On Speaking Terms ...
I have the honor to participate in Dr. Dobb's "Life 2.0" Summit going on this weekend into next week. The summit is geared to programmers, and while is overbooked in-world, there are audio streams for people to listen and attend remotely.
You have two chances to catch me:
First, I'll be presenting a demo on Sunday entitled, "Givers, vendors, rezzers, builders", where I'll talk about the fun ways to display and give people stuff. This will be Sunday at 12 noon to 1 PM SLT.
Second, I'll be on a panel, "Towards The 3D UI", on Tuesday, May 1, fron 12 noon to 2 PM SLT (PST). There, I'll be giving away secrets. Seriously! I'll talk about how we can envision user interfaces to continue to evolve in a 3-D world, based on design philosophy I plan to use in future projects of my own.
Book Giveaway Reminder
I've gotten a few responses so far for "The Unofficial Tourists' Guide to Second Life" giveaway. Keep them coming! I want to hear your noob stories, and I have ten books to give away! Rules here.
On Speaking Terms ...
So, as promised, the giveaway rules:
1. To enter, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, with the "noob" moment that you went through. It's that time when you were new to Second Life, and you did something really silly, stupid, and/or embarrassing. Use the subject, "noob contest".
2. You may enter as many times as you like, but you may only win one copy.
3. You must be a Continental US or Canadian resident. (Because I don't want to shell out a ton of money for shipping, sorry!)
4. You have until May 10 to enter. I will award a book to the first person to respond, and choose the 9 best noob stories of the remainder.
5. I will publish the 10 winning noob stories on my blog following choosing of the winners, as well as any runner-ups I want to showcase. These may stay on my blog indefinitely and I get any and all legal rights that I need to do so.
So send me your noob stories!
On the way to a MAKE / Craft / Etsy meetup last night, I got a chance to thumb through my copy of "The Unofficial Tourists' Guide to Second Life". I should note that the book conveniently fit into one of my thigh-pockets on a pair of cargo pants I was wearing; it's funny to think of a tourist guide to a virtual world *needing* to be portable, but it certainly is nice travel reading material, so it's a nice bonus.
I started to read it linearly, and found myself thumbing through from subject to subject. Included is a nice Table of Contents and Index to help with finding individual topics, which are both handy. There's a lexicon of common SL terms early on. There wasn't a map, though I can hardly blame them, with how fast SL is changing. They also mentioned that fact in the introduction, which is smart, because the average noob wouldn't necessarily immediately grasp that this is a dynamic, user-created world.
The authors had a lot of ground to cover, and there's usually 2-3 paragraphs on any subject in particular. It's concise, and clearly a lot of research went into this. I say this because the summaries contain some fairly specific facts about launches of islands, media events, and so on; it's much more fact than opinion. The only thing I would have liked to have seen was a bibliography.
The book reads well, and the authors have done a good job, from what I've read so far, in expressing sometimes complex, sometimes bizarre concepts across to casual readers. (teledildonics, for example)
More reports as I chew through this.
As I stated earlier, I'll be giving away 10 copies of "The Unofficial Tourists' Guide to Second Life" to giveaway to my readers. I'm still thinking of a good idea, but it will probably be something really easy.
Based on my experience with people trying to write about Second Life, I should post my expectations here, briefly:
- Due to the speed of SL's evolution, a few things already outdated
- The same names we always hear being thrown around
- Starax and DanCoyote portrayed as the only real artists in SL
- Lots of noob avatars
- At least one mis-attribution of a major project in SL to the wrong person / company
- Zero instructions on how to deal with lag, and tweak your system and application's settings to best view SL
Disclosure: I am CTO for Infinite Vision Media, the company behind the project for The Weather Channel that I will talk about in this blog entry.
It's official: Weather is the most popular corporate build in SL, according to Tateru's weekly report. Okay, we did hold a 1-hour surf contest last weekend. Before that, we were neck and neck for number 2.** In this entry, I'd like to give a peek at some of the technical aspects of the build, and why it is successful.
Rather than center the sim around a single corporate building, we focused on the immersive user experience. This has always been our mantra, and it continues to serve us well. Second Life (and other metaworlds) provide some exciting opportunities that traditional flat-web does not. The point of metaverse developers is to figure out what they are and use them. If you can do something on the flat-web just as well as you plan to do it in Second Life, then it's not worth doing in Second Life. It is taking advantage of SL's unique qualities that makes a build special. Immersion is at the top of the list of those qualities.
