legal team who are constantly assisting us in clarifying DMCA laws within virtual worlds. Because of our ongoing communication with our attorneys and residents we are able to protect designers and our residents equally and fairly.

Q. I see you have your own viewer for Meta7. Will other viewers work, for example the Hippo Viewer?
Laurent Meta: All viewers work, but with some restriction. Only ours will allow Lightshare to work, for example. The source is availible for other viewers but we won't customised them.

George Meta: Our viewer is based on the Emerald viewer, but with modifications and special improvements made by our development team.

Q. What avatar choices are available to a new resident?
Laurent Meta: We will have premade avatars availble during account creation, with a choice of Male/female/furs.

George Meta: There are a male and female avatars currently available at Help Island for users to get started with until the premade avatar system is available during account creation.

Q. Meta7 has its own currency, the M$. Is this currency convertible out, as well as in?
Laurent Meta: Yes the currency is tradable. However, you can transfer $L here but you cannot do the opposite, it's against LL's TOS. We prefer paying back with PayPal, it's legal and risk-free.

George Meta: Our own currency system here was beta tested for a long time to ensure there would be no failures.

Q. How many Regions does Meta7 currently have? How many residents?
George Meta: There are 1369 residents and just under 180 regions, however what's more impressive is our recurring percentage. Most of our users continue to login every 30 days. In our case, people come in, stay and come back again, that model helps build confidence in our project.

Q. Who are the Proprietors of Meta7? Are their RL identities a secret?
Laurent Meta: Our IDs are not secret, MMR is a registered corporation.

George Meta: Legally speaking , there are two names on the corporation paperwork, however our entire team are our proprietors, with Trademarks and a legal team. We are fully identifiable and stand behind our project. Our selves and our corporation are fully accountable

Q. How many staff does Meta7 have, apart from the Proprietors? What are the hours of operation?
George Meta: We have a staff of 6 people who work full time on the project as well as some outside developers. We can be reached nearly 24 hours a day for live help thru our IRC help portal and ticketing system.

Laurent Meta: and most of our residents are in the help channel too.

George Meta: We will be rolling out live phone support in the future as well , as soon as the details are finalized.

Q. Is Meta7 funded solely by the proprietors, or do you have external sources of funding?
Laurent Meta: Our financial assets are solid, we invested more than US$30K on this project

George Meta: Financing is a non issue. We have very balanced books and continue to operate our grid in a responsible fiscal manner

Rock Vacirca: It is not so much the start-up costs I was referring to, it is the on-going costs. Do you think land sales and tier will cover your on-going costs, or will the proprietors have to supplement that, or will you look to external sourcs of revenue, advertising, for example?

George Meta: We aren't officially open yet, but we will allow the grid to grow at its own pace. We are fully confident our method of execution will allow the grid to achieve full fiscal balancing with land and tier.

Q. What specific features do you see that sets Meta7 apart from other opensim-based grids?
George Meta: Developing a stable platform is priority over profitability.

Laurent Meta: Keeping our innovative spririt, LightShare, near full vehicle implementations, efficient physics engine, and our little bomb ;)

Rock Vacirca: ??

Laurent Meta: A really new script engine. We have two developers working on it. We also have sitting on prims, ground sitting and sitting on complex linksets. These are unique to our grid.

George Meta: There are alot of opensim-based grids, each one with a different way of handling themselves. We continue to innovate and listen to our residents and offer them outstanding customer service and options as we continue to grow. I think one of our biggest features is stability and long term goals that do not rely on income alone to produce. We follow legal and corporate guidelines to boost consumer confidence.

Rock Vacirca: and IRC?

George Meta: IRC is one communication tool we effectively manage to communicate, another will be the launch of Metaverse Radio this spring. a Grid wide radio station that covers grid events, news, resident run podcasts, shows, and streaming radio. The community spirit is strong here.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to tell me that I have not already asked?
Laurent Meta: We are having a big live concert on the 30th January.

