It’s time to change things

All this talk of VR and Sansar could lead you to believe i don’t do anything anymore in the biggest user created Virtual World.

Following Fantasy Faire i’ve been slowly building up accessories for my Kid avatar range, built a new mega store and created BMX bikes. I scanned in some old shoes that seemed to be perfect for Second Life Kids and once i feel ready i plan to promote my Avatar range properly. Before that though i need to deal with the Escapades Island Issue.

About a year ago i sat down with some of the Islands plot renters/owners and discussed possible ways to breath new life into the island. Nothing lasts for ever, everything marches on and old places need to be injected with fresh relevance. 

It’s coming up to Escapades Island’s 8th year of existence and if i’m truthful the Island has never been finished, never lived up to the original ideas proposed. There was plans for lots of Role-play groups, games and events but this in the end never really materialised. The island never reached the planned potential, partly due to how people use the island and partly because my own ideas were too big for the platform to meet. 

So with that in mind i proposed to rebuild parts of the island with the goal of giving the island a refreshing boost. The idea is to rebuild around how we now know people are using Escapades Island with the hope of giving a better more story driven atmosphere of the island. Currently its a hotchpotch of different concepts that never fully reached completion. 

 

Pro Plots and Basic Cabins rethink.

In the beginning there was Pro Plots and Basic Cabins. It was expected that people who wanted to build big projects on the island would rent a pro plot while those who didn’t have much interest or skills in building could rent a basic cabin much as they did on Goony Island. 

The Basic Cabins seem to do well, you choose your spot and you deck it out with your own items. I’ve watched people take great creative care in setting up their cabins spaces. 

Some pro plot renters have made a place of their own and have remained there from the start. i really appreciate this and don’t want them to change at all. 

The Fae forest and the John king tavern have ended up becoming ‘sponsored’ plots leading me to wonder it it were not better for users to ‘sponsor’ a place on escapes that already comes with a story behind it rather than an empty flat plot or boring empty building with now story behind it.

 

Places of importance that will be re-developed.

Nemo Beach

This was the original beach created back in the days of Goony Island. The shape of the beach hasn’t changed much , but i would like to expand it a bit more by removing the old Shop building and reduce the size of the clubhouse repurposing it as a small beach side shack. The Goony Clubhouse would be moved to Rickety Station to what is currently called the Town Hall where we have weekly meetings. 

The Mountain

The volcano mountain is the centre of the original mythology. Back when it was Goony Island, the islands were in a ring and there was stories of the Volcano exploding at some point. Then the not of time was re-tied and the island was transformed back to before the volcano exploded.

The mountain was made hollow with he plan to place all sorts of fun inside it. This never happened and instead i discovered it was better to teleport people to cave systems elsewhere. So i would like to rebuild the mountain entirely and note have it hollowed out. The mountain would be bigger and more detailed with more nooks to explore. It might not even be a volcano any more and instead have something else to discover at its peak for when we burn the wicker man. As for the Inferno and bone organ, it’s possible to create a more atmospheric version of these secret places using the Experience Keys system to teleport explorers to rooms rather than having the mountain hollowed out. The Cliffside Cabins should remain as they are but the waterfall might receive a facelift.

Rickety Station.

Originally envisioned as being a town of ‘Rickety’ market buildings, this area of the island really didn’t become anything like what was planned and was very hard to sell plots. What i would like to do here is turn the centre of the island into a small Spielberg style abandoned research town beside a road that curves up a hill. The places was mysteriously abandoned years ago. The buildings will have hidden spaces for users to set up a home, and bigger spaces to rent for shops if they wish. But the over all goal here is to bring a more unified atmosphere and mystery to the story of the island instead of the randomness that’s been there before.

The Goblin Village.

A fun little place to bash Goblins. One of the more atmospheric changes i’d like to do with Escapades is make it less high fantasy, so while King Goblin and his gang will still live on the island, their village will be completely rebuilt along with the Mountain. Instead of the huts and stone buildings , their village will have a more natural vibe, such as creepy stone Trees with symbols. For visitors this will ad a more mysterious perhaps darkness to the side of the mountain.

