I want to congratulate all the staff and donors that made SL's first Relay for Life a huge success. Jerry Paffendorf of Accelerating Change indicated to me that the goal of $5000 US was met and broken! Randal Moss (aka RC Mars) organized the event, coordinating with Jade Lily and a swarm of generous individuals.
What makes this event special is, unlike great charitable ventures in SL in the past, this was formally sponsored by a major non-profit, the American Cancer Society. They gave a great summary here. (It also was pretty easy to find from the main ACS web page!)
I flew over the completed build the other day, and was really impressed. There was a raised track, dance area, amphitheater, silent auction, boat races, and along the track were a series of user-builds with donation boxes. Check out a picture of the six terraformed sims.
Before / after all the work of volunteers.
(There's a lot of pictures, search August 27 of Snapzilla with keywords "relay for life". )
Here is the official forum thread for prosperity sake.
There was a cool boat race for charity. What was really innovative about this race was that the sailboats were affected by a constant wind. As you traveled around the course, you had to adjust the angle which your sail hits the wind, to get the most speed.
Terra Nova blog noticed. New World Notes noticed. Oh, and that obscure, little known paper, the New York Times noticed, too. ;)
This is of big importance because we're showing off what Second Life is doing that's never been done before: People all over the world logged in to one virtual space, came together to raise money for a good cause, donated time, money, and creativity. It's a beautiful thing, and it's something that was simply not possible until Second Life. This is testimony why SL is special and why it will continue to flourish!
Obligatory Plug for SL Community Convention
Speaking of bringing people together, I am one of the main organizers for the First Annual Second Life Community Convention. We've got dozens signed up already, so please register soon, as spots are limited! This is a precedent setting event and a chance to rub shoulders with Lindens, industry folks, and fellow talented residents! (I'll post a more extensive post soon!)
Bartle's Challenge: tx+ R_73z j00!
Richard Bartle, co-inventor of the first MUD, came to the Second Life Future Salon on a recent Sunday. It was a great score for the Future Salon, and it was one heck of an event. Some called it "chaotic" and "crazy", but I loved the take on it that the multitude of people participating added a certain special quality that was like an exploration of its own right. It's ironic then that Bartle toted the superiority of text-only virtual worlds (VWs) over graphical ones, but made comments about the difficulty to keep up with so many people speaking.
It was great to have Richard Bartle come and be so candid. While "hardcore techno dance mixes" of Mr. Bartle were played, dozens of SLrs poured in. (And had me in a frantic rush to set out a repeater for SNOOPYbrown, since this was held at an island sim!) The conversation kept mainly to a compare-and-contrast of graphical and text based VWs, and there were some fascinating insights made both by Bartle and by a number of residents.
Bartle would say on his blog that he was just glad he wasn't "lynched" and he did make comments alluding to a "next time". I think that may say it all - there's an allure to graphical worlds that keeps people coming back.
Flexibility & Ease: Text Wins
I agree that Bartle does have a point in certain flexibilities that text-based virtual worlds allow - like being able to break any rule instantly. ("Stand in my own mouth ... dance with the color green", as Richard put it.) A thought doesn't have to conform to a set of physics - while a VW like Second Life does. In a text-based virtual world, there's no bugs, no sim crossing lag, no primitive limits - unless the VW creator wants it that way. Widespread changes are made instantly, no detail is too miniscule, no building task impossible.
It is also a heck of a lot easier to construct details of a text-based environment. If you can imagine it, it is willed into existence. The difficult part, of course, is to have the creative spirit.
But as another Salon attendee put it, regarding text vs graphical virtual worlds, "Why does one have to be better than the other?" I think there are a few reasons why graphical VWs have their advantages.
3 Purposes of Virtual Worlds
In the most basic sense, VWs serve three purposes: art, entertainment and communication. All other purposes can fall into one of these three.
