Scaling – It’s all relative

Holiday’s give you time to ponder and inject serendipitous thoughts and events into your life. For me this time is was seeing an episode of Coast telling part of the story of Albert Einstein in Belgium. It got me thinking about relativity and points of view that people approach things with. In particular this related to just how many people and things need to be in a virtual space at any one time.
Cloning me in OpenSim
If you arrive at metaverse interaction from a “business” perspective or are used to Second Life and/or Opensim then having more than 50 avatars in one region or space at a time is viewed as an unfortunate limitation. The point of view being used is that of needing to be a mass communication vehicle, running huge events for thousands of people who will all listen to your message. That however is a flat web mentality. A billboard, even with interaction and a sense of belonging.
If you arrive at metaverse interaction from a “games” perspective. Having 32 people in once space performing a task is pretty much the maximum (in general). Having more doesn’t always add to the experience. Ok so Eve Online has 60,000 users on one server but you don’t really get to see them. It is also the exception. A few games have dabbled with FPS scenes with 128 people battling. You battle however is with the few dug in around you seldom the people the other side of the map.
So we have two relative view points. It is odd that the “business” perspective where it is about meetings and communication, sharing ideas and understanding will use the objection of “oh only 50 people?” when in fact the gathering it needs are targeting small groups collaborating on fast ideas. The games industry direction is one of “whats the point having all that freedom and that many people” when that industry is about mass take up and use of produced resources.
If we had the ultimate virtual environment that could house an infinite number of objects and avatars at amazing resolutions would we be any better off in working out how to communicate or play with one one another?
It is the restrictions of the mediums themselves that brings the greatest creativity?
If everyone could log on and all be in one place surely we would still have sparse areas where no one was or over crowded areas where it seemed to busy you would use your client to not bother rendering quite so many people.
I am not saying we should not strive for more and bigger spaces, I would love to see them. I am also not saying lets stick with 32 soldiers in a war torn town. I am saying that everyone should consider the other perspectives of what they are trying to do and why and not discount the other view. The chances are the other view may be what you actually want to do.
I was also struck by scale and relative size whilst wandering around the amazing sand sculptures in portugal. It was like a texture free virtual world.

Each of these is crafted from millions of particles of sand. It is not just a surface rendering, the whole thing is sand right through. No computer style rendering shortcuts. So each particle is a physical pixel, a phixel ? It takes up space and can only be viewed by the number of people who can fit in the space. The constraints of the medium again make it interesting. There is a choice to sculpt in lots of materials, yet this huge gathering chose only to use sand, because of its properties and impact and a craft and talent required to use them.
This all blended in mentally with Minecraft.

The predlets got interested seeing me start to play and actually understand the point and pointlessness of Minecraft.
I was only really doing a few bits and pieces, but once you start digging and rebuilding, combining and digging some more it is (as it success has shown) a totally intriguing experience. I think it works because of its lego like qualities. You are restricted in the medium and in the resources, but challenges you set yourself become very real despite the old school doom like block graphics.
So once again it is all relative, it is not everything to everyone with one perfect ultra solution.
In the mean time it is good news that Intel is pushing forward with 1,000 avatars in a sim (i.e. more than most high end games would dream of going near) as reported here and there are some interesting papers on how Opensim scales and works from Intel here

Develop Brighton 2011 – featuring Virtual Worlds

I just got the great news that my application to present at the Evolve portion of this years Develop conference has been accepted. It will of course be an elective session. Having attended Develop the last couple of years, and really enjoyed the sessions I felt that the virtual world industry and the crossover into social media was missing. So this year I thought I would throw my hat in the ring and do a version of washing away cave paintings.
Develop 2011 Brighton
Evolve is a part of the conference on day 1 that is about emerging trends and tech. Michael Acton Smith of Moshi is keynoting the day too 🙂
I submitted this as my talk.

EVOLVE: So You Think Virtual Worlds Aren’t Important?
Session Details
User generated virtual worlds may seem a sideshow. Open source development is making inroads, with Opensim, into fully user generated environments hosted anywhere run by anyone. These are used for entertainment and in training medical staff or school education.