The Goondocks

Originally set up as a series of plots with remade pirate themed buildings they were always difficult to get rented. The original Escapades Concept was of different gangs on the island, one of which was a pirate gang but this idea of themed gangs never took hold. The only building there that was of use was the John King Tavern which still gets visitors today. I would like to update the john king experience with the modern XP tools. As for the Goondocks area, i am thinking of dropping the pirate theme but keeping the area as small abandoned dock. The Tavern would remain, but i would create a more picturesque cove with cabins and the odd sponsored building. One such building would lead to the sky pirates platform high in the sky and elaborate on the levitation crystals.

The Meadow of contemplation, Cutterstone Gorge and Fae Forest.

It would be nice to make all these areas seem more integrated. At the moment they all seem like plots next to each other. I would like to make the Fae forest seem more seamless and even expand up to Rickety Station. The Mine shaft that tunnels under the Cutterstone gorge could be filled in and have users teleported to an underground cave system that joins with other entrances on the mountain using XPtools.

Hawkins Bay

Originally the main village for all the Basic Cabins. It used to have a kids pirate fort on top until i ran out of prims and had to remove something fast. It still has the tunnel that lead from the fort down into the strange cave. I would like to rebuild the cave area to look more natural and maybe make Hawkins a more interesting place to live. 

Clifton House

The old building is one of the last remaining builds to use sculpt. If i rebuild it i will make it a possible Sponsored spot

 

A simplified overall Story to Role-play

back in the day there was all these plans for different gangs on the island, Timerascals, SeaPups, Darkagers and Tronics, each with a founders backstory and a themed area to live in. This was asking far to much of the Users so we’ll be simplifying the story of the island so everyone can just be who they wants and live where they want. 

What Has Come before

It all started thousands of years ago, a god known as the Dagda created the island to conceal his earth born son from the harm humanity could do. The boy called Mabon lived on the island which changed and formed around his imagination until found and brought back to earth by a legendary King. 

Remnants of Mabons many adventures still remain on the island as do the lesser Sidhe who maintain the islands power. Over time the island has called out to other children in need of escape. Some of which stay for only a while, others have stayed for years never raging a day. 

The Lost Kids.

Visitors to the Island can spend all day exploring the islands many secrets trying to work out what it all means. Those who stick around can try and make sense of it all by placing items to make it feel more like home. It can be a struggle for some to find clothes and food, building shelters either in the abandoned cabins or in other spaces dotted about the island. Some kids have become quite nomadic while others still retain their innocence living alongside the mysteries of the island.

The Rickety Station

The island has occasionally been discovered by accident and in once instance a scientific colony was placed on the island to learn it’s secrets. The Richard Ketty Research Station (known by kids as Rickety Station) is an abandoned small town in the centre of the island. Who built it and why it was abandoned is a mystery. The Rickety Logo seems to appear on all manner of strange looking abandoned technology laying about the island covered in grass and moss. 

Mood Board of how i’d like Escapades to feel after the rebuild.

 

Tools For Plot Owners and Sponsors

A simplified set of tools will be developed for the Plot owners and Sponsors to allow them to easily create interactive objects on the island. These are all things i’ve already created so know are possible.

Portal Kit: Allows you to create automatic teleportation between rooms so you can have secret rooms hidden high in the sky for visitors to find.

Bashable Kit: Allowing you to create items that can be bashed open revealing gifts. 

Story Kit: Allows users to click and receive an auto attaching hud that tells information about you place, objects or even a story.

Discord Server: For those who want expanded group features never added to Second Life’s limited group functions.

The rebuild will start on Monday the 10th of September straight after this years 8th Anniversary weekend and you can go visit the presentation in Second Life to look at a large model of the proposed changes. 

I nearly died in Sansar VR from laughing to hard

There is something that’s holding me back from using Sansar. To some it seems stupidly unimportant but for some reason the default avatars in Sansar make me not want to use it.