Immersion is very important for the same that it is important in movies or television or other forms of traditional media. A person forgets what else they are doing, and can give your content his or her whole attention for a greater period of time. In SL, immersion becomes on a greater level, not just because of 3-D, but because people form an emotional bond with their avatar, experiencing Second Life as a meaningful proxy.
How did we focus on interactive, immersive experience in Weather? Part of it was a no-brainer for us: The client came to us wanting to do a build with a headquarters, but also feature some extreme sports from their show, "Epic Conditions". The focus is on the activities, with a well-definite welcome and headquarters area. The headquarters serves as an anchor and showcase for a variety of shows on The Weather Channel.
Outside of the HQ, the branding in the activities is present, but not "in-your-face". Whatever section you go, there are opportunities to learn science about the weather and the conditions which the attractions are based on. We give away branded freebies that are attractive and fun, and again, branded is minimal but clearly visible.
Any additional branding takes the video game approach - keep the branding in context. For example, you won't ski down the mountain and encounter signs for Weather, but you will notice the Weather logo on your freebie skis, or on the flags on the ski lift towers. You encounter branding where you would expect to encounter it in the real world. This keeps the person immersed in the space.
Another important aspect of the immersion was the weather effects. Naturally, this was also a priority to the client. In each of the attractions' sims, there is a weather generator. It is randomized for timing, intensity, length, and types of precipitation. We focused on getting getting a simple system that looks good, and in the future, we do plan to expand this to a more robust system with more clouds and more dynamic elements.
Sound is Important
Ambient sounds and voice-overs make a world of difference to the user. When a user logs into Weather in SL, they are directed to turn on their media players. At each attraction, voiceovers welcome the user to each area. Ambient wind and wave sounds are embedded not into in-world sound files, but into music media files in the land. Sound files supplement, such as avalanche and severe weather warnings triggered before oncoming storms.
Now, I've run across many examples of people using in-world, spacialized sound effects. Things like crickets or birds chirping, a waterfall's sound, the hum of a motor - these all work well. But anytime you have a more ambient sound, rather than looping a sound file over and over in multiple spots, adding unwanted doppler and echo effects, it's easier just to compress a mp3 file from your ambient sound, and pop it on a server, and plug it into the music media stream file. This also lets you make sounds more than ten seconds.
There is a disadvantages, however - you can't loop the file without a script. To do this, you need a script that would periodically switch the sound off and on. It'd be nice to get the ability to loop a static music file.
Still, even having a minute or two of waves crashing helped pull people into the experience.
I get bored with flat builds. We're in a 3-D space, so why think 2-D? Sometimes, its inevitable, perhaps. In the times when it's not - then I like to build on uneven terrain. There are a few major benefits to this.
From a performance perspective, your computer is often drawing less items. Some objects are above or below its draw plane, while others are occluded and not drawn or loaded.
From an aesthetic perspective, curves are easier on the eye and help lead a user around.
From an ability perspective, you are greater able to take advantage of your land's surface textures, which are height-based.
From an original perspective, since most corporate builds are flat, by being the one with some terraformed land, your build stands out.
Weather is built vertically. Beach is in the lowest laying area, the desert is on a plateau, and Mount Epic is nearly 250m tall. That in itself is cool, because we've designed a ski lift that wraps around the tall mountain, gliding upwards through the clouds. It became a surprise attraction that we didn't expect would be more than a means of transportation.
Also known as "Void Sims". They're a 4-for-1 page, where you get four low-load (1600 or so prims) sims. We used them as a way to keep price down for the client, putting the Epic Conditions sports in them.
Since they were outdoors, and wouldn't need a whole lot of prims, it was a good fit. We estimated that the usage would be somewhat constant, never really peaking too much, suitable for these Openspaces sims that probably shouldn't hold more than 20 people each. As it turned out, our metrics we've been collecting shows that this indeed is close to the usage of the sim, though early morning tends to be quieter than evening times.
