Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Twinity update

It's been a while since I last blogged about Twinity; time for an update!

Real? Really?
Let's start with the good news. Metaversum is putting a lot of effort in digitally recreating parts of Berlin, especially the Hackescher markt district. But that's not all: Metaversum announced plans to add other metropolises as well . From the start it has been Metaversums' intention to create a mix of the real and virtual world (hence for instance the realistic daylight cycle in Twinity); bringing these cities online really adds to that vision. I have never been in the real Berlin, but I already know my way around the Neue Schönhauser strasse and the Hackerscher Markt; I easily recognized the streets on Google Maps as well. It would be interesting to check out Berlin in Twinity, and then see the same area in Google Streetview; would you still recognize it? As Berlin is not yet added to Google Streetview, we can't tell - yet!

More outdoor
Plus, one of the complaints I had during the early beta is really being solved this way: more and more outdoor areas have appeared in Twinity. Not only that, they have been given a more prominent place too! You are no longer confined to a list of available rooms, much as Google Lively is today. Glad to see that improve.

User created content
Another aspect which deserves attention, is that more enduser created content is appearing in Twinity. Blogger Tinsel Silvera for instance has a room at the Bitropolis area where he exhibits art like items he created. To be honest, I haven't paid much attention myself, I'm not much of a content creator. But for a real virtual world to be viable, the ability to create content and to subsequently sell it is, in my opinion, an important one. It is one of the things that sets a real virtual world apart from a 3D chatbox.

So what's not to like? Well, there are a few things that might need improvement before Twinity is ready for mainstream usage. I still have issues with stability and resource usage, for instance. Memory usage can run in to the hundreds of MB's of RAM - over 450 yesterday. After doing an ALT-TAB to switch to another app (say to Gimp to save a screenshot) it isn't always possible to return to Twinity; you sometimes need to stop the process and restart. Generally speaking, the application sometimes just feels clunky.. But, it's still beta, that obviously accounts for something. Nevertheless, I'd really like to see some improvements here. I will download a new fresh copy of the software, perhaps that helps.

Finally, performance remains an issue of concern. The overall world operates at satisfying speeds without much lag, but startup, search and teleporting to certain places take a long time. I understand that loading the virtual city of Berlin takes time, but a lot of users won't tolerate a delay of five to ten minutes to access a certain place. Perhaps it's a good idea to ship some of that content with the download package? Or provide it as a separate download? Eve Online does something like that too, both with regular and premium content, perhaps Twinity should too.

Oh and another feature of Eve Online which I really like: once you press the print screen button, a screenshot is automatically saved to a default directory - in high quality .bmp if desired. Very handy! I'd like that in Twinity too!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For all you EVE Online fans out there's an asteroid themed Lively room. Now if I could get a decent ship and some belt rats in here, this could be fun :)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Google Lively - the aerial view

A standalone room like this makes perfect sense to my eight year old daughter, who's very much into Habbo hotel and the likes. It has less appeal to me, I'd rather take a walk in a virtual city, fly my Sopwith Camel over Caledon, or my Catalyst through Eve's virtual universe..

This does not mean I don't see any value in Google Lively, but I am perhaps not the kind of user that's attracted to this sort of thing. I think I'm going to spend more time on Twinity instead. See how their virtual Berlin is developing!

No comment

Further thoughts on Google Lively

It's obvious that I need to spend more time on Google Lively before being able to make an in depth assessment of it. In the mean time, here's more thoughts on Google Lively.

Virtual yes - world no
First, I wouldn't call it a 'virtual world'. It is not. A 'virtual world' should, in my opinion, have certain properties in common with the physical world. A geography, maps, places, buildings and inhabitants, a currency and/or an economy, to name a few. One should be able to freely wander/fly/drive/swim around in a physical environment that could be real - in this or an alternate universe. In this regard, Second Life is a virtual world; Eve Online is a virtual universe. Metaversum is expanding Twinity to become a virtual world, too; their virtual rendering of the city of Berlin is interesting in this regard. Google Lively doesn't have the properties I expect in a virtual world, it is a flat list of separate rooms one can choose to visit. Lively is a virtual environment, a 3D chatbox, but not a virtual world by any of my standards! The comparison with Second Life is, in my humble opinion, an unfortunate one; it is comparing apples to oranges.

Lively, a new default browser plugin?
For those of you who haven't tried Lively yet: it runs in the browser, but it requires a small install. Once installed it can display all Lively rooms, and rooms can be embedded in web pages, as you can see in the blog entry below. It looks like Google created a 3D platform for the 2D internet with Lively: adding a 3D element (the Lively room) to an existing website is really easy, and I expect a lot of them to pop up in the coming months. In the near future, having Lively as an addon or plugin to your browser may be as common as having Adobe's Flash player or Sun Java are common plugins today. If I were an MSN executive, I'd be very worried about these developments, because why muck around with a 2D text message service if you can have a 3D room just as easy?