I’m Loki, i’ve been Loki for 13 years now, and when i put on the disguise of these random Sansar default avatars i don’t feel like ‘ME’. In the end i just feel like i’m waiting for the moment when i can look the way i want to. Gawd knows what this means for my psychological state in the real world. :-s

 

Custom Avatars

Two or three weeks ago something changed though. Linden Lab updated Sansar to allow ‘Custom’ Avatars and for the first time i was able to be ‘ME’ in Sansar and it felt great. Now i must point out that Sansar still does not support any avatar size other than the default adults avatars, so to get my Kid size persona into Sansar i had to be creative.

I placed my avatar on top of a mech-robot and rigged it so that the Legs and arms moved in sync with the default Sansar Skeleton and posed Loki so i looked like i was controlling the robot with two joysticks. The Head of my avatar ended up being at the right hight to be rigged with the Sansar Armatures head so when i look around in HMD mode so does the kid avatar.

 

Being at Ease with your avatar.

With this avatar i ended up spending almost 2 hours in VR talking, and thats all i did, i talked, and laughed… on top of a roof…. to a man in a rabbit suit, a crocodile, a blue jelly bear… and Draxtor… and it was the funniest thing i’ve done in ages. 

I’ve complained before about how hard i found it as an introvert to be outgoing in Sansar while everyone else seems so out going. I went to one of Draxtors ‘Atlas Hopping events’  and felt more at ease on top of my robot but Atlas Hopping wasn’t as fun as i was expecting since the loading times of experiences meant i was already left on my own by the time i got to places. 

The next day i decided to go to the Custom Avatar Contest at a grand theatre hall. I turned up an hour late and didn’t understand what was going on but then i heard Draxtor up on the roof. While up there we discussed all sorts of things and i surprised even myself with how outspoken i had become in voice. How much of this is simply because it’s Drax I’m talking to (he actually talks like he’s interviewing you) or has there been a kinda self confidence boost knowing that they now see me as Loki rather than some freaky default avatar?

At one point Silas showed us one of his many avatar experiments which was a big blue jelly bear with eyes that were wide open and looking about in a constant shocked expression that inflicted everyone with fits of laughter. Then to really kill us off Silas had an internal issue of angry cat fighting. I had to leave the party and remove my steamed up Vive headset to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes. 

 

Limited Experience

I’ve read that the Lab do intend to allow Armature resize eventually, and when they do i’ll be able to get off the robot and will probably build a lot more stuff. Second life still excels at the art of collaborative creation and sharing, with features such as drag’n’drop giving items which you can edit and hand back to friends missing entirely from Sansar.

Sansar is still very limited, but that limited use is still very powerful in HMD mode compared to desktop. The simple experience of being with others from around the world in one place, able to pick up things and laugh about stuff in HMD mode is SO powerful yet SO simple. Second life is a lot more demanding in this respect for it kinda demands more things for us to engage with. It makes me think about what sort of spaces to build in Sansar that can boost the enjoyment of such a simple premise. 

How i made that Mirror at the Bazaar Dungeon.

I was endlessly surprised at the messages i received about the Bazaar Dungeon but one of the most asked questions was ‘how did you make that mirror?”

The mirror was in the Spring of Souls, a chamber with a big tree in it, the roots of which reached out across the floor between puddles of water. Against the tree was a big mirror which when you looked in saw a reflection of the room but filled with ghosts.

A month or so before fantasy faire 2018 i saw a post on a Second Life Jira request for real time mirrors to be added to SL, which isn’t going to happen. At the bottom of comments was a post by Beev Fallen that took me to a video on Flikr showing a rather impressive cracked mirror effect, but not only was the room reflected in the mirror,  the walls around the mirror showed slight mirrored effect also. I contacted my friend Silas who has been working on Mirrors for a while and he too was very impressed. We both visited Beev’s amazing demo room and spent a while trying to figure out how the effect was done. This wasn’t a simple projected single image, the whole room was being mirrored 360.

