Monthly Archives: September 2014

Minecraft mirror worlds

Way back in 2006 when many of us started to use the persistent multi user networked virtual world with self created content (Second Life) in all sort so of place like business and education we thought we were on the cusp of a virtual world revolution. As a metaverse evangelist in a large corporation it was often an uphill struggle to persuade people that communicating in what looked like a game environment was valuable and worthwhile. It is of course valuable and worthwhile but not everyone see that straight away. In fact some people went out of their way to stop virtual environments and the people that supported and pioneered their use. Being a tech evangelist means patiently putting up with the same non arguments and helping people get to the right decision. Some people of course just can’t get past their pride, but you can’t win them all.
For me and my fellow renegades it started small in Second Life

I also captured many of the events over the course that first year in a larger set along with loads of blog posts on eightbar including this my first public post that always brings back a lot of memories of the time and place. It was a risky thing to post (if you are worried about career prospects and job security) to publicly post about something that you know is interesting and important but that is not totally supported.

One of the many ways people came to terms with virtual worlds was in the creation of mirror worlds. We all do it. In a world of infinite digital possibilities we ground ourselves by remaking out home, our office our locale. We have meeting rooms with seats and screens for powerpoint. This is not wrong. As I wrote in 2008 when we had a massive virtual worlds conference in London

It seems we are seeing many more mirror world applications appear once more and generally the builds are in Minecraft. It is interesting Minecraft has all the attributes of more detailed virtual worlds like Second Life and Opensim. It is a persistent virtual environment. It has the 8 bit block look and much less detailed and animated avatars, but it does have a very easy approach to building. You stack blocks. You still have to navigate the 3d space get you first person view in the right place and drop a block. (Many of the objects in 2006 were from people who felt they could not navigate 3d space easily something I think that has started to melt away as an objection). The relative resolution of a build in minecraft is low, you are not building with pixels but with large textured blocks. This does have a great levelling effect though. The richer environments require some other 3d and texturing skills to make things that look good. Minecraft is often compared to Lego. In Lego you can make very clever constructions but they still look like Lego. This becomes much less of an visual design challenge for those people less skilled in that art. A reduced pallet and single block type means not having to understand how to twist graphic primitives, upload textures and consider lighting maps etc. It is a very direct and instant medium. Minecraft has blocks that act as switches and wires that allows the creation of devices that react, but it does not have the feature that I used the most in Second Life and Opensim of being able to write code in the objects. There are ways to write code for Minecraft mods but it is not as instant as the sort of code scripts in objects in more advance virtual environments.Those scripts alter the world, respond to it push data to the outside and pull it back to the inside. It allows for a more blended interaction with the rest of the physical and digital world. Preserving state, creating user interfaces etc. It is all stuff that can be done with toolsets like Unity3d and Unreal Engine etc, but those are full dev environments. Scripting is an important element unless you are just creating a static exhibit for people to interact in. Minecraft also lack many of the human to human communication channels. It does not have voice chat by default though it is side loaded in some platforms. It has text chat but it is very console based and not accessible to many people. The social virtual worlds thrive on not just positional communication (as in Minecraft you can stand near something or someone) but on other verbal and non verbal communication.
The popularity of Minecraft has led to some institutions using it to create or wish to create mirror worlds. Already there was the the Ordanance Survey UK creation which “is believed to be the biggest Minecraft map made using real-world geographic data.” (Claiming firsts for things was a big thing back in 2006/7 for virtual worlds). It has just been updated to include houses not just terrain. By houses though this is not a full recreation of your house to walk into but a block showing its position and boundary. This map uses 83 billion blocks each at showing 25m of the UK, according to a story by the BBC
The BBC also reported this week on the British Museum looking at recreating all its exhibits and its buildings in Minecraft. This is an unusual approach to their exhibits. It will be an interesting build and they are asking the public to help. So once again Minecraft’s simplicity and accessibility will allow anyone to create the artefacts. It will, however, create a very low rez low texture experience. So it is a mirror world, in that it will be like the museum but it is more of a model village approach. You admire the talent to make it in the medium. It seems more of an art project than a virtual world project. It is all good though 🙂
The BBC seem to be on a Minecraft vibe just as they were on a Second Life Vibe back in the last wave. Paul Mason and BBC Newsnight came and did a piece with me and the team of fellow Virtual World pioneers in 2007 We were starting to establish a major sub culture in the corporate world of innovators and explorers looking into who we could use virtual worlds and how it felt. Counter culture of this nature in a corporate is not always popular. I have written this before but the day we filmed this for the BBC in the morning I had my yearly appraisal. My management line we not keen on virtual worlds not the success so gave me the lowest rating they could. I went straight for that (which is very annoying and disheartening) into an interview with Paul on camera. Sometimes you just have to put up with misguided people trying to derail you, other times you just get out of the situation and go do it elsewhere.
Anyway, Minecraft offers a great deal, it does allow mirror worlds, though it does allow for an other worldy approach. Most blocks do not obey gravity. You can build up and then a platform out with no supporting structure, you can dig tunnels and underground (the point of the mine in Minecraft and not worry about collapsing. You still have real world up and down left and right though. Most virtual worlds do this. Disney Infinity, Project Spark, Second Life, Opensim and the new Hi-Fidelity etc are all still avatars and islands at their core. People might mess with the scale of things and the size, size as the OS map or the Hard Drive machines and Guitars mentioned in this BBC piece on spectacular builds.
I feel we have another step to take in how we interact at distance or over time with others. Persistent virtual worlds allow us to either be in them, or even better to actually be them. My analogy here is that I could invite you to my mind and my thoughts, represented in a virtual environment. It may not be that those things are actual mirrors of the real world, they might be concepts and ideas represented in all sorts of ways. It may not mean gravity and ground need to exists. We are not going to get to this until we have all been through mirror work and virtual world experiences. That is the foundation of understanding.