Art is both expression and communication. It's neither purely one or the other. Text and graphical virtual worlds can be seen as two different mediums of art. A graphical VW offers a better ability for the artist to convey what they mean. On the other hand, a text-based virtual world lets the audience interpret more, and gives them freedom to dive into more unintended interpretations.
Both methods are important, however I believe graphical worlds have an intrinsic psychosomatic effect on the human brain. "Seeing is believing", as the saying goes, and when people use their avatar to explore inside of a graphical world, they tend to suspend disbelief more easily. The brain is used to visual data above all other senses - vision provides the overwhelming amount of data to the brain. Bartle argues that text is better at the suspension of disbelief ... I would argue just the opposite - that graphics overwhelms the senses and can easily suspend disbelief.
Maybe that's the same reason why it's easier for me to "get into" a good movie than to forget that the book I'm reading is straining my eyes and making my arms go asleep resting on my elbows, late at night finishing a good novel. Don't get me wrong, I love books, but I love movies, yannow?
In any event, once this disbelief is moved aside, people will still be able to come up with their own interpretations of visual art. While the scope of how free a person is to interpret the art, the genre itself presents opportunities that text does not; a viewer in the graphical VW simply has a whole nother sense worth of data to process and interpret.
Bridging in from the Art topic, we get communication. The simple question I pose: Is it easier to more precisely convey what you mean on text or graphics? I don't suppose there's a straightforward answer to this question, either.
With a graphics-based virtual world, I can represent exactly what the surroundings should look like, add sounds, etc. People get a pretty fast, immediate perception of specific pieces of information: color, dimensions, composition, juxtaposition, etc. These are things we can describe in text, and it certainly takes a talented artist / builder to convey these well in graphics based VWs, but there are certain things that are imperceptible in text.
Take, for instance, humor. Part of what makes a good joke funny is not having to explain it. If the nature of a joke's humor is a visual gag, then describing it takes away from the comedic value. And while there's plenty of great written humor, it largely revolves around satire, pun, or outright absurdity. With a visual gag, well ... it's like "You had to be there" kind of things - humor can often not be successfully described. For example, consider:
- Chevy Chase falls off his chair often when he was on Saturday Night Live.
- Bill Murray eats too many carrots on one forkful in a scene from Broken Flowers.
- A man, given a choice which way to die, opts to be chased to death by nearly-naked women. (Monty Python's Meaning of Life)
The bottom line is that subtlety is almost completely lost in writing. Inflection isn't in words, unless you know someone so well that you can imagine their delivery. Even then - there's a reason why people make smiley faces out of colons and right parentheses. If you want to put an adventurer in a room full of lots of items where they need to find something specific. Unless you give them some obvious hint, they might be there all day asking, "Is it under the rug? Is it in the pillowcase? I search the lamp. How about the wall?" when visually, the same actions in a graphical VW take a split-second for each thing and you aren't sitting there repeating "No, it's not there" over and over.
I suppose it's debatable as to whether graphical VWs or text-based are "more fun". To some people, socializing in a dance club in SL is a real hoot. Others rather sit in front of a scripting screen and make gadgets. (Guilty, your honor!) I personally find the appeal of exploring new places irresistible, but sometimes I wonder just how we got so much suburban sprawl? Even then, I find it incredible to find the variety and ingenuity of builds that come from a community of people that, by and large, don't have an professional CAD or VW design experience.
To Richard Bartle, it wasn't fun to fly around for an hour and not have anyone greet you. Though he still hasn't answered my response, "Did you say anything to them?" It's definitely something we builders of Second Life need to consider, though, since our goal is to keep people in SL, not make them feel unwelcome.
Are text-based games fun, too? Sure ... but at some point I will go blind staring at flat text and I need some eye-candy. Likewise, I need to "jack out" of a VW as to not end up like this guy. (Hey, for that matter, have you ever heard of a text-based VW that was that addicting?)