George Meta: Help Island Public will be welcoming some excellent live music performers starting at 8pm UTC and continuing until 1am UTC. These are well known Second Life performers who see the value in expanding their fanbase into a new virtual world.

Many thanks guys, and good luck with your project. I look forward to the official opening.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Diary: 22nd January, 2010

Blue Mars Extends the MyPage Functionality
Both the developer and user MyPages have been recently updated.

The Developer MyPage now has the following additional features:
  • Properties > City > Leased Cities > [Add Block] command: Instead of manually entering Block Name, uses the Current attribute in level_editor.xml as Block name to be added to database.
  • Properties > City > Blocks > [Re-Upload .BLD file] command added: Allows re-uploading of .BLD file for selected Block, as long as it is NOT leased out or being used by yourself.
  • If you don't have any leased Blocks, the Properties > Block tab will not be active.
  • Home > Account Info now shows "Company Code" under "Name". If you bought a City, it will show your company code (up to 6 letters). 
  • Administer > Company Members > [Add New Member]: Address, Phone, OS, Graphic Card, and CG Tool fields have been deleted from the [Add New Member] dialogue.
  • Administer > Company Members > [Add New Member]: Displays an error message if you try to register an email address that is already registered as a Blue Mars Developer.
  • Administer > Billing History: Displays various financial activity information.

The main improvements to the User Mypage  are the functioning Friends tab, and the Inventory tab.

The Friends tab now shows which of your friends are currently online or offline. The Command button has yet to be implemented, but is likely to allow Instant Messaging and various other commands.

OSGrid Concurrency
The low concurrency on the OSGrid has me worried.

As I speak the number of avatars inworld is a paltry 74, spread over 4,023 regions. There were 14 in Lbsa Plaza, five more regions with just two avatars in them, and all the rest were a single avatar in a single region. Check the current distribution here.

This is not a particularly bad snapshot either, the daily published statistics show that the numbers of users online over the last 24 hours was between 40 and 85, i.e. between at worst 1 user per 100 regions, to at best 1 user per 47 regions, and I have seen this consistently over the last couple of weeks now.

That is sparse by any yardstick.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Developers and the Blue Mars Tech. Staff - 1st Meeting

Recently the developers in Blue Mars got this invitation from the Avatar Reality Technical Staff:

The meeting was well attended and lasted well beyond the hour mentioned in the invitation. Also attending were the two mainstays of the Community Department, Glenn Sanders, Community Director for Avatar Reality, and Tiffany Nahinu, Community Development Associate. It was this team that organised the meeting, and they did an excellent job.

I had many questions concerning scripting, animations, and physics, but two answers stood out above all the others, and these were in response to questions concerning the chat-room concept, and the formation of a scripting library. These were the topics, and the answers:

Two recent threads in the SL forum (thread 1) (thread 2) made me think about privacy in general in virtual worlds, and particularly how this would be addressed in Blue Mars. The threads in the SL forum were not the first on the subject of privacy, they are a recurring complaint in SL. Basically, in Second Life, anyone can detach their camera and by extending their draw distance can send their camera anywhere inside a region, and even into neighbouring regions, right into the homes and bedrooms of other residents, and watch whatever they are doing there, as if they were standing in the room, and there is nothing that can be done about this, other than to buy an expensive private island of your own, and close it to public access.

However, it has been noticed that when you detach your camera in Blue Mars and send it into a residence, it appears bare of furniture, and no-one in there, even though it is a fully furnished residence, and people are at home. So I asked Tim the technical designer and scriptor what was going on.

Tim replied that when residents and their friends (on an access list) are inside the residence it effectively becomes a separate chat-room. So all messages concerning the objects inside that room, the avatars inside, and what they are saying and doing ONLY goes to them, and no-one else, so a stranger passing by looking through the window, or a detached camera sent inside, just sees a bare room. In Blue Mars you have true privacy! For others to see what is inside, and see the avatars in there, they must be invited, in the same way as in real life. This platform just gets better and better :)

Script Library
Now that the Blue Mars scripting wiki is taking shape (Blue Mars uses the Lua scripting language) I thought it would be of great use to newcomers to Lua to get hold of simple, sample scripts, to get their Lua feet wet, and start modifying the code for their own purposes.

