Loki Avatar 3.0 – Part 7: Avastar Unleashed

It’s been over two months since i last posted an update on my Bento Avatar, that’s partly to do with working on T H E  W E L L and New Babbage traditions. The other reason was that Avastar wasn’t doing what i wanted and i was getting more and more frustrated with it and i’m sure the Avastar team were getting fed up with my support tickets.

Avastar was finally released 2.1.0 in October with the same problems that caused me to halt all work. Then in 2.1.1 i discovered the ‘bake to mesh’ option. What this feature seems to do is glue any changes made of the mesh shape to the Avastar bento rig, either moving verts, adding new verts or cutting the mesh into bits. Suddenly Avastar went from being a frustrating mess to SUPER AWESOME AVATAR BUILDING MAGIC PLUGIN.

Not only did ‘Bake to Mesh’ button fix my chopped up avatar issues, it also made making changes super easy and quicker than before. Now i don’t know when the button first appeared, as i don’t ever remember seeing it before 2.0.1. There was never any documentation to say when it should be used and the Avastar team never mentioned it to me when i sent support tickets crying. I also cant tell wether it was a feature planned at the start of Bento Avastar development or just a sudden ‘oh that would fix everything’ moment near final release. In any case it really has made things simple again especially with making clothing and is a welcome addition. Though it does come with some side effects which if not kept an eye on could cause issues.

When i discovered the ‘Bake to Mesh’ button i started using it all the time. I would make a change, then ‘bake’, upload a test, see something wrong,  go back to blender, make another change then ‘bake’ again. It wasn’t until some of my beta testers mentioned the eyes looked odd that i realised some how the face had changed from how it originally looked. Upon investigating i discovered that ‘bake to mesh’ actually warps the mesh shape ever so slightly each time it’s used. You would not notice it.

This revelation has resulted in me having to go back to previous mesh shapes created before ‘bake to mesh’ appeared and start again to remove the warped effect. Knowing now whats happening, i try to only ‘Bake to Mesh’ when i really need to.

It has not stopped me from going forward with my Bento Avatars and i hope to finally have my Bento Avatar ready for users to play with before Christmas. The next Update Post will explain more about the features built into my Bento Mesh kid Avatar.

As of posting this Avastar has a 2.1.2 release, but i’m too scared to try it.

The 2017 New Babbage Burning Barrel Race

When you replay a video game the experience is usually somewhat the same, same characters, same environment and same story. In a virtual world such as Second Life nothing is ever the same.

This year i set out to plan the decades old annual event only to discover things had changed a lot. Since the dawn of New Babbage a decade ago the Burning barrel race, which was first held as a sort of team building exercise for the then small Babbage Steampunk community, has followed the same route. Starting in the Canal District the race would venture into Babbage Square before ending in the Port spanning three second life regions.

All this changed when i discovered the port has now been redeveloped leading to me to take the opportunity to change the route and make it longer. Now the race takes a detour past the famous Brunel Hall and ends in the Academy region.

Image taken by Avariel Falcon

This years race saw even more take part in the event where Second Life’s Physics are tested. Lots of new and old faces rolled the burning barrels through the streets, some lost them in canals some kicked the barrels so hard the last thing they saw were their barrels flying off into the distance.

Even though the race is longer and has the peril of a third region crossing the rolling of the fire barrels was still over quite quickly but with the added feature of a bonfire at the end the atmospheric festivities lasted for just about an hour. While this might seem a long time for some, it’s an hour that will stick in the residents minds until we do it all again next year.

Until then here is a machinima of highlights from the 2017 New Babbage Great Burning Barrel Race.

In VR 3rd Person becomes companionship

Back in the day there was a popular argument for why Second Life is not VR. The argument all stemmed from this idea that with 3rd person there is a ‘disconnect’, that you cant feel fully immersed in VR unless in first person. 

I do not subscribe to this line of thought and in my experience i see 3rd person in VR as an opportunity to enhance feelings of empathy and companionship like never before.

In Second Life i spend all my time in 3rd person controlling my avatar that i have carefully and lovingly customised over the past 12 years. Through him i interact with my friends from around the planet. My friends can see what I’m currently into at any time due to what I’m wearing or what gadget I’m holding. Animated gestures can further express my mood through my avatar. This over time has led me to feel very connected to my Avatar, i am him and he is me, but is he me or is he his own separate identity? Sometimes i talk to my avatar as if he is a friend, other times i communicate as if i am him. It would seem that my interaction with my avatar is in a sense flexibly 1st and 3rd person.

When Second Life experiment with a VR enabled viewer it was interesting how this changed things. In mouse look (1st Person) i felt i was my avatar looking around like i was there myself which is what most neoVR types were excited about. But you could also have 3rd person VR view of your avatar as if like a spirit peering down on your avatar and suddenly it was like looking upon another person that you have known for a very long time. When my avatar looked back directly at me it was a strange feeling and one thats been nagging me ever since because most VR experiences totally dismiss 3rd person as something you should NOT do in VR.

