Category Archives: Other Worlds

Oculus VR Principal Scientist to address OpenSimulator Conference

2014 banner

On Tuesday July 22nd, Chris Collins, writing on behalf of the 2nd OpenSimulator Community Conference, announced that one of the keynote speakers at the event will be Dr. Steve LaValle.

Dr. LaValle, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois, is the principal scientist for Oculus VR, and he will be addressing attempts to bring the Oculus Rift headset to the mass consumer market.

Dr. Steven LaValle (image: )

Dr. Steven LaValle (image: University of Illinois)

Since Palmer Luckey’s 2012 prototype demonstrated that smartphone-based advances in display and sensing technology can enable a lightweight, high field-of-view VR experience that is affordable by the masses, widespread interest has grown across many industries, research labs, and potential end users of the VR technology. Dr. LaValle’s talk will highlight ongoing technical challenges, including game development, user interfaces, perceptual psychology, and accurate head tracking.

He is certainly well-placed to be able to do so, having been working with Oculus VR since a few days after its successful Kickstarter campaign and has led its R&D efforts up to its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook in March 2014.

Commenting on Dr. LaValle’s appearance at the conference, Cris Collins, who is serving at the conference chair, said, “With all the excitement surrounding the Oculus Rift and other virtual reality technologies, we want the virtual reality community to know that OpenSimulator is a great platform for building the open metaverse.

“OpenSimulator has hundreds of thousands of registered users and a land mass twice the size of Second Life. It’s the only open source platform with an Oculus Rift ready viewer that already has hundreds of interconnected worlds operating in an emerging metaverse and thousands of worlds run privately by corporations, schools, government agencies, nonprofits, and individuals.”

About the OpenSimulator Conference

The OpenSimulator Community Conference is an annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software.  Organized as a joint production by the Overte Foundation and AvaCon, Inc., the conference features two days of presentations, workshops, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.

The 2014 OpenSimulator Conference will take place on the OpenSimulator Conference Centre grid on November 8th and 9th, 2014, with registrations opening on September 15th, 2014, and interested parties can sign up to receive an email reminder to register.

The conference will include four themed tracks and a Learning Lab for hands on hackerspaces, speedbuilds, and more:

About the Organisers

The Overte Foundation is a non-profit organization that manages contribution agreements for the OpenSimulator project.  In the future, it will also act to promote and support both OpenSimulator and the wider open-source 3D virtual environment ecosystem.

AvaCon, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces. We hold conventions and meetings to promote educational and scientific inquiry into these spaces, and to support organized fan activities, including performances, lectures, art, music, machinima, and much more. Our primary goal is to connect and support the diverse communities and practitioners involved in co-creating and using virtual worlds, and to educate the public and our constituents about the emerging ecosystem of technologies broadly known as the metaverse.

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Blood and Laurels gains New York Times approbation

versuA month after its re-launch, Versu, the interactive storytelling platform, gained very positive feedback from the New York Times on Monday July 7th.

In Text Games in a New Era of Stories, Chris Suellentrop, the video games critic at the Times, describes the first title to be released under the new Versu label, Blood & Laurels, as seeming “to herald a new creative template that could be applied to nonfiction as well as fiction,” adding later in the article that it “offers is one of those quintessential video game moments, a first glimpse at something on the horizon.”

Blood and Laurels:  afocal point for a New York Times article on the resurgence of IF games

Blood and Laurels: a focal point for a New York Times article on the resurgence of IF games

The article itself is an examination of the Interactive Fiction genre, both looking back at the early days of text-based adventure games see as the origins of the genre, and at the state of play with the genre today as a medium enjoying a popular resurgence.

As with other reviews of the game, The New York Times piece underlines the feeling that with Blood & Laurels, one is less a reader and more a participant in a piece of theatre in which improvisation – both on the part of the reader and by the other characters – plays an important role in the unfolding scenes and in setting the direction the story may take.

In describing his experiences in reading / playing Blood & Laurels, Mr. Suellentrop also further expands on his comment about the “promise of what might come after it”, noting, “when I replayed the game, I didn’t feel that Marcus had become a different character when he decided to, say, betray Artus [one of the principal NPCs in the story]  rather than execute his commands. Instead, it seemed that I was just learning how he might behave differently under the vagaries of circumstance.”

This potential to offer different perspectives on behaviour within certain situations is possibly where a yet-to-be-tapped wellspring of opportunity may lie for the Versu engine in the future, something possibly reflected in Mr. Suellentrop’s comments about Blood & Laurels offering a glimpse of something on the horizon. Richard Evans himself spoke to this, as I reported back in May 2013, when he presented Versu: A Simulationist Interactive Drama, at the Games and Media Event at the Imperial College London.

