Recent Second Life Developments Round Up 2016/08/02

Second Life Social Island

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 Current dances, animation overriders and other animations will be deemed outdated, and the new animations that take advantage of the new skeleton will become the new normal.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!

Quicktime Replacement

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.

Gaming Island

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.

Server Robustness

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.

TLS Update

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.

Verified Emails

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.

CoreHTTP

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.

Marketplace Search

Second Life Marketplace Search: old vs new

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.

Bug Fixes

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!

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While I was away: Project Bento, the game changer?

Both latest Lab Chats had it as one of their central subjects of duscussions. Beta testing is underway, content creators experiment with it, find unusual solitions to its limitations. Content creators long for it. Linden Labs take care of implementing it without breaking the existing system. At the third LabChat, it has been mentioned that “some people said [it] could be as much as a game changer”.

Project Bento is coming to town.

Long story short, this is the new bones system intended to allow better animations to be incorporated in Second Life. The ability to get every finger animated, wouldn’t we like that! Along with human avatar bones, there will be some bones for body parts typical for unreal creatures, such as wings, horns, tails. A great deal of bones will be added to the face (although it seems that some of the “bones” will play the role of muscles) – better facial expressions are on their way. And many more.

Project Bento had been announced in Featured News as long ago as the end of the last year, and the interest to it has not seized since. The level of attention it draws is almost comparable with the level of attention to Project Sansar. A lot of questions have been asked and answered, a lot more will be asked and answered.

Some of the questions I’m trying to figure out the answer to are going to be answered no sooner than the release of Project Bento to the public. The speculations are flowing around already, generally taking the form of poorly thought through excitement over the new feature. Indeed, Project Bento is proclaimed to be the game changer – but what game? Why Project Bento and not something else? What direction is it taking Second Life to?

Let us begin with the “Why project Bento?” question.

We will inspect an arbitrary MMOG, where the world, the assets and the gameplay are created by a certain team of developers. Along with necessary patching of bugs and other back-end works, the regular type of updating there is adding new locations, characters, items, quests, events. This makes sense, because after a while everything already existing in the game turns into the routine and players need something fresh to not lose interest to the game. Due to the fact that only developers can add new content into the game, and they, obviously, cannot create newness on a daily basis, every new addition to the game, even if it does not change the gameplay fundamentally, becomes an event.

Metaverses are different. Because everybody has the opportunity to contribute to the virtual world’s development, to say that every day something new is created is to largely underestimate the daily dose of newness an active metaverse receives. Items, locations, events, activities, lifestyles, you name it. Pretty much everything the developer does is the back-end job, that is, ensuring that the metaverse is running smoothly, and leaving the front-end development to its users. As a consequence, whenever the developers of the metaverse themselves add a new location, a new quest or such… well, it does raise an interest among the metaverse’s residents, but far from as much as it does in the MMOG where only a certain group of people develops all the content in the game. After all, residents add new locations and new events every day, and yet another location or event is just that – yet another location or event. Perhaps with some more publicity.

So the real event for the metaverse is the new tool for developing new and/or better content. That’s what sparks the interest of the residents, that’s what becomes the real deal both for creators and the users of the content they create. Project Bento definitely falls into this category, and yes, everything must be upgraded with time, and if we are given new opportunities with that upgrade, it gets perfect!

Moving on. What direction Project Bento is taking Second Life to?

No new direction. When we are talking about Project Bento, we are talking about the tool that will mainly interest two groups of creators: animation and avatar. Not that either of them had not take place in Second Life before Project Bento…

The improvement in full body animation will be of interest to those who creates animations and/or poses. That means better basic animations (standing, sitting, etc.), better quality in dancing and other dynamic animations, better quality static poses for photography. We have got all three of those already in Second Life. Only the quality will be improved.

At the LabChat #3, it had been mentioned that there will be the possibility to animate separate bones instead of full body. Fantastic, we are getting improved items holding animations. But they had been around as well.

What about horns and tails and other fun body parts? Here, we are talking about the replacements for attachable body parts, which will now become actual body parts. Here, I can see and appreciate the actual improvement, not in the gameplay, but in the functionality – Second Life system avatars are operated from within the viewer (client-side), and this means that the inherent body parts, which will take a load on the client side, will take off the load from the server, from where Second Life clients load the discrete body parts (and the scripts) today. Less bandwidth usage totally counts as an improvement! The gameplay, however… we do have unreal creatures today, and better animations will, perhaps, raise more interest in roleplaying as those, and even make possible the creation of a larger variety of creatures, but will doubtfully add something fundamentally new into the gameplay.

Finally, the facial expressions. I already imagine the fans of roleplaying and overall immersive interactions pouring their savings into Second Life to purchase new HUDs with dozens of facial expressions, and maybe even an expression synthesizer. I myself, as a Second Life theatre lover, can hardly stand the actors during the culmination of the play acting with poker faces, so I count on directors and producers to make use of new facial expressions when they come around, too. Yet again, roleplaying, immersive interactions, theatre, it all does take place in Second Life today (at times it requires some imagination from the participants, but that is what we have human brains for).

