Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 1 : Here we go again!

The Beginning of last year the big news about second life was the new BENTO avatar feature allowing creators the ability to rig mesh avatars with facial expressions and hand gestures.

Perhaps the Drax Files should have waited a year before showcasing Bento as the case always seems to be that Linden Lab introduce a feature, the community goes wild, then Linden Lab take a year or two to finally release said feature to a community thats long forgotten about it. I myself decided middle of last year not to jump on the Bento Bandwagon until the project was complete, and chose instead to push all thoughts of Bento to 2017.

So now we are in 2017 i have started looking at Bento or more specifically Avastar 2.0.  I’ve rigged characters for animating in blender many times but when it comes to second life the whole weighting for fitted mesh and other technical garbage that needs to be done gives cause for anxiety. Thats why Avastar is so important.

When i created my first Mesh Avatar the Avastar plugin for Blender was for me a bit unstable. It was still having features added in order to support the misleading ‘fitted mesh‘ feature. What i ended up with was a mesh avatar that worked for me but wasn’t a very good avatar for others to use and customise. The hope is this time around Avastar is much more stable, much more accurate and that i understand better how it works.

While not committing to create Loki Avatar 3.0 until Avastar reaches official release, i have been experimenting and getting to grips with the Avastar work flow which can change suddenly when they change options around confusing the hell out of me. Not only is Avastar a quicker way to create avatars, it also has features to export animations making it the best tool for creating SL animations. Seeing your mesh avatar hands moving thanks to Bento is really cool, and so is watching him blink. Suddenly mesh avatars can truly come alive!

I’ve also been using Substance painter to texture the new Loki Avatar. Before i used old faithful photoshop which is now bloated with features i don’t use or understand. Substance painter is now my goto tool for texturing 3D Models and is allowing me to create extremely detailed skins. Just how much of this detail will end up in Second Life i do not yet know, but it might fare better in future VR platforms.

The main aim for me is not realism, but rather personality.

Future Features
I learned a lot from my first mesh avatar Loki Avatar 2.0. Specifically about how users don’t want to change how they do things, so i’ll be creating my next avatar with that in mind.

Here are a list of features i hope to explore for Loki Avatar 3.0

• Personalities – With the addition of Bento facial animations, it’s possible that built in expressions could convey specific personalities, such as naive & Innocent, cheeky & mischievous, Grumpy, ect. Personalities could be chosen from a menu option adding a type of avatar customisation not available before.

• Hand gesture options – You could select from many hand poses.

• Easier Skin customisation – Loki Avatar 2.0 was notoriously difficult to customise the skin, i made the mesh texture system far to complicated so plan to make customising the skin a priority feature this time around.

• Common size – For Loki Avatar 2.0 i had this wacky idea to use adult size SL skeleton joint shrieked down to a kid size would make for e abetter kid avatar. It worked for me, but confused EVERYONE who used it, and in some cases just made other clothing break the universe when attached. It was partly because i had a silly idea, a lack of understanding how Avastar worked, and i stubbornly refused to begin again. Well now i am beginning again and i hope to make an avatar thats 100 times more friendly to other creators clothing.

• Bento Default Head – In my tests i’ve been working on my own very specific Loki face. I may decide to create a more detailed face based on the default Second Life head shape. The Idea being that those who are attached to how they currently look with default avatars, can try and reproduce the same face with a bento mesh avatar using the avatar slider support. In theory it should be possible, but we’ll have to wait and see. There is the possibility that i could create a range of different faces which you can tweek using sliders.

The Loki Bento Mesh avatar is just the start, the real fun begins with clothing and bento supported attachments that can take advantage of the new skeletons extra abilities. This year continues to be fun!

Resident Evil 7 is awesome, even though my brain got confused – PSVR Review

Resident Evil is a huge gaming franchise and i’ve only played perhaps one of them, Code Veronica back in 2000 on the Sega Dreamcast. It was one of the best game i ever played back then but i did not play any of the others due to not having a games console for a while. 

17 years later comes Resident Evil 7 and the only real reason I’m playing it is because the entire game can also be played on the PSVR, and I’m like quite enthusiastic about VR.