The sims worked out great. When we first got them, I stress tested them both with avatars and with physics. It withstood a beating with physics objects being tossed around, and only impacting sim performance by 5 - 10% at peaks. When we held the surfing contest last week, we limited the number of people in the surfing sim, and kept it under 15 at all times, and we didn't notice any performance hits to the surfers themselves. (Though, at 75 attendees, we did slow down the main sim.)
Professional Game Design Techniques
This was our first project where our new creative director, Ian Tepoot, has been involved from the very beginning of the concepting of a project. He brings to IVM not only a wonderful, creative mind and a talent for expressing it in 3-D, but also tried-and-true animation and game design methods.
After all, while Second Life is a game, it is extremely game-like, especially on the development side. The same sorts of skills are required, like Photoshop, 3-D Design (Maya, etc), story-writing, embedded advertising, and so on. Likewise, the same sorts of techniques for optimization, work-flow, and overall design can be applied with Second Life and other virtual world projects. I believe the quality of the art and layout of the Weather sims speak for themselves of the success of implementing these kinds of methods.
Why It Was Fun
I could talk all day about the technical aspects, but in wrapping up, I think it's important to focus on what made the project fun for visitors. That's basically the bottom line - if you're doing a corporate project in Second Life, you need to give them interesting ways to interact with the brand and make it a fun experience for them to stay and come back.
First, The Weather Channel understood the need to focus on the the attractions, from the very beginning. Having your client on board with your main philosophy of work is very much helpful to being able to make it work. They were serious about investing the time on their end in the production process, particularly with getting the branding right.
Second, know that the little things can spontaneously surprised you. We didn't think much of the ski lift, until we rode it in first-person mouselook, and saw how great the view was on the way up.
Third, I learned that avalanches make sims fun. Especially if some large chunks come flying off Mount Epic and rolling onto the beach everyone once in a while.
(Especially when done by the talented Pierce Portocarreo)
** Tateru's method of calculating popularity restricts it to picking the most popular parcel for the build, so understand that reduces Weather's rating. By her method, she chose the beach area, which spans a sim border and four parcels. By our own metrics system, each of the three other parcels are generating about 50 - 60% as much avatar usage as the main beach area. And that's just surfing; biking and skiing seem to be around 30 - 40% as popular as surfing has been.
I'll be having an impromptu contest soon.
I will be soon receiving 10 copies of the upcoming release, The Unofficial Tourists' Guide To Second Life, to give out to 10 lucky readers.
As I read the book, I'll provide some thoughts on the contents of the book. I saw an early copy floating around at Virtual Worlds 2007 this year, and it a quick browse got me excited to read it.
I haven't thought of what I want to do to make readers earn their $9.95 copy of the book, but if you have ideas, please post them in comments. I probably will limit it to US and possibly Canada so that I don't get slammed on the postage.
Where to start?
Hmm, I should probably start with the fact that I spent the majority of my time mingling with people and avoiding the speaker sessions. This proved a good choice, because:
(a) I've heard most of the speakers before.
(b) Peter and Mark and Tony were taking copious notes.
(c) Many of the individual speakers turned their session into informercials.
(d) With 600 people there, there was plenty of good networking to do.
Panels and Speakers
Well, some were infomercials, others were decent discussions. I was apprehensive going into the conference, this being a conference essentially from an outsider in the Virtual World mainstream community. The fact that so many companies showed up added a good deal of legitimacy.
The panels were heavily filled with sponsors, and lots of people had good things to say about themselves. There was some excellent discussion on the Roadmap session. I also was very interested in IBM's keynote - they seem to be taking virtual worlds very seriously. It occurred to me during this keynote that IBM may be positioning themselves to be Big Blue once again, by treating virtual worlds as a de facto platform, thus leap-frogging Microsoft and Google. If so, it'll be an interesting race, and it will be good to see a third major competitor for the title of "ruler of the world of Internet".
The last panel on the second day drew my attention. Panelists came from a variety of virtual world platforms, and they discussed marketing and such. No surprise, the guy from Forterra avoided the glaring fact that their big business is military.
I was also interested at some of the variety of attendees:
1. The US State Department, who subsequently has announced it is entering virtual worlds for P.R. space.
2. Vivox and Reallusion, who were seated next to each other, and said that indeed, they were talking to see if there's some collaboration they could do in Second Life. (for instance)
3. There.com, whose ad prided itself in being "no porn!". (But, like Forterra, fails to showcase its military connection - which is even mentioned in There.com's original launch press release.) 4. Along with There was ProtonMedia, and the two had one essential element in common; they both are good for walled-garden flavored virtual worlds. My company is examining both at potential projects.
