A great customer experience – Michelin Star style

Last week saw our 20th wedding anniversary. A significant milestone, though not Silver like 25 years, apparently it’s China or Platinum. @elemming decided to book us a treat though. We have on very special occasions gone for experiences to remember. My 40th birthday was driving fast cars around Thruxton.
Lamborghini LP640 Murcielago
For @elemming’s 40th we went to Claridges.
Claridges room 547
We did get to go to Heston’s place for a meal recently too, that was a @elemming’s work based special occasion.
For this special event we went to Raymon Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons both to stay a night and to have the dining experience at a 2 star Michelin restaurant (one that has been held for 30 years!)
For once, in order to make the meal extra special, neither of us took photos of the food or tweeted, facebooked etc through the entire meal. It seems odd to say how special it made it. The food is so beautifully presented, delicate balances of taste and texture and served with great respect not pomposity. However it is a few hours of non-tech facing focus that we will remember for a long while.
The visit to the hotel did not go without recording to share with others and for some memories. The location is a wonderful old house with a very extensive garden. Most of the garden is taken up with things that can be eaten. It is way past a small vegetable plot or herb garden.
Not only that but they also have a charging post for electric vehicles, though it has not been used very much for various demographic reasons.
The gardens were liberally dotted with some very nice statues and sculptures. It added to the other world feeling of being transported elsewhere. The lack of textures on them adding a Snowcrash like feel to the avatars.
Le manoir
The scarecrow was great fun too, apparently modelled on Monsieur Blanc
Le manoir
The fruit gathering statue with its large hat reminded me of Fable too !
Le manoir
One of the more unusual areas creating produce for the grand was the mushroom valley. I have not seen one of those before and it was intriguing. A small river of water and lots of logs and sheltered places allowed fresh fungi to be cultivated outside. The wicker pigs fitted in nicely too.
Le manoir
The room we had “Kiki” was a courtyard room. Some very fine marble in the bathroom and the most comfy hotel bed I have slept in yet. Their photos do it much more justice.
Sometimes going to a place with so many people to help and do things can feel a little odd, not joining in feels strange for me. We are all people after all. However the people at Le Manoir are so relaxed and friendly, yet spot on professionals that it removed that discomfort for me.
As the cook in the house and being willing to try more and more difficult and tasty dishes I learned a lot from what I got to see, smell and taste in the restaurant. Things like a sorbet of red pepper and tomato, or a subtle hint of Wasabi with some cucumber. I had never had Wasabi in anything other than a very rich nasal tickling concentrate. In this dish it was a smoky background flavour that was very surprising in its familiarity but yet confusing as my eyes were not watering.
The food writer Jay Rayner wrote he usually reviewed food at horrible places so we didn’t have to but Le Manoir he was pleased to review because none would ever get the chance to go.
I realise how lucky and special it was for us to be able to experience this. I am also lucky that I was also able to learn a lot and also remember it, not just share it at the time. I think live blogging or periscoping it may have destroyed the moment 🙂
Thankyou everyone for making it such a special and enjoyable time.