Whether or not the Versu team can / will move to expand opportunities in which the engine can be used beyond the IF genre remains to be seen; which is not to say the engine can’t survive without moving away from the IF genre. Far from it; the combination of Versu and Prompter would appear to be opening the doors on broad new opportunities for IF writers.

Certainly, and considering the bumpy road Versu has so far endured, it’s good to see both it and Blood & Laurels continue to gain the attention of the games media with positive reviews and feedback. Long may it continue.

Footnote: Richard Evans will be speaking at this year’s Develop Conference, (Brighton, England, July 8-10th), where he’ll be examining the relationship between games development and AI research.

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Fallingwater at Seanchai

Fallingwater at night, Seanchai Library, Kitely

Fallingwater at night, Seanchai Library, Kitely

Back in mid-June, I mentioned that Fallingwater (Kitely) was relocating to the Seanchai Library core world there, the result of conversations between Caledonia Skytower, Shandon Loring and myself. In that report, I covered the physical move itself, relocating the house from a single region to the Seanchai 2×2 core megaregion.

Since then, and as time has allowed, I’ve been gradually re-working the place. Truth be told, I’d never really got it to a “completed” state in two years of having it on a region of its own, and the build really needed some TLC to get materials, etc., properly blended (I’d only just started messing around with them when I stopped working on the place in 2013). There was also much I was less than pleased with in the landscaping – such as the driveway up to the garages and Guest House, the river, and the falls, which I’ve always wanted to re-work.

A part of the revised drive with retaining walls and one of the smaller outdoor venue spots (right). Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely

A part of the revised drive with retaining walls and one of the smaller outdoor venue spots (right). Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely

As the house is now part of a themed estate (albeit one where each region effectively has a theme of its own), the land around the house needed a degree of blending so that it would fit the lay of the rest of the estate, and this gave me the excuse I needed to shovel through everything that I’d never really made the time to sort-out.

First and foremost. the falls received a complete face-lift. I’ve always been unhappy with how they looked throughout each iteration of the build, either in SL or Kitely; they never seemed to quite capture the spirit of the original. I’m a lot happier with the re-working. They’re still not “Fallingwater’s” falls – the rocks there are far more angular, but I think I’ve captured more of their “feel” at last.

The revised falls under the Great Room of the house. Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely

The revised falls under the Great Room of the house. Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely

Reworking the land meant I could get rid of the two roads leading up the house and replace them with gravel paths with brick shoulders. One of these. I decided, should lead to a stone jetty offering plenty of mooring pace for boats (water is a major feature in the estate), and the other I reworked as the main path connecting the house to the rest of the estate, reach via a bridge spanning the mouth of the river, and which I nabbed from Shandon and reworked a little, adding some wood texturing.

As the house is to be a venue for storytelling, providing space for people to gather has been an important consideration. So to help with this, I decided to thin out the trees a little and provide a couple of open-air spaces which might be used for smaller gatherings. One sits in the curve of the completely re-work driveway (I hated the original in the build, and while I’ve not found any sign of the walls I’ve installed along the drive in the drawings I have of the real Fallingwater, I think they fit the place rather well. beyond the drive, and outside of the walled parking area is another area cleared of trees and which faces out over open ocean to the north, as another space for informal gatherings.

The new "north terrace house" with steps leadig down to the jetty and the Guest House visible in the background. Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely

The new “north terrace house” with steps leading down to the jetty and the Guest House visible in the background. Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely

Cale also requested that I provide a space which could be used for meetings, workshops, social events and suchlike, again in keeping with the overall design of the house. This left me stumped for a while, but in the end I came up with a combination of a large cantilevered terrace extending out over the ocean on the northeast side of the island, and a building styled after the Guest House and offering two connected rooms. hopefully these will together provide flexible space for hosting indoor and outdoor events. A set of steps leads down to another set of piers below, and a path arcs around the headland and down to a small cove.

This all sits well below the lie of the rest of the land on the north side of the island, and so hopefully also offers a feeling of isolation from the rest of the build – although a path does link it to the pool patio by the Guest House, the patio also having been extended to provide a further venue for small gatherings.

The jetties on the south side of the island and the house through the trees in the background. Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely

The jetties on the south side of the island and the house through the trees in the background. Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely

I’ve add new lighting to much of the outdoors areas – lamps which come on at dusk and turn off again at dawn – which hopefully add some more ambience to the place. There are still some nips and tucks to be taken care of, but overall, I think the major work is done – subject, of course, to Cale and Shandon being in agreement.

