Archives for August 2011

Chatbot comedy

This little gem has gone viral over the past few days. See what happens when two chatbots are set up to talk to each other:

Seems there’s still some evolutionary work to be done….

Euclideon’s Unlimited Detail: a hands-on

Bruce is the better looking guy on the left

In recent days I wrote about the latest video released by Australian developers Euclideon, who are behind the ‘Unlimited Detail’ engine. In that article I claimed the video was a pretty effective rebuttal of some of the criticism / cynicism amongst the gamer community in particular.

Thanks to a convergence of schedules and geographies, I actually had the opportunity to have a hands-on with the engine myself on Friday night. CEO Bruce Dell, having just gotten off a plane from the UK, spent some time talking about his recent trip to Gamescom in Germany, the work he has on his plate and the level of interest the engine is receiving. Then it was onto some ‘play’ time. After 10 minutes or so of navigating the demo (the same one shown in the video), a few things struck me:

1. The absolute smoothness of the navigation experience

2. The fidelity of the graphical experience

3. It was all done on a bog standard PC laptop

4. If the same level of quality and smoothness continues after full animation capability is integrated, that this is going to be one groundbreaking piece of technology.

5. If good consumer content creation tools are integrated with the engine, current virtual environments such as OpenSim and Second Life should be very, very concerned. Or at least be looking at licensing the technology.

I for one am excited to see what comes out the other end of Euclideon’s self-imposed media blackout over the coming months. As I said to Bruce on the way out from our meeting: he should make the best of the time out of the spotlight, because if he pulls off what he’s aiming for, it will be the last time he’ll have that luxury.

Photo courtesy of Phil Testa.

Euclideon and Unlimited Detail: no cookies for you…yet

A couple of weeks ago I ran a story on a potential new 3D engine called Unlimited Detail. I was particularly intrigued on the information supplied because of its claim of massively increased levels of detail – something that’s crucial in areas like simulation for the sciences, education and health professions.

The feedback on that initial story was interesting. Like the wider reaction in the gaming and IT industries, there was overwhelming scepticism toward the claims Euclideon were making. I even had one trusted friend who knows a bit in the area say “I can’t believe you ran the story – his stuff has been debunked”. Not being technically competent in the mechanics of polygons or voxels, I could only shrug my shoulders and say that there seemed to be something in this and perhaps the approach was so disruptive that it challenged the mindset of most people. Or – the criticism was legitimate.

Since then, the brains behind the operation, Bruce Dell, has taken part in a 40-minute video interview to rebut some of the criticisms put forward. The video (shown below) is effective in its aim of putting to bed some key criticisms, including the lack of shading or animation in the videos shown.

The video also shows very clearly how aware Euclideon are of the criticisms being made. Some time is taken to rebut line by line the criticisms made by Minecraft’s Notch. Dell then goes on to strongly emphasise that the proof is in the final baked cookies, and that currently people are making criticisms based on a partially cooked product – albeit one that Euclideon allowed to be sampled via their original videos. Having learnt from that, the assertion is being made now that there’ll be no more taste-testing until the technology is complete.

Anyway, do spend the time having a look for yourself:

Other highlights for me included some more distant history on Dell and his drive to develop the engine, some interesting insights into the reaction from games companies and other corporates to the technology, and how Euclideon is now being funded. The real-time demo is the icing on the cake.

Over to you: do you remain cynical, and if so, what are your concerns? For what it’s worth this video confirms to me that the cynics may actually be quite wrong. Bruce Dell and the team at Euclideon may not be the Messiah of 3D environments (although I wouldn’t rule it out), but they don’t seem to be naughty boys either.

I for one am fascinated to see what the next 18 months brings.

Relay for Life 2011 in Second Life: Success Plus

I don’t usually just reproduce media releases, but this one’s definitely worth making an exception for:

Relay For Life of Second Life shatters records in 2011, raises US$375,000 for cancer research

Relay For Life, the signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society, has once again shattered records in Second Life.

Less than halfway through the 2011 Relay season, the Relay For Life of Second Life had already raised more than one million dollars all-time.

At the Wrap-Up Party on Saturday, August 20, 2011 Event Chair MamaP Beerbaum proudly announced that the seventh Relay For Life of Second Life had set a new season fundraising record of US$375,000, had a record number of 140 teams, and a record number of over 3,000 relayers.

This year’s theme was ‘Seasons of Hope’ and was the largest to date, with a track lined by luminaria winding through 41 sims of amazing builds representing the different seasons. Some 2,140 avatars completed one or more laps, a combined total of 3,486 laps, and visited the campsites and the designer sims. And 4,817 luminaria were lit in support of loved ones going through treatment, and in memory of those heroes who have passed on.

