Category Archives: Opinion

High Fidelity: a further $2.5 million. Now on the radar?

HF-logoThe latest Drax Files Radio Hour  drew my attention to new that Philip Rosedale’s newest venture, High Fidelity, this week gained a further round of investment capital.

The news on the move appears to have been lost amidst all of the noise coming out of Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR, however, VentureBeat covered the news on Wednesday March 26th.

Whether the latest round represents new investors or those already involved increasing their stake or a combination of both, remains unclear. However, the amount pushes the total level of investment into High Fidelity received close to some $5 million, including the $2.4 million obtained in April 2013 from Linden Lab, Kapor Capital, Google Ventures and True Ventures. Not bad for a company often referred to as “flying under the radar”.

Since Facebook’s move on Oculus VR, there has been a lot of speculation as to what might be next for the acquisition bag – and whether it could be Second Life. I’m not that convinced on the latter. But what about High Fidelity? In terms of Facebook, there might seem to be something of a fit – of not right now, then potentially down the road a bit.

Mark Zuckerberg, in describing his future vision for VR talks grandly in terms of “social VR” – VR which promotes “real” interaction and communications and which has real-world applications. That’s pretty much the space High Fidelity seems to be aiming at. I say appears, because High Fidelity seems to have a finger in a lot of idea pies, but most of the talk is in generalities rather than specifics when it comes to product(s).

Philip Rosedale: could his High Fidelity start-up be on Facebook's radar?

Philip Rosedale: could his High Fidelity start-up be on Facebook’s radar?

But given this commonality, and given High Fidelity is building on the kind of cool, sexy hardware – including the Rift, which apparently will work “out of the box” with whatever High Fidelity is / will be – it’s likely to have more of a bleeding-edge golly gee appeal than the decade-old, over-the-hill and decidedly unhip Second Life. Indeed, where it gets reported in the media, it already has.

Philip Rosedale is also something of a known quantity to one of the key players in FB’s acquisition of Oculus VR: Cory Ondrejka. They co-founded Second Life together and worked together as CEO and CTO until a difference on opinion separated them – and I assume that difference wasn’t enough to prevent them ever working together again. High Fidelity itself has attracted some of the key technology players from LL as well, who will also be known quantities to Ondrejka.

There’s also the matter of timescales. Facebook, as I’ve mentioned previously, seem to be jumping into the VR market-to-be for the long haul, they’re content to let Oculus VR test the waters for them in the gaming arena while looking towards more distant potential markets (and better, lighter and more ergonomic headsets that a broader cross-section of consumers will find attractive). As such, the slowly, slowly approach High Fidelity appears to be taking could synchronising rather nicely with FB’s approach.

Of course, this is all predicated on a number of things: exactly what it is that High Fidelity really has, how it fits a bigger technology picture, etc., right through to matters of equity stakes and controlling interests in the company.  However, in this latter regard, were High Fidelity to demonstrate they have something FB could leverage, it’s pretty clear that Facebook has the financial clout to make a deal worth everyone’s time.

At the very least, might be interesting to see where things go with any third round of investment into High Fidelity in the future …




SL Go on the Nexus 7 2013 HD

SL go logoWhen SL Go launched, A comment following my preview article on the service asked if I’d report back about any ongoing experiences I have with it.

At the time, I indicated it would be unlikely that I’d do so, as I rarely have need to access Second Life when away from my main computer, and when such occasions do occur, I have Lumiya at my disposal which tends to meet all the needs I have for mobile SL access.

However, I decided that in the interests of testing / reporting, I’d take some time to drive SL Go on my Nexus 7 2013 HD.

For those unfamiliar with Asus’ 2013 offering on behalf of Google, the Nexus 7 HD features a 7-inch screen with a 1920×1200 resolution at a whooping 323 ppi, a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU paired with an Adreno 320, 400 MHz GPU and 2 GB RAM and, in the case of the model I have, 16 GB internal storage. As such, it runs Lumiya beautifully. But what of SL Go?

