Category Archives: News

The man whose novel helped inspire Second Life takes Magic Leap

It has been announced that science-fiction author Neal Stephenson has become the latest high-profile individual to join the ranks of Magic Leap, the still-mysterious company that seems to be doing something highly innovative with augmented reality – and perhaps virtual reality as well.

Stephenson, who wrote Snow Crash, the novel which first coined the term “metaverse” and is often referred to as one of the influences behind the development of Second Life, has accepted the position of “Chief Futurist” at Magic Leap, in news being broken by the likes of Wired and The Verge.

Neal Stephenson, Magic Leap's new "Chief Futurist"

Neal Stephenson, Magic Leap’s new “Chief Futurist” (image:Bob Lee via Flickr)

Writing in a blog post for Magic Leap, Stephenson states he had been approached by the company months ago – and in a rather unique way:

A few months ago, two Irishmen, a Scot, and an American appeared on my doorstep with Orcrist, aka “Goblin-cleaver,” the ancient sword forged during the First Age of Middle Earth by the High Elves of Gondolin, later retrieved from a troll hoard by Thorin Oakenshield. It’s not every day that someone turns up at your house bearing a mythic sword, and so I did what anyone who has read a lot of fantasy novels would: I let them in and gave them beer. True to form, they invited me on a quest and asked me to sign a contract (well, an NDA actually).

The use of Orcrist in the offer is cleverly symbolic: one of the Board of Directors of Magic Leap is Sir Richard Taylor, founder and head of WETA Workshop, the company behind the models, costumes and special effects seen in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies directed by Peter Jackson.

Precisely what Magic Leap is developing is something of a mystery, although as I’ve previously reported in these pages, what has been shown to the likes of Google, Legendary Pictures, Andreessen Horowitz and others led them to invest some $542 million into the company in October – and that on top of $50 million of investment at the start of the year.

What little is known about Magic Leap is that it is currently working on what it calls “cinematic reality”, which uses a headset which may eventually look something like a pair of sunglasses to overlay anything the wearer sees in the real world with 3D digital images that move and respond to the wearer’s own head an eye movements, and which appear to “interact” with the physical world around the wearer.

You'll believe a whale can fly - or that's perhaps Magic Leap's hope (among more practical things)

You’ll believe a whale can fly – or that’s perhaps Magic Leap’s hope (among more practical things)

Recently, Sean Hollister over at Gizmodo followed the lead set by Tom Simonite, a bureau chief at MIT Technology Review, in tracing down patents filed by Magic Leap in an attempt to find out more about what the company may actually be producing. As I again reported, their findings make fascinating reading for anyone interested in emerging AR and VR technologies – and in the history of Magic Leap, which up until the huge investment by Google et al, had been quietly flying under the radar for a number of years.

In that same report, I also covered the fact that what might be on of Magic Leap’s first major public demonstrations could be at the Manchester International Festival here in the UK in July 2015.

The Age of Starlight is a new film bringing together Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDonald, the visual effects team behind the 2013 George Clooney / Sandra Bullock blockbuster Gravity and science pundit and physicist Professor Brian Cox. The film will tell the story of the cosmos around us utilising Magic Leap technology, allowing audiences of up to 50 people at a time witness – and be immersed in – the unfolding majesty and mystery of the universe in what is billed as being a transformative, emotional experience.

The Age of Starlight: an immersive, transformative film using Magic Leap technology will be shown at the Manchester International Festival in the UK in 2015

The Age of Starlight: an immersive, transformative film using Magic Leap technology will be shown at the Manchester International Festival in the UK in 2015

It is apparently this transformative power within the Magic Leap technology that has attracted Neal Stephenson. Again, on the Magic Leap blog he states:

Here’s where you’re probably expecting the sales pitch about how mind-blowingly awesome the demo was. But it’s a little more interesting than that. Yes, I saw something on that optical table I had never seen before–something that only Magic Leap, as far as I know, is capable of doing. And it was pretty cool. But what fascinated me wasn’t what Magic Leap had done but rather what it was about to start doing.

