Next week live and direct at Metameets Dublin

Time flies by so quickly and it is nearly time for Metameets 2010 in Dublin on 7-8th May. I am doing a 30 minute talk at the event, live and in person on 7th. If you look at the schedule you will see a good few familiar names . The speaker list is in an interesting order too I like the billing order 🙂
So what am I going to talk about in my slot.
The whole conference is right where I am interested in talking about things, the theme being “Old Myths and New Realities – The New Realities of Virtual Reality in the Old World.”. With the cast there I feel a little pressure to keep up. It is odd but when you are thrown in the ring with the people who you have been influenced by and whose work and thoughts you respect, with an audience who is well informed and educated on the subject, it becomes a different discussion to the usual evangelical one of “hey this really is a good idea people!”.

I want to build on my washing away cave paintings and where my current thinking is with how we are already changing things quite dramatically for society. So I was planning on this.

Synopsis: Virtual worlds have already acted as a disruptive technology and combined with other web movements have caused a positive social disruption to all parts of our lives, work politics and friendships. However many people are already scared by our new ways of communicating and interacting. Yet have we, as virtual world exponents, already got too comfortable with avatars and islands? Should we be considering where we go to next layering and combing real and virtual. How do we start to thread our online existences? Is there another step to take in the not so distant future that lets us communicate our ideas online in ways we have yet to evolve to consider.

Quite often things come up as I am presenting, its sort of an adlib performance as I am not big on writing scripts and sticking to them. If there is anything anyone wants to ask beforehand or see me weave into this then let me know here or on twitter etc.

For instance Rita King/Eureka DejaVu posted this article on something we did in world the other day where we met to discuss a drupal based web project and some wireframes. I quickly sparked up some shared media screens pointing to google drawings so we could walk and talk our way around the ideas, and a live version of a site on another panel. It was good to be able to move around the space and refer to things by our avatar position, though sometimes it felt there should be an event better way to negotiate and explain the concepts to one another in this space other than clunking our avatars around. However, it worked and it was quick, simple and almost cheap (if you ignore the fact I am paying Linden so much for an island!)
I have included Rita’s video here form her original post. You even get to hear my Norfolk accent droning on about how good drupal is as an example of voice comms 🙂 Rita said “go on say something interesting” 🙂

Don’t they test software anymore?

This is not a rant about the constant patching of my PS3 everytime I turn the thing on, nor about the minor updates hear and there in various operating systems and platforms. Well actually it might be, but its not intended to be rant at all.
Whilst playing the wonderful Just Cause 2 on the Xbox I bumped into a few bugs and glitches. They all happened around the large radio antenna dish up in the mountains.
The first saw me accidentally get inside of the buildings. The buildings tend to be texture walls to climb so once you are inside they seem to be invisible as there is not texture to render. This was amusing until I realized I could not get out at all. I was not able to spoof an evac and had no ammo to self harm so I had to quit 🙁 Still these things happen.
I then popped back to the same place and found a little glitch with the top edge of a building.
Just Cause 2 Glitch
i.e. I am standing on nothing due to some odd collision detection.
For me I do not regard these are terrible flaws but it does raise the question of how, with such large expansive experiences it is ever possible to get enough test coverage and QA in place. Just Cause 2 has 400 sq miles of terrain, trees, building water. Vehicles moving around. Clearly the physics engine can be tested with a relative few vectors but when the place is built by hand, building placed its almost impossible to not have a few errors in place. Equally with a free roaming game its hard to tell when something is a bug.
I had driven a speed boat straight at a yacht. The speed boat was forced underwater with me still driving it, I had a submarine in effect. That is less of a bug a more an unintended consequence, the thing was it then became my mission to try and recreate it, which I eventually did.
Testing and coverage is actually not an instinctive thing to do as I have found with some clients. Where an atomic action happens with the same start and end conditions, but where it is held in a different part of a flow or sequence each time it is not always so necessary to run a test for every permutation and combination. Test the changes, test the extremes and test the critical path.
The software I used to build way back for internal corporate systems testing was a straightforward job in many respects, as we started to get more and more service, more and more permutations and many more functions it clearly has got a lot harder.
It is why I am not surprised that some tests really don’t get done in favour of patch later over the web, though at the same time I suspect some don’t get done because “hey we can patch it later”.
Anyway I am not moaning about Just Cause 2 as I am still in awe of its size and scale, just as I am with GTA IV and will no doubt be with Red Dead Redemption. Free roaming FTW!

Digital Economy Bill – UK politics inaction or in action?