They are an innovative platform for the next wave of designers and programmers. We have shown, on the kids ITV show The Cool Stuff Collective, these virtual worlds are growing to be a distribution platform for goods that will not remain solely as digital properties. Virtual things are getting real. Come and pay attention to virtual worlds and the future.

Wish me luck and maybe see you there (early bird registration finishes june 15th )

My takeaway from FCVW2011

FCVW11 was a great conference for several reasons. The first was to be able to meet and talk with the IEEE VW standards group that is forming. We got to discuss at length the Sep 20/21st summit that is planned for L.A. this year. As a group we have a number of VW old hands and gurus and I am honoured to be in the loop with them all.
Another reason was to meet quite a few people in the industry that we have only met briefly physically or it was a very long time ago. That made this conference a bit of a homecoming.
The third reason was hearing so many presentations and panels by practioners, educators, military, government and alike who are busy doing some really influential and great work.
To hear about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder helper experiences, or Bill May’s US to Cairo project showed real, tangible and positive uses of virtual worlds.
It was less comfortable to hear about the military uses, but it shows the power of training and simulation in something that in the end could save lives.
Ren Reynolds did point out when on our panel that we were having questions asked about identity and behaviour in virtual worlds, e.g. what about furries. He bravely pointed out (given we were at the National Defence University) that using virtual worlds and games to work out how to actually kill people more effectively was far more offensive than any roleplay elements or socially awkward situations.
However, the military uses can be separated out into organisational analysis or education that applies to more regular applications.
Two of the keynotes that stood out for me, mainly because of the validation or handy terminology they provided were.
MK Haley – Faculty and Associate Executive Producer at the Entertainment Technology Center, Carnegie Mellon University
Dr Chris Dede -Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Technology, Innovation, and Education Program, Harvard University

MK was a powerful and sparky presentation that talked about looking at things differently, how creative thinking is possible by everyone but that it is often beaten out of us.

Dr Dede talked (and showed) some kids education environments that were around explore an eco system at a lake. On the surface it was a lake, trees and some overlays, but there were some innovative ideas that he helpfully referred to as “magic”. This magic is where you move from a straight simulation and help with pointers or tools that would not otherwise exist. The first was a submarine that scales you down to microscopic levels to explore the environment. The other was the ability to virtually geotag a single atom and then a HUD that tells you were it is over time as it is absorbed or moved around the environment. The “magic” layers can conflict with the “real” layers but are essential in the balance of immersive environment use. Otherwise there is little extra that the place give you. As a true educator and very well respected he, and his team, are doing the work to compare the virtual experiences with traditional teaching. Though he was very clear that if you compare something to nothing it will always be better. Of it you compare something the the worst example then you are not really helping. So he is making sure in helping explore how kids develop their reasoning.
Botgirl created some great cartoons to sum up each panel, this is the Dr Chris Dede one
FCVW 2011 How Immersion in Virtual Worlds Helps Learners in the Real World
So there are even more people doing real work with the technology and the socially changing impacts of virtual worlds and related tech. It is not dead, it is not all Second Life (in fact increasingly it appears to not be Second Life for some very good reasons). However it is well on its way, and it is helping people. Kids are learning more, patients are being treated better, entertainment is more engaging. Standards and exemplars are being re-enforced and more new people are becoming evangelists. The previous generation and generations of activists in the field are also not going away but supporting everyone else too.
So I am really happy to see this become so normal, yet keen that we push it further and make it extraordinary again.
Well done all 🙂

Pixelated Truth – Art, music and performance in Second Life

It’s not all powerpoints and offices in the metaverse you know.
Claus Uriza from the wonderful PopArtLab was the driving force behind the creation of this excellant Machinima music video for Giana Factory’s new song Pixelated Truth. FuzonAcid directed the video and I think it shows that we often forget the depth of creativity that makes Second Life such an interesting medium. 20 actors performed in real time with their avatars being filmed for this. You can think of it as a form of very rich puppetry. Which when combined with great editing and and storytelling set to music is a very powerful package.
Enjoy, and think of the possibilities. You can create create things like this in a virtual world.