Magic Leap is mustering an arsenal of techniques–some tried and true, others unbelievably advanced–to produce a synthesized light field that falls upon the retina in the same way as light reflected from real objects in your environment. Depth perception, in this system, isn’t just a trick played on the brain by showing it two slightly different images.

Magic Leap is not exclusively about games. It’s also going to be a great tool for readers, learners, scientists, and artists … What applies to games applies as well to other things of interest, such as making the world safe for books, doing new things with science and math visualization, and simply creating art for art’s sake.

We still don’t know precisely what Magic Leap will present or how it will work, and truth be told, there is an awful lot of hype and hyperbole surrounding the emerging new market for AR and VR it is hard at times to separate fact from fiction. But when the likes of Sir Richard Taylor and Thomas Tull (CEO of Legendary Pictures) pour their own money into a project, and it attracts names such as Brian Cox, Kevin MacDonald and now Neal Stephenson – you have to suspect something very special might well be sitting just over the horizon.

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Firestorm is (SL) Go – and across multiple grids!

SL go logoOn Tuesday, December 16th, 2014, OnLive, the providers of the Second Life streaming service, SL Go, announced a new addition to the SL Go service: The Firestorm Viewer.

The announcement follows several months of collaboration between the Firestorm Team, lead by Jessica Lyon, and the folk at OnLive, lead by Dennis Harper, the results of which now mean that with immediate effect, SL Go now provides a choice of TWO viewers to subscribers and users:

  • The existing SL viewer – which OnLive are referring to as “SLV” – can be used from any Mac computer, PC, and from Android devices and iPads to access Second Life
  • AND The Firestorm viewer, initially available for Mac computers and PCs, which can be used to access Second Life and OpenSim grids.

SL Go’s pricing options remain the same whichever viewer you opt to use, and you can swap between them at any time you like, should you wish. Simply make your choice from the SL Go selection screen.

SL Go users access the service via PC or Mac now have a choice of viewer: the SL Viewer (SLV, as OnLive refer to it) or Firestorm

SL Go users accessing the service via PC or Mac now have a choice of viewer: the SL Viewer (SLV, as OnLive refer to it) or Firestorm (image via OnLive)

Since its launch in March 2014, which I covered in-depth at the time, the SL Go service has proven to be very popular with people who are using low-end systems which traditionally have problems when trying to run the viewer locally. Because the viewer is streamed from OnLive’s dedicated servers,  it’s the servers that do all the heavy processing, delivering a fast, smooth service to users, thus helping to give a new lease of life to older hardware.

Of course, because SL Go is streamed, it means that – like the SL viewer offered by OnLive – certain functionality within the Firestorm offering has either been removed for security reasons (such as the Develop menu, and no access to debug settings and content cannot be uploaded), or has been disabled (such as the option to save snapshots to a hard drive – as that would effectively mean saving them to the OnLive server).

Firestorm viewer on SL Go from OnLive - click for full-size

Firestorm viewer on SL Go from OnLive (click for full-size)

The big benefit in using Firestorm through SL Go is that – with the noted exceptions due to security issues, etc., – it brings the richness of Second Life’s most popular third-party viewer to those on older systems who have perhaps felt themselves to be increasingly edged out of Second Life, something Firestorm Project Manager Jessica Lyon commented on when discussing the release with me.

“I’m really happy about this,” Jessica said. “For years folk on lower-end systems have seen significant improvements to Second Life, particularly with how the world looks, pass them by because their systems are unable to run them. We’ve even heard from many that they simply cannot use Firestorm or any other viewer and as being pushed out of SL completely.

“This release of Firestorm through OnLive, together with the existing SL viewer, hopefully gives those people a new way to enjoy Second Life. I really hope this works for them!”

I can personally attest to that. In 2010, I purchased an Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook, which has found running a viewer like Firestorm increasingly heavy going. With Firestorm through SL, with all the bells and whistles turned-up, I’m averaging around 60 fps!