Project Cars – High speed virtual world

Project Cars went live across consoles and PC last week. I am a big fan of racing games. Of all the genres they are my favourite. Forza on the Xbox has been my go to game for driving fun so I decided on the PS4 version of Project Cars in the hope I would have a good racing game on either console. I was not let down at all!
Project Cars looks, sounds and more importantly feels like a proper racing game. Where it differs to some of the other recent games is the inclusion of some very low end racing with Karts and Super Karts. The mid range road cars and GT cars in general feel good and solid, the Karts are twitchy and manic and amazing fun too.
There is a lot of customisation of how you play that can be done in Project Cars. I just put it on the medium setting for everything and got re-aquainted with the PS4 controller. What you need to do in Project Cars is be very very subtle with power and the steering with some of the car models. Tank slappers and oversteer can be very unforgiving in some of the classes. Project Cars, like all good racing games rewards practice. The feeling of getting to grips, just, with a class of car and putting in some fast laps, knowing you can shave even more time off is at its core.
So we have a very good physics model and huge array of classic racetracks. So that’s all good so far. A good physics model and a feel for driving has been in every game I have enjoyed from back in the Night Driver day to pole position, the mighty Sega Rally, Colin Mcrae Rally, Gran Turismo and finally Forza. What they all have gradually added and improved on top of the physics and feel is the look.
I always prefer an in car view. (These will be even better with the VR headsets). Project Cars adds a really interesting view from inside your crash helmet (it has lots of views to choose, including a centre of the cockpit view even for cars that are not central drive). The crash helmet view also muffles the sound just a little. It does some interesting fx with focus blur and forcing your head to bobble back and forth with acceleration. As you can see in this photo elements of the view are blurred on purpose. It is a sort of tilt shift effect that is very pleasing live.
Project Cars
There are also some very effective weather dynamics, rain is quite terrifying as you hurtle along having turned on your windscreen wipers. (Oddly my first wet race nothing told me I had wipers but I mashed a few buttons and found the down dpad turned them on). The haze and the rain drops, including the sounds of them is very clever.
Other games have realtime weather and lighting but Project Cars just has more and better.
The solo career lets you pick a class to start in, like Karts, and work your way up. It is not long before you get to invitational races in all sorts of classes so it does not force too much monotony like a real career might 🙂
You can always hit single race and pick any car, any track any time with 30+ other cars on the track with you too.
An unusual feature on the PS4 is the pit radio messages, as they come out of the controller speaker, which is a nice touch.
On the 360 I had a very good force feedback wheel and pedals for Forza, but it doesn’t work on Xbox One. It made a great deal of difference to times, and to be abel to make sensible gear changes. Pads just don’t suit gears IMHO. Project Cars works with the pad but I am sure would be greatly enhanced with a wheel and pedals.
I tend to leave the driving line on when i don’t have a real wheel and force feedback as it fills in for the lack of sense of speed you can suffer from in any game with only rumblers. I would prefer to be driving without out but I think at the moment I will stick with it 🙂
The tracks are very notable too in Project Cars, all there straight away, as are the cars. No pretend economy to have to buy your way up. Donnington, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Brands Hatch, Imola, Monza, Nordshleife are all there.
Like all good car games there are a stack of tuning options, damage models, tyre wear, pit strategies and aero set ups. Pit stops, if the race is long enough or the rules dictate, let you pick a strategy from a set you have made for that stop.
Probably the maddest option though is the real time actual 24 hour race. There is an achievement for that ! It suggests you get some mates over and take turns driving. So when you enter pits there is an option to swap driver. As only I was signed in I tried the sea driver and an AI driver took part for me. I am not sure it it counts leaving him to do 24 hours, but I am sure the inter web will provide the answer to that.
The launch trailer is below. It does look like this and does not disappoint. I am sure the high end PC version is even more glorious and may make this the standard to beat.

Have your creations got a day named after them?