5. Multiverse was on-hand, Kaneva was not. By the way, I tried Kaneva last week before the conference, and was completely underwhelmed.
6. Other small-sized Metaverse Development Companies. Pleades and Metaversatility were both on-hand.
So, as I said in my last post, I'm on Twitter now. As folks got subway directions, commented live on speakers, and arranged impromptu meet-ups at pubs, things in my brain clicked together and I saw the value in Twitter. You can add me, I'm "HiroPen".
Smeeting, Take Two
During the first SL Community Convention, Philip Rosedale coined the phrase, "smeeting", meaning "to meet someone in meatspace that you already know in cyberspace". As in, "meeting for the second time". As in "second meeting". The phrase, though I promoted it, did not catch out.
It's still a fascinating scenario, though. Smeeting people who are your friends, or people who share a passion for virtual worlds, is one thing. You get along, it's like any convention you've been to, whatever.
Smeeting people who you share another connection to can be interesting in a different way. Take smeeting your client for the first time. I'm a partner in my business. Often times I never meet my clients. I've talked with them online, on the phone, and through email. Meeting them in person? Shattering of expectations, of course. It reminded me of the first time I worked retail when I was a teenager; you sort of get this, "oh, so people in business are real people, too" kind of feeling.
IBM described another, interesting kind of smeeting. IBM apparently has about 1/3 of their workforce working at least part-time from home. They have many of their employees never meeting their bosses. Now they are having a chance to interact more naturally via Second Life. From a few different IBM'rs, I heard stories about how this kind of new interaction brought a whole new level to their interaction with their previously distant boss, or subordinate. I really admire that IBM is working in virtual worlds as part of everyday business. By some estimates, 3000+ employees of IBM have used Second Life as part of their business day.
The Value of These Conferences
I saw an email on the SL Business email list the other day, promoting a conference later this year to be held in Amsterdam. A reply asked, "What makes this different from other events?"
I think the whole point is, "Not much." As people like myself and other SLCC organizers and volunteers saw two years ago, these conferences will get bigger and more frequent. They'll get more specialized. As more and more people get into the Second Life community, the number of people who will want to go will skyrocket. It already is. Year one, SLCC: 150. Year Two: 450. Year Three: I think it's limited to 600 or so. How big until it's impersonal?
Well, us New York area people have been doing a monthly meetup. Initially it was ten or twelve people, January was 40, and the meetup following the VW07 conference was at least 60, some say 100. Even these semi-impromptu, informal meetups are getting big. I heard there's a new regular one starting in San Francisco, as well.
The After-Con Meetup
This was my better than the conference, honestly. People got to let down their hair, relax, not worry about the suits, and just be free to chat and network. People gave more of their true opinions, not encumbered by their work-persona.
The presentations this month included a demo of a Wii controller with Second Life, and a talk about patent reform.
The Wii Controller was a big yawn for me. Yes, it's cool that people are hacking the Wii controller. But this is not the use that will be particularly useful. I can do everything a Wii controller can do in SL with a Gyration mouse. I admire people's ability to reverse engineer hardware, but I'd rather see a Wiimote controlling, say, a Roomba, with the tilt control, etc.
The talk about patent reform involved five of NYC area's brightest Metaverse geeks: Jerry, Alvis, Melody, Bill, and Andy. The working name is "The Idea Factory", though I understand that's trademarked, so it will likely change. It's essentially a type of open forum/wiki/matchmaking system where people who have ideas can be matched with people who have the ability to initiate them. It's sort of the "if only I had ______ to help with my great idea". A big part of it is simply ideas that a person might never have time for, but want to see happen anyway.
I'd like to give more details on the latter, but I'll leave that to a separate post another time.
I had many, many great conversations during the four-day stretch between Wednesday and Saturday. That's what I'll remember most. Great minds got together in town and they talked. That's where great ideas get thought up, initiated, deals made, etc. Ultimately the point of conferences isn't to have speakers tout their latest projects, it's to get these kinds of innovative dialogs spurred.