Do Second Life avatars dream of relevance?

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It was during my weekly DJ set at the long running Vortex virtual dance club that the news broke of Facebook’s acquisition of OculusVR. Amongst the avatars enjoying the selection of tunes i was playing, the first responses were not happy ones.

A few days later and regardless of the distrust of the Zuckeberg empire it can’t be denied that VR has suddenly jumped up several levels in the worlds conscious mind. Suddenly this week everyones talking about VR and the Tech media blogs are ablaze with their predictions of what Facebook will do. I read these articles dumbfounded at the claims of what might come, knowing dam well that it’s already here in Second Life.

At Tech Crunch Dan Kapla says …

“In one potential future, the identities we project into the metaverse will be fuzzy or even obscured. Here, our avatars will have little or nothing in common with our actual selves in the real world. They will range from pseudonymous constructions to total fantasies, like the socially-awkward straight male who plays the female dark elf seductress when he enters cyberspace.”

For years Second Life users have shouted and screamed at the top of their voices to show how relevant Second Life is now and to the future, but our voices fell unheard by media. Now VR is on the tip of every tech tongue and they simply ignore us. Second Life has 11 years of experience and evolution behind it. It predates Facebook and twitter and has had to solve lots of issues Facebook has yet to even try. I wonder wether Facebook will have to tip toe around any patents Linden Lab might own about Virtual Worlds.

 

By adding Oculus support to Second Life will this mean Linden Lab are ahead of the game?

The creation of Oculus isn’t just about being fooled into thinking you are IN your favourite virtual places in Second Life. The breakthrough of cheap head sets and tracking is pretty much done by the OculusVR team, the real important work, the revolutionising part, will be in the exploring of how we can control and interact within virtual reality without the need for all these 2d UI options.

Simply adding the Oculus to Second Life does nothing to compete with the large community of developers trying out UI ideas never before conceived. Wether you care or not about Oculus, Linden Lab are going to be forced to be right there with these new developing platforms if they want to stay relevant to virtual reality or end up like Active Worlds, still around but important to the past.

While I’m not all that impressed with Linden labs first efforts to incorporate Oculus into Second Life, it is a start in a direction they have to take now. It won’t be long before competition comes on line from Facebook or High Fidelity or even Yahoo. Linden Lab haven’t really had competition before, and we users have never had any good alternatives to SL before. Will future Virtual Worlds platforms just do what Second Life does now? or will they do more? or will they simply just need to do the same things but better in order to pull us away from Linden Lab to new shiny cheap Islands of social creativity.

wearehere

I want to stay relevant.

So here i am, an avatar who makes a living in the metaverse, cyberspace, the grid. I am what Dan Kapla dreams of  being yet Techcrunch ignores me, they pretend i don’t exist yet. I still crave the acceptance of the wider world, i want to be relevant to mass media. Facebook blew VR up big and bold so surly Second Life and all that it’s achieved should be visible now, surly i should be relevant now?

 

Returning to freeform Role-play

babbgechronicles_avatarIn 2011 a group of Second Life role-players watched as an entire pumping facility collapsed around them in the Steampunk city of New Babbage. So ended a story that had started in 2006 and evolved in to this monster of story telling, scripted HUD’s, machinema and clue hunting.

It all started fairly simple and random. I built an abandoned theatre and placed dark brooding murals in the attic. Then a user known as Professor Nishi blogged about finding them and speculated about their meaning. This sparked and idea to set up a murder mystery, the murder of Alexander Eliot and from there grew stories of a secret device, doors to other worlds, old gods, cloud angels, Homunculi, buried statues, crypts, ancient knights, prisoners on the moon, a great fire and secret organisations.

Since the Story finished i have been rebuilding my steampunk plots using mesh trying to achieve a much darker and grittier atmosphere. I have also been trying out new ways to achieve complex RP. In the past there has been two sides to the Roleplay story, one is the HUD based clue hunt mysteries where anyone can grab a HUD and go search for clues uncovering a story. The second is an ongoing interaction of players who who can contribute to the over all story in a freeform style RP. One is like and old style RPG adventure, while the other is more akin to Live Action role-play in virtual space. I was never happy with how both seemed so separated from each other making it hard for me to maintain a unified experience.