Anyone who has not been following the massive debate online with #debill hashtag will have missed a horrendous hole in our democratic system here in the UK. Of course those that have missed it are probably the MP’s that decided not to bother responding to the thousands of letters and decided not show up in the house for the debate and vote.
Why is this such a travesty?
The Digital Economy bill is an all encompassing set of rules, regulations and ideas bundled together that have a huge impact on the way we in this country have access to the internet.
Of course something this important and with this amount of impact needs full democratic discussion and our representatives need to be able to consider and amend what is contained in it as the internet is the live blood for the next century.
However, this bill that has generated so much protest against it, has been steamrolled through parliament when most people were not looking as part of the wash-up process of a general election campaign. Wash-up is designed to continue the business of government whilst they all persuade us to vote for them in the next month.
What is amazing is that until this morning (after the bill had been rubber stamped) was the first mention of it I have seen on the TV. It was on BBC breakfast and only really had a spokesman for the bill not anyone against it.
So, those of us who live and work on the web have been pretty fully engaged with the politics of this bill, and yet I have seldom seen anyone speak out for it.
Amongst the more contentious issues are the ones about disconnecting pirates from the web, more importantly disconnecting anyone whose internet service is used by a pirate or anyone deemed to be a pirate. One government minister suggested this would be ok as we have passwords!
When the apparently reasonable argument is put forward that people need to be paid for their creative endeavours and people should not take their work for free one can say it sound good to put things in place to deal with that. However when that potential vested interest ends up removing our ability to use the web in a creative way, when the controls are seemingly in place to maintain the status quo of large record companies and alike to not adjust to the future and to new business models we have to ask if these controls are the right thing?
Forcing service providers to police all activity of all users at all times just in case a song is downloaded will not only eat into our civil liberties but also our wallets. Someone is going to have to pay the ISP’s to monitor and police the communication channel. That will be us the consumers and businesses that need the web to exist.
Another platitude that has been bounced around is “we will have these powers but we wont use them”, a seemingly self defeating argument.
I think we have seem a major #fail on many counts with this bill though. We have had a failure to debate and challenge the flawed bill by our soon to be unelected representatives. We have seen the rules abused to push something through the system and we have had an apparent media blackout on the subject. At the same time we have seen a massive public debate online and one that in the coming election I think will rise to the surface. After all why only make decisions about things once every 5 years with a cross on a piece of paper when we have instant live communication with one another and our representatives?
So to the thousands of fellow internet users who have felt so strongly about this, and like me have ended up writing to our MP’, tweeting, blogging, signing petitions etc. I think we have actually proved a point to ourselves about the value of the MP’s in this country.
This is the start of something I am sure!

Heavy Rain – Heavy Narrative

I hope this is spoiler free in talking about Heavy Rain.
In all the DotGovLabs games workshops we have had discussion around narrative and how a game experience needs that in some form. Heavy Rain has come up a lot in that as a prime example of both story and character engagement. We also have often ended up talking about fun. Often in the fun discussion zany, wacky, quirky, frivolous are the natural partners to that. However we have also all been discussion challenge, and how solving something hard, achieving a complex task is rewarding and fun, but in a different way.
I had read a lot about Heavy rain, seen the pictures and heard others say how unusual it felt to engage with. Last night in a 4 hour stint I could not put Heavy Rain down, and there is a lot more to come story wise it would seem.
It certainly pushes some emotional buttons for me as a parent and has an air of intrigue about it that is not quite a horror film style fear but its suitably slow pace give you a lot of time to think and reflect of whats going on.
Heavy Rain
The acting in this form both the technology of the facial expressions to the brilliant voice talents blended with a varied set of camera angles and film style techniques have certainly moved this sort of story telling forward. It has clearly learned and extended its predecessor Fahrenheit, but cranks up the emotions even more.
The game mechanic is very simple, and is a serious of twin stick gestures at vary speeds or slightly more complex quicktime “Simon Says”. When something more action packed than walking around investigating happens you are bounced from you reflective and pondering mood into an almost panic. Its all adrenalin, but seems to be a different flavour flowing.
The plot has a central character and I felt I was in his shoes, though it was not too big a leap to segue into the other characters just as in a back story in a film. Feeling sorry for the character and wanting to help yet wondering if he is the one that needs help is key to this story.
At points when you think things are just settling down a curve ball is thrown and one of the most unpleasant levels I have played was what seemed to be a hallucination of all the crowds in a train station as static dummies, paused in time, slightly greyed out. You have to walk through them and as you touch them they crumple to the floor. It actually reminded me of the Modern Warfare 2 infamous airport scene, there innocent civilians are cut down by the team you have to work with and you can do little about it, its a shock, but more of a single moment out of context with the rest of MW2. Here in Heavy Rain, there is nothing you can do about the people either, you know its a dream, the panic of the slow chase you are in and watching people drop like flies will stick with me for while. It’s very spooky.
I am really looking forward to getting through this story now, likewise seeing how the apparent choices make a difference in the long run, at the moment if its making a difference its very subtle.
One last think, I love the FBI agents desktop AR. Roll on when we have that for real, great virtual world crossover.
***Update After several solid late night sessions I finished Heavy Rain last night. It certainly picked up the pace and told an intriguing story. There were moments I gasped and felt a variety of emotions form revulsion to relief and an undercurrent of sadness. Spending that much time with so few characters makes this feel like a TV mini series rather than a film. I usually wander from most games before finishing them as over the years the endings have let me down and I have felt it better to leave the thing hanging in the air as a great memory. This one though…. absolutely needs to be finished. What a great piece of entertainment. Thankyou Quantic Dream