Experiments with SL and green screen

I had not explored the options in iMovie other than the recent movie trailer additions and a little bit of picture in picture. I realized that it had a green screen processor, which means it will composite in one video with another treating the green as a replacement.
So I thought I would try something. This is just a render test rather than a finished article, but it shows the principle.
I built a green studio in Second Life, just some prims, full bright and green. Placed my epredator avatar in the scene, pointed the camera at me and recorded the result with SnapzPro.

Next I dropped the result in iMovie onto some of the Predlets movie trailer footage. I had to adjust the green screen crop but it actually worked!
I bought a new camera for the business today, a HD Kodak ZX3 waterproof minicam (like a Flip HD but more robust). The iphone is handy for video but thought I needed something, still homebrew, but dedicated. I popped a 16Gb SD card in to give a good few hours of filming.
I will be giving it a test at the Gadget Show Live press day on Tuesday. As if there was not enough to see there already !

Five Years of Second Life – Rez Day

It is amazing but I almost missed the fact it was my 5th Rez Day in Second Life. Two years ago I wrote this as I started out on my journey into entrepreneurship without the protection of a giant corporate entity.
My Rez day was actually spent preparing and getting ready to present Opensim on The Cool Stuff Collective TV show! That is quite a bizzare serendipitous coincidence. That show is yet to air so we will have to see how the piece turns out later 🙂
Just for the record again my original post on Second Life just after I had figured out what it was
Postcard from Second Life
Second Life is still there, people are still doing interesting things, Opensim has grown and the whole world has gone social media crazy and is playing angry birds and bejeweled.
I am still a metaverse evangelist, still in the industry and life and loads of my friends and colleagues are too. I would have to say that was FTW 🙂

Selling your friends down the digital river

There seems to be a little bubble of interest growing in the social media trading site Empire Avenue. I only really started to take notice of it last night and created a profile and ticker for epredator

It even encourages you to increase you wealth by asking people to share links like this to sign up
I was intrigued as it reminded me of a site I was introduced to way back in 1998 by some American colleagues who said look at this. I was wracking my brains trying to remember it and luckily its still there My id has long since expired on that though it would appear. The aim was to get info about films and stars and to buy into them with pretend shares. As the time it was a very spreadsheet like site but told you about films that were in pre-production and you could place buy orders on them. I do remember I made a fortune though on a relatively unknown Helena Bonham-Carter as her career broke.
Empire avenue alters this formula and makes us all the stars and our activity on social media, as we link our accounts to it, becomes part of our “worth”.
I am always intrigued about the meta stories that can be applied to our web contributions and this is certainly one of them. Buying shares in someone, is that like friending or more “stalking”. Selling shares (not done that yet) is that a snub or just a virtual commercial decision.
It also reminds me of the political web based RPG erepublik where people live within a political system of work and taxes, but gather to be countries and provinces of interest. Rather like minecraft people manufacture virtual goods and produce that are bought and sold on the market. (I had not visited for a while so my citizen had died, but is now back in good health).
All these applications now wire nicely into facebook and twitter as the main substrate, yet do not exist in those environments. It is almost as if twitter and facebook are social media operating systems.
There is certainly more to be done in this area (thats what I am working on now in relative secrecy BTW ) 🙂

More TV – 1st Question Quiz Show in SL

I was honoured to be asked by Pooky Amsterdam to appear on her 1st Question quiz show filmed live in Second Life last Sunday. I was with some great panelists Zya Zavira and Avantgarde Frequency. Both of who are very well respected in their metaverse fields.
It was a late night as the show is recorded by Treet.TV with a live audience around midnight UK time. However we are such a multi national bunch from Australia to UK and mainland Europer to West coast US that it becomes part of the fun.
The show is a set of quick fire questions, some buzzer rounds and some intros and talking by the contestants.
1st Question
It was brilliant fun, though being a competition and relatively techie I felt a certain amount of pressure. It all came out alright in the end.
My first question was on Watson ! I wont spoil the show but I still can’t believe I got the ones wrong that I did 🙂
The full show is on itunes or you can watch it here on Treet.Tv