Yesterday was the 4th May. It happened to be a Monday here in the UK and so it was our May Day bank holiday. I was a little shocked when the predlets asked it it was a national holiday because it was Star Wars day! It was the biggest year for seeing May The 4th Be With You almost everywhere online though!
What started as a school yard joke seems to have spiralled into a massive Star Wars marketing buzz, but not just by its new owners Disney. I saw Star Wars hanging on to the day from so many places. Now us tech g33ks love Star Wars. It is nice to see the it getting such wide recognition but even Dyson vaccuum cleaners were getting in on the act. This image of 2 light sabre coloured vacuum cleaners was doing the social media rounds.
Dyson may 4th
Sky TV was running the entire set of films in the order they were made and had a twitter poll on a twitter card to ask if you were light or dark side. That sort of made more sense than the hoover… I mean Dyson Vacuum cleaner.
Star Wars has always been as much about the stuff around it, the merchandising and toys etc as it has about the film. I remember, being 10 years old, and so excited about Star Wars. Very formative years. We had Star Trek on TV which was great but not as dramatic and action packed as the big screen experience of all those lasers, fighters and the deep breathing evil bad guy. Then there was the music. Epic in every way. So it was hard not to also get excited about the letraset transfers sets being able to rub and stick your own scene from the film or the branded cereal with a collectors toy in the box.
Still? a Vacuum cleaner? Oh well it is just a bit of fun.
I did tweet this the day before as the power tool I was using reminded me of Queen Amadala in the prequels.
Queen amidala as a power tool
I doubt the marketing department at the time had any idea that nearly 37 years on an entire day would be labelled, celebrated and hash tagged to promote the Star Wars properties. It has become such a part of our collective experience that it is quoted and referenced continually. “These are not the droids you are looking for”, “I am you Father”, “I have a bad feeling about this”, “Use the force Luke”, “Do or do not there is not try”. etc etc.
Now there are a few days still left available that have no special significance that I am sure someone, somewhere is trying to weave into their product launch or their initial startups.
In fact I wonder if there is a “special day” registry rather like domain name registration or trademarks?
As a thought experiment, pick a date and try and make a product for it?
12th August a.k.a 128 A day dedicated to restaurants everywhere I Want To Eat (128) see it works, though no in the US as it would be Eat One Too (8 12) a day to share a meal with someone.
Anyway, well done Star Wars and all your spin offs. I am very much looking forward to both the new film at the end of the year and the new Star Wars Battlefront game!

The Force is strong with this brand

Hololens – Now this is cool progress!

Yesterday Microsoft had a big series of announcement at its Build 2015 conference. The most exciting demonstration, IMHO, was on stage with Hololens. In this video they have a camera rendering the cameraman point of view of the digital content attached to real space, while the demo person is wearing their Hololens and operation from their perspective.

Taking applications that are floating in your heads up display, and attaching them to real world was, tables etc is very clever. Interacting with those objects even more so. The part at the end of this clip with the video screen and resizing it…. well who needs a TV now then?
This sort of blended reality (yes that term again I keep using as this is so much more than just augmentation of reality) creates a shared space that in this case the camera viewer is also allowed to see. However, as I mentioned in my last post there is no reason for the view to be the same or shared. Both modes can work. We can both be watching the same film but my weather desk object might be showing a completely different place to yours. Or we can how to completely different self contained shards of rooms yet in the same place. Throw in physical creation of objects in 3d printing or force feedback haptics and we have one heck of an environment to explore.
Microsoft have published a very slick video too of the hardware

They obviously have gone first on this tech but Google have Magic Leap waiting in the wings. There is a race on.
Whilst clearly many of us, not matter how much we have been around this sort of tech and around virtual worlds, are not going to just get sent a Hololens to build with we can still explore some of the principles using old fashioned tech like a smartphone and MergeVR/Cardboard etc and packages like Vuforia. Though Microsoft…. If you want to send me one or sign up a tech evangelist for this stuff (though it will sell itself) I am available anytime!
We have had AR to experiment with for a while but this wave is true 3d interaction with a markerless environment. Back in 2007! I wondered what it would be like to put an AR marker as a texture into a virtual world (in this case Second Life) and then point a camera with an AR application running at the screen that was rendering SL.
Avatar meets AR
The result was that the Ms Pacman in this slightly blurry picture, is not visible to my epredator avatar in Second Life. That client only sees the marker. Yet as we pan the camera around or look at the marker the second application, which is an AR magic lens, renders Ms PacMan.
Blended reality does not have to be solely one layer into the physical world. It is the easiest to demonstrate but we have so many more choices to explore and opportunities.
I made a little video to show the basic Vuforia demos in Unity3d that are marker based. This stuff just works these days. It is less faffing about than it used to be. It is fantastic to see everything get so accessible and slick.

This is a tipping point. Virtual content, virtual environments, virtual worlds get even more engaging with the more direct natural inputs we can make to our body. Full VR is able to remove the world and drop you somewhere that you can’t be or that doesn’t exist. Blended Reality is able to bring things that don’t exists to the space you inhabit. The interaction metaphors are going to be interesting too. Do you render a virtual waste bin to throw throw applications into when done or do you map that to a small crackling virtual fireplace that sits in the actual fireplace in your living room?
I am going to stop listing things as this will go on for a while. Time to go and build some things to share later.