Pointing to the point of points

In the government and games investigations and workshops I have been doing recently we have had a lot of discussion around points systems. I wish there had been time to show people Jesse’s video all the way through to help understand where this all may go.
Very often in considering using a game or game mechanic it seems to be considered as a self contained unit. Whether that is the basic premise of the games industry in shipping a CD or with the Facebook game genres that can regarded as an evolving service.
None of these consider the concept, as used in Alternate Reality Gaming, of distributing the narrative, experiences and interactions across multiple products and services that may already exist.
It is mainly due to our conditioning of how we have had to consume media, i.e. lets watch this film now, and the need potentially for us to chunk and classify our time and experience. However, for those of us that are increasingly thin slice multi-tasking blending social, family and work in a fluid cross platform way it may be that we are more open to points systems and achievements layered on top of our current personal life stories?
As an example I mentioned that I tweeted my achievement of filing my first years company return. I had decided that felt like
a) something to be proud of
b) something to let friends and family know that feeding edge was still on track
c) remind any detractors that I am still pushing forwards

Clearly for people not running a business filing a company return may not have a comparable achievement, but for my fellow startups, even though their may be at a different time in the year they may pick up on that and feel a sense of being in this together.

Simple points in games, scores, money, credits etc follow the same principle, though until they are published or shared outside of the game environment their value could be considered less. Though equally they become the currency of that circle of acquaintances and provide the “in this together” factor.

These rewards and achievements across multiple systems become very personal rewards, humans are reward driven. If it is possible to double up on a reward by combing it with others or placing it another domain to get a kick from it again whether it is from a pure game, a family event or achieving a business milestone then we should?

In sharing photo’s on flickr we are doing that too. We see something, an event. We capture it and feel a sense of achievement and then in showing it to others we get another pay off. With online of course someone may view and comment many years later so the pay off can be ongoing.

I find it a hugely interesting motivator and one that I keep seeing the patterns in across everything we do. Likewise the keeping an achievement to yourself works, knowing what others don’t. Another mechanic that we can attempt to tap into in interacting with people.

Restaurants Vs Home Cooking, Distributed Vs Local

I have been wrangling with explaining how a business or idea can be spread across user generated content platforms with as much impact as attempting to create a platform of your own.
The social and technology landscape that surrounds us right now has fundamentally shifted opportunities for people to get things done. If you want to do something there probably is a place, space, server or service where you can experiment with your idea without the need to invest huge sums of money and hours of effort in getting the entire full featured gizmo up and running.
Businesses that suggest they are going to inject themselves into the places where people already are, in particular in online activities are often viewed as a little odd. It is part of the reason people get confused by virtual worlds like Second Life. There is the business of Linden Lab in creating the tools, running the servers etc. However there is also the creativity of the residents and users of the places in that world. Those people are able to experiment with ideas of how to interact in a virtual environment without having to build an entire one. Likewise people who want to experiment with how to build one and run one can now also do that due to the open source Opensim.
That is not to say there are not huge rewards for those platforms and middleware providers that make it easy for everyone to do the thing that they want, but presence in another place makes a great deal of sense. If your core business is story telling why should you need to bother about how a light shading technique is coded in a 3d engine.
I think we have always had this concept, but for some reason its got lost in attempting to compartmentalise business ideas. If you are a RL shopkeeper you do not tend to build the shop and the street it is in.
Baby squid
The exciting thing is that both concepts can co-exist. Just as restaurants and people cooking at home are really the same thing, but just there for different levels and quality of experience.
So thinking about explaining a truly web distributed experience over user generated content platforms on the web is more like considering cookbooks and utensils for the home market, spread in lots of different places, used in lots of different ways as opposed to the very focused, very local experience of a restaurant.