Firestorm on SL Go from OnLive: almost 60 fps on a Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook with all the bells and whistles active! (this image replaces an earlier version, after I realised I'd uploaded the wrong screen cap - one with shadows disabled)

Firestorm on SL Go from OnLive: almost 60 fps on a Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook with all the bells and whistles active! (this image replaces an earlier version, after I realised I’d uploaded the wrong screen cap – one with shadows disabled)

That SL Go does bring a new lease of life to older hardware can be seen in the fact that since the launch of the service in March, 2014, the largest take-up among users has been by those using the service through the OnLive PC and Mac clients. But those who want Firestorm on their mobile devices need not fear – it will be coming in 2015.  This is something Jessica is also looking forward to.

“A could of years ago we fooled a great many people with our April Fool’s joke of a Firestorm Mobile client,” Jessica said. “The excitement over the announcement, and the outcry when it turned out to be just and April Fool’s joke, was overwhelming. The great news is – and no joke this time! – that OnLive will be making this capability real very soon!”

And it doesn’t end there. One capability that Firestorm brings to OnLive and SL Go  users is the ability to log into other grids as well as Second Life. The version of the viewer supplied to OnLive is the OpenSim version, which means it is complete with the grid manager and start-up grid selection drop-down, allowing you to log into all your favourite grids – as I did, logging-in to Kitely and Fallingwater at the Seanchai Library!

Use Firestorm on SL Go and any PC / Mac / laptop to access your favourite OpenSim grids (click to enlarge)

Use Firestorm on SL Go and any PC / Mac / laptop to access your favourite OpenSim grids (click to enlarge)

Thus, with a single subscription to OnLive, you gain access to the entire metaverse from any PC or Mac in your home!

“We’re happy to be able to empower SL Go users with more choice. They’ve told us they want a choice of viewers, so offering the popular Firestorm viewer was a natural next step.” said Rick Sanchez, VP of Product and Marketing at OnLive, at the launch of the new offering.

With this release of Firestorm for SL Go, OnLive have done just that!

To get started with SL Go, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial. SL Go is offered via a monthly subscription at $9.95 (£6.95) per month for unlimited access. Note that OnLive does not associate any SL Go information with Second Life; your Second Life user details and avatars remain private.

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I’ll have a more in-depth look at Firestorm on SL Go available shortly.

Viewer-managed Marketplace feedback meeting: video, audio and Q&A transcript

On Friday, December 12th, Brooke Linden chaired a meeting on the Aditi grid to discuss the upcoming Viewer-managed Marketplace (VMM) changes, which are currently undergoing beta testing on that grid. With her were core members of the Viewer-managed Marketplace development team, comprising:

  • Baker Linden has been working on the back-end of the web service for the project
  • Merov has been working on the viewer updates
  • Sklar Linden has been working on the updates to the SL marketplace itself
  • Steeltoe linden is one of the Lab’s user experience designers

Also in attendance from the Lab were Xiola Linden, lead community manager, Jeremy Linden, who is responsible for the VMM Knowledge Base documentation, and Kurt Linden from the Lab’s QA team.

The meeting was intended to gather feedback from TPV developers and merchants on the existing status of the VMM changes, as they are presented on Aditi and through the VMM project viewer. However, and for whatever reasons, attendance was somewhat low (and I plead guilty to this myself, being unable to attend), with the majority of non-Lab people attending being from TPV and viewer code development and support.

The meeting was recorded by Chakat Northspring, while Baker Linden produced an audio recording of the meeting as well.

I have embedded the video below for reference  – my thanks as always to North for providing it. It is followed by a summary of the core areas of discussion as shown in the recording, with particular emphasis on the Q&A session. Time stamps are provided so that comments can be heard in full for those preferring to read rather than listen, but do keep in mind the first part of this article is a summary, not a transcript.

Also, please note that there was a region disconnect issue at around the 32:40 mark which lasted a number of minutes. during that time the video (and voice) kept running until people re-logged, after which there was a very brief discussion. As the meeting disbanded shortly after the required relog from the disconnect, with the exception of a brief note on accessing the Aditi test regions, coverage of the meeting in this article ends at the time the disconnect occurred.