Just Cause 3 – Its been 5 years since ….

It’s been five years since I wrote this post about Just Cause2 in which I mentioned “Sandbox games are the closest to what we see in virtual worlds in crossover terms. Just Cause 2 is a single player game, in part because the destruction you create is really personalising your island. However the balance between “give me something to do” and “I am just going to find something to do” may be something the VW providers and content creators need to consider in helping people find a narrative, either social or business related.”
Well I stand by that. The mix of ready made tasks, ongoing narrative plot live and freedom to find your own things to do as you wander around is a core theme in some of the most enjoyable experiences. Minecraft, Goat Simulator, GTA V Watch Dogs etc.
Now we have the reveal of gameplay for Just Cause 3. Which if nothing else looks fantastically exciting 🙂

Fingers crossed it is as good as the last one, it certainly looks it.

Amiga kickstarter book, breaking mirror worlds & VR

A few days ago my copy of the book “Commodore Amiga: a visual Commpendium book” that I backed in Kickstarter arrived. The book is by Sam Dyer through BitmapBooks. It came with a load of extra goodies from my backing and my name along with my fellow backers vanity printed in the appendix. The only slight problem was that unlike all the other Kickstarter campaigns I wasn’t “allowed” to have a credit as epredator as it made the list look untidy unless we had normal names. That is the authors choice of course 🙂
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
My computer owning history went ZX81, Commodore 64 then Amiga 500 (and later 1200). The Amiga was 1987 and became my main machine for most of my polytechnic/university time. It caused me to get an overdraft for the first time to buy an external hard drive for a piece of work I was doing (that and to play the later cinemaware games that needed two floppy disk drives to work).
It was the machine I coded my final year project, which was a mix of hardware and software but also had to work on the much larger and more expensive Apollo computers we had.
It is the machine I spent ours with sellotaped together graph paper planning my SimCity builds and mapping Bards Tale Dungeons.
It is also the machine I first experience proper network gaming on with a null modem cable and F/A-18 flight simulator. Not only was that the first proper LAN party gaming but it forged the idea that machines do not have to have a consistent shared view of the world just because they are connected. The F/A-18 simulator let my good friend Wal and I fly around shooting at one another in a shared digital space. It was the early days of having a printer and being able to do “desktop publishing” aka DTP. I even produced a poster for our little event.
When we played we had different terrain packs running on each Amiga as we had different versions of the game. There was no server this was really peer to peer. The terrain was local to each Amiga, but the relative location of one another in that space was shared. Each machine was doing its own collision detection. It meant if I saw mountains I needed to avoid them, yet on the other machine that same local space might be flat desert. We all perceive reality differently anyway, but here we were forced to perceive and act according to whatever the digital model threw at us. In reality we kept to the sky and forcing your opponent into their own scenery was considered unsporting (though occasionally funny and much needed).
This set the precedent for me that whilst mirror worlds, virtual worlds that attempt to be 100% like a real place, have a reason to exist we do not have to play by the same physical rules of time and space in virtual environments.
Other things of note about the Amiga. Well I coded as predator on the Commodore 64 and that moved across to the Amiga too. The e was a later addition on the front by the principles are the same.
My wife also discovered gaming on my Amiga. Getting completely wrapped up and in the zone on Sim City and realising it was 4am. Later it would be Lemmings that caught her attention. Hence she is now elemming on twitter.
The book is full of classic images nearly all of which I have some sort of memory of that is more than yes I recognise that picture.
Games like Alien Breed (a gauntlet like top down shooter) and The Secret Of Monkey Island (a classic point and click humorous adventure) on their own rack up considerable hours of entertainment for very different reasons
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
Whilst fondly reminiscing and remembering things that impact how I think and work today I was also at the same time in current and future mode. Right next door on the table was my copy of Games(TM)
My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse
As I tweeted at the time My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse.
When we put on a headset, a total immersion one, we get a view of a world that is instantly believable. Something fed directly to our eyes and linked to the direct we are looking becomes a convincing reality. In a shared virtual world we will assume that we are all seeing the same thing. That does not have to be the case, as with the F/A-18 example. We can have different experiences yet share the same world. To help think about that consider the game Battleships. Each player has the same map, the same relative grid references on a piece of paper or on plastic peg board. yet on that map you can only see your own boats and any pieces of information you have gained through playing. When considering a mirror world or a virtual world build it can be harder to consider this. Yet many games and environments already have a little dollop of this behaviour with personal displays of health, ammo, speed etc in a Heads up Display. Those HUDs are an augmented reality display in a virtual world.
When we now consider the blended view headsets like the HoloLens and the MergeVR we are taking the real world as the server in effect. It is a fixed environment. We are then placing and enhancing what we see in that world with 3D overlays. Convincing the viewer the digital stuff is real.
Unlike the F/A-18 terrain the real world is there for each person. If there is a table in the middle of the room, even if you make it look like it is not for a headset wearer with object removal and clever visuals they will still trip over it. However the other way around can make for an interesting dynamic. headset wearers made to think there are obstacles and things in their way that they have to move around, but its different for each headset wearer. Just a little though experiment in perception. I didn’t even throw in anything about 3D printers actually making the new obstacles in the real world. That’s a bit much for a monday morning.
Anyway, the Amiga book is great. It was a fantastic period in games and in home technology, but we have many more exciting times coming.