It helps that i am also a fan of the classic 80s slasher horrors such as Evil Dead because Resident Evil 7 moves quite a ways away from the zombie apocalypse and into Texas chain saw B-movie territory, which is refreshing and nostalgic at the same time. The lowish resolution of the PSVR also gives off a rather cool effect of being inside an 80s horror nightmare.

While there is not as much detail on screen as in the none VR mode, it’s still a delight to lean over up close to somethings and seeing maggots wiggling about, flies  photos and other items that add to the atmosphere.

Watch live video from LokiEliot on www.twitch.tv

This is a game that might not necessarily have been created with the PSVR in mind, but is a great example of how experiences can be so different when immersed with a headset. For example there are moments where knives are thrust at your face and on a tv screen you just flinch and punch the game pad, but on a headset you find yourself physically ducking, leaning  your head or jumping your whole body to the side out of pure reflex.

The worst experiences are when you know something is there but can’t see it. Those moments are more terrifying so far than any monster thats yet to appear. I watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the big screen also in 2000 and after i noted to my friend how it was like sitting through someones nightmare that you just could not wake up from. Resident Evil in PSVR is like experiencing the same sort of nightmare, luckily i can take off the headset and have a break every time i reach a Cassette save point. Its not long before i want to jump right back into the nightmare though :-p

Watch live video from LokiEliot on www.twitch.tv

My Brain got confused

While the game and story are so far awesome, there is a few niggling things about the experience in VR. For a start i love walking exploring VR games. I enjoy cockpit games too but there is nothing quite like getting the freedom to walk around exploring the environment and It was one of the main reason i fell in love with Robinson: The Journey. For these sorts of games i prefer to stand, i think it makes perfect sense that to play a game where you are a character walking around that your brain would feel more comfortable if you are stood up.

This is where my own personal preference for playing VR took issue with Resident Evil 7. The controls are set so that you can look around but you have to use the ‘Right gamepad stick’ to turn your character in the same manner as in Robinson: The Journey, with sudden jerks which is fine in VR but puke inducing for anyone watching on Twitch. The problem comes during moments of action or cut scenes. Because i am stood up, i often turn my whole body left or right not just my head, then proceed to push forward on the controller to head in the direction i turned.

Resident Evil’s VR mode does not account for this when action happens and displays it as such from the direction of the PS4’s camera. So for instance i can be walking along, see something to my right, turn my body to face that direction and move forward with the game pad. Suddenly an action moment occurs, either birds flying, or a person jumping out and the game switches to present that action from the direction of the camera leaving me looking at a bush wondering what the hell is going on.

I must point out i haven’t felt sick while playing Resident Evil on PSVR, and  once i realised what was causing the direction confusion, i started to take more care in what direction i was facing. It means every now and then i have to reposition myself towards the PS4 Camera if i want action to seamlessly happen from the right direction.  It’s as if The VR Mode assumes you are going to be sat facing the same direction for the entire experience, but my brain along with my body when standing wants to be free to move around.

 

Not so scary… yet

I have jumped a few times, and tried to hide in a bucket, but so far I’ve not been to terrified. Instead i’ve been quoting Ash from evil dead and occasionally laughing at the splatter gore, but I’m only one hour into the game though and i’ve read comments that worst is yet to come.

As an extra note, i also got the special 4D Resident Evil VR Candle thats supposed to help you get more immersed by giving off an unpleasant smell of rotting wood and blood. It actually smelled quite pleasant, reminding me of an old scout camp cottage i used to visit in my youth out in the middle of the woods. I hope this isn’t some kinda repressed memory thing going on here….

My optimistic list for Second Life in 2017

Well that was a crazy year, and while for many real life resembled a heavily griefed region in 2007, i left the year feeling quite optimistic with Second Life. So here is my 2017 list compiled with a reflection of 2016.

1. Continue to rebuild and develop Escapades Island.

You can’t really build a place in Second Life then expect it to just sit there remaining relevant all by it’s self or can you? Some places during 2016 ran into trouble, disappeared then reappeared, all thanks to the dreaded high tier prices… all so they say. Escapades had the best year ever with regards to support from it’s renters and also benefiting from Linden Labs buy back grandfathering and prim increases in a sort of parody fortune switcheroony of Uk reality.