So i’ve gone back to the drawing board and learnt some new tricks with Second Life and have finally returned to RP in New Babbage with the Clock’in system.

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The Clock’in System will hopeful lay the the foundations for a better role-play experience…. fingers crossed.

Introducing the New Babbage Chronicles – Clock’in

The city of New Babbage slowly recovers from the time of the Dark Aether falling. The iron grip the Van Creed society had on the cities businesses has collapsed leaving room for new ventures to take advantage of the large potential working class. Set in the steampunk city of New Babbage, two large factories are looking for street urchins or adult working class citizens to come work for them. 

What is it?: It’s a points based casual RP game that anyone can get involved with but does not require you to Roleplay if thats not your thing.

How does it work?: You choose a factory to work at, visit the Punch Clock and grab the free HUD, then click the Punch clock once everyday to gain attendance points.

Do i have to be there everyday?: By clicking your factories clock every day you gain attendance points. The more points you gain the higher in rank at the factory you become and the more items you can collect such as Hats, boots, and even special tattoos.

Where does the story come in?: The story will unfold over the coming months with events and encounters pitting factory against factory, mysteries to work together to solve and what ever else players might come up with by themselves. In some cases people will earn bonus points, while in other situations points will be deducted.

What if i don’t care for Points and just want to RP?: The story and roleplaying will unfold regardless of the attendance points system, it just means you won’t be able to get the collectable items from the Clock’in.

Is the Workers HUD just for the Clock’in?: No the Workers HUD also gives you extra options for using special work animations in the factory and will be updated with new ideas to help with role-play encounters and mysteries in future.

The Clock’n system is an experiment and is free. I’m hoping the system will allow me to do more complex ideas and allow those who love to invest in proper Roleplaying and those who like a gaming experience both to enjoy themselves at the same time. With so much going on with new features and updates and OculusVR, its nice to get back to what SL is truly create at, immersive experience.

If you are bored and want to try a new role-play then join one of the factories and help New Babbage become great again.

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If you have any questions about the Clock’in system feel free to IM me in world. You can also find out more from the Babbage Chronicles website.

I need to thank my friends Matthew for being such a great and patient teacher with Scripting and PHP, Jimmy for helping with one half of this on going story and Myrtil, Max and everyone else who has helped test the HUD and joined the group to help push the RP forward. Im really looking forward to finding out where this all leads over the next few years :).

I think the OculusVR Hyperbole is hijacking ‘VR’

So i was listening to the Draxfies Radio hour on friday. The debate between Drax and Ben Lang on ‘what VR is’ interested me.

Im pretty sure VR or Virtual Reality is being hijacked and repurposed by the OculusVR hype. As if any use of the term before we strapped sensors to our heads is not valid anymore, and that Head Mounted Displays ‘HMDs’ are the ONE TRUE form of Virtual Reality thats never been possible before now.

I’m reminded of an interview with Ray Kurzweil where he once said even “The Telephone is Virtual Reality, you enter a virtual space as if you were together”. There was also a point made about one being a world seen through a screen while the other is not, …except it is, thats what the ‘Display’ part of a Head Mounted Display is referencing.

There are differences between the two experiences, i accept that, in fact there are a lot more different ways to experience virtual reality. But i don’t agree with this notion that HMD experience is the ‘One VR experience that rules them all’.

More than one VR experience

Second Life allows for lots of different ways to be immersed in VR. It gives the user choices which best suit their personal abilities and those who have become attuned with the Ui Language can fully immerse themselves emotionally. I have memories of fantastic events, and the friends who were there. Trying to argue that this is not proper VR because i don’t have a sensor strapped to my head to fool me into thinking I’m really there, is sort of arrogant and a clear sign to me of HMD hyperbole.