Wandering trhough LennonParkOnTheRock using SL Go on the Nexus 7 HD (overlay closed)

Wandering trhough LennonParkOnTheRock using SL Go on the Nexus 7 HD (overlay closed) – click for full size

Well, frankly and unsurprisingly, it runs SL Go pretty fabulously. As with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 OnLive loaned me for the SL Go preview, SL Go is slick and fast on the Nexus and beautifully clear – most of the time (a caveat I’ll return to in a moment).

Rather than a quick on / off with the service, I spent time wandering around LennonParkOnTheRock, which I’ve reviewed in these pages (using Firestorm for the photos, simply so I can access all the windlights I tend to use). I explored the trails and paths, had a chat with one of my blog subscribers (/me waves to Ringo), and tried a few snaps both via screen capture (1920×1200) and via the viewer’s snapshot floater & e-mail (allowing me snaps at 4096×2497).

Overall, and allowing for the fact my Internet connection was a tad bit ropy at the time due to an intermittent line fault, my experience on the Nexus was easily equitable to that gained on the Galaxy Tab 3. However, the additional real estate offered by the latter’s 10-inch screen did make it perhaps a preferable choice for me when using SL Go, even with the higher and crisper resolution on the Nexus.

LeonnParkOnTheRock captured on the Nexus at 4096x2304

LennonParkOnTheRock captured on the Nexus at 4096×2497 using the snapshot floater & forwarded to my e-mail account – click for full size

In my original preview of SL Go I made mention of the fact that there is obviously a lower limit in terms of screen size where using the service is liable to become impractical, even with the overlay and the ability to zoom-in on the UI. This is something OnLive acknowledged in our chats about the service prior to launch as well. However, quite where this limit is comes down to a number of factors – with eyesight perhaps topping the list, alongside (maybe) screen resolution.

For me and my eyes, which aren’t quite what they used to be (although in difference to Spike Milligan / Eccles, they never used to be my ears….) my Nexus 7 is probably that lower limit. Yes, it was great having SL displayed in all its glory on the screen – graphics at Ultra, shadows, ambient occlusion and all the rest, but after 30 minutes, I started finding it hard to focus and found things getting a little blurry due to eyestrain (hence my little caveat earlier). This is not a fault of OnLive’s; I think there is simply too much detail on the Nexus’ screen for my eyes to comfortably process without me feeling some strain.

Of course, I could partly mitigate this by zooming-in on specific areas of the screen, reducing my overall field of view. But this raised its own issues; if I wanted to use a tool bar button or menu option, for example while zoomed-in, I had to first zoom back out and then zoom back in again to ease the amount of strain I was feeling behind my eyes – and this did start to get a little tedious in its own right. It also wasn’t something I noticed so much when using the bigger 10-inch screen of the Galaxy Tab (or at least, I wasn’t so conscious of it when using the Tab).

SL Go on my Nexus 7 HD + keyboard

SL Go on my Nexus 7 HD + keyboard

But leaving this aside, SL Go did run exceptionally well for me. The overlay, as with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, performed flawlessly, and the Bluetooth keyboard I use with my Nexus allowed me to chat a lot more easily than using the on-screen keyboard, and was obviously completely non-invasive on the screen, which was a big plus when compared to having just an on-screen keypad for text use.

So, would I be tempted to use SL Go over Lumiya?

That’s a tough one for me to answer and not necessarily because of the current SL Go pricing plan. The fact is that  I rarely need to access SL when away from may home computer, and when I do, Lumiya actually more than meets most of my needs, as noted at the top of this article. However, and more to the point, I’ve been a firm supporter of Lumiya and Alina’s work ever since Oz Linden gave me a nudge towards it back in early 2012,  and so have a certain loyalty in that direction which I’m unwilling to set aside purely on the basis of new shiny.