I used SL13B celebrations as an excuse to rebuild the Castle ruins while also adding a small adventure game inside the Mountain. People enjoyed the experience when it was free, but i got a lot of grief from people who felt once they had played the experience that the payment for the pass  was too much.

 

2. Babbage Chronicles becomes a proper gaming system.

After the Escapades anniversary finished i put all my resources into working on the New Babbage Chronicles. This was something i have been wanting to do ever since the last big Steampunk Roleplaying ‘Dark Aether falls’ in 2011 but i had to wait for Linden Lab to release XPtools and also learn to script what i wanted.

During the autumn i finally released a small test story ‘A Girl Meets a Boy’ which gives a good idea how things will progress. Using minimal discrete HUD system, the Babbage Chronicles will allow it’s players to explore New Babbage and uncover hidden stories. With the groundwork finally in place i will spend 2017 promoting to more users and building more stories to offer players in Second Life to investigate.

 

3. Help with Fantasy Faire.

In 2016 i created a whole region for Fantasy faire called Echtra. Not only did i have great fun building the muddy gloomy atmosphere but i was blown away by those who took up the roleplaying and helped uncover the mystery behind the place. It was the most magical satisfying experience of the year for me.

In 2017 i will be taking a step back. I will probably get involved with the roleplaying organising and prop building, but i won’t be doing a region this year. Thats not to say i won’t put myself forward next year 🙂

 

4. The Loki Bento Avatar.

In 2015 Linden Lab announced Project Bento and everyone including myself assumed i would create a new Bento Loki Avatar in 2016. This didn’t happen. About half way through the year i decided to wait for Avastar to finish their very important big update to include Bento Skeletons in the Blender workflow. It soon became apparent that Bento would not be released until the end of the year, so i made the choice to halt all avatar and clothe making until the 2017.

With my first Mesh Avatar i made a lot of mistakes. Avastar was still in it’s early years and now offers a much more flexible and stable feature set combined with Linden Labs new Bento Skeleton system. Usually i’d be all over the new features but decided to wait. Once Avastar is complete i dive head long into creating a new avatar for myself and then create new clothing.

 

5. Tell more Tales, organise more Roleplays

With he groundwork in place for the Babbage Chronicles Story game system thingy, i hope to also create other mini story adventures for places like Escapades and Geminis Vortex City (try to time it with the new Bladerunner). Last minute additions to XPtools such as ‘ForceSit’ lead to Egnog the Christmas Troll being able to eat you, an ability that wasn’t possible a few months ago, not that you would have noticed that :-p

How simple it is to adapt the system to other themes will determine wether i decided to release the XPtools story system for others to grab and create their own. It also kinda depends on how easy Linden Lab make it for others to gain XP keys.

 

6. New Technologies

I’m expecting technology to get more expensive not cheaper. The prospects of me getting an HTC Vive or Oculus in 2017 are slim, but there are other technologies i backed before Brexit that i hope will usher in new creative paradigms for me in Second Life. One is a 3D Scanner called the Bevil. Apparently being shipped and should arrive any day now, this device will 3D scan physical objects which i can hopefully use via Blender in Second Life.

Another device is the PrioVR motion suit which also has apparently shipped. The PrioVR boasts the ability to allow your body to be mapped in a VR game, but im more interested in using it to record motion capture for use in quickly creating poses and animations for Second Life. There is also Leapmotion which has been around for a while now but has become slightly more relevant with Project Bento what with the possibility to motion capture hand gestures.

 

7. Be on Drax Files.

Years ago Draxtor pleaded for me to be in one of his world maker videos and my reply was that ‘im not ready yet’. If you are going to be profiled on your work, you want to at least have the work completed, and for years it felt like nothing was completed, everything felt like an experiment for a bigger thing to come. But with Escapades Island fully rented, and New Babbage Chronicles close to being what dreamed it would be…. maybe just maybe i’ll be ready to be in a Drax Video.

