Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Conquering New Worlds

Good bye, Second Life. Hellooooo, Lego Universe! Actually, I'm not leaving SL, but after making some budget sacrifices, I was able to order the Lego Universe (Web) package and made arrangements for an on-going subscription. If you haven't heard of this game, think of it as an MMO like World of Warcraft, but with a whole lot more cute and with the need for some Lego brick building skills. There are quests to join, tasks to complete, mini-games to play, and all involve using an unlimited supply of Lego building bricks (*gasp* Unlimited!) to build things. Users also get their own plot of land on which they can build whatever they want. Sounds a lot like Second Life, actually, in that respect. Because I ordered yesterday, I'll get to leap into the new world on the 12th of October, earlier than anyone buying the game henceforth. Don't be surprised if you see the occasional post about it here provided I'm not too busy battling Maelstrom with my Faction.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Haunted House

The Haunted Farmhouse on Menagerie Isle is free for anyone* who likes the thrills and chills of Halloween. After you explore the scary rooms throughout the house, slip into the basement for a carnival-style Dark Ride with more frights. There is a special gift for all those who brave souls who survive to the end. To visit, click the SLurl below then follow the signs once you land. It's a good idea to set your sky to night time (World > Sun > Midnight) and to take off any face lights. Since I finished and opened the attraction far earlier than expected, I may add features over the next month, but after Halloween the Haunted Farmhouse goes away.

*Might not be suitable for children or those subject to epileptic seizures. Questions or concerns, please contact Uccello Poultry.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fallen Gods Avatars

It has been quite some time since I have been to Fallen Gods (SLurl), a really great fantasy shop and role play region but, when I tracked down an adorable little avatar to the shop I was not surprised. They are known for top-notch quality and a bit of whimsey. And here she is, a little sapling, one of three avies you can win if you visit. This one is part of the awesome Kawaii Hunt (Web). Find a cute little blue star and this avie is yours free! And if you match someone on the Lucky Fortunes machine, you get a matched pair of adult-sized avies in this style. Incredible textures are the highlight here, but the prim work is impeccable. I hope Fallen sells these after a while and that they make a fortune doing it. I'm not going to complain about free, but I would have paid top-Linden for these. Some Epic Butterfly Buddies (Web) and my Linden home in the Elderglen regions complete the scene.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Eating Up The Sims

Something I totally forgot about until I helped someone get to the Beta Grid to test Display Names is the bonus space bux one gets there. On the Main Grid I had just under L$2000 and when I logged into the Beta Grid I had some L$13,000 in my account. No, you don't get to keep it, most stores are not accessible on the Beta Grid, and anything you buy is more of a rental since you can't keep it. So here I am in my L$1000 flying suit from Cubey Terra, hanging over a sandbox and wondering why a region doesn't seem very big at times.

A well-landscaped region can seem endless, like Misty Mountain (SLurl). A flat sandbox seems like a postage stamp, especially when you have a flight-speed boosted rig like I bought. Just about the time I hit a good speed I had to cross a sim border or I hit the sim wall. Since even the best sim crossings are still full of hiccups (though they have greatly improved, for the most part, lately), what we need are double-sized sims. Or maybe The Lab can market a single region the size of four sims at a special price. For folks like me who love flying that would be heaven. Or motor sports enthusiasts could go for a nice long drive without having that strange "flying in limbo" effect when taking a crossing in a physical vehicle. Look at the vehicle sandboxes sometime and you'll see that nearly all the courses require a sim crossing. I suppose that is good for testing purposes, but certainly not for pleasure trips.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Third Life

Recently I mentioned (Web) that changes from Linden Lab have encouraged me to spend more time with my Apple iPad, part of my Third Life of living virtual. It's an extension of what I've been doing with my beloved iPod Touch (Web). Of course I read books and listen to music on my iPad, as well as watch videos, play board games, and more, but I have several apps that enhance my Third Life.

Koi Pond, from Blimp Pilots (Web; iTunes on the Web) is back, but bigger and better. Now I can build my own ponds by placing each element just where I want, adjust all aspects of the light and water, plus control sound and wildlife. It's like making a pond in Second Life (SL) without worrying about prims and scripts. This picture is my creation. I could have used one of the pre-made ponds or edited one. The app needs to have an option so that I can watch it without having to occasionally tap the screen to keep the device awake. It's like having a nature sounds generator and a pretty picture all in one.

Pocket Pond (iTunes on the Web) does have a no-timeout option and is more photorealistic but doesn't feel as warm. It is nearly as customizable as Koi Pond out of the box, but with an upgrade more customization is possible and you can catch the fish. I like the thunderstorm feature. Both ponds let you feed the fishies and both are pretty darned relaxing. I can't pick a favorite, but I tend to use Pocket Pond more while by iPad sits on a stand beside my computer. Don't look for the publisher's Web site to be of any help, though. It doesn't acknowledge the app's existence so I didn't even put a link here.