Yet on the PSVR there have been a few experiments with 3rd person. Robot Rescue part of the Playroom VR mini games had you controlling a little robot in a platformer scenario. It felt like i was remote controlling a robot like a toy and was essentially 3rd person in VR but the added feeling of presence enhances an emotional connection between the user and the 3rd person character.

This was further explored in the up coming game ‘Moss’ which i managed to play a demo of this week. In Moss you play a helpful spirit or god following a tiny warrior mouse. You control the mouse like any other 3rd person game but the genius is that the mouse acknowledges you with waves and squeaks and due to the immersion of VR the mouse appears like a real living character. I found myself becoming very protective of the character and also found myself waving at it and cheering it on even though i was the one controlling it.

What if 3rd Person in VR can actually be more powerful in tapping into empathy than 1st person? In Resident Evil i remember feeling terrible and apologising to a character after i hit her with an axe so it’s not like you don’t feel empathy in 1st person. With 3rd person though i feel we get an extra connection to the character because we are controlling, guiding the character. Playing the Moss demo gave me a feeling of companionship, i wasn’t just playing a game as a mouse, i was going on an adventure with a mouse who i needed to assist and keep safe.

In Social VR 3rd person seems often an after thought for desktop users to join the party. Social VR in 1st person is somewhat an extroverts paradise, 3rd person in VR could help introverts as they let their avatars bridge the anxiety divide for them.

As a user of Virtual Worlds or MMORPGs how do you perceive your avatar/character? Is it you, a separate own identity or  flexibly between both?

Presenting T H E  W E L L : Ultimum

It has been two years since the 3rd chapter in the Well Series which saw Second Life visitors get lost in a healthcare centre trying to work out what the hell was going on. Some people hated it, other loved it and i thought that was it with regards to The Well. But here we are again with a 4th and this time (i promise) final chapter.

This time the story (if there is one) takes place before all the other episodes in a dark wood full of secrets. In an empty room you find a diary, a last page written by a frightened boy who writes that something is banging on his door. From there you venture out into the woods to learn if you can what has been going on.

If you managed to visit the other chapters you might understand things more than others but it does not really matter with The Well. I’ve always aimed for The Well to be more about atmosphere than the story telling. The original inspiration was to see if i could really scare visitors in Second Life using a variety of cheap jump scares and unnerving atmosphere.

 

For best results i recommend having Advanced Lighting enabled, Windlight set to the regions default settings and turning your speakers up or wearing headphones for the sounds of foxes howling in the night. A torch is supplied as you venture into the woods and will light up your way.

The experience also occasionally uses Media on a Prim to display haunting nostalgia from the 80s and in fact the whole experience aims to give an somewhat hauntological vibe.

The experience is purposely dark making it hard to see whats out there breathing in the shadows.

The very dark woodland was created using my experiments with photogrammetry. I went out into real woods and took photo surveys of muddy pathways. These were then used to create 3D models of the woods which i then used in The Wells woodland scenes in the hope of adding realism to the spooky atmosphere.

 

A lot of work also went into the Experience Tools HUD that pops up to tell you info and parts of the story while hopefully keeping the experience easy and simple to use.

The Well game will be open for as long as there is interest from people to check it out. There is a fee to enter The Well (L$200 – $0.80 – 60p) , but once the pass is purchased you can return to the well when ever you feel the desire :). Especially since there is a whole playlet to collect this year.

 

Hope everyone who visits has an enjoyably frightening time. You can visit T H E  W E L L :Ultimum HERE

My Virtual World avatar is now 12 yrs old!

Loki is now 12 and since last year has had a massive overhaul thanks to the Second Life Project Bento.

From 2006 to 2013 my avatar which is represented by a mischievous and creative kid has steadily improved in fidelity and visual personality. One of the most flourishing aspects of the virtual world of Second Life is the ability to pretty much completely customise what represents you there.

Many eventually settle on a look and over the years fine tune it based on their personal likes, culture and influences. friends learn to recognise each others avatars based on their avatars appearance and even mannerisms.

Between 2014 and 2016 my avatar did not change much at all. I had reached a point where i thought there was nothing much more i could really do to improve my avatars fidelity and other projects got in the way of improving clothes. That was until this year when i decided to explore ‘Project Bento’.

Project Bento has allowed me to completely recreate my avatar with higher detail than before that includes complete control over the 3d Model, animated fingers and facial expressions opening the door for an avatar that expresses even more personality.

It was not easy either, with Avastars 5 month rocky release candidate road i nearly went stark raving mad and it took a lot of patience and Blender3D knowledge. But we got there in the end and while my current Bento Avatar is almost complete there is still a lot of extra stuff to explore with expressions and animations.

This year has gone blindingly fast and It’s been a year of waiting for things to be released from Sansar,  Apple, Avastar, or Animesh. I cant help but feel that some very cool stuff will be possible next year all across the world of VR and AR as well as Second Life.

Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me through the past year 🙂