Speaking to committee and team members and volunteers at the Wrap-Up Party, MamaP Beerbaum said: ‘WOW, What a wonderful Relay we had! From Kick-Off in March to Relay Weekend in July, you all worked non-stop, with a passion and commitment that never wavered!

‘As I think back on this season, I am in awe of so many things. We broke so many records. We took the theme ‘Seasons of Hope’ to places we never thought it would go. And we brought it to life on 41 sims creating a breathtaking experience for all who found their way there. And most importantly we proved that we really can work together as One Team!

‘Thank you for giving me the honor of being your chair. Thank you for showing the world that SL is a good place, and that in this Second Life of ours, we CAN make a difference.’

Stingray9798 Raymaker ( in real life Jeff Montegut, the American Cancer Society representative in Second Life) said: ‘It makes me the proudest person in the whole ACS office to represent the coolest people on the planet!’

Spirit of Relay

The ‘Spirit of Relay’ individual award went this year to Daaneth Kivioq. Announcing the award, last year’s winner Ember Farina said: ‘The Individual Spirit of Relay is awarded to the individual that embodies the ‘Spirit of the Relay’ and takes into consideration the ‘spirit’ of the individual, how they embraced Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society Mission, and the enthusiasm displayed.’

This year, just as Relay was kicking into high gear, Daaneth suffered a debilitating stroke. Ember said: ‘His motivation for a fast recovery was actually Relay for Life! He worried so much about his team that he came back in world before he could even read or type; they all used voice to communicate with him to ensure that the team would keep moving forward.’

Nevar Lobo, co-captain of last year’s winner of the ‘Spirit of Relay’ team award, announced this year’s team winner Team OD, followed by Steelhead Salmons in second place and Team Caledon in third place.

For a complete list of Wrap-Up Awards see: http://rflofsl.blogspot.com/2011/08/final-award-winners.html

For more pictures from the Wrap-Up Party see http://www.flickr.com/photos/ishtarskiss/.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead to 2012 MamaP Beerbaum announced that she would be continuing as Event Chair, supported by this year’s Co-Chair Dwen Dooley and new Co-Chair Nikki Mathieson. Nikki, who has been relaying in Second Life since 2007 and was this year’s Event Day area chair, said: ‘It is a tremendous honor to be invited to be a Co-Chair and I really look forward to the upcoming season.’ Her message to Relayers was ‘Keep relaying all winter… Do that by bringing someone… anyone… even if it’s just one person who doesn’t know about us… to ACS Island and let them know we’re here… in SL. Tell them about our RFL season and get them watching for that kick off in the spring… invite them to it… get them excited and enthused to jump onboard with us.’

The Kick-Off for RFL of SL 2012 will be on March 10, 2012. Next year’s theme will be ‘Time for a Cure’. And the clock is already ticking!

Nearly 400 thousand US dollars is nothing to sneeze at for cancer research. Kudos to the organising team for what’s become an iconic annual event in Second Life.

[Photo courtesy of Saeriah Thei]

Ballet in Second Life: Archidance

I’m an absolute heathen when it comes to dance, particularly ballet. That said, I was pretty impressed with this short piece of machinima. Ignoring the artistic merits, I hadn’t thought of what a brilliant choreography tool virtual worlds could be. I consider myself enlightened now.

Apparently Ballet Pixelle’s Archidance was performed back in June, wish I’d seen it. Have a look for yourself:

[via Indigo Mertel]

SLCC 2011 Wraps Up: how about some machinima?

The Second Life Community Convention is over for another year and there’s certainly a lot more to it than the Linden Lab CEO keynote. Self-proclaimed ‘God of Machinima Reporting’ Draxtor Despres, has done a nice job of summarising the vibe and feedback of the weekend.

Enjoy:

Also – check out the great wrap-up on the SLCC site.

If you attended yourself, did you come out the other end psyched as well?

Linden Lab CEO: we’re growing but we’re not sure why

Another year, another Second Life Community Convention. Last year it was Philip Rosedale addressing the convention. This year it’s Rod Humble and today he spent 45 minutes talking about his initial time at Linden Lab and his thoughts on the success and future of Second Life and answering questions. He starts off by emphasising that right now, there are still 16-thousand new signups per day (although no confirmation on how many have stuck with it a month later) and the challenge of battling the stereotypes around Second Life’s ‘decline’. There’s also a bunch of announcements (definitely evolutionary rather than revolutionary ones), so have a look/listen for yourself. The first 18 minutes are the speech, the rest is Q&A:



Video streaming by Ustream

Overall it seemed a solid speech, albeit a little scattered at times. Without sounding too negative, I did feel a strong sense of deja vu to Philip Rosedale’s speech a year ago: a commitment to improve things with first user experience, customer service and lag. With the relative lack of transparency around metrics compared to the ‘good old days’, it’s always difficult to measure success. That means that all we can hope for is that the 16K signups a day manage to convert to more long-term users.