But that said, were there an occasion when I wanted to be in-world which benefited from having all the graphical richness of the viewer when away from my PC, then yes, I’d opt for SLGo, even with the current pricing plan. In fact, given my “mobile SL” needs are so rare, the fact that the service currently does have a metered payment system actually makes it more attractive to me than were it to have been introduced purely on a subscription basis.

This should not be taken to mean I’m against the service having a subscription payment option – I’ve already expressed an opinion that OnLive should offer both. It’s purely that even $25.00 for 10 hours of SL access via my Nexus is most likely going to last me a good several months based on past habits, thus making it potentially a lot lighter on my purse than a straightforward subscription service.

As it is, and putting questions of payment plans and what OnLive might or might not do in the future (and they are monitoring things closely, believe me) aside, I do now have two options for using SL from my Nexus should the need arise. And, eyesight allowing, choice is always a good thing, right?

SL Go: of pricing and models and some thoughts from OnLive

SL go logoWhile only launched on Wednesday March 5th, OnLive’s new SL Go offering for accessing Second Life from Android devices, low-end computers and TVs (additional hardware required) has already recieved a lot of kick-back due to its initial pricing model.

As it stands, OnLive, in something of a departure from their normal pricing models, are initially presenting the service on a pay-as-you-go offering starting at $3.00 for an hour in SL (with an initial 20-minute free trial period for new sign-ups), through $8.00 for up to three hours access, to $25.00 for up to ten hours. This is being seen as prohibitively expensive for using Second Life.

But is that really the case? Ultimately, the answer to this is both yes and no.

SL Go by OnLive: streaming Second Life to your tablet - but the pricing model is upsetting to many

SL Go by OnLive: streaming Second Life to your tablet – but the pricing model is upsetting to many

On the one hand, SL Go is being presented as an adjunct - not a replacement – to people’s “normal” means of accessing Second Life; something to be used to get in-world when access via home computer and local viewer isn’t an option. This was very much underlined by Nate Barsetti,  the Senior Manager of Customer Relations at OnLive, and Don Laabs, Linden Lab’s Senior Director of Product with overall responsibility for Second Life, emphasised when both appeared on a Designing Worlds special presentation shown a few hours after the launch of the service.

In such instances, a pay-as-you-go option is actually valid, as it potentially offers a better means of managing costs than something like a subscription payment system, such as OnLive’s new $14.99-a-month CloudLift subscription service, which was also launched on March 5th alongside their new OnLive Go service (of which SL Go is actually a part)..

For example, someone who find they need to access SL for, say, 4 hours a month when they are away from their home PC and viewer would have to pay a maximum of $31.00 a quarter in order to do so. But if SL Go were pitched at the same price as CloudLift, then their cost for the same 3-month period would be $44.97.

Of course, how far the pay-as-you-go payment plan remains attractive is on something of a sliding scale, and a tipping-point can easily be reached. There’s also the fact that were SL to be “rolled into” something like CloudLift, then it becomes more attractive on a subscription service as users gain access to it and other titles provided by CloudLift should they wish to make use of them. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are genuine use-cases where pay-as-you go is potentially far more cost-effective, and therefore attractive, than a flat subscription rate.

On the other hand, however, SL Go has been presented as a means of accessing the full richness of SL on computers otherwise incapable of doing so. This suggests that SL Go could be used as a more general means of using SL than those on such low-end machines can currently enjoy – and as such, it is where the pay-as-you-go option falls flat on its face, and an alternative means of paying for the service to be used in this way is required, such as a subscription model. And OnLive aren’t actually blind to this fact.

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Could Versu Live On?

Ciaran Laval beat me to the punch on this one, have cogitated on the matter and posted on the matter of Versu being allowed a Second Life.  However, I’m going to blog anyway :) .

Of all of the offerings from the Lab which were axed on February 19th – Creatorverse, dio, and Versu -  it was Versu which I found most intriguing – and also most frustrating, as being restricted to the iPad, it was the only one I couldn’t try.

