Virtual worlds getting a fashionable boost

I was honoured to be asked to write a piece on Virtual Worlds for this great online magazine Flush the Fashion. There is lots to see in the magazine but if you notice pages 98-101 I have explored the adoption path form Moshi Monsters and Binweevils to Opensim and alike via Minecraft. It looks great and they have done an awesome job 🙂 See what you think 🙂

Here is a direct link to the article

Also thank you for the opensim photos – The others images are all from my accounts.

Per Erikson from Lost Castle

Pathfinders Hypergrid tours

and last but not least tidalblog

Making from anything – MaKey MaKey

It looks like this kickstarter project has raised loads of money.

It aims to make it easy to create interfaces from everyday objects and help anyone instrument the world, just by clipping with alligator clips.
It is called MaKey MaKey which is a great play on words and deserves funding just for that.
The video shows the potential of it really well

Of course this is not strictly speaking some little back room project these are MIT media lab students who live and breathe this stuff. When I was at university we never had anything as forward thinking as MIT courses. I can imagine the horror of our lecturers, “you are going to connect people up to bananas and make noises!”. Back then we were radical because we chose to program in C not Modula-2 for one of our team projects 🙂

Two fingers up to computers

No this is not referring to our fine “archers salute” though it will be interesting if that gesture now becomes a universal dismissal of an application with yet more gesture based interfaces on the horizon. One of the more interesting ones is the USB plugin device that will turn any machine into a very responsive gesture controlled device with more precision (it claims) than the Kinect. The Kinect of course is doing full body tracking and face recognition and multiple bodies but this device the Leap Motion looks like a small box that sits by you machine and costs a whole $70. its not out until December but it is a good sign I think.(sorry no pun intended)

Makie Alpha – 3d printed custom dolls

Today Makies went live as an alpha. In case you had not been following this exciting new startup it is one that blends 3d printing with design. It lets you wizard up your own customised figure (lets say doll). The bulk of that figure is then custom 3d printed, but then some of the elements like clothes and accessories are added using more traditional methods. The site is in very early adopter mode as whilst you can design lots of Makies there are a subset of clothes available on checkout. Also this is the first limited edition run of 100 (I think I got in at number 50)
my makie
If you want to know who is behind all this then check out the team at MakieLab. I first got to hear about this because Alice Taylor (who as then at Channel 4) was going to come to one of our BCS animation and games development SG events to talk about how they used games at Channel 4. She was unable to come and do the talk at the last minute and had to be a little bit vague as she was in the process of resigning to go start Makielab up, but I didn’t know that 🙂 So when I saw her next we chatted a bit and got an tiny insight into what might be going on.
So, as an early adopter, 3d printing fan and as a sometime children’s TV presenter this really intersects a lot of things. So Feeding Edge is going to be the proud owner soon of a cute Makie.

Playing with sand and water

I was really impressed when i saw this augmented/blended reality project doing the rounds. It mixes a physical substance, sand, as the input for the simulation. Being able to hold and use real things with real physics makes what then happens with the augmentation more immersive and real.

A Kinect is used to determine what is going on in the physical world and mapped with simulation software and calibrated projection to deliver it back into the world. i.e. no looking through a magic lens. It is project and there.
The project homepage has a lot more details about the simulation and also a soon to be released download page.
This isn’t a fake special effect its real and the data input, Sand and a kinect show the power of merging physical and digital and that we don’t just have to rely on keyboards and mice any more 🙂

Pondering the world of work

The last few years I have had a chance to explore what it is to run your own company and act as a freelancer after many years in a “real” job in a corporate world. Every now and then my old brain clicks in and thinks how much easier it is to just do as you are told, or have the structure of someone else’s job to do.

At the same time I am left thinking about the freedom to act that doing your own thing allows. Such as suddenly finding myself doing TV work.
Then it flicks back around as I realise that the scramble for investors in startup endeavours and the amount of pro-bono or just plain free work that needs to be done is almost as much of a bind as a 9 to 5 job, without any of the certainty of a pay cheque. Each piece of work usually starts as a favour, which is again the same as in corporate life (“can you just take a look at this” tended to lead to most of the projects with the exception of virtual worlds which was actually me saying to myself “take a look at this” and it going ballistic as I kept sharing my ideas)

Then again I change tack as I realise the sheer diversity of things that I am able to do, setting up systems, coding in multiple languages, generating new ideas, presenting and sharing, TV presenting, enthusing and getting people on board, spotting trends and combining them, not fearing the new not forgetting the old, conferences, game technology and all the virtual world and 3d printing things really don’t fit well in any role anywhere. Being able to do a lot of things reasonably well, and pick up new things just makes more sense to go with the flow and see where things take me.