On the title of this story: I think the fact that Linden Lab still don’t have a grasp on why Second Life continues to succeed is actually a good thing. It keeps everyone on their toes and hopefully avoids too much groupthink at Linden Lab. I think if Second Life ever becomes a truly known quantity, its days will definitely be numbered.

Other perspectives on Rod Humble’s speech

1. Bay Sweetwater – Live blogging Rod Humble vs what I’d love to hear

2. Honour McMillan – Attending SLCC 2011 Virtually in Second Life

3. Sylvie Dale – Usability, customer service will be key for Linden Lab in 2011
4. Post your own perspectives in comments!

Ten funny Star Wars videos

It’s time for another one of our regular humor posts. This time I thought I’d go in deep and pick the ten best videos that parody Star Wars. Obviously it’s objective and feel free to add your own picks in the comments. In the meantime, enjoy:

1. Injured Stormtrooper

2. Star Wars Help Desk

3. Lego Star Wars – The New Guy

4. Never Call Me At Work

5. Chad Vader : Day Shift Manager – A Galaxy Not So Far Away

(If you haven’t watched Chad Vader before, you haven’t lived. Check out all the episodes)

6. Star Wars Episode 3: A Lost Hope

7. Grocery Store Wars

8. Empire State of Mind

9. Interrogation Droid

10. Star Wars: The Empire Brokeback

Gamification of work: a pointed critique

As you’re probably aware, there’s been a lot of interest over the past couple of years in ‘gamification’ – the application of gaming principles to work or any activity where the objective is greater participation. We reviewed one of the tomes dedicated to it last year – the arguments for the concept are appealing to say the least.

That said, I was just as engaged with the argument against gamification from Ian Bogost. He essentially argues that by trying to incorporate gaming into a workplace, you are killing the fundamental magic that makes games appealing. Have a read for yourself.

For what it’s worth, I think things fall somewhere in the middle. There’s no doubt some companies will latch onto the concept of ‘gamification’ (and I agree with Bogost that the term sucks), purely because it’s the latest ‘cool’ strategy and then implement it poorly. That said, I think the opportunity exists to do it right – have a look through these slides (linked by a commenter on Bogost’s post) for one powerful argument on how that could be achieved:

Like any emergent area there’s plenty of debate and until there are numerous engaging and effective examples of gaming applied to work, there will thankfully be sceptics questioning it and pushing the boundaries.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Massively (USA) – Enter at Your Own Rift: How gold farming really hurts the economy. “Recently, Trion Worlds CCO and RIFT Executive Producer Scott Hartsman talked to Gamasutra about how gold farming is a much bigger threat than we assume, particularly because of the large amount of credit card fraud. Those who played RIFT at launch probably recall the large wave of hacked accounts early on. According to Hartsman, the hacking attempts were so quick and so intense that the game could have been “denial-of-serviced off the internet” when it launched.”

2. Tom’s Hardware (USA) – Kid Creates Games in ROBLOX, Gets Over 10 Million Followers. “For the uninitiated, ROBLOX is a massively multiplayer online virtual playground and workshop designed specifically for children 7 and over. Unlike other MMOGs where players roam various lands, perform jobs and take on hobbies, ROBLOX allows its users to build virtual worlds and games in a social, LEGO-like environment. “Each player starts by choosing an avatar and giving it an identity,” reads the official FAQ for parents. “They can then explore ROBLOX – interacting with others by chatting, playing games, or collaborating on creative projects. Each player is also given their own piece of undeveloped real estate along with a virtual toolbox with which to design and build anything desired — be it a navigable skyscraper, a working helicopter, a giant pinball machine, a multiplayer ‘Capture the Flag’ game or some other, yet-to-be-dreamed-up object or activity.”

3. 9&10 News (USA) – Camp Grayling Trains in Virtual World. “The military has turned to computers and essentially video games to train their troops for what they will encounter overseas. Camp Grayling in Crawford County is the largest training facility in the US and offers realistic and safe battle zones for their troops. Today’s troop can train in a fake Iraqi village after planning out an attack or rescue in the base’s Simulation Center.”