PS3 Home – Just got better

I have often been a bit annoyed by PS3 home that I did not feel comfortable with my avatar. I had a few custom clothes that were fun, but the lack of green hair just grated.
Now though with the release of the game AvP (which I have on my Xbox) some limited edition content has been made available.
There is a predator helmet and body suit (cost about £2.00)
So I bought it last night and whilst I cannot overlay my jacket as in Second Life it did feel just right. Odd as that may seem.
Predator home
It made posing and dancing even funnier than it has been before
It also leads to the clash of content that worries many people about interoperability
Predator home throne
I am also sure this is not seen in too many Audi showrooms
Audi predator
The models and movement and lighting are all very high grade as you would expect. Though I think it still shows the fantastic skill of Sythia Veil who created my predator AV in Second Life over 4 years ago with just the tools in SL !
Which I might add if I had not had so much time and emotion invested in that look I would not have paid to have that in PS3 Home and then written this post singing it praises. Note, there is a lot to be said for user created content and fan art!

Mashing up web and Second Life Viewer 2

We have always (as land owners) had the ability to set video parcels in Second Life. This has of course been a bit of a pain with only one video stream, or web page display allowed per parcel. Now we have new media sharing abilities. This has already been implemented in some of the other platforms, but most of those are less user generated in their content.
I tried a few extensions out to ideas, in particular powered by the fact that SL will play interactive flash now not just flash movies as before. and
I used a mind map tool on the web and mashed it with wearing a sphere for a presentation. i.e. you can wear interactive web applications now
I dropped myself into a flash based flocking display where I controlled the direction of the fish.
Finally I popped into Habbo Hotel.
There are of course a few issues and gotchas with interacting with flash. The experience is not totally shared. The browser URL is shared, but not all the interactions. This is only to be expected. I am not complaining, but I know that this will confuse some people. A web interface is inherently single user even if there are multiple users of a system.
Loggin in and personalizing your view of a system is not going to change others views unless the controlling website knows whats going on with this virtual world and multiple users hitting it in context.
There are a lot more things we can do now though, website based HUD’s(I have a transparent twitter hud on right now), textures stored off world (though we are limited to 8 player surfaces at the moment so this could get clunky).
With the combination of SL being able to create HTTP Server objects too we have quite a loop of connectivity.
This is very exciting stuff as many of the projects over the years that I have been involved in move data around and in and out. Things got a whole lot easier I think.

Brushing with java once more

Way back in the dim distant past I spent a lot of time with Java as a language. It was the up and coming write once run anywhere new kid on the block. The trouble was we had to deal with client side applets and the delivery of those to places was getting to be a bit of a mess with lots of plugin’s classpaths and all sorts of clunkiness. On the server we had very rich application server environments like Websphere, Weblogic and ATG Dynamo. They worked well, but were just too big to do anything quickly, so along came PHP (Personal Home Page) which just let people do stuff. Its the foundation of many a blog (WordPress is all PHP as is Boonex Dolphin). PHP talks to nice simple database servers like MySQL. The sort of thing we were doing on Websphere.
However, not we are back to needing richer applications, maintaining state and server side cleverness I seem to be bumping into Java again.
Smartfox server is Java, persisting UDP connections talking to MySql etc that I am talking to with all sorts of clients like Unity3d.
Another project is modelled in Java but talks to Second Life.
Project Wonderland is Java and works really well. I got a great tour of the workings of Wonderland. One of the things you know will happen with Java is the software engineering will be in place (in general). PHP seems to be quicker to hack and you can do good design, but why would you. Java is more for the engineer.
Hence we get things in virtual worlds like Project Wonderland’s toolkit around capabilities. It feels a very Java way to do it, and the notion of containment fits well with a pure OO language.

Project Wonderland Capabilities from Nicole Yankelovich on Vimeo.

Of course when it comes down to it good code is good code.
The impressive thing now is that the cloud servers and server providers like Slicehost running things linux means that it is very easy (its all relative) to get a java package(like wonderland or smartfox) and get it running, or get a mono package (like opensim) and get it running, or just do a LAMP (linux, Apache, Mysql,PHP) application running.
It means, once a little fiddling around is done) that applications can be built not just installations of difficult software. Its not quite utility computing, there still has to be something for us techs to do, but it feels way easier than it used to to get going with applications now.
I have to say how great all the resources on Slicehost are too, for things like the magic apt-get incantations you have to do to easily get the AMP in LAMP going 🙂