Distant Shores, also from Blimp Pilots (Web; iTunes on the Web) is actually the same app that I have on my iPod Touch, not an upgrade for use on the iPad. By doubling the size the graphics suffer, but "walking the beach" is a bit nicer in that my hand doesn't get in the way as much. The objective is still to find messages in bottles and to gather shells to earn empty bottles for your own messages. With the iPad, creating messages is much easier because the keyboard is bigger. In a way, Distant Shores is a very basic social media app for communicating with random strangers but without the pitfalls of using Chatroulette. I keep hoping that I could actually go inside my hut (pictured here) or run across people, but since I don't have an avatar myself, just disembodied footprints, there wouldn't be much point to that. Hopefully when the app is updated for the iPad's larger screen, the Bimpies will add synchronization between devices. I have messages on my iPod Touch that don't show on the iPad.

Gylder2 (Web; iTunes on the Web) does have an avatar, and as you can see, she's adorable! The orginal Glyder on my iPod Touch was a lot of fun, but soaring on a bigger screen with even more challenges and scenery is a lot more fun. I can spend hours with this app just flying around. I do that in SL, but with my Mac's wireless keyboard and the world's inherent lag, it is something of an effort. With Glyder2 its all fun. There are missions to collect gems and perform specific flying patterns, each letting you earn special clothes or wings, but the sheer joy of the experience is often enough.

Citadel (Web; iTunes on the Web), is all about experience, too, as it is not really a game, but a demonstration of the technology behind an upcoming game. I mentioned it sort of in passing on this blog a few days ago (Web) but didn't say much. If you have an iPad, stop now and get the free download. If you don't, look at the picture and drool. As you wander through a castle's keep and through its outer ward you are treated to a visual feast. It is like being a tourist in a deserted place. Look at anything you want, as long as you want. Sadly, you can't go inside the buildings save for one very spectacular build nor wander outside too far, but like Second Life, there is no set goal to this not-game. The idea is to simply enjoy the environment. Eventually, Epic Games will release some twitch-n-slash title that uses this environment and while I am terrible at "physical" games other than Wii Bowling, I'll probably buy it just to see more of this gorgeous world.

Photopedia Heritage (Web; iTunes on the Web) also has fabulous architecture, but in the form of spectacular photographs from UNESCO World Heritage sites, like Notre Dame de Paris, shown here. If you don't read the in-depth descriptions, delve into the Wikipedia articles, or scan the maps, you will still find leafing through the images a thrill. This is not a virtual life, but real life lived virtually. You'll wonder why your Geography and History classes sucked so much (mine didn't, but I'm that kinda geek) compared to this app. I haven't found any multimedia yet, but I'm still poking around randomly. If you are heavily OCD and want organization then you can have it, but it may not be as much fun as exploring.

Which is why I love Second Life, to get back to our shared world, for a moment. I seldom keep landmarks, but I have a folder of full of them for just "Cool Builds." These are places that are visually exciting, cleverly constructed, or engaging based on the activities. SL is full of places like this. Sadly, like Real Life, it is also filled with "un-Cool Builds" and I find my way back to my iPad.

Cro-Mag Rally (Web; iTunes on the Web) was a free app at one time and I got it to remind myself at how badly I am at this sort of game. I don't drive well when there is a computer involved, wether it be on my iPad or in Second Life or on any console system. But this game is a collection of cute little virtual worlds and despite crashing into everything, never winning a race (I often come in 7th or 8th in a 6 person race), and generally mucking up everything, it is still fun to hold my iPad (or iPod Touch) as a steering wheel and wander about. By luck, I guess, it has become part of Apple's Game Center (Web) so now I can humiliate myself publicly. Or humiliate my brother as our iTunes account is in his name. Social networking and virtual worlds. Who would have thought of it?

I won't bring up Angry Birds (Web; iTunes on the Web) because it isn't really a virtual experience, despite a storyline. Though I suppose I did just bring it up. So I won't mention the Volkswagen-sponsored racing game that works like Cro-Mag, nor the great pinball games, ball bearing-in-a-labyrinth games, or other such things that I play. Goodness knows that unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've heard about the games and other things you can do with iPads and such so you can assume that I do those, too. But they are not part of what I call my Third Life, living virtually outside Second Life. They are just ... life, something we all have to do every now and then.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Riding a Phoenix & Viewer Development

After updating my Seawolf dragons (Web) I found that one of the sculpted prims wasn't rendering correctly and after consulting other dragons at the sales site I decided to try another viewer. Lo and behold, logging in with the Imprudence viewer (Web) showed that the problem was likely with the official 2.x viewer (Web), but to confirm it, I needed to try another viewer not based on the v2.x system and that meant skipping over Kirsten's viewer (Web). With limited choices I decided to try the Phoenix viewer (Web) despite misgivings about security and safety from being unwittingly duped into illegal activities. And I found it's actually rather nice in many ways.