VMM Overview

The first half of the meeting [04:57 onwards] deals with how VMM will function from the user’s perspective. Most of what is discussed is covered in my overview of the VMM beta and the VMM project viewer. as well s the Lab’s VMM Knowledge Base article. However, as a very brief summary of key points:

The Marketplace listing panel is the viewer-side hub of the new VMM functionality

The Marketplace listing panel is the viewer-side hub of the new VMM functionality

  • VMM doesn’t replace the marketplace, but improves aspects of managing inventory and Marketplace listings
  • With it, items can be delivered to customers directly from a merchant’s inventory (including items which are No Copy to the merchant), eliminating the need to upload items to the Marketplace servers or use Magic Boxes in-world
  • VMM allows basic listing operations to be performed from within the viewer: creating a listing, assigning a new or updated item to a listing, amend listings, remove items from a listing, and unlist goods entirely
  • VMM does this by replacing the Merchant Outbox with a new panel, the Marketplace Listing Panel (a hidden system folder within inventory)
  • Merchants can easily “migrate” existing Marketplace listings with items to be delivered by VMM in a simple 3-step process.

Continue reading

AMD Catalyst™ drivers: additional Windows workaround

Update, Sunday, December 14th: user DMC Jurrasic reports that the process outlined below can also be used with the OpenGL .DLL files from the AMD Catalyst 14.4 drivers. However, no ZIP file of the extracted DLLs are currently available, so Yoho’s notes at the end of the article will need to be followed to obtain them.

On Tuesday, December 9th, I blogged about the continuing issues impacting  those with AMD GPUs using the latest Catalyst and Omega drivers.

Yoho Waco offers an AMD Catalyst driver workaround for Windows users

Yoho Waco offers an AMD Catalyst driver workaround for Windows users

Second Life resident, and contributor to this blog, Yoho Waco offered a workaround to the problem for Windows users who would prefer to use the latest Catalyst drivers, rather than rolling back to an earlier version.

The workaround should fix the mesh rendering issue, and while Yoho uses Windows 7 64-bit, the basic approach should work with all flavours of support windows, 64-bit and 32-bit.

I can’t actually test it myself, as I use Nvidia, but feedback indicates it works well, and so with Yoho’s permission, I’m reprinting his instructions here so that it might get broader visibility.

As many have pointed out, the issue lies in the fact that the more recent Catalyst drivers use a late version of OpenGL that is supported by SL. This being the case, Yoho provides instruction on using an earlier version of OpenGL with the more recent drivers:

It seems that the problem is in the OpenGL version has the new driver 14.12.

AMD- Catalyst-1

I tried a small solution is to take the DLL’s from version 14.9 and place them inside the folder .\SecondLifeViewer

Above left: the .DLL files from Yoho's dropbox copied into the SL viewer's installation folder;  and above right, how they are reported by the viewer

Above left: the .DLL files from Yoho’s dropbox copied into the SL viewer’s installation folder; and above right, how they are reported by the viewer

It works perfectly, no problems or fall FPS.

Yoho provides the required files in a  ZIP file users can download – just copy them to your viewer’s installation folder, as he notes above.

Note that if you’re using a viewer other than the official SL viewer, you’ll need to drop the files into the relevant installation folder, rather than .\SecondLifeViewer (e.g. in the case of Windows 64-bit, instead of dropping the files into C:\Program Files\SecondLifeViewer, you would  place them in C:\Program Files\[name of your viewer]).

Commenting to me about the fix, Yoho said:

I had to install version 14.9 on my computer and search for the files inside C:\Windows\System & C:\Windows\System32. Once copied, I completely uninstalled the version of the Catalyst 14.9 drivers and reinstalled the new version 14.12 Omega drivers. I used and application called DDU, as  it is best to fully uninstall a driver to avoid conflicts. However, this is all very complicated, so I published my DLLs [in the dropbox link above] so users can access them and copy them to their viewer.

Do note that this workaround won’t solve the shadows issues which occur with the Catalyst 14.9.x drivers (see BUG-7947 and BUG-7627), however, Yoho informs me that when he has the time, he may try to see if he can use the OpenGL DLLs from the 14.4 drivers to see if they can be used in this approach to resolve issues, both with mesh rendering and with shadows.

In the meantime, those who would prefer to use the latest drivers and have tried this approach state it works, but as always, your mileage may vary, and the workaround is offered without liability or responsibility on either Yoho’s or my part.

My thanks to Yoho for his work in this and notifying me.