Versu offered a new approach to interactive fiction

Versu offered a new approach to interactive fiction

The concept and capabilities within it, both as an interactive fiction application and as a potential engine for wider things, such as a means of studying real-world social situations (as the UK’s New Scientist magazine reported in June 2013), were certainly fascinating, and it would be a shame to see them suffer an early death.

As I do feel Versu has a lot of potential, I dropped Emily Short a line on her blog, expressing my hope that a way could be found to allow it to continue. She replied:

I don’t have a concrete answer to that yet, but I’m currently investigating whether it’s possible to regain the IP from Linden.

If so, I’d likely take it forward in a slightly different direction than the Lab would have done, but still with the aim of making some tools available to the general public. I’m actually really pleased with some of the things the authoring tools could do at the end — I was able to put together Blood and Laurels, which is a massively branching, 250K word piece, in a couple of months. I’m obviously biased here, but the output feels way tighter than our earliest Versu stories, has much more plot, but still allows for considerable variety in the outcomes of various character relationships. Basically, it’s a type of IF I have been wanting to write for a long time, and for which most of the existing tools are not a very good fit.

So I’d really like to see both the finished stories and the toolset reach an audience, since outside of Linden and a few conference demos hardly anyone has seen what we did. But a great deal depends on what I’m able to arrange.

Anyway, if I have news on the future of Versu, I’ll mention it on this blog.

Not long after she replied to me, Emily also posted on the subject directly.

Blood and Laurels, a 250,000 word title for Versu had, prior to the Lab's 19th February announcement, been expected soon

Blood and Laurels, a 250,000 word title for Versu had, prior to the Lab’s 19th February announcement, been expected soon

Obviously, and as Emily says, there is nothing concrete here to say Versu will be able go ahead, and negotiations are down to her, the Lab and (I assume) Richard Evans to see how it might be taken forward outside of the Lab’s purview. However, I can’t help but keep fingers crossed on the matter; particularly given there is a chance the tools for people to create their own stories would remain a part of any continuance.

The news that Versu was to be axed must have come as a severe disappointment to Emily. As she notes in her blog reply, Blood and Laurels, which had been reported as “coming soon” to Versu as recently as January 25th, 2014, amounted to a 250,000-word piece, which is roughly twice the length of something akin to a work of historical fiction.

The idea of a company releasing technology IP as a result of a shift in focus coupled with a departure of staff isn’t new. Perhaps the most recent high-profile example of this occurring was when Gabe Newell allowed Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson walk away from Value with the IP for castAR, an augmented reality (and potentially VR-capable) headset they had been developing on the company’s dime. By doing so, Newell enabled them to set-up a company and Kickstarter in order to continue the work. So it’s is not beyond the realm of possibility that an agreement between the Lab and Ms. Short / Richard Evans cannot be reached.

CastAR: Gabe Newell allowed  glasses (image courtesy of Technical Illusions / The Verge)

CastAR: Gabe Newell allowed Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson to depart Valve with the IP when the project was effectively canned. could LL reach a similar agreement with the creators of Versu? (image courtesy of Technical Illusions / The Verge)

Meanwhile, Qie Niangao has been musing whether Versu’s technology might find a re-use in SL helping content creators develop more immersive user experiences alongside of, or a part of, the still-to-be-released Experience Tools.

Again, it’s an interesting idea. Pathfinding has not turned out to be quite the AI winner in Second Life that perhaps had been hoped, but whether the actual engine from Versu could be re-tailored for use within the platform is perhaps questionable (as Qie himself also notes). It is also unclear what expertise in terms of Versu’s development remains at the Lab, both Richard Evans and now Emily Short having departed.

Of the two options, I confess I’d rather a means be found for Versu to continue elsewhere in more-or-less the form in which we’ve come to recognise it (just with a flavour for the Android OS!). As already noted, it’s an intriguing approach to IF, and one with potentially huge opportunities.

Note: While preparing this piece, Ciaran contacted me to say he was working on a further piece related to Emily Short’s blog post. you can read it here.