Absence of Presence
There is the obvious advantage of graphical VWs with communication in that the content creator doesn't need to be there. A graphical VW is what-it-is; if you want a further explanation of an item, you can move around your camera, try clicking on it, maybe there's an item you already have that interacts with it?
Apples and Oranges?
So is comparing text and graphical VWs a fruitful venture? (Pun intended, haw haw!) I suppose the answer may lie in your intent. Text simply can't do certain things that graphics can, and vice versa. Bartle's talk stressed the important of escapism - and he made it clear that while some VWs could and should serve a commercial / RL basis, there definitely should be some that should remain as separate as possible.
Is that even possible anymore? Well, not when Richard Bartle's AV is self-named. Not when Hiro Pendragon is a business, tied to Snow Crash fame, and connected to my RL events.
Maybe I should go and make an alt? Is my privacy ever guaranteed? Should that matter?
Ah, well, this debate will have to wait for another 'blog entry.
Combat: a topic as old as the Outlands
First person shooters (FPS) have been wildly popular games ever since Id Software came out with the first Wolfenstein 3-D. They can be great stress relievers and it's fun to blow up everything from Nazis to demons. Wait, they're the same thing, aren't they? *rimshot*
Sure, they're violent. Lawmakers try and ban them to win approval through public placation. Luddites will blame Columbine on them. Military uses them for recruitment. Whatever. Perhaps parents should take an interest in what their kids are doing, instead of blaming people for making fun, mature themed games.
SL is 18+, right?
SL is an community for people 18 years of age and older. We're all adults, right? Yet so often combat and shooting in SL takes on a negative connotation. Let's take a quick peek at the SL Police Blotter for today:
(format truncated to fit)
- Violation: Community Standards: Assault, Scripted Objects
Description: Use of weapons.
- Violation: Forum Suspension: Spamming, Trolling, Flaming
- Violation: Forum Informal Warning: Disclosure: Second Life
Description: Disclosure of information about another Resident in the forums.
- Violation: Community Standards: Assault, Scripted Objects
Description: Use of weapons.
- Violation: Terms of Service: Teen Accessing Main Grid
Description: Banned for making accounts on both grids.
- Violation: Community Standards: Intolerance
Description: Hate Speech
- Violation: Community Standards: Assault, Scripted Objects
Description: Use of weapons. (and then 7 more of these!)
So why does SL have this problem? Well, there's an easy explanation. People come to SL and find plenty of guns, plenty of gun lovers, but a scarcity of places to play around without breaking the rules. The only dedicated combat sims are Jessie and Rausch, the prior being perma-camped by World War II Online refugees, and the latter being an empty sandbox.
No wonder there's so much griefing! 40,000 users and growing, and there's all of two dedicated sims for combat? What's unbelievable is that with the glut of private sims and club owners, there's not really anyone who's following in the path of Chinatown - which was wildly popular!
The first real stoppage is the existing combat system. It so totally needs to be scrapped! I'm sure, in the early days of Beta, when the combat system first came around, it was fine, but SL has so grown far past its ability to provide any sort of real use. Problems that I see, with some suggested solutions:
Problem: There's 2 sims for combat.
Solution: Provide more incentives to developers to have combat enabled sims, or provide more yourself!
Problem: The health system forces a teleport back to your home location if you reach zero health. this is highly inconvenient often.
Solution: Allow land-owners to choose if 0 health causes TP to home location, or to another location on that plot of land. (Spawn points).
Problem: The health system has an automatic healing factor.
Solution: Allow land-owners to choose the healing rate, as an integer, 0 for off. Additionally, land-owners would need a way to control items that could heal a player.
Problem: Weapons that do conventional damage can be tweaked very easily to be instant kill.
Solution: Land-owners need some tool to limit damage dealing to certain, approved items.
Problem: Push weapons can ruin any game.
Solution: Allow land-owners to limit push to certain amounts on their land.
Problem: Land has to allow rezzing items for projectiles to be available, yet it allows cheating.
Solution: Land owners need a tool to allow only approved items to rez.