It was great to have an invited audience too as they shout/type out answers and Pooky Amsterdam and Hydra Shaftoe do a great job wrangling us all.
It is run as a TV show would be an Petlove Petshop briefed us and sound checked us beforehand. It is then recorded by Texas from Treet.TV and edited up with various insets and visuals too as you can see

There are also live scoreboards and a portion of audience voting as we try and get our panel words we bring along to be the most popular.
1st Question
There is an ad break too. Not your usual advert though as this one shows an incredibly important use of virtual worlds. Fearless Nation provide Post Traumatic Stress Disorder support in Second Life. The potential for anonymous counselling as well as directed role play to help people come to terms with real experiences is incredible powerful.
1st Question
Anyway, thanks all you came along and thanks again Pooky, in particular for the plug for The Cool Stuff Collective in my intro, and I managed to get the link out there to my showreel in the post event mingle 🙂
As I am recording an Opensim virtual world piece for the show very soon it was great to be part of such a professional and fun operation for the show.
Tomorrow its back to the BBC for more “traditional” TV not that @Cstuffc is traditional !

Feeding Edge is 2 Years old

Another significant milestone today. Feeding Edge Ltd is now two years old. It is something I am extremely proud about and when I reflect back on this year it has been so varied, there have been some challenges but the worst of those have been resolved. For the most part it has been such an entertaining and stimulating year its hard to think of it all packed into 12 months.
feeding edge 2nd birthday
(When I added the second flame from last years I used Photoshop CS5 puppet warp on the flames, its amazing, it puts a mesh over the part of the image and you edit it like a 3d mesh would)
A year ago I could not have imagined where I am at today. The diversity of which would not have really fitted into any other company. The ability to go with the flow, trust in serendipty and gut feeling has been incredibly useful. If companies let the creativity of their employees flow, rather than focus on control and crackdown then I am sure we would be be generating some fantastic innovations and growth in business. Though, selfishly, if everyone does that then it makes it much harder for me.

So this year I have a few sparklers (though some customer names and projects are not public)

  • Consulted on virtual worlds and games for the government
  • Built a complex system of second life and open sim interactions with drupal and a java model for medical training
  • Toured washing away cave paintings at conferences and gathering all over the UK and elsewhere including Finland and Ireland
  • Appeared on shows in Second Life and given many talks too
  • Started to get the ball rolling as Chairman of the BCS animation and Games SG
  • Been a port of call for references and direction as a virtual world advisor to startups
  • Built a drupal based social and political hub as a proof of concept
  • Review games on Game People like Kinectimals and 3d GT5

  • The ultimate highlights though have to be.

  • Forming the as yet in stealth social games and transmedia company and getting seed funding and filing the patent for the idea.
  • Being given the chance to work on kids TV inspiring the next generation with future technolgy with The Cool Stuff Collective

  • The games company is a mix of having to architect design and direct some development and is very much hands on with the technology. The concept for our first product still amazes me and I am very proud of it. With a bit of luck we will get bigger very soon and we can deliver an even more amazing rendition of the concept, but to my partners in all this I say a huge thank you. I want to write more about what we are doing, but now is not the time or place. I still have a stack of code to write, but my coding partner out there is doing some awesome work making sense of the ideas we come up with for implementation.
    The Cool Stuff Collective has been an amazing journey too from the first conversation about being a technical advisor to being thrown into the studio to present, and now mid way through series 2 yesterday I was out with the crew filming at the Pure Tech racing simulators then dashing down to Intech hands on science centre. Being able to inspire or interest the next generation of techies, and maybe reach some of their parents with tech that is already here but seems like science fiction has been an incredible honour.
    Look at the list of things we have covered