What’s the point of Goat Simulator?

Firstly, this is not me asking the question. It was something that just happened and serendipity took over to explain. For this of you who have not experienced goat simulator on any platform it is… well… a… Goat Simulator. In fact it is a large physics sandbox were you happen to gallop around as a rather difficult to control goat, jumping, bashing, licking and rolling around.
It makes no bones about its perfection, or lack of it. The physics is good but the collision detection is wonky at times, but thats its charm. It has many elements you would find in skating game. Points systems, achievements and just a little tricky on the controls.
I bough GS a while back on the Mac when we were on holiday and we had a joke about the menacing look from the goats. Now it is there on Xbox One for only £7.99 so well worth it as its hilarious.
Now many hardcore gamers may be busy on the PS4 trying to deal with Bloodborne. Which is, IMHO, just too damn hard despite being fantastic.
GS is just fun, its a sandbox game, you make of it what you want, find your own paths and challenges.
Now @elemming was sitting playing some resource farming game on the ipad and happened to say “what’s the point of goat simulator?”. Just at that point this happened. I butted a pedastrian who ran off and… well watch the video. It made elemming bust into laughter about 30 seconds after looking up and saying “Whats the point….”

Well thats the point 🙂 it’s just fun, with some challenges.
Games can be that, or games can be very serious and intensely stressful. They all work, they are all worth exploring and they all fit various situations. The fact this is a virtual world of course fits with what I do for a living. However it’s all good

VR – Everything old is new again – good!

It is important when getting interested and excited about new things to look at its lineage. Something I often did in my series of articles over the years in Flush Magazine
So with the current rush of Virtual Reality gaming and experiences and the slew of new kit we have some very interesting near off the shelf kit such as this.
*warning it contains violence (see where I am on that here)

However, back in the 90’s we had VR kit like Virtuality (they must be kicking themselves for be too early for the masses. Though thats a curse us early adopters and evangelists have to live with 🙂

The headsets were quite heavy and the container you stood or sat in was not a treadmill but part of the sensing rig.
The graphics may look old fashioned and clunky but they were good experiences. When I was at poly/uni in Leicester getting ready to do a year out this was the company I wanted to go and work for if I had a chance too. They sent to me IBM instead. Though as you can see from the Virtuality company details they had very close ties with IBM. So it was close 🙂 It i also funny how things work out.
Still, it is very cool having all these headset sat around me and some that just work on my portable communication device too 🙂

Over 15 years experience in Virtual Worlds, 30+ in tech – What now?