I was later contacted by Silas with a workflow on how to create the illusion of 360 Mirroring in Second Life and it’s this i used to create the mirror in the Spring of Souls. 

There has recently been a few articles pop up about mirror illusions in Second Life but none has yet explained how to do 360 mirrors. Silas has given me permission to share the trick but before i do i should probably explain a few things. 

 

Environment Map

In second life every object can be set to be shiny using the objects material ‘Shininess’ settings. You have glossiness which if you have played with before know that it makes object look kinda shiny plastic. For mirrors this needs to be set to 255. Underneath that is ‘Environment’. Raising this setting determines how much of Second Life’s ‘environment map’ is reflected. 

 

The environment map is a giant spherical 360 image that is reflected in anything shiny. It’s quite boring, a simple line that is a bit like the SL horizon. The higher you raise the ‘environment’ setting the more visible this horizon image becomes on your shiny objects surface. Now the trick is to override this default Environment map with our own mini localised environment maps using the projector features.

You can grab this ready made Projector Cubemap from the Castle ruins on Escapades thanks to Silas Merlin.

 

We basically create a six sided inverted cube that projects it’s sides in on it’s self. Anything shiny inside the cube reflects what is is projected onto it. People already know this part, but what i was asked alot was how did i manage to 360 mirror the environment?

The answer is it’s now possible to take 360 snapshots in Second Life using a project viewer and convert them into what is known as 360 Cube Maps. Cube maps are 360 spherical images cut up into 6 textures. 

Once you have vertically flipped the Cube Map textures (in order to mirror the environment) you just upload and apply these textures to become projectors in the inverted cube.

Once all the projectors are set on the cube map simply position the phantom cube over the area to be mirrored. The resulting effect is a complete 360 mirroring of that environment. 

 

 

To see the effect for yourself and to grab a simple list of instructions visit the Castle Ruins on Escapades. 

 

Notes: 

There are some drawbacks to this illusion.

1. The obvious note is that you have to have advanced lighting enabled to see the effects.

2. Consider where you are going to place the Projector Cubemaps. They work best in small rooms as projectors only project up t0 20 metres. 

4. Any moving objects obviously wont appear moving.

5. Projectors will not project onto anything set to transparent.

6. Skies do not change so if you create a cube map out in the open during the day, by nighttime the reflection will still be showing daytime.

 

The benefits

In the right place this mini environment projected Cube Map trick can really add an effect of detailed realism. At the Bazaar Dungeon it was used to tell part of the legend about a Knight who had killed many traders, their souls appearing in the rooms reflection, not just in the mirror but the floor puddles too. At the Vortex Club there is a Projector Cubemap that ads an extra layer of sparkling cyberpunk colour to anyone wearing shiny attachments. 

It’s another example of how some features added to Second Life (360 Snapshots) end up being used in unexpected ways in the hands of the users.

It’s lonely being a MacOS VR User

This time last year i was waiting for apple to release a new Mac any Mac as a sign of there being continued progress from apple in the desktop market. I’m fed up with Apples obsession with shiny health trinkets and Music. Apple did finally release a new iMac but to my surprise they also demoed support for VR, specifically the Vive Headset. Big shiny tech media articles shouted with enthusiasm that VR had finally come to MacOS. 

A year later and you’d be forgiving for thinking it was all just a dream. The XLab demo showcased at the Apple event is no where to be seen and the supposed HTC Valve support for MacOS is not mentioned at all on their website. But Mac DOES support it, i know because i made my own experiences for it.

 

SteamVR Supports Mac

SteamVR does have a MacOS Version of its client. It’s over a year old now and still does not include many of the features the Windows version has enjoyed for years now. There is no SteamVR Home feature and the built in menu (when it works) has no point because there is only one mac native VR game (as i know) called Blobby Tennis.