    3d Printing, Haptics, Ardrone, 3d scanning, MMO Lego, AR, Kinect, Mind control, SMARt tables, eReaders, 3D cameras and glasses, Unity3d/evolver games dev, Cloud Computing, Wikipedia, Photoshop, Laser Holographic projection….
    To come is Solar Flares, Opensim and the outside video we have now done indoor skydiving, indoor snowboarding, Racing simulators, science gadgets and planetarium.
    So I have ended up on wikipedia and have over 20 TV records under my belt now. I have a showreel of sorts with its own page here and my new business cards say amongst the blurb TV Presenter. (I think that’s valid now isn’t it?)
    When people ask what it is I do and what Feeding Edge does, I think this does all some up in “Taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to”.
    I think that because pushing things forward, thinking of the whole not just design not just tech but the social implications of it, but mashing in the fact that things should entertain and engage us as humans is my mission.
    So what does next year bring? Well for me more of the same is the answer.
    I am asked how I have time to do all the things I do. The answer is I don’t. Sometimes things have to slide a bit. Whilst many things seem diverse they are linked. I play games, looking at them for review, to spot trends, to see how things might be used in other gamification contexts and for enjoyment. Then I write about them, present about them and even build them. It’s all part of the flow. The same goes for the other emerging tech. If you are interesting in 3d virtual worlds, then naturally how to create 3d content, how to experience 3d content and how to use 3d environment to reach an audience becomes part of everyday life.
    Then there is the social media side of things. I tweet, blog, share photos on flicker, put game achievements up on facebook and raptr. It is both a personal sharing of whats goidn on to those who need to know or are curious, but it is also a social experiment in how it feels to do these things and the impact it has on my life. Having that personal experience lets me share it with others and with companies and get them to the good part of this communication revolution rather than stagnating.
    People I know often say to me they only understand 1/3 of my tweets. That is great as probably the 1/3 was for their benefit the other 2/3 for others. Mixing busines, social, tech and existence on one channel in 140 characters is still fascinating. It is a microcosm of the whole of what I do with Feeding Edge.
    So to all my customers, partners, competitors, friends, mentors and fellow virtual world evangelists I say a huge thank you for all your support.
    Right, back to it, now what was I do again?

    Imperial Treet – Hospitals, Patients and SL

    This week Dave Taylor/Davee Commerce and Robin Winter had a special on about lots of the virtual world projects in Second Life that Imperial College London have been up to. It is a great show to watch to see the variety of ways Dave has got Second Life working from public information, targeted patient experiments and doctor training.

    The doctor training and evaluation that appears around about 32 mins in Dave says. “This is where we have our virtual patients, and these patients are controlled by software actually outside of Second Life. That software has a knowledge of the patients physiology and condition.” He also explains there are 3 wards and 3 patients in each giving 9 levels of difficulty in scenario.
    “We are using this to research how we can asses trainee doctors at different levels of training”. “We have tested about 60 doctors so far on this”.
    I am glad this is out in the public as this has been part of the work I have been doing in SL. I can’t explain exactly what does what as its a private project but as Dave points out the patients and the interactions are controlled from outside of Second Life, my part in SL is the broker talking to that external model. I also ended up building the dynamic menus and handlers in world. The menu’s are based on the data coming back, and align to the correct place in world so they are designer friendly. This was built before the web on a prim existed, and we aimed to do everything in world. As you know handling text can be a problem in SL and variants of Fasttext and xy text came to rescue. Though rezzing a dynamic button and making it know what it is supposed to do is a non trivial task. This was also before HTTP in world servers were stable so SL is the controller asking the external software what to do next.
    It has been a fascinating project, as has its follow on ones that have increased in complexity and in interactions. Making SL a component in a system not the sole piece of the project makes for a greater richness and flexibility. After all SL is not a database/data handling application.
    What is great is that Robin, who is one of SL’s foremost designers (along with his other half) and has been for years(he built the original Dublin sim), is able to craft animations and objects and then trigger them into existence using our message protocol, after the external software model tells my broker code that its got some changes to display.
    There are a few of us pushing the bondaries of data interchange with SL and also with opensim and other virtual worlds. I hope this helps people understand that we can do very complex integrated tasks using the best of a Virtual World and the best of a traditional server application. Integration is the key.