There are features of v2.x that I miss, like the sidebar, the address bar, and the Favorites bar, but the UI skin makes it nearly as clear to use (and thus easy on my eyes) as my preferred viewer. With all the advanced features, however, I was greatly surprised to not find the ability to use preset window sizes, a very valuable feature that helps reduce viewer-side lag (the larger the window, the harder your graphics processor has to work) and one that helps create consistent snaps in-world.

This picture was originally taken full-screen (2560x1305) with Phoenix while I was experimenting with the Windlight controls near the Chat bar. They are nearly as useful and as easy to use as those in Imprudence giving all but the most advanced tools in one, neat little pop-up window. The image is a HDR-like* composite of three different snaps taken with different Windlight presets.

But back to the Phoenix viewer. I found it faster in all respects than my sessions with the now defunct Emerald viewer. Much faster, actually. I wonder if that can be credited to less bloatware than the latter or improved texture handling. Looking through the menus and preferences there are still an unbelievable number of functions I either don't want, need, or understand. Like I get two notification windows when someone logs on or off, one being the traditional "blue note" and the other is generated by Phoenix elsewhere on the screen. Why do I need both and can one be turned off? At least it is better than the near lack of notification given by the v2.x viewers and it is nice to see a record of same in local Chat History.

Differences like this are why The Lab needs to encourage third party viewer development, regulated for user safety, and then learn from the features that prove popular. This might improve Resident retention, provide a better experience for new Residents, and generally foster time spent in-world. It's pretty clear that while quite a few things were done well, the v2.x viewer was developed in Shrödinger's box with seemingly little regard for the community. I hope that going forward the process of viewer development is more interactive with all parties cooperating one what is best for all.

*Read more about High Dynamic Range imagery here. Click the image above for a larger version.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Display Names

On a quick trip to Second Life's Beta Grid with the Project Viewer I ran into my friend Zyx Flux and we played with Display Names (read more here) as this picture shows. And you can see that she plans on joining the "Spartucus" in-world meme (read more here) when the feature is available. By default, group tags are off for some unknown reason, as are User Names. If you want to be sure who you are dealing with, head over to Preferences, as shown, or simply over your pointer over someone to see their "proper" name, displayed as first.last to remind us of our 80's computing heritage. Profiles will show both names, as well. Of special note, any change you make sticks for two weeks minimum, so no setting "Ima Trollop" for just a night. No idea when this will be released, but you can check out the official Wiki information here. Click the image for a larger view.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Misty Mountains: What is Reality?

Here are a couple quick, un-retouched pictures from Misty Mountains (SLurl), one of several gorgeous regions in the Calas Galadhorn Park chain. I spend a lot of time there, slightly breaking the "no role play" rule by appearing in a fantasy form that I feel suits the environment. My reaction when I first visited was "I'm Home!" The ambiance is lush and natural. I was in my beloved White Mountains of New Hampshire. But then I turned the corner and felt like I was in the Pacific Northwest. Another section reminded me of the Allegheny foothills of Western Pennsylvania. Some regions try for hyper-realisim (like the also gorgeous Rustica; SLurl) while others take a more fantasy-oriented approach (like what you would find at Happy Mood; SLurl).

Misty and her sister regions (yes, sims are female, like ships and cars) strike me as a blend of the two approaches with a heavy lean toward the former. Let's call it Enhanced Reality, as when a nature photographer grooms a scene by bending aside a stray branch or setting some hidden food to attract wildlife, creating a best possible "reality" that better communicates the intended message than the previously extant scene. Thusly the best elements of different biomes are skillfully blended on Misty to make an ideal forest environment. You really need to see this place.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What SL Should Look Like

At today's Apple event, some folks from Epic Games introduced a free app to preview an upcoming title, Epic Citadel, for iOS devices (Web). It is is what Second Life (SL) should look like. To the left is a screen shot from my iPad and it barely does justice to what you really see. As amazing as Windlight is on my 27" iMac, it is shamed by the dynamic lighting and atmospherics in Citadel running on a mobile processor. Motion is flawless and everything is rezzed the instant it comes into view. I know, I know. Streaming versus local storage. But aren't some or many textures stored locally for SL? I'm no technical whiz, but I think it comes down to mesh versus prims.

According to information given at the Second Life Community Convention last year (Web), mesh, the same rendering tech that gives our avatars but is not accessible to users for creation, is coming to our world for everyone. And it looked to be on track as late as June 2010 when noted Resident Dusan Writer blogged about it (Web). But with T Linden gone and now Qarl Linden (the mesh magician behind the project), our world isn't likely to look like Citadel anytime soon.

I love my iPad. The Lab keeps giving me reasons to love it more.