As much as we are waiting for Project Sansar, in the end of the day, we cannot say for sure if it is going to be a huge success or a huge fail. Yet we are using Second Life already, and we know for sure that it is worth our time. Therefore, we love to be reminded that the Grid is not being neglected, and a week ago, when I was out of town, Linden Lab has published the highlights of the projects and improvements recently released or being in development. I could not resist taking a critical look on them, and therefore, here is my commentary on what I have discovered.
Project Bento – extended Avatar Skeleton
I have wrote an article in May where I have expressed my feelings about Project Bento, the theoretical game changer. While it’s been being developed, I have been thinking about it over and over again, and to my own surprise, I’m beginning to agree that the game changer, to a degree, may be the term to use. Not in the technical sense, but in the economical and social one. Just like with mesh, using the abilities Project Bento provides may be facultative on the surface, but we may find ourselves setting up the new standards for the avatar appearance and behaviour. Current dances, animation overriders and other animations will be deemed outdated, and the new animations that take advantage of the new skeleton will become the new normal. Residents will swallow the “I must update because I must” bait and will run to the animation stores for new animation overriders and dance packs. I do not argue that it looks better, but it saddens me seeing the update dedicated to the look of Second Life getting the biggest coverage. (May I remind you that bones are not scriptable?) Second Life stays on the path of looking good before all.
Visual Outfit Browser
As a confirmation of the last sentence, the next update is dedicated to the avatar looks as well, though in my opinion happens to be much more useful. This is an addition to the interface, and it will allow residents to have their saved outfits previewed. Given that refreshing your look regularly in Second Life equates to bathing in real life, one is expected to have several outfits saved so one can put on the appropriate for the occasion or the mood outfit within a minute – and usually, one keeps several outfits saved for the similar occasions (staying fresh, remember!) Previewing them before putting on is much handier than putting them on one by one and not having the ability to compare them side by side. Nothing go wrong with the idea, right? There is one inconvenience that remains, though. The preview picture has to be taken and saved in-world, not on the hard drive, therefore one has to pay the regular L$10 fee for it. So, if you have an impossibly large inventory and already have imagined saving everything as outfits and navigating your inventory that way, this is probably not what you are looking for. Otherwise, it may be a good idea to choose several favourite looks, save them and take snapshots of them, so you are ready for the party emergency!
Yes please! I am sure many of us longed for this. I am running Windows and not ashamed of it, and for years, QuickTime was installed on my machine with a sole purpose of supporting Second Life in-world media, but since April, Apple stopped supporting Quicktime for Windows altogether, leaving it with all its existing vulnerabilities for Windows users to deal with. Now we do not have to choose between security and in-world media. That is one update I cannot thank Linden Lab enough for.
Learning and Social Island
I have not been to the new Learning Island yet, but I have been to the Social Island. Now Experience-based, it guides the new resident through the basics of communicating, using the camera to look around, building and shopping – basically, 4 main activities of Second Life. I liked the camera tutorial, which has been made in a form of a game, other tutorials did a pretty decent job as well. There must have been something that would disappoint me, right? Indeed, the Portal area and the choice of the categories – however, I liked the explanation for each of them. Perhaps I’ll come back to the Social Island for a more detailed review in another article, but for now the verdict is this: Social Island has a wonderful job of teaching newcomers the very basics of performing Second Life activities and then letting them out in the wild without giving any clue what they could be in Second Life for. We’re still at the Square One in that.
Putting aside, for now, my bitter feelings about what Linden Lab considers skill gaming in Second Life and what they don’t, I took a look at the Gaming Island, which, as it has turned out, educates residents on how to play Linden-approved
games of chance skill games. Unlike the actual skill gaming regions, this one is accessible by everybody, and everybody can practice in Linden-approved games of chance skill games machines which are set on free play. No money can be lost or won at this region, all the machines are there to get acquainted with the game technique and perhaps come up with the strategies before playing the actual game for money. This is the right idea applied on the wrong field.