Not all avatars and islands? from Ian Hughes

Whilst many people got the virtual worlds of Second Life et al back in 2006 we were only continuing the ground preparation of all the other virtual world pioneers before. Minecraft is the first experience to really lay the foundations (all very serious it is fun to play with too!). These simple 8 bit style virtual bricks are the training ground for the next wave of virtual worlds, user generated content and our experiences of one another ideas. They may be mirror worlds, they have great value. There is no point me building an esoteric hospital experience when we need to have real examples to train on. However there is a point to having a stylised galleon floating in space as a theme for our group counselling experience we created.
The test for the naysayers of “it looks like a game” is really dying off now it seems. It will instead be it does’t look like the right sort of game. This is progress and I still get a rush when I see people understand the potential we have to connect and communicate in business, art, education or just good old entertainment. We could all sit and scoff as say yeah we’ve done that already, yes we know that etc. I am less worried about that, there might be a little voice in me saying I told you so, or wow how wrong were you to try and put a stop to this you muppets, but it is a very quiet voice. I want every one to feel the rush of potential that I felt when it clicked for me, whatever their attitude was before. So bring it on 🙂

Forza Horizon 2 – Demo looking great

The predlets and I are fans of car driving games. Both of them much preferred the original Forza Horizon to regular Forza track driving. Horizon was free roaming, choosing where to go and what to do and giving you the ability to just go for a drive and listen to some tunes. Forza Horizon 2 (the Xbox One version) has just released as a demo and a digital download preorder. It was probably the first game where the predlets and I had sat an watched the inter together and all gone ooooh and ahhhh at the wonderful imagery.
Forza 5 was and is a great car game though felt a little cut down compared to the tracks available on the 360 in Forza 4 but I still really enjoy it. Forza Horizon 2 build not that engine and brings all sorts of changes including weather, a lot of weather. The demo does show a little of that. It also shows true free roam. There are not rock solid wooden fences. If you can break it with a car, you can drive through it. It leaves tracks across the fields and bushes as you hurtle around.
The demo provides a small (thats a relative term as it is a pretty big area) part of Italy to drive around and experience some races and challenges.
I made this little video of some of the fun I had in the demo

The major event is one where you race the italian version of the red arrows in a point to point race. A very impressive, yet subtle element, is as the jets zoom at you or around you you feel it in the rumble pack feedback. With the music and the speed and the awesome visuals it is a brilliant set piece.
You can of course just noon the car around and the Lancer I picked seemed happy to burn doughnuts into the tarmac.
Finally in the video is the hurtling across country. The physics and the rush feel great. The shadow of the airborne car pre barrel roll is again subtle and fantastically done.
It looks as if we will have drivatars in one player free roam, but also we have multiplayer free roam where the entire environment becomes the lobby where you choose to joint races and events or just go for a drive. I found myself and a couple of other people choosing to have an impromptu race and chase. Not an organised event, no automation of the outcome, just going for a blast around the town on the coast.
It’s only two weeks away, its already downloaded and pre-purchased on my Xbox One and I know we are all going to get a blast out of playing it, albeit taking turns not in split screen.