My wife very recently left one corporate environment for another, but a much better one. It involves a lot of commuting to and from London, but she is the Finance Director for a major part of that company, quite a step up from the corporate ladder rungs she was trying to climb in the old place.
That means that my odd time sliced life fits well now with the times the predlets need to be dropped off and picked up from school and the after school activities. So working as and whenever, mostly online on start-up activity fits really well.

I find that now I never really stop working, there is not definite start or end to the day or night, at the same time there is space to think and consider directions and ponder these odd combinations and extrapolations of technology and people.

I must admit I did admire the Reverse Job Application site and concept, having looked at a few sites and talked to a few recruiters the idea of switching it around, if you need me I am here, whilst getting on with whatever it is you do seems to make more sense.

The web, for me, is my CV, though I do have a perfectly normal document if anyone ever needs to see it. If anyone does feel they need my services, or wants to invest in some of the things I have not been able to share publicly yet (but more than willing to talk about if you are interested) then I am here. That includes any TV agents (who seem incredibly difficult to get on the books with even if you have done 3 series of TV, when you are an “expert” in a varied subject. You get more response applying for jobs than for getting representation it seems)

As a clue to the startup activity I have a gaming startup that has a rather forward thinking underlying basis of a form of genetic matching based on continuous social media and gaming activity that really uses everything else as an operating system, and is very much about people. We have an alpha, plus some extended designs ideas and it could change quite a few things when we get it in the right shape to go live. We have a good team just need more money and more developers to make it blossom.

Anyway, this rambling was brought on by having to do some very specific sys admin tasks that involved lots of magic incantations on various command lines on various cloud services that were so focussed and specific that I needed to fractally zoom back up into some sort of big picture again to remember who I am and what I do 🙂

Ok… time to cook tea, help the predlets do homework then sort out bedtime, then back to sorting out servers. See it is a very varied day isn’t it ?

Games and what it means to be human at TEDx

I was really pleased to see that Andy Robertson aka GeekDadGamer and of Wired UK and GamePeople and fellow guest on the Media Pulp Skylanders podcast got to do a TEDx talk about games and what it means to be human.
Andy has been doing a lot of looking at games from a family perspective and here expands on his other way to approach an investigation of the depth of games by engaging with local artists to use games as the starting material.
Take a look as he explains what he means 🙂 thats is of course the point of the talk.

It particularly resonates with me that Andy asks for a new priesthood of game critics that get the point of the game and the mechanics but connect it to being human. That is because it is a view I share with not only games but all this technology and linking how things feel, how they change us socially and in the context of work is important to me.
(Hence my Taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to tagline)
Anyway, well done Andy, a great talk.
I wonder if the world is ready for me to do a TEDx 😉

Are you into CrowdFunding and 3D Printing?

Back in the second ever Cool Stuff Collective in series 1 we featured a wonderful haptic design device and some exciting software to help anyone use it to model in 3d. It was something that I ended up buying too as I was so impressed.Then the predlets got to use it
Now the project is looking to reach its next level with a crowd funding model to get more support.

Check out the Anarkik3d IndieGoGo project sitting there ready for you to invest.
There is a new website too for http://www.anarkik3d.co.uk/ yes that is a UK startup for 3d design and printing. The founder is Ann Marie Shillito, an internationally renown designer maker and contemporary jeweller. At Edinburgh College of Art, she instigated and led the original research into the effectiveness of a haptic interface for a 3D modelling package for designer makers. (As her bio say on the website). Ann Marie knows what works and so this makes it a very different modelling packages.
I look forward to printing some things out that I have designed with my Falcon using my reprap once it’s operational:)