A few days ago I realised it has been over 9 years since I first publicly blogged about how important I thought the principles of the metaverse and virtual worlds were going to be for both social and business uses. This post, pictured below for completeness was a tipping point for some radical changes in many of our lives as part of Eightbar.
Second Life first post
I had been working to that sort of point of understanding though since some very early work with virtual environments and how people get to interact with one another in them around 1999/2000 with SmartVR trying to keep the social bond in our internal web and multi media design group together when we were cast asunder to different locations by business pressures (or bad decisions who knows!). I knew we had to have a sense of one another existence aside from text in emails and instant messages. So we tried to build a merged version of both offices as if they were in one place. The aim to then instrument those with presence and the ability to walk over to someone’s desk and talk. Mirror world, blended reality and even internet of things, Yes I know, a bit before its time! Cue music, “Story of my life” by 1D 🙂

We definitely had a technology and expectation bubble later 2006-2009. However, that, as with all emerging technology is all part of the evolution. The garnet curve et al. What surprises me the most still is that people think when a bubble like that bursts that its all over. That somehow everything that was learned in that time was pointless. “Are virtual worlds still a thing?” etc. I feel for the even earlier pioneers like Bruce Damer, who patiently put up with our ramblings as we all rushed to discover and feel for ourselves those things he already knew.
Increasingly I am talking to new startup ands seeing new activity in the virtual space. The same use cases, the same sparks of creativity that we had in the previous wave(s), the same infectious passion to do something interesting and worthwhile. Sometimes this is somehow differentiated from the last wave of virtual worlds under the heading of virtual reality. The current wave is focussed on the devices, the removal of keyboard and of a fixed screen. The Oculus Rift, HoloLens etc. However, thats a layer of new things to learn and experience on what we have already been through. After all its a virtual world you end up looking at or blending with in a VR headset!

I spend so much time looking forward and extrapolating concepts and ideas it is now very scary to look back and consider the experience I have gathered. The war stories and success stories, the concepts and ideas that I have tried. The emotional impact of virtual worlds. The evolution of the technology and of people’s expectation of that technology. The sheer number of people that have moved around in a 3d environment from an early age with things like Minecraft, who are now about to enter higher education and the workforce.

So I am left in a slightly bemused state as to what to do with this knowledge. With this all going so much more mainstream again I am no longer working in a niche. Do I ply my trade of independent consulting chipping away in odd places and helping and mentoring some of the new entrants in the market or do I try and find a bigger place to spread the word?

At the same time though, knowing lots of things makes you realise how much you don’t know. The imposter’s syndrome kicks in. Surely everyone must know all this stuff by now? It’s obvious and stands up to logical reasoning to try and connect with other people in as rich a way as possible. The network is there, the tech is there, the lineage is there. Though clearly not everyone gets it yet. I often wonder if the biggest naysayers I had to deal with on my journey so far have figured it out yet? It will probably turn out they will be getting rich quick right now whilst I sit and ponder such things.

On the other side of the virtual coin, I know from my martial arts that constant practice and investigation leads to a black belt. In the case of Choi Kwang Do that’s just over 3 years worth. So how many Dan worth of tech equivalent experience does that put me at. 25 years in the industry professionally but 30+ as techie.

I still want to do the right thing, to help others level themselves up. I don’t think I am craving fame and fortune but the ability to share and build is what drives me. If fame and fortune as a spokesperson, evangelist for some amazing idea or TV show reaches that end, then thats fine by me.

I am at a crossroads, my VR headset letting me look in all directions. I see half built roads in many directions. What now? A well funded company that I can help build a great road with, or forge off down one for the other paths seeing what happens on the way.
Of course that makes it seem like there is a clear choice on the plate. I suspect most of the the well funded companies and corporations don’t think they need any help, which is rather where I came in on this!

Needless to say I am always open to conversations, offers, partnerships, patronage, retainers and technology evangelist roles. There must be a slew of investors out there wondering what to put their money into, who need some sagely advice ;). Or that book… there is always that book… (600 images x 1000 words each 600,000 words just on these Second Life experiences. That’s just the ones with online. The offline ones double that!. Not to mention the other places, games, and self built experiences!