It’s ok to revisit ideas with new technology – VR, 3D, VW

I think that along with the “that’s always the way we have done things” line that gets thrown about whenever anything new challenges the status quo, the live “but we tried that before and it did not work” is equally dangerous.
I do partially agree that if you keep doing the same thing and get the same outcome you should try something else. The adjustment to something else may be to revisit and gently tweak the approach. If you are through dice and trying to get a double six and failing, you just have to throw them in a different way until you get to the right result to win the game. (Of course chaos theory and dependence on initial start conditions in a feedback loop means you always are with every throw but that’s another story).
At the weekend we visited the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke. It is just around the corner but we had not been. It is a giant hangar with a huge recreation of 1900’s and 1930’s streets and then some 50’s,60’s,60’s and 80’s artefacts too.
One thing that stuck me in the camera shop exhibit was this.

It is two lenses looking at two similar photos that gives a great stereoscopic effect. Now 3d photography and the concept of a picture for each eye has been around for a very very long time. This is a plastic construction probably from the 60’s. As kids I know lots of us had the iconic View-master to view 3d content. I distinctly remember the Superman 12 page comic that I had. I can still picture the images in my head.

View-Master Model G.jpg
View-Master Model G” by ThePassengerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

These devices let us see worlds, to engage with ideas albeit with an extra dollop of imagination.
These toys and tricks went out of favour and we headed into the digital age. We had a bit of a revisit of 3D with Tv’s and movies but they miss one crucial element. The old still 3d like View-master was like hint of reality, a story, a reading of a book. Films instead were a large amount of information, story and engagement. They were locked into the screen you were focussed on. It is an art form based on a framed window.
Video games started, and continue to occupy that framed space but in amongst the platformers and the puzzle games we have found 3d virtual worlds. Spaces that we decide how to navigate through, from gun toting first person shooters to free roaming driving simulators. Each of theses tends to have the activity, shooting, driving etc as one aspect to control and the camera or view as another. Some of these worlds thrive on users coming together in these worlds and building or working together. They connect us as humans, proxies by a digital environment over great distances. It is why Microsoft are looking to buy Mojang, the creators of Minecraft for $2 billion, the virtual world is of value, the interaction is of value.
Now, we did have a virtual reality revolution back in the 80’s and one before that, headsets feeding our eyes two distinct images of environments, once that we could control by turning out head and looking. What we did not have then is the lightweight high end screens (as we see in smartphones), heavily commercialised location and orientation based technology (again as we see in smart phones) and a population who understands and wants to navigate in 3d space and metaverses (most kids will have played Minecraft or seen Minecraft and wanted to play or similar). So it makes a great deal of sense for us to now have the rise of the headset and of Virtual Reality to blend into these other advances of technology. The Oculus Rift, Morpheus et al.
Yes they get in the way of interacting with the physical world, but they give huge advantages in the virtual world adding to the sense of presence.
So if people say look we did 3d or look we did VR and it didn’t work last time then they are missing the fact that we are not just rolling the dice differently. We have a new set of dice, this with a design, conceived and created in a virtual world and printed to perfection. We may not roll a double six straight away but when we do we win a much bigger game.
We may look on this period in time as a clunky use of tech, but we may also loo on this with a curious fondness and a charm that leads us on to better things.
This example being the laughing sailor, you put your money in and it laughs, puppetry and animatronics at a very basic level but something endearing about it?

Fantastic use of 3d printing – we need more of this!