Problem: Dots on the map sort of take away the whole "seek out and find your enemy" bit.
Solution: Land owners should be able to disable the green tracking dots on the map.
(Thanks judah jimador for pointing this out, in comments!)
The thing is, without these, combat in SL relies on replacing the whole combat system. Crystalshard Foo tried to do this with the Chinatown combat system, but it would up being so many listeners that it lagged to death if more than 4 people played. Since, Foo has come up with a new combat health system, but ultimately any player made system can be gamed by outside scripts.
Power To The People
The changes to the system that I propose are entirely based on giving land owners better ability to control on what goes on over thier land. Land owners in SL are lacking in basic abilities - especially in this area. How many times do we have to hear this story before changes are made? "This griefer came to my land and dropped an H-Bomb and threw everyone from my sim."
I'm sorry, Linden Lab, but the current land tools are completely insufficient for protecting land owner's property. Bans only work after you have been griefed - they are a completely reactionary response when the focus should be proactively avoiding griefing. And limiting access only works to a certain height and lacks the ability to prevent outside projectiles or privacy from camera intrusion.
Give us these land tools! Cut down on the abuse reports! Retain more players! Give more development tools to those of us that wish to make combat games, but can't!
Even if Linden Lab comes up with solutions to the combat system, there's still a problem of content. Weapons, battle areas, scoreboards, and all sorts of other tools are absent. Furthermore, these all have to work together. This means basically you will have one of two types of systems: proprietary and modular.
A proprietary system will likely arise first, where you buy servers and appropriate weapons that jive with the system. One or two vendors will profit greatly, and the thought then is to push good content based on these proprietary systems.
A modular system has an API which everyone can work with. Consequently, it's easier for people to make cheat items. A reliable security and anti-cheat system would have to be integral to the framework of a modular combat system.
For those who know of my work in SL, you know that I have my own weapons line, Ronin, and my own plans for expanding fun multiplayer combat gaming into SL. My own line is currently expanding, and will ultimately become the basis for a combat system where "approved" battle areas will allow game play all over the SL grid. Imagine something on the likes of GTA: SL, or custom setups for competing in-world mafias, or simply small "deathmatch" battle arenas.
Competition & Innovation
SL is up against stiff competition, and ultimately the only way we could see lingering FPSs in SL will be innovation. SL offers a truly unique environment where people can build virtually anything, and I think it is that aspect will be the thing that separates SL from other FPSs and allows it some market share.
For instance, the mod community has overrun the mainstream MO-FPS market. Counterstrike, a user-made mod, was a far more popular that its already popular spawning game, Halflife. There are build tools for levels, but they're clunky, and you have to convince people to play it to get anyone to try it out. Second Life, on the other hand, has the 3-D creation built in. The availability for user-designed "maps" / battle areas is thus much more accessible to the average person. Additionally, SL is small enough where new projects get a lot of notice, but still have access to thousands of potential players instantly - no marketing or packaging required! SL has the potential to be a huge paradigm shift in user-created online content!
Sky's the Limit
Why not let users reinvent what they want in a combat game? I was walking through a few gaming retail stores the other day (fruitlessly searching for GTA 3: San Andreas) and beheld the usual contents of the PC game shelf: Tons of war games, a bunch of RPGs with scantily clad women, and a whole bunch of games exploring that explore just how to use handguns and pistols. Can we say, "death of variety"? I'd wager money that letting people have basic building blocks on making games will produce a totally new selection of combat games.
Like blowing up Nazis or demons. Not that there's any difference.
Metaverse: When, Not If
It's hard for Second Lifers to ignore the influence of Neal Stephenson's vision of the future Internet when Linden Lab's execs reference it non-stop in the SL White Papers. (Which I can't seem to find online anymore. - Update: You can find Cory Linden's here.) I have heard plenty of debate on whether SL will become the Metaverse, or whether there will be a Metaverse at all, for that matter. However, for most of the people reading this 'blog, the Metaverse is a question of when, not if.
