The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. IT Business (Canada) – Ontario’s virtual world recruiting effort. “Second Life isn’t quite the hot topic that it used to be.
Web-based social networks seem to have taken at least some of the steam out of virtual worlds approaches to digital collaboration. It seems people prefer instantaneous, mostly text-based social communications rather than immersive 3D environments that allow you to construct your own objects, code your own physics and program your own behaviours.
But the community of Second Life is still alive and well amongst a certain niche. The virtual world is still appealing enough for many instituions to particpate there, and for the Ontario Public Service to recruit new employees. The provincial government’s Second Life site is outfitted so avatars can particpate in the daily activities of many public service jobs including fire fighter, paramedic, and water tester.”

2. University of Ulster Online (UK) – Advanced 3D Heralds New Teaching Dimension. “‘Virtual world’ technology has the potential to transform education and learning, an international conference at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus heard today. It is a young but rapidly evolving sector but already every university in the UK uses it in some element of teaching and research, according to Michael Callaghan, a Magee computer scientist and senior lecturer who is one of chief conference organisers. At “IMMERS[ED] 2010: The Second National Workshop on Teaching in Immersive Worlds” today, leading educators and industrial experts unravelled some of technology’s mysteries and championed its promise before an audience of academics, researchers, teachers and “serious games” enthusiasts.”

3. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – More Social Games Including Customizable Avatars. “Customizable avatars are one of the defining features of virtual worlds and may soon become a major feature in social gaming. Zynga is introducing heavily customizable avatars into its flagship game FarmVille while CrowdStar is attributing high earnings from its new game It Girl to customizable avatars. While many social games have featured avatars before this and even sold avatar customization virtual goods, the feature was only rarely a major emphasis of the game.”

4. New Scientist (USA) – Game characters to get authentically rumpled clothes. “Computer game developers use sophisticated algorithms to inject real physics into virtual worlds – painstakingly mimicking the way that light reflects off objects, for instance. But there’s something unrealistic about the citizens of those virtual worlds: their clothes barely register a crease or crumple, no matter how much running and jumping they perform. That could soon change, thanks to software which ensures that a game character’s clothes ripple and ruffle realistically as the action unfolds. Carsten Stoll of the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, Germany, and his colleagues began by generating a 3D laser scan of an actor in costume, and manually added a simple virtual skeleton. Next, the team recorded video footage of the actor moving, and uploaded it into a program that tracks the actor’s silhouette through each frame. By comparing the 3D scan with the sequence of silhouettes, the software identifies which parts of the actor’s outline deform most freely, indicating that they are covered in loose cloth.”

5. Inside Social Games (USA) – It Girl, FarmVille Show Growing Social Gaming Trend: Avatar Customization. “Avatars have been popular for nearly as long as the web itself, and customizing them has been a key part of gaming and virtual worlds, from Second Life to IMVU to other sites worldwide. Likewise, paying for avatar decorations has been an important source of virtual goods revenue for many games. But the concept has gotten relatively little attention among social game developers. Most games have been focused on mechanics like harvesting and baking, and while those typically do provide players for avatars, the offerings have been slim.”

6. Gamasutra (USA) – Interview: Roblox, The Little-Known, User-Generated LEGO Competitor. “Unlike most highly commercialized free-to-play kids’ virtual worlds, Roblox started as an outgrowth of technology designed to simulate physics. It’s a pure physics-based play space; kids arrange the blocks into LEGO-like structures, and others can access these spaces as they wish. Rather than a virtual world, it’s a collection of user-generated spaces: in terms of how the site is set up, it’s almost like a YouTube of play. When its creators put it in front of kids as part of an educational package, they quickly noticed how much fun the kids were having with it, and moved to develop it into a product with that audience in mind. Now, Roblox has launched and found an organically growing audience, finally reaching the point where its first promotional deal, with Disney, has gotten off the ground. ”

7. Marketing Vox News (USA) – Can Wunder-app FarmVille Drive Traffic to the iPad? “Zynga has released Farmville for Apple’s iPad. The free app has been customized to take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen and touch interface, letting players zoom in and out to view their farms, harvest crops, or drive tractors with the tap of a finger. Push notifications alert iPad users to their crops’ status.”

8. io9 (USA) – In Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail, a real war over virtual Hells. “Iain M. Banks’ new novel, Surface Detail, is some of the best work he’s done in his galaxy-spanning Culture universe. A story of virtual Hell and true resurrection, it’s about the consequences of technology that makes religious afterlives possible. At the center of a sprawling cast of characters – including hyperintelligent AI Minds, virtual avatars, politicians, slaves, and ambiguously-sentient alien habitats – is a woman named Lededje. She’s from a vast but low-level civilization called the Sichult Enablement, which has space travel and advanced science but still embraces a form of slavery called “indented intagliation.” When one family owes another money, they must give one or more of their children to pay those debts. The “indented” children are often bred expressly for this purpose, with a beautiful tattoo signifying ownership written into the structure of every cell of their body – essentially a fractal tattoo that covers the skin, and continues on into infinite smallness inside the DNA itself. Lededje is one of the most valuable tattooed “intagliates” owned by Veppers, a powerful businessman whose family made its first fortune in massive multiplayer games.”

9. GigaOM (USA) – Oh! Oh! Even Linden Lab Founder Is Leaving. “Four months after CEO Mark Kingdon left the San Francisco-based Linden Lab — the company behind erstwhile hot virtual world Second Life — interim CEO and founder Philip Rosedale is getting real too. He is leaving the company he started in 1999 in order to pursue his new idea – LoveMachine, a collaboration software company.”

10. Military & Aerospace Electronics (USA) – Simulation and training technology pushes graphics to create the most realistic learning environment possible. “Realism is of the utmost importance to the pilot in training; realistic flight simulation immerses pilots in training scenarios and lend to greater effectiveness. Like L-3 Link with its high-definition displays and rich content, Quantum3D in San Jose, Calif., is in the business of creating realistic visual environments that immerse military pilots into any virtual training scenario. “The military uses Quantum3D’s high-performance image generators for a range of flight simulation and training initiatives that demand a highly realistic visual environment, including initial and recurring flight training, evaluating cockpit designs, testing new aircraft characteristics and handling qualities, and other engineering simulation applications,” says Pratish Shahk, director of marketing at Quantum3D. Advances in shader technologies enable Quantum3D engineers to add more realism to scenes providing pilots and trainees a more realistic virtual world. “With shader technologies, we can integrate more realistic-looking environmental elements — clouds, oceans, and other effects — creating a virtual learning environment that looks and feels real,” Shahk says.”

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