 

UNITY Supports MacOS

Unity3D supports the creation of VR applications native to MacOS. Once you figure out which version of unity to use (2017.2) and make sure its using Metal2 api, it’s actually quite simple to set up a template using the easy to configure SteamVR plugins and templates pack. I made a few kool tests creating spaces with a temple, animated objects, tracking a vive tracker. I let my Nephew explore a massive minecraft cathedral i downloaded from Sketchfab.

 

But no ones developing VR for MacOS

All the major Virtual World VR experiences such as VRchat, HighFidelity, Sansar are windows only, which i guess is understandable if i am the only Mac VR user in the village. (Technically HiFi allows mac support in desktop mode) 

It’s frustrating, especially when im using a Mac to make content that can be used in these spaces. I created a VRchat Avatar easy and uploaded it to VRchat then had to reboot into windows in order to try it out. 

My VRchat Avatar, the space suit ended up in Second Life too.

Bootcamping Windows on my mac is what alot of people have told me to do, and thats fine for a while but ive learned that bootcamped VR on a mac takes a resolution hit and is no way as clear an image as when run natively in MacOS. 

In October last year many tech news sites reported that the latest version of Parallels Desktop which runs windows in a window on Mac OS had gained VR support. This turned out to be fake news, as not only does it not work, the Parallels website has no documentation mentioning VR support.

 

WebVR saving the day?

The one place where a Mac user might find VR Support is WebVR that allows VR Users to access VR experiences via a web browser cross platform. At the moment the only MacOS supporting WebVR Web Browser is Firestorm Nightly. A the time of writing this MacOS WebVR support has been broke in the latest version 62, in order to run WebVR with SteamVR you have to download version 59.0a1. One step forward 3 steps back.

 

It’s lonely being a Mac VR user

I would like to put aside more time to explore VR on MacOS. I want to make my own Aech’s Garage, a specific demoing and building space where i can work on new ideas. Maybe I could build little MacOS VR Experiences and make a killing on Steam, but maybe there is no point if i’m the only Mac VR enthusiast. Eventually one of these VR worlds will open up to Mac users and allow me to then export across my experiments. Until then i’ll be tinkering in my VR Garage and perhaps posting WebVR.

Fantasy Faire felt really good

My work there is done, but the virtual world Fantasy Faire 2018 in Second Life is still open for another extended week, so if you haven’t visited yet do find some time this week.

On Saturday i spent over an hour just discussing with my friends Nat and Strifeclaw about how the roleplaying went, how the Bazaar Dungeon was received and how sad it’ll be as it always is when the fairylands disappear for another year. 

Fantasy Faire 2018 - The Bazaar Dungeon

I really do enjoy building for this fundraising virtual festival. The challenges of creating something original to experience, presenting a space for merchants to sell items while also providing a place to get immersed and role-play. Unlike most fairs in Second Life you are just shopping, but FantasyFaire has become so much more.

Watching the variety of avatars come through the dungeons was my favourite aspect for me. From Vader Kittens discovering hidden treasure chests to finding a giant dragon sleeping in a room full of gold coins, i was constantly delighted by who turned up.

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I want to thank everyone who joined the Magpies Role-play group during the week and to Strifeclaw organising. When people carry on in character long after i’ve logged out to go sleep then i know we’re on to something. That some of the story elements were only discovered hours after scheduled events by those who could not make it earlier gave much more life to the family atmosphere of the Magpies. We write the story and schedule the events but at the end of the day its those who role-play that bring it to life, so thanks everyone, this year was an amazing atmosphere.

 

Oh look another subtle phoenix image.

I also want to thank everyone who sent me kind words about the Bazaar Dungeon. I was surprised at the amount of comments i got from complete strangers and im so pleased it was enjoyed so much. To everyone that messaged me about how i did the mirror effect in the well of souls, i promise to make a blog post about it soon :-p

Finally like to say thanks to everyone who donated to the kiosks and bought the RP kits, all of which goes to Relay for Life.

To finish off this post i’ve embedded the video i made of the 2018 fairelands. If you still haven’t walked around them all yet, THERE IS STILL TIME!

Highlights Of FantasyFaire 2018