I doubt this is the end of my infatuation with Fallingwater; I rather suspect that were the opportunity to arise, I’d happily start fiddling with the SL version once more. However, where Kitely is concerned – given that I have so little time I can spend there – I’m really happy that Fallingwater has a new home and will be put to good use.

You can visit Seanchai Library in Kitely via the Seanchai Library Kitely web page or via a hypergrid teleport from any hypergrid enabled OpenSim grid via:  hop://grid.kitely.com:8002/Seanchai/144/129/29 (main arrival point, Fallingwater is to the northeast).

I "borrowed" a copy of one of the bridges connecting the various locations in the estate to provide a physical and thematic link between Fallingwater and the rest of the estate. Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely.

I “borrowed” a copy of one of the bridges connecting the various locations in the estate to provide a physical and thematic link between Fallingwater and the rest of the estate. Fallingwater, Seanchai Library, Kitely.

Fallingwater joins Seanchai Library

Fallingwater as it appeared as a standalone region on Kitely

Fallingwater as it appeared as a standalone region on Kitely (click for full size)

Regular readers here will be only too aware of my obsession with Frank Lloyd Wright’s building designs, and in particular that of Fallingwater, which I’ve used as a model for no fewer than three builds over the years: two in Second Life (both now gone, but one safely packed away) and one in Kitely, where it has had a full region to itself for the last two years.

As I’m rarely in Kitely nowadays, the model there hasn’t really seen that much use. So, to rectify this, and as a result of conversations between myself and Caledonia Skytower and Shandon Loring at Seanchai Library, Fallingwater (Kitely) has been relocated to the Seanchai core world, where it will be used as an additional set of venues for Seanchai’s storytelling in voice.

The Great Room at Fallingwater Kitely will soon be a venue for stories in voice!

The Great Room at Fallingwater Kitely will soon be a venue for stories in voice!

The idea of relocating an entire region – buildings, furnishings, plants, tree, flowers and the rest on your own, and without having to pay for it to be done for you, is something liable to fill SL users with a feeling of foreboding. Fortunately, OpenSim users can make use of the OpenSim ARchive (OAR) capability to export and entire region / simulator’s contents to a local hard drive, subject to any permission protections used on their OpenSim grid.

A slight complication with Kitely is that it is not possible to target a single region within a group of regions  – “world” as Kitely call them – without also overwriting the others. As our aim was to make Fallingwater a part of the 4-region core Seanchai “world”, simply exporting it to OAR and then importing it into the Seanchai world would leave the other three regions replaced by default flat terrain.

There is a way around this, but it requires a small amount of fiddling, and the use of something like New World Studio (NWS) or  Sim-on-a-Stick (there are also user-offered services for those wishing to do something similar and who don’t have access to either). Using NWS (which ‘ve previously reviewed)  made the work of combining Fallingwater with Seanchai a simple 6-step process.

Combining Fallingwater with Seanchai's core 2x2 world on Kitely 1: my 2x2 region on my self-hosted New World Studio

Combining Fallingwater with Seanchai’s core 2×2 world on Kitely 1: my 2×2 region on my self-hosted New World Studio

  • First, I created a 4-region (2×2) set-up with New World Studio.
  • Second, using the OAR format, I exported Fallingwater from Kitely and Shandon exported the Seanchai 4-region world, which he passed to me as an OAR file
  • Third, I uploaded the Seanchai world to my 2×2 New World Studio set-up
Combining Fallingwater with Seanchai's core 2x2 world on Kitely 2: importing Seanchai's core 2x2 world

Combining Fallingwater with Seanchai’s core 2×2 world on Kitely 2: importing Seanchai’s core 2×2 world in NWS

  • Fourth, I selected the region Fallingwater was to overwritten and imported Fallingwater
  • Fifth, I exported the updated 2×2 set-up to an OAR file and passed it back to Shandon
  • Finally, Shandon uploaded the revised OAR into Kitely.
Combining Fallingwater with Seanchai's core 2x2 world on Kitely 3: replacing one of the Seanchai regions with Fallingwater

Combining Fallingwater with Seanchai’s core 2×2 world on Kitely 3: replacing one of the Seanchai regions with Fallingwater

The entire process of creating the New World Studio environment, exporting the OARs, uploading and merging them and then exporting the updated world literally took around 5 minutes. Granted, Shandon had some additional work to sort-out some items in the Seanchai world which were non-exportable due to permissions, but overall, the longest time in the process was sharing the OAR files via Google docs!

So Fallingwater has a new home on Kitely. However, the work isn’t finished. As well as the house, the plan now is to incorporate additional venues for stories and to blend the Fallingwater region more smoothly in with the existing Seanchai regions. I’ll post images of this as the work progresses!