HMDs are just a sensor tracked screen on your face. It helps fool you into thinking you are somewhere you are not. To people who lack the ability to use imagination this will be like magic. Don’t get me wrong, the HMD experience is definitely amazing, but for long time users of VR i think what they value in VR is above and beyond what is basically an extra depth to VR perception and if they can’t find that value while using HMDs then they won’t use HMDs.

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Final thoughts

It’s fine if champions of the HMD want their own little VR gang where they can feel all superior with their lack of immersive imagination, but don’t hijack the whole plethora of Virtual Realities to hype your fancy sensor tech. 😛

 

I want a second action button in Second Life’s controls

Just before Rod Humble entered the scene and just after upgrading my island to a full region, i had started a project to create a game that tapped into childhood joys of bashing things with a stick. 

It was my first real attempt at making a game within SL and over the years I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to use while maximising the fun. It’s now at version 4.5 and includes Health, auto teleporting and animations, but while I’m still waiting for a new Permissions system to make things even MORE easy for the user to use, I’m going to blog about something else that I’ve found it hard to work around.

 

 “Action”

Second life has a plethora of control keys to move your avatar but only one button for an action. This is the mouse button. You click on an object to sit, open doors, fire a gun or activate a scripted object.

 

Mouse Look

Traditionally with projectile weapons you change to ‘mouse look’ mode and click mouse button to fire a cow gun, Problem is, if you try to open a door while in mouse look you end up with cow all over your door.

mouselook

in mouselook i can shoot monsters and other avatars with weapons and swing my stick, but i can not open this door 🙁 if only i could click a key to open it.

3rd Person

For my bashing game i wanted people to stay in 3rd person but still be able to use weapons.  Nothing is cooler than watching you Avatar go nuts on a giant thistle. But you cant click the mouse to fire a weapon in third person, you end up just clicking the floor or where ever your cursor currently is on screen.

3rdperson

In third person i can’t shoot a weapon or swing my stick, but at least i can open doors. If only there was a keyboard button i could press to shoot my weapon or swing my stick 🙁

The HUD Work Around

In my Bashing game i worked around the third person issue by adding a HUD Button that you click to make you avatar bash stuff, But in mouselook you can’t interact with a hud. Would be nice if i could script the controls to map to a keyboard key, but LSL seems unable to do this.

 

The Gesture work around.

I’ve seen some people use gestures to activate commands such as ‘reload’ or ‘holster’, but its limited and script heavy.

 

Solution

The easiest solution i can think of is the creation of a second action. A second action button would allow users to finally open a door while holding a weapon in mouse look, or in Third person adventures to attack NPCs without inadvertently sitting on giant mushroom seat.

Or why not allow scripts to map keyboard keys to scripted actions?

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It would be nice if i could have more freedom with mapping keyboard keys to scripted actions, Or simply one new action button to activate objects in mouse look or fire objects in 3rd person would be nice.

Why Bother

Im seeing more and more hardware appearing that revolve around controlling like leap motion, iOS Controllers and headsets that require more intuitive ease of use. The latest Oculus Beta Viewer also suffers from this lack of a second action. I think it’s about time Second Life got a second dedicated Action key.

 

Taking the VR Beta Viewer for a spin

Finally dusted off the OculusVR for a quick run about with the Official Linden Lab Beta for OculusVR support.

Remember this is a Beta so anything i say here may change in future especially as Oculus and VR itself is still developing. For instance there are moments when you turn your head at an angle and the oculus does not do this so you feel a bit odd. This is due to the Oculus not allowing for tracking the orientation of the head. But solution to this has already been unveiled in the Crystal Cove Prototype which goes to show that commenting on the performance and use of these things could be irrelevant a month later.

I had used the first Alpha of the CntrlAltStudio Oculus Viewer and have hoped that the LL viewer would address some issues i found with that. Obviously CntrlAltStudio has since added their own improvements but since there is no Mac version of those later builds, i don’t know wether my issues were addressed.

 

Ok lets dive in.