I took this photo in April 2006 as part of sharing of our journey
The wilderness

I have always liked a nice greenfield to start building on. Equally that did not build itself, it was a massive shared team experience. No one has all the answers. Some of us are good at helping people find them though.

Right! Can we get on with this now?

Silence isn’t golden – VOIP and Unity3d

Once again I am back on the trail of a good voice solution to use in Unity3d to use in multiple users situations. Having done a good few projects using a variety of solutions, mainly with an adjusted version of the now defunct Uspeak (as in removed from the assets store but replaced with Daiken Forge voice) combined with self hosted Photon server I think it must be time to find a more scalable solution. Very often the pressures of voice lead to a swamping of any server that is also dealing with position and data model synchronisation across the network. This clearly makes sense as there are only a few bytes of message for something moving a long distance, yet an audio stream is a constant collection of data flowing in and out of a server.
Where's your head at
Whilst there is huge focus on VR for the eyes, being able to communicate needs more than one channel but voice is one of those.
A voice connection can be 100Kbps per person so without a different tuning or set of priorities the regular multiplayer data messages, even if they are reliable, will get lost on the noise of an open mic.
My projects up to now have ended up with a push to talk or even my scarily complicated dial, ring answer/engaged phone simulator in order to cut down on the amount of voice. Raising a hand to speak works in many formal situations but not in social collaboration.
So whilst we can squeeze voice packets onto the same socket server as the rest of the “stuff” it feels like it should be a separate service and thread.
Oddly there is not a solution just sitting there for Unity3d? It seems that many of the existing voice clients for games and related services just don’t play well in the Unity3d/c# environment.
Unfortunately this seems to be down to the generic nature of Unity3d (which is a major strength) compared with the specifics of PC architecture and also in how to deal with shared memory and pipes.
There are a lot of voice servers out there for games. Mumble/Murmur is a major one. it is open source and appears to bolt on top of many games even supporting a 3d positional audio.
Many games are of course closed code bases. So Mumble has to piggy back on top of the game or have a little bit of help form the game developers to drop some hooks in. The main problem seems to be the use of shared memory versus a more closed boundary of applications. Obviously a shared memory space to communicate can bring problems and hacks. Strangely it was shared memory and various uses of it that let us do the early client server work back in the 90’s scraping from a terminal screen to make a legacy CICs application work with a fancy GUI!. Initially I figured that there would be a c# client for mumble that any of us could drop into Unity3d and away we go. However there are a few unfinished or implementations being attempted. Connecting to mumble and dealing with text is fine but voice and the various implementations of encoding seems to be a sticking point. Mumble also has a web interface implemented through something called ICE which is another Remote Procedure Call set of interfaces. It seems to be again focussed on building with C++ or PHP. Whilst ICE for .Net exists it does not work on all platforms. I am still looking at this though as surely if a web interface works we can get it to work on Unity3d. Of course the open source world is wide and diverse so there is always a chance I am missing something?
If a Mumble, or similar client can exists in a Unity3d context then we have our solution. It is nice to have the entire interface you need inside Unity3d not side loaded or overlayed. However it may be that a solution is to have implement the web interfaces next door to a unity interface and use plugin to webpage communication as the control. This is fraught with errors, browsers, DOM’s, script fails etc. Just a nice drop in mumble client hooked u to the shiny new UI interfaces.
I looked at the others in the area, Teamspeak is one of the biggest but incurs licensing charges so is not very open source minded. Ventrillo and Vivox seem to have fallen away.
Then of course there are the actual phone voip packages and standards. Maybe they offer the answer. I used Freeswitch on Opensim to provide a voice channel. Maybe I need to look at those again.
Or another solution could be trying to persuade the socket server applications like Photon than they need to talk to more than one server. At the moment the assumption is one server connection (though the load balancing may occur further on the server itself). If the client knew to talk to a different configure machine and network that was happy to deal with the firehose of audio but the normal movements talked to the server configure to deal with normal movements then we might have a solution.
Either way, its not straight forward and hasn’t been totally solved yet, or if it has everyone is keep quiet (Yes thats ironic when talking about VOIP!)
Let me know if you do have some great opensource or open sourceable solution.