New bones will be added solely to avatars, and there will be no way to apply scripting to them. As such, we are not moving forward from passive animating (when the resident does not have influence on the animation components themselves, other than starting and stopping the entire animation), nor we obtain a possibility to apply those in creating, say, house pets (as independent objects).

I love my pessimistic outlooks being proved wrong, even though it happens less often than I wish it did. There may be that one possible application I have happened to miss that will sweep the Grid off its feet and will turn our second lives around. For now, though, I do not see it. The quality improvement is always appreciated, but this cannot be enough for “the game changer”. So my verdict for Project Bento will be calling it “the game enhancer”. Not a bad thing either, by the way.

Stay digitized and be safe!

While I was away: Second Life gone political?

A lot has happened during the last several months. I want to catch up with some of these events, so here comes the “While I was away” series of posts. Perhaps “away” is not the best word for this context, because technically I was not away from Second Life and other metaverses, just did not follow the events closely enough. I guess there may be a better word than “away” to describe the state I was in. Idle? Detached? Busy in RL? Away sounds best. So “While I was away” it is.

The first article in the series will be dedicated to this new category in the Second Life Destination Guide, called Politics. A quick check at archive.org shows that the category has been added no earlier than the middle of March. Here are snapshots of the website from March 8th and from March 20 – observe the absence of the Politics category in the former snapshot and its presence in the latter.

20160519 SL Gone Political Destination Guide
A today’s (2016/05/19) snapshot of the Destination Guide, with the Politics category selected

One can argue that this is a fairly reasonable category to have, given the existing interest in politics among people, fueled by the main political event of the year – the US presidential election. Indeed, many people follow it relatively closely, including those outside of the States. It should come as no surprise that some of the people would desire to digitize their support of the politician of their choice, because why not indeed – a lot of real life gets digitized in the form of Second Life locations. As a matter of fact, there are many residents who are willing to talk real life politics in Second Life, they have every right to have hangouts for that and enjoy the easiness of finding them by simply exploring the Politics category. The description of the category reads: “Interested in politics? Connect with others to discuss and debate in Second Life.” No problem there.

The question to ask here is how adequate the highlight of this real life field is in Second Life.

Adding the Politics category is something I do not remember being done back in 2012, and archive.org confirms my feeble memory with this snapshot from September 1st, 2012. There is one thing about this new section that cannot help but draw attention to themselves, and that is its position in the Destination Guide categories list. Only the Picks and the Events are higher than Politics. Let us recall what kind of locations are supposed to go under this category – whose purpose is to gather individuals who are interested in politics to exchange ideas, news and such on the subject. So, technically, how is this category different from Spirituality & Belief, or, say, Science & Technology, which take their humble position near the bottom due to the alphabetic order? Those also gather individuals interested in the related subject to exchange news and so on.

Seasonal categories do get moved up in the Destination Guide accordingly. In the winter, Winter Attractions category takes the third sport, and the alphabetic order does not matter.

So the US presidential elections 2016 do matter in Second Life, from the destination guide editors’ point of view, if they are put on a par with seasonal festivities.

What bothers me about it is that it adds the political component to the Second Life otherwise neutral climate. Festive locations, even for religious holidays (take Easter) add the atmosphere of celebration, an event to brighten up one’s Second Life, perhaps to familiarize oneself with another country’s culture, and have it done in a leisure, fun, non-coersive way.

Politics are different. The political activism done right inevitably implies a complicated discussion on the range of related topics, such as policies, experience of the candidate, approval rating of the candidate, and so on. If this discussion is skipped, there is little to talk further about – the potential supporter is not educated enough on the subject to make the informed decision. This requires a significant investment of time from the potential supporter.

20160519 SL Gone Political Feeling The Bern
Somebody at the mainland feels the Bern. (And loves solar energy.)

In our situation, the potential supporter is the Second Life resident. Comparing to festivities, which require way lesser effort from the resident to participate, this category, highlighted as an event, either puts an unnecessary pressure on the resident to pay attention to the subject they would like to keep separated from Second Life, or facilitates an uninformed participation in the political process due to the underinvestment of time from the resident who is not used to invest a lot of time in Second Life seasonal events. There are residents interested in politics, of course – and I am pretty confident that if they were to look for the politics-oriented venues, they would have no issue finding this category in the alphabetically ordered list under ‘p’.

There is an argument that “everybody should to some degree be interested in politics”. I cannot agree more. However, this statement applies to real life, where the question of politics is unavoidable. But we do not come to Second Life for unavoidable matters – rather, this environment is meant to be free for the exploration. Real life topics are welcome to be presented, of course. Do you want to talk religion in Second Life? There is the “Spirituality & Belief” category just for you! Interested in talking science there? The “Science & Technology” category is waiting for you! This is fantastic that residents of Second Life have this option of augmenting their real life with Second Life.

But this option should not be pushed upon the residents. Even in the subtle form of taking the position reserved for seasonal festivities.

This is my take on the Politics category in general, and I would like to take a better look at the locations themselves as well.  But this article got longer than expected, so the locations will be covered in the separate article.

Stay digitized and be safe!

K.T. Burnett (KayT Resident)