This opens up all sort of interesting marketing perspectives as well. Going 3D suddenly doesn't require much; basically it's just a Google account you need. My room was ready in five minutes! I don't know yet how easy it is to brand a room; I know you can put advertisements up, but that may not be enough for all prospective Lively customers. My current employer for instance, a large bank, has a distinct visual identity, which must be used in all internal and external communications, but also in the layout and furniture of offices. Being able to sufficiently brand a room would be critical to management acceptance of a Lively room as a suitable solution for corporate communications. Disclaimer: I am, at time of writing, not involved in any 3D efforts my current employer may or may not deploy.

A Lively room is a relatively safe 3D environment too. A room does, for instance, not share anything with other rooms: you can't see you neighbours' smut store or gothic SM cave through your windows of your room! Something like this happened to us in Second Life. Two female (former) colleagues of mine were once confronted with a couple of girls having 'lots of explicit fun' on the lawn of our companies' test site. The couple said they chose the site on purpose, in order to piss off corporate users of Second Life. Lesson learned: SL mainland is not suited for corporate presence..

Important step
Google Lively may not be full blown virtual world (and hence not be of much interest to me, personally), it probably is an important step in the emergence of a 3D internet, by dramatically lowering the bar to an entry 3D presence on pretty much any 2D website. Coming soon to a website near you: the 3D internet.

A couple of minutes after writing the above, I stumbled upon an interesting interview with Google's Mel Guymon. It contains useful extra information: "Feature: Lively - Google's Contribution to the 3D Social Web?"

Lively - first impressions

Yesterday I signed up for Google Lively. It reminds me a lot of the early (not the current!) Twinity beta, where the environment consisted of just a bunch of room, without a real world to access. Lively is the same; it's dressed up 3D chatrooms. It's not an immersive environment either, because you always run in windowed mode as far as I can see.

Avatar editing is quite limited, you can't tweak your avatar as I'm used to in SL. The result is an avatar that doesn't look like me at all. Avatar movement is done by mouse, which requires you to keep the mouse button pressed down if you want to move the avatar. I think this may be quite hard on your hand muscles if you stay in Lively too long.

All in all I spent fifteen minutes in Lively, which is obviously too short for a thorough analysis. More to come later!

I've created a new room, put in some furniture. Feel free to check it out or add to it!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Even more boom

My thirty days EVE account is about to expire. I've got a bunch of things to blog, about Second Life, Twinity, Google Lively and other stuff; I'll try to get that done early next week.

In the mean time, I need to make good use of those EVE hours left. Here's a sequence of screenshots of an explosion. It nicely illustrates how Eve depicts such an event: the initial explosion, the expanding shockwave, flying bits and pieces, and finally the fading fires afterwards. Larger pictures available here.

Bits of boom from the depths of space!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Dogfights in Eve Online

It's been a while, but I have participated in several dogfights in Second Life, with the Royal Caledon Air Force. Always lots of fun and lots of crashes (meaning: I got shot down a lot!) No problem, just teleport back to the airfield, rez a new plane and back into the fray you go!

Yesterday I found out that the same happens in Eve Online, too. A couple of corp members joined up for a pvp fight in the Mormoen system, and I joined in. We gathered at the Federal Administration station, where our corporation has a hangar. We were issues identical ships and ammunition; after that we headed out to a deserted part of the system where we fought each other. Unfortunately, just like in Second Life's RCAF dogfights, I lost, again due to lack of skills! With one difference: in Second Life I just didn't have the skills and the hardware to outmanouever the other players' aircraft, but in Eve I didn't have enough skillpoints to be allowed to use the armor repair set which was fitted on the ship! My opponent however was able to use that facilty; this meant that while my armor, once damaged, didn't repair itself, his did. Obviously, this made my ship more vulnerable, and so I lost my game. As in Second Life though, this didn't have negative effects on standings or points!

Five ships, almost ready for battle, orbit a cargo container containing a whole lot of ammunition:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Journal of VIrtual Worlds research"

Yesterday, while looking for scientific data on Second Life's Linden Dollar, I stumbled upon something new: the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, facilitated by the Texas Digial Library. Their mission, in their own words:

The Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is an online, open access academic journal that adheres to the highest standards of peer review and engages established and emerging scholars from anywhere in the world. The Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is a transdisciplinary journal that engages a wide spectrum of scholarship and welcomes contributions from the many disciplines and approaches that intersect virtual worlds research.