In the description of this update, they use the present perfect continuous tense (we’ve been), and therefore it is safe to assume that this update has not been rolled out yet. Things still load slowly whenever I download/upload something, but that is to be expected. Speaking of crashing, I have fulfilled my annual norm of crashing at SL13B, but that again was probably to be expected – outside of SL13B, I have been rarely crashing at all. Thus, it may be hard for me to attest the improvement when there is one, but we will see how it turns up!
Group Chat & Bans
Oh yes, another update long expected. I remember the times when I had to eject some disruptor several times from the group, since even after the eject, the disruptor still has the ability to join the group back. Now I do not run a group (although maybe I really should), and I am happy for the moderators who can ban residents permanently from the group. One can hope they will use this new power wisely. Another update that goes into the “important” category.
Quick Graphics & JellyDolls
I have seen this one on the Featured News blog, but did not try it out in-world – my graphics card manages to get me the graphics I need without crashing (as long as I do not install the Windows 10 drivers), therefore I do not have a problem with high ARC avatars, especially given that there are but a few Second Life activities that require the highest FPS possible, like combat. I believe this may be useful for such activities, but otherwise… no, it would not be useful at SL13B and big performing arts events, because the performers are usually the ones with the highest ARC.
This absolutely makes sense – when it comes to money, an extra layer of security, especially the one that will not burden the user with extra actions, is always welcomed. It may sound insignificant at first sight, but one has to remember that network interceptions mostly take place on the insecure communications, because there is no reason for collecting ciphered data packages – one cannot decipher them in the absence of the key, and brute-forcing the key will literally take years. So, yes, this update goes onto the “important updates” list.
The claim that the added email verification and that all the Second Life emails will be sent only to the verified email address increases security immediately triggers the “how exactly?” question. I personally cannot think of the scenario in which the verified email address will change anything in the current system, other than adding the next level of inconvenience. When one forgets the password, one can restore it not via an arbitrary email address, but the one he or she has put in the account settings. The verification does not change anything here. When a phisher gets an access to the account of some resident, the phisher only have to log on Second Life using the acquired credentials – there is no two-way authentication via email, verified or not. There is a promise of more updates coming up next, and perhaps we will get something like a two-way authentication when logging on the other device or network, but so far, the excitement over the improved security is premature.
I am not very familiar with the front-end Second Life development – it sounds promising, especially the part about the source code being made “easier to maintain and extend”, but it is not even clear if the third party viewer developers can take advantage of that improved infrastructure, and that interests me the most, since I am not using the official Second Life viewer. A quick Web search gives out the results only related to the Second Life official viewer. Wish Linden Lab elaborated this update some more than a vague “it got better” claim.
There is indeed that new search, currently in beta, with the autocomplete option which displays the same options regardless of the category in which one searches for the item (when I tried to search for the “tank” keyword in Vehicles, the autocomplete options were all related to tank tops of various colours), but to be fair, it does work better – as one can see from the picture, no less than half the results on the first page of search results for the “tank” keyword were actual combat vehicles, comparing to the current search engine (on the left) which displays everything – from tankers to firetrucks on the first page of results – of which only a forth of results are actual tanks. I guess we can argue that the new searching engine is indeed helping, therefore it deserves a position in the “important” category of updates.
Well, that’s not the news, that’s what every responsible developer has to perform regularly, but it sure is good to know that Linden Lab are one. I do not encounter that many bugs in my second life (perhaps because I do not use the Second Life official viewer), but judging by the release notes, there had been improvements indeed!
Verdict: As we can observe, Linden Lab are working on several ends of Second Life at once, which is a good approach, for it keeps every end from being neglected, thus leaving the residents concerned about different ends satisfied. On the technical side, the future of Second Life looks quite promising – the list contains a number of important updates, and visual improvements are a nice thing to get, too. Concerning myself, I am really happy with the QuickTime purge and the new Marketplace search. I also enjoyed my experience with the new Social Island – it has turned out to be a place I would like to arrive to when I join a new virtual world. Overall, it has been a nice move from Linden Lab to highlight their most prominent projects, in progress and completed, and assure residents that, while Sansar is being developed, Second Life is not abandoned.
Stay digitized – this is our world!