 

Sketches from 2016

Throughs he year i create a lot of sketches while planning projects for Second Life. Here is a video of just a few from 2016. Have a great year!

Sketches 2016 by lokieliot

Available from Loki this crazy Christmas week!

Finally released some items in time for the Christmas Holidays. Maybe one or two will catch you eye and help enhance your festive spirit in Second Life!

Timerascal Dodger TopHats – Christmas Edition

Timerascal Bakerboy Cap – Christmas Edition

Timerascal Snow Gauntlets

Timerascal Brass Goggles 4.0

Timerascal Aviation Goggles

Timerascal Paupers Christmas Tree pack

• Timerascal Christmas Brooches – BellsHorn

Timerascal Snow Shoes

Escapades Instants – Winter Sleigh / Sledge

Escapades Instants – Snow Mobile

• Loki Kids Parka coat – MulticolourNostalgicBaycity

PSVR Headset

• Loki Bobblehat

Loki Kids Christmas Jumpers

 

Why not visit the Inworld Loki Tree of Christmas! >> HERE

Lessons of social #VR

After the Oculus phenomenon there was a period where Second Life users such as my self were cheering with excitement. For us it seemed the long awaited next step in Virtual World immersion was fast approaching at last.

There was almost a sense that through this new technological advancement our niche of a social virtual world would finally get the recognition we feel it deserved, and even go ‘main stream’.

From my own perspective it felt like a logical next step in what i was already doing, but to my surprise for a lot of tech media this was the start. This lead to some Second Life users kicking up a fuss and pointing out that a lot of things being claimed as ‘first time’ was already done before in Second Life years before. It also created a distinction war between Virtual Reality and Virtual Worlds.

As a Second Life user for over a decade it can be quite annoying, in part because i want Second Life to have more recognition for its incredible achievements, and also because it feels like i’m being branded as irrelevant in this new VR trend.

But the main reason i get annoyed is because for me Immersive VR was supposed to be the next step, the evolutionally step up from what we do in Second Life, but instead everyone seems to be retracing the early years of Second Life’s social evolution. This is why my eyes roll when i read postulations on the future of SocialVR, about ‘Facebook Emojis’, ‘watching movies in VR with friends’, ‘Share snapshots in VR with social media platforms’.

I mean, if i think back to how socially Second Life has changed since the start. How Linden Lab had to evolve how they managed user interaction, how they chose to deal with abuse reports. I remember how back in 2005 Second Life had a reputation system where you could rate people you met. This soon got gamed and abused so eventually it was deprecated, a lesson that was learnt years before it became a plot for an episode of Black Mirror this year.

So much came about due to Linden Lab allowing the free flow of User created social engagement. Even the idea of a marketplace was created by the Second Life users before it became hugely popular and was bought up by Linden Lab to be a major part of the Platform. The community shapes the Second Life Platform and the possibilities of virtual reality platform has in turn shaped the community.

Then you have the many different aspects of a virtual persona. People using a virtual space do so in a variety of ways, some using one avatar to represent themselves, others use many alts to switch and and swap and try out different personas. There have been Stanford studies about this, books written, embedded anthropologists examine how humans are using virtual worlds to explore aspects of humanity that can’t be done in physical reality.

You would think all this wealth of data on how people share virtual spaces would be a treasure trove for any new Social VR Startup. I occasionally hear “2D worlds like Second Life are irrelevant because they are not immersive VR.” It is true Second Life users have to use a lot more imagination to be immersed through the screen, but they do it, they have been doing it for years. it would be foolish to presume Second Life is just a 3D Facebook of shared shitposts, memes and fake news.

I don’t want to be that grouchy Second Life user that claims to have been there and done that with everything SocialVR related. I’m pleading with everyone who’s dabbling in SocialVR, there is a decade of Social VR lessons, achievements and mistakes to be learnt from already, don’t just ignore it because Second Life users could not say “wow i feel like I’m actually here”, because down the road that ‘i’m there’ presence will in the end likely be the thing that is irrelevant to SocialVR.

What i am most excited about with Social VR is what aspects of reality will we bring into our virtual ones and what purely virtual paradigms will we adopt. I’ve been teleporting for years already.