4. eMarketer (USA) – Quick Stat: US Virtual Goods Revenues to Reach $653 Million This Year. “According to eMarketer data from January 2011, the US virtual goods market is expected to generate $653 million in revenue this year, up 28% from 2010. The popularity of social gaming has catalyzed tremendous growth in virtual goods monetization. Game developers, virtual worlds and social network providers are driving this economy, which is projected to grow substantially in the next several years.”

5. Metro Weekly (USA) – Game Theory. “Some people play to escape. Some people play to belong. Some people play to experience virtual worlds of fantasy, others play to explore realistic recreations of history. There are nearly as many reasons to play video games as there are games themselves. But one thing is certain: More people are playing than ever. And more of those people playing are LGBT gamers. Not so long ago, if the topic of ”gay” came up in conjunction with video games, it was to focus on a negative — the invisibility of LGBT characters in games; the taunting and harassment of gay players online; the stereotypes that seemed to carry over from old entertainment forms into this new, virtual one. But that’s changed.”

6. Business Standard (India) – Gartner evaluates maturity of 1,900 technologies. “Advances in embedded sensors, processing and wireless connectivity are bringing the power of the digital world to objects and places in the physical world. This is a slow-moving segment, but one that is now accelerating with the growing pervasiveness of low-cost, embedded sensors and cameras. User interfaces is another slow-moving area, with significant recent activity. Speech recognition was on the original 1995 hype cycle and has still not attained maturity, and computer-brain interfaces would evolve for at least another 10 years before moving out of research and the niche status. However, a new entry for natural language question-answering recognises the impressive and highly visible achievement of IBM’s Watson computer in winning TV’s Jeopardy! general knowledge quiz against human opponents. Gesture recognition has also been launched into the mainstream through Microsoft’s Kinect gaming systems, under hacker attacks by third parties to create a range of application interfaces. Other areas continue to progress more slowly, including speech-to-speech translation, augmented reality and virtual assistants, while virtual worlds remain in the trough after peaking in 2007.”

7. Forbes (USA) – Females Spending More Real Cash On Virtual Goods In Video Games Than Males. “It seems the virtual world of video games is replicating the real world mall, when it comes to the shopping habits of males versus females on in-game virtual goods. U.S. Gamers, whose online purchases of digital goods were once paid for largely by credits earned from advertiser offers, now say they are migrating to “real world” payment for digital goods using debit, credit and prepaid cards, according to a new study of online gamer behavior commissioned by PlaySpan, a Visa company, and undertaken by research firm VGMarket. The survey data was compiled in July 2011 from over 1,000 gamers drawn from a VGMarket database. According to the study, nearly one-third (31 percent) of the general gamer population has used real world money to purchase virtual content. Of those gamers who use real world money, 57 percent said they make purchases of virtual items using real world money at least once every month. Console games with online play account for the majority (51 percent) of virtual purchases using real world money, with social networking games (30 percent) and Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) coming in at second and third respectively.”

8. The Global Mail (Canada) – Video games teach kids ‘new literacy’: Do you buy it? “When you check in with your kid, who is now into hour three of his Halo marathon, you repeat that well-worn phrase your mother used on you about killing brain cells and trading in the controller (well, it was a joystick back in your day) for a book. But are video games really the anti-books? A new article on PBS’s Mediashift web portal presents a different argument: our definition of literacy is outdated. Kids may be learning a “new literacy” through playing video games.”

9. Fast Company (USA) – Civil Resistance Simulator Teaches Players To Topple Dictators. “You say you want a revolution? Download the how-to video game for nonviolent change, now with a special Middle-Eastern edition to help continue the Arab Spring. Revolutions can happen anywhere, as we saw in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia earlier this year. But seemingly spontaneous uprisings against governments are usually anything but random: they are the result of relentless organizing, persistence, and strategy. Now a video game called PeoplePower has been updated to instill a new generation of revolutionaries with the tactics and strategic skills to pull off nonviolent movements. Originally called “A Force More Powerful,” which we reported on in 2006, the new game was developed specifically to reach an audience in repressed and often poor regions, particularly in the Middle East. The most innovative feature allows users to build their own virtual worlds to match their governments and countries, essentially creating an open-source platform for learning about regime change.”

10. Nature (UK) – Video: Relaxing on a virtual beach. “For centuries a stroll in the countryside has been touted as beneficial to health – something modern science has confirmed. But for many people these benefits are out of reach.
Nature Video took a trip recently to the laboratory of Robert Stone in Birmingham. Building on work done for the Ministry of Defence, Stone is building digital recreations of the English countryside to help improve the mental health of people who can’t reach it in reality.”

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