I spoke to Maggie (Blue Mars name - magnolia), the scripting guru at Blue Mars, and she thought it was a great idea, and promised to get onto it straight away. Here is the proof :)

All in all, a very productive evening.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

InWorldz: An Interview with the Founders

InWorldz is a user-created Virtual World, based on the OpenSim platform. Unlike other worlds based on OpenSim this world has an economy, and uses a currency called the I'z. Currently, US$1 buys you $500 I'z.

There are no membership fees for InWorldz, and all uploads are currently free, with no plans to change that in the future. Residents may create content (without the need to own or rent any land) by using the provided sandboxes.

Land is available to buy, and comes in two flavours, Mainland (named Sah'ra) and Private Isles. Mainland regions are a cheaper than Private Isles, are restricted to PG content only, do not have full Estate controls, with terraforming restricted to +/- 15m, and have a prim limit of 30,000. Private Islands are full regions that are not connected to the Mainland. Private Isles have far more functionality and management capabilities than a mainland region. Private Isles have no rating restrictions, allow estate managers, and have full use of the estate tools. Private Isles come with a range of prims from 35,000 to 45,000.

Residents may also rent land from land owners, or get their feet wet from the community starter parcels, on the Ruby Shores region, from just $10 a month.

New Residents can sign up for InWorldz and get a username and password here.

To connect to InWorldz all you need is a viewer, and you can use the InWorldz-provided viewer, available from here, or the Hippo Viewer, available from here.

To connect with Hippo, follow these instructions:
  • Load the Viewer
  • Select the Grids button at the bottom of the interface
  • In the new window Hippo pops up, you'll see an Add button, press the button (this will clear all fields below)
  • For the field Login URI: type in '' (no apostrophes)
  • Check the drop down box is set for OpenSim
  • Click the Get Grid Info button
  • Click Apply then OK 
To use just type in your User First name, Last name, and password, and Log In.

InWorldz comes with an active Resident's Forum, a Support Centre, a Mantis bug tracking system, and a Wiki. From the website you can see the World Map, and also add events to an Events Calendar.

Considering that this Virtual World has been in existance for less than a year, it is remarkably advanced and well thought-out in its concept. I was impressed enough to seek out its owners, and they agreed to an interview so I could find out more.

Interview with the Proprietors of InWorldz
The proprietors of InWorldz are Elenia Llewellyn and Legion Hienrichs, and soon joining them will be Tranquillity Dexler.

Q. Tell me something about the history of InWorldz.
A. It started out at the end of 2008 / beginning of 2009 with a few of us in a chat room discussing  if we could even DO a full virtual world, it was a testing phase for us. Then we had people who were actually interested in seeing if we could really pull it together, and lo and behold, we had a live world. I had the time and dedication to devote to it, so we started looking at what could be used, worked on, where it really was in grand scheme of things, and by February 2009 we started our testing, and by April 2009 we actually allowed residents to come in and take a look for themselves. We got our first paying customer that same month, talk about our celebration, we were amazed!

Q. What are your goals and aims for InWorldz?
A. First and foremost, to become a viable platform that is comparable to SL. Then move on to advancing that platform. This will include things that we've spoken about as far as physics, meshes, and so on. These are all things we'd like to tackle later on to improve the platform.

Q. InWorldz is based on the Opensim platform. Are you happy with this choice of platform?
A. OpenSim has alot of potential in the fact it's not so far along it can't be revamped to our tastes. So in that regard, yes. We have done many tweaks over time with the opensim code. Most of which are geared towards making it a more reliable and usable platform. The basics are all there for the most part and we've been able to use the hooks provided to add missing functionality.

We have added a new system for profiles and other user data, revamped some of the permissions system, and rewrote the entire script event engine This was done because the current code as it stood was unable to reliably process scripts on the very region you stand on. We did some profiling, took a look at where the code was having issues, and fixed those issues to make the script engine run more like SL's.