Something strikes me as very intriguing about the Metaverse of Snow Crash. Stephenson's vision from over a decade ago of V.R. and online communities is so very similar to what we have today. Sure, Stephenson had a lot of good source to pull ideas from. (Most notably, William Gibson's AI/cyberspace classic, Neuromancer) But unlike other attempts at describing a 3-D Internet, Stephenson nails the central use of the Metaverse on the head: Connecting not only with the rest of the world, but also the people in it.
Other books and movies fail to portray an Internet that is anything like that we experience nowadays through MMOs. Many describe a cyberspace much like our own current, flat Internet: impersonal, like a graphical interface to a Unix box. (Think Hackers.) Others break into the bounds of immersion, but fail to grasp the worldwide concept. (Lawnmower Man) In both cases, cyberspace is merely a nice V.R. GUI to servers. Some go further and grasp the online world aspect, but fail to think of it as anything past entertainment or limited use. (Killobyte, Virtuosity, Tron) They key idea that they all miss is one that Stephenson picks up in Snow Crash: that the whole world could interact in an immersive manner without the limitation of geography.
Self-fulfilling Prophesy, or Harbinger of the Inevitable?
Is Stephenson a visionary social designer? Is he a prophet? The line between the two isn't necessarily so clear, either. With the concept of a global, immersive, interactive Metaverse, we see it explode into mainstream media. (The Matrix, eXistenZ, Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor, Spy Kids 3-D). The theme is one we've been relearning since the atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima: The world around us is controlled and can produce terrible atrocities of war and poverty. We're back to the two-millennia-old Platonic cave allegory, and it's the Internet - bloggers, newsgroups, non-capital-driven news of all kinds on a mass scale - that is finally capable to extinguish the fires of the puppet-masters and lead people out into the sunlight, for the first time ever in human history.
So the world is getting philosophically ready for its collective mind to be blown away by the Metaverse.
It's no surprise, then, that the main story plot is stopping a religious-userping nutso from brainwashing mankind and enslaving its technocracy. (Someone please remind me to, at some point, write a long entry just about the rich symbolism and iconography in Snow Crash!) The Metaverse is the medium that our hero uses to save the world. Second Life is a medium that we all can be using to achieve world peace.
Okay, I know this is the point where some of you are going to write me off as an idealist. Hang in there!
I had the pleasure of a conversation with Philip "Linden" Rosedale in September 2004. A delight in SL that he and I share is how people across the globe are connecting and doing such creative projects together. So where are the political boundaries in Second Life? Well, perhaps it's still limited; after all, most residents live in a fairly Westernized countries, all but a handful are English speaking. On top of that, creative people tend to respect each other, and SL is definitely a trove of creative talent. Maybe that's okay, though, because we geeks are the ones making all the technology that the world loves; the cool stuff we invent spreads through the population as fast as a catchy television commercial.
The Tech Required
We still have a way to go before we can make the Metaverse. I would say my short list of technical precursors to Second Life truly taking over the world:
- Cheap high-speed Internet available as widely as cell phones. By government and telecommunications projections, we should have 10mb/s up and download, wireless, by 2008. Landline / optical / cable speeds will be even higher.
- A few iterations of Moore's Law on computer CPUs to allow widespread availability of inexpensive computers that can handle complex, dynamically rendered online world content.
- Full WWW reverse-compatibility, including HTML, programming, plug-ins, and standards
- Fully distributed architecture that allows local data saving and hosting of simulators by non-Linden companies
Community is what Stephenson hit dead-on in his written illustration of the Metaverse. It wasn't just a place to get information or to entertain; the Metaverse to Stephenson is a place just as valid to interact with people as a real world meeting. There's something huge to be experienced.
Community is also the theme of the 1st Annual Second Life Community Convention. We're holding it in New York City, October 9, as well as in world for those who can't attend in the real world. Details here. Come build the Metaverse with us. :)