Thankyou to @marleyman007 for pinging me this link on twitter it. It made me feel really happy to two reasons.
The first is very obvious. 3D printing making a positive impact, but in a fun and unusual way on peoples lives.
3d Printed Wolverine Hand
(Photo By Aaron Brown creator of the print)
Based on idea from an organisation called e-NABLE where a network of people interested in 3d printing and in making a difference are designing and 3d printing prosthetic hands for kids, he created this super hero hand based on Wolverine. Now that has to make you get a little buzz of excitement and joy and will surely help people see the 3d printing revolution and suddenly realise its potential.
The other reason this made me smile and somewhat energised is the loop that has now come full circle. As you know I like to share ideas. A few years back in 2010 my friend Scotty aka @starbase37 set up a meeting with John Marley (@marleyman007) and I to talk about tech. John was starting with a pitch for the TV show The Cool Stuff Collective. Scotty had pinter him to my blog as a way of finding out new stuff. That meeting led to John asking me to not just help research but to present on The Cool Stuff Collective as Super g33k 🙂 The one the first two shows we recorded featured 3d printing.
It was September 4th 2010 that I wrote about that. (Is it really 4 years ago!). Now this blog post features something that John has sent to me over Twitter :).
We revisited 3d printing in series 3 too with the reprap. I am very proud we were able to show 7-12 year olds 3d printing on the TV 4 years ago. Image that! some of them are now approaching A-Levels.
The last thing I said on the last show in a round up was that I really hoped that we would get technology properly taught in schools, to allow kids to be able to make and create with tech not just use. That is certainly heading the right direction despite all the arguments about whether coding is coding for codings sake etc. The BBC have new assets and a plan to involved computing more in various programmes including Nina and the Nuerons which is a great place for it to be represented on Cbeebies.
Meanwhile in the past 4 years there has been a massive change in how kids engage with tv and media content. Many of them are self broadcasting things such as gameplay on or spending a lot of time watching minecraft videos from Stampylonghead

He and his fellow casters have created a style of commentary on games that is about fun and exploration. It has certainly led to the predlets spending a lot of time talking and explaining what they are doing whilst they play, usually with a silly voice and lots of screams and whoops.
I do get asked why there are no more Cool Stuff Collective shows. It is something that would be great to do again. There is more new tech than ever that is accessible to young and old alike. There is room to find things that can be shared, but that can also be used in school and at home. Whether the regular TV format for kids tv is suffering a demise, or if it is just morphing into a more shared online experience is hard to tell. I have an image in my head of a show that truly crosses the borders. I recently added this comment to a thread on Facebook about the coding or not argument and the relevance of TV
” Imagine the show being a catchup on a massive open source application gathering. Live hackathons with audience participation. Bringing everyone into the “project” designers, writers, coders , testers, art and science mixed. Live touch points across the web, assets to share and update. Voting features and project aims up and down.
Take all that stuff tv does for no reason like xfactor votes and direct it to mass creation. It does not just have to focus on code. It could be awesome.”
There is certainly content to be shared, in a different way to the excellent Gadget Show or other Gadget/science programmes. A merging of live and online interaction, even thread of storyline created through synchronous and asynchronous audience participation.
So whilst I get teary eyed (in a good way) looking back at Cool Stuff Collective, where I had some of the best times ever and most fun “working”, I am still very proud of what we covered but I know we (or someone) could cover the new things in a new way. The thing with kids TV is that you have an impact on a cohort and then they move on. If we can reach this current batch of 7-11 year olds and support and inspire them to understand and build with technology then we have a great future ahead of us. For now I will try and catch things here and also longer explanations of the world of tech and evolutions in Flush Magazine and occasionally look at the old footage in the showreel and smile 🙂

Computers getting smarter?

It’s time to share another edition of the Flush the Fashion magazine and this time I have written an article inspired by the apparent passing of the Turing test a few weeks ago. As with all my articles it is just a starting point and a look at some of achievements and current state of the art created by the company I worked at for 20 years IBM. Deep Blue and Watson. The article is titled “R U Intelligent like what I am?”, it finished with a bit about Timeless Decision Theory and Newcombe’s Paradox so it is probably the freakiest article yet 🙂
Huge thanks once again to @tweetthefashion for another very full and exciting edition of the magazine and the really great layout and pictures to go with my words.
A direct link to the article is here
It’s on page 125 🙂

There is also the iOS version and a google version linked here
I hope you enjoy it, and the magazine. It’s great fun to write like this, and there always seems a subject to get into and explore making itself appear through serendipity.