Well, that sounds impressive, doesn't it? To be honest I was a bit sceptical at first, but the first issue does indeed have a couple of very interesting articles. And, I also note that Edward Castronova is an advisory editor. For those with more than a recreational interest in virtual worlds, this may become a good resource of information.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Old and new

In Second Life, several of my parcels at Timandra and Fortimus have been rented to tennants. We're still developing the land further, hopefully we'll be able to show some of that later.

Meanwhile, I've bought a new ship in Eve Online: a Gallente Catalyst, a destroyer class vessel. More firepower, better shields and armor. One thing I've noticed in Eve, is that ships are rarely 'just perfect'. There's always a tradeoff to be made! In case of the Catalyst, it's speed and medium power slots.

But still, with the added firepower and shields I was able to complete a certain mission without suffering any real damage. When I did the same mission with the Incursus frigate, I had to go back to a station for repairs - twice!

My trusted Gallente frigate, an Incursus:

The new Gallente destroyer, a Catalyst:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Even more bang for your buck

A sequence of three snapshots,showing another deadspace explosion in Eve Online. I should have been closer for more detail, but it's quite difficult to catch the moment of these explosions. Once you hide the interface to get the best snapshot, you can't tell when the explosion will occur!

The smugglers' habitat module begins to explode..

..the pieces fly through deadspace..

..and the aftermath.

Bang for you buck

Bang for you buck, originally uploaded by seredwoollahra.

A huge explosion marks the end of a smugglers' complex somewhere in Lirsautton space. Actually, it's deadspace - special areas for missions, only accessible to those involved in the mission.

Blowing up stuff in deadspace can yield some nice visuals, even with the relatively limited ATI card in my laptop.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Second Life and Eve: raw materials

One of the similarities between Second Life and Eve Online is, that both have an internal economy. CCP, Eve Online's creator, even employs a full time economist to monitor this aspect of the virtual universe, while Linden Labs maintains web pages with all sorts of interesting looking statistics concerning economical activities. Both worlds have their own currency, which can be bought or sold in world, but also on independent web sites - although in case of Eve Online's ISK, this is deemed illegal by CCP. In both economies, large quantities of currency change hands (between players) over the sale of goods: land and luxuries in SL, ships and hardware in Eve, mostly.

There is one big difference however between the economies of SL and Eve: raw materials.

In SL, objects are built from prims. They are the basic building blocks of SL! Prims can, literally be created from thin air. Any user can create prims, just like that, by rightclicking and choosing 'create'. Existing prims may easily be copied as well (under normal circumstances, depending on the rights you have on the prim of course). This means, there is no way Linden Labs can control the amount of prims (and, hence, objects) that can be created. The only limit I can come up with, is the physical limit to a given SL parcel: the maximum amount of prims the land is allowed to carry.

Creating objects is possible in the Eve universe, too. You just need a blueprint (which you must buy on the market) and raw materials in the required quantities. This is an important difference between SL and Eve: Second Life does not require raw materials for content creation in world, but Eve Online does.

And CCP does have some control the amount of raw materials available in the Eve universe at any given moment. Raw materials are usually acquired by players mining asteroids for ores, as depicted in the snapshot above. These asteroids are obviously programmed by CCP, who can control what ores and what amounts of them will be available for mining. This gives CCP control over an important part (the source) of the raw materials market.

Another aspect of Eve's economy, is loot. When I destroy an NPC ship (a game generated 'enemy'), the resulting wreckage has a cargo hold, that often holds one or more objects: ammunition, devices, goods, drones or weaponry for instance. These objects are (part of) one's reward. You can tranfer them to your own cargo hold, keep what you need, and sell the rest on the market. Mind you, some players loot dozens of objects like this on a given mission! You can also choose to reprocess objects, instead of selling them. This breaks the objects down into their individual compounds which can then be sold off as raw materials again. Again, CCP controls the contents of NPC ships (they are game generated, remember), hence CCP has control over the amount and types of objects that will flow to players on a given day.

Of course there are limits to the bandwith of control that CCP has. If one day asteroids would turn up empty and NPC wreckage would no longer contain loot, a player revolt would probably ensue. Players are used to certain amounts and types of ore or loot. But CCP could, by gradually turning the dials - a little more here, a little less of that there - definitely finetune or shift the economy.

To determine whether CCP actually does that I would have to read the Eve quarterly economical reports, and frankly, they don't interest me that much. But it's an interesting difference between the two in game economies.


Defeated, originally uploaded by seredwoollahra.

In Eve Online, battle occurs every now and then. Player versus player if so desired, but player versus game generated enemies is very common too. Here, such a non player corporation (NPC) enemy ship (a typical 'belt rat') explodes after I have pummeled it with several guns and a scout drone.