Using the viewer is simple if you know how the viewer works. It loads up just as a normal LL Viewer, Via the ME menu you can toggle the Head Mounted Display Mode and if your OculusVR is plugged in your monitor will go black. Im used to the Oculus demos being mirrored on monitor so i can see what my friends are seeing, or to record examples. As such you will not see any Snapshots or Videos of what went on. I don’t know if this is a mac issue or something LL decided to keep FPS, i don’t know yet.

Putting on the OculusVR and you will find yourself looking down at your avatar with the UI menus and HUDs wrapped around your vision. I had to really look up to see the top menu. The Arrow Cursor is fun, it pops up in front of the wraparound Menu items and zooms off into the distance to click distant objects. It really adds to the depth of the 3d environment. I found the default wraparound too close my face but its easily adjustable via preferences to be further away.

It is a really awesome feeling to be stood in places you have visited everyday in Second Life. In a way it feels like you’ve watched the movie everyday for five years and now it feels like you are finally standing at where it was filmed. Objects that constantly move such as a giant water wheel, your eyes focus on one part and your head moves to follow its rotation up and around. The sense of scale is amplified by the effort you have to make to see it all by the craning of your neck. Leaning over edges of cliffs and buildings you get that depth, you feel the distance and as you leap off you get that super human rush.

They have retrofitted the Oculus view to third person camera and mouse look camera which work as you would hope, but they also added a totally new third camera which they are calling ‘First Person’. This is the best mode for doing stuff in SL with a head mounted display (HMD).

The best thing i found when trying this beta was flying my battle balloons. In old MouseLook flying a vehicle was limiting. With the new FirstPerson mode, you can fly vehicles as you would in third person but from the view of mouse look and its really fun!.

The viewer ran pretty much the same speed as the none Oculus Viewer, but i am using a Mac which never seems to run at full power anyways. I have Advanced Lighting switched on with no shadows and everything looked great even in New Babbage. In fact i was surprised to see that HMD does not work unless you have advanced lighting enabled.

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Some things.

There were some issues but ill only discuss a few. Keyboards are to the OculusVR what a VHS video player is to new 4k Tvs. They simply hinder the experience. At one point i looked down in my view for the keyboard to type, an intuitive response that isn’t catered for anywhere yet. Someone somewhere at some point will have to create a arm mounted keyboard packed with sensors that map to a keyboard in your virtual world view.

There is a need i feel for visible clickable short cuts. I guess i could invest in a programmable mouse for things like removing UI, toggling HMD, swapping through viewing modes, could these not be buttons i can click in the view?  i think 3D Connexion have a smart pro 3D mouse that allow for shortcuts. The Oculus viewer does sort of support the 3DSpaceNavigator. I use the 3D mouse ALL the time, spending most of my inworld time disconnected from my avatar. If you do use the 3D mouse with the oculus you will find that it messes with your vertical viewing direction.

At first i wanted to see my avatar while in mouse look, so when i looked down i could see my feet, yeah! But i soon discovered that my AO’s animations would spin around while my view stayed fixed leading to some scary neck twisting action.

Although the Piloting part of my Battle Balloon game worked better, the Gunner part of my Battle Balloons which uses mouse look to fire cannons in the direction you look was kinda broken by the rift. HMD Mouse Look uses a technique where your avatar will turn 360 with the slightest turn of your head. This is so HMD users can turn around without having to actually turn around, but to me it’s just confusing and not natural. If you look down you can quickly get into a spiny mess of disorientation, especially if you are trying to look below to shoot at oncoming Battle Balloons. I’ve thought a few times before that perhaps LL could introduce an ‘action’ button but thats a subject for another blog post me thinks.

I need to take it to Jo Yardley’s scaled showcase because you definitely take more notice of the scale of your surroundings. I also plan to use the OculusVR during my DJ show this tuesday to see how its like actually being on the dance floor. In all the UI solution and the new First Person Mode are great, and its given me some stuff to think about when building my next experience in SL. I’ve had a kid avatar since i first arrived in SL, but only now am i seeing the world from kids perspective and its quite funny.