We're concentrating on core services such as the script engine, assets etc. to make this a solid platform for growth.

Q. What is your stance on content theft, copybots, etc?
A. Copyright material needs to be protected. That's a clear cut situation for us, as we're content creators ourselves. We can't, however, police every upload, so we've made it clear, if DMCAs are filed, we will happily abide by them and remove the content from the world. We ask every resident who uploads here to abide by the wishes of the original content creator, or they will see themselves being banned from our world.

Thus far I've not run into anything that is blatant, but if I see something, I have no issues questioning the resident about the item(s). And residents will regularly ask me if "such and such is ok" to bring here, I routinely tell them, if in doubt, ask the creator first.

Q. I see you have your own viewer for InWorldz, in addition to the Hippo Viewer. Who designed your Viewer for you?
A. Legion Hienrichs: I did the viewer work. The information is freely available, so I basically did some text changes and added a few things a lot of other talented people created. Prim Backup, the permissions in the new 1.23 viewer, Worn Folder, etc. I am happy with this now, but it's as far as I can take it. We need someone with C++ skills to take this on. I am not a programmer.

Q. What avatar choices are available to a new resident?
A. A new resident only has the default (Ruth) avatar at present. they can change its sex, modify its shape, create hair, eyes, skin, shape and clothes for it, but there are no premade ones at present. A choice of premade avatars is something that has been sitting on my long list of to-do's for a while now, but when we did the web rework a couple months back, it fell further down my list. So at this point, choices are not available, but it is definitely slated to be available within the next 6 months.

Q. InWoldz has its own currency, the I'z. Is this currency convertible out, as well as in, and if not, do you have any plans to operate an exchange?
A. Yes, we have an ATM in SL and InWorldz where you can convert from I'z to L$ then back again. We have no operating exchange as of yet, but it is in our plans to provide one as the world grows.

Q. How many Regions does InWorldz currently have? How many residents?
A. We have a 25 region mainland, and then about 15 private isles outside of that... our current resident count is 620+, what we actually see as being logged in is around 1.5% to 2% of that during peak hours.

Q. How many staff does InWorldz have, apart from the Proprietors? What are your hours of operation?
A. You're looking at us! Other than our mentors who are a huge help and the residents who go out of their way to help new people. As for hours of operation, we have the US Daylight hours covered, then it goes to at least 10pm EST from there.

Q. Is InWorldz funded solely by the proprietors, or do you have external sources of funding?
A. Originally, was completely funded by the Proprietors, while Legion was a big part of that to get us going. As for external sources, we've discussed it, with no firm decisions on that yet. Our business plan is solid though as we're self-sustaining already

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?
A. I would like to add that we have to give a huge thank you to our current residents. Without them, we would not have gotten as far as we have, and they deserve a nice mention for putting up with all our bugs over the last 8-9 months.

Good luck guys.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Ten Best Male and Female Avatars

As the ability to import avatars into Blue Mars is looking fairly certain now, I thought now might be a good time to start looking around for cool male and female avatars that are currently available.

Of course you can create your own avatars, using free software such as Daz Studio, but for those, like me, who do not have the skill to create great-looking avatars, I have chosen 10 of the best from the Daz 3D Store, including a few fantasy figures. There are a number of other stores to choose from, such as Renderosity and Content Paradise, so choice should not be a problem.

So here are my Top Ten of each. Hope you like them :)

(All images are linked directly from the Daz 3D Stores and are the copyright of their respective owners)

Male Avatars

#10 Prince Albane for M4 H4

#09 Elf Dancaire for M4 H4

#08 Derek for M4

#04 Caleb for M4

#03 Alexander for M4 H4

Female Avatars

#10 Fairylicious for V4

 #09 Seduction V4

#08 Sparkel for V4

#07 Ynes for V4

#06 Alexa for V4

#05 Kunoichi for V4

#04 Julie V4

#03 Angel for V4

#02 RM Angelica for V4

#01 Vanessa for V4