But it is just a game…. Variety, Bikes and Dragons

This weekend I finally managed to to my St George impersonation and slay the final Dragon in Skyrim. I have by no means finished the game though, there are many more adventures and places to explore in the game environment. Skyrim is a virtual environment, a huge one. Mountains, rivers, dungeons, castles, towns, heaven and hell. It is populated by all sorts of races and creeds. As a player you really do choose your path, hitting things with swords, axes, or standing back and casting all sorts of spells. All of which level you up as a character. It was a huge undertaking to build this game, its depth and the 100+ hours of interaction make it an epic quest. It becomes what you put into it. Obviously it’s storyline and the experience fits with the medieval sword and sorcery genre. It is Lord of the Rings (In no way associated with the Olympic Rings in case the LCOG brand police are reading this), it is Game of Thrones. (That’s Game, not Games as in Olympic Games etc. ) In case you wonder why I said that read this in the Guardian
Anyway, it has been a deep and enjoyable experience. Very varied within it’s context. Hugely time consuming. That is were I felt I had to bring in the notion of variety. Yes it is just a game, like other forms of entertainment are just books, or just films. It requires a lot to get into and continue it, and unlike many networked games it is a single player experience (generally though that is changing, and the PC version has a Mod kit to build your own pieces).
Just as I was finishing this behemoth of gaming the follow up to Trials HD, called Trials Evolution arrived on Xbox Live. This game cost about £10 as a download, rather than the £45+ of Skyrim. It is “just a motorbike game” Anyone who has played Trials HD, or knows of the old Kickstart game will know it is a fantastic flexible physics puzzler at it’s heart. You control a motorbike, in a side scrolling left to right environment. You balance throttle, brake and leaning forward and backward to try and traverse the terrain as fast as possible. The original was fantastic, infuriating and rewarding in equal measures. This evolution has the same attributes and also some extra variety carried over from the previous game with odd sports challenges. It also has a course constructor. On top of all that it also has head to head online super cross racing. The online experience has a great asynchronous version too. Whilst racing any track you fastest friends times are represented by little social dots (rather than full on ghosts) showing how far behind you are. So playing alone you feel connected.
Where the real surprise is though is that this “it’s just a motorbike game” which stands well enough as it is has an incredibly varied editor. It is not a simple course constructor to just place the odd ramp. No, the things people are creating are 2D top down shooters, FPS games, Table Football(Foosball) and who knows what else will appear. All of these creations are appearing online as part of the games youtube like connection lobby.
In the official trailer you can see some of these pop in, check about 50 seconds in here, almost as a throw away statement!

Giving people tools with which to create, where they can completely turn the original game on its head is very exciting. As with Little Big Planet, Minecraft and alike we are going to see an explosion in ideas. This gets people exploring how to integrate assets, respond to events etc, it is a form of programming and problem solving. It is very exciting!
Makers of the world Go Abberate 🙂

Finally an interesting advert – Gadget Show 360, F1, Second Screens

Last night at 9pm a very innovative ad aired for the new Gadget Show. It relied on an iOS application installed and running ready to go. At 9pm the tv promo started, the jingle ditty at the start cued the application to life to run the same promo advert. The TV was of course a fixed camera, but the app was a full 360 video. Moving the iPad around looking up down left right and behind you could follow the action, and it was perfectly synchronised to the TV advert. So as Jason dashed around the studio you could follow him.
The video was of course preloaded in the app, but it was a very impressive experience. It was a polished example of innovation using both the TV screen and the ever increasingly common iPad.
The video is available on the web here, in the same sort of way the old quicktime VR’s were back in 1998 🙂 It was the linking of the fixed TV showing what you would have seen combined with the physical activity of moving the iPad around whilst held up that made this more engaging than just a 360 video on the web.
Of course this would have been even better taken to the next level. If we were all in the studio too and were aware of one another. Think a virtual world synched to the TV broadcast. Where we have the same sort of control on out view of the system.
The second screen as it is being called is becoming very influential. It has been great being able to watch the Sky coverage of F1 both on the TV and with the app on the iPad letting me look at stats, track positions and in car driver feeds. It is an extension of us sitting here with our wireless enabled laptops, or having moved the desktop PC into the main living area (the previous wave) to be able to look things up, to follow links to add to our enjoyment of a previously passive experience.
It is all a part of blending realities with all the new forms of visualisation and and interaction hardware that we now have available to us. Why restrict us to one screen?