Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Second Life 2 - Told you not to panic

It has been a quiet year really and a good three years on, we have the result in of the much feared Second Life 2 and while I am trying not to be smug, all I can say quite bitterly is I told you so.

Let me just have a little bit of a recap on events considering what has gone on.

In July 2014, Ebbe Linden managed to stick his foot in his mouth by letting slip that Linden Lab had a new virtual world in development. I think as most will have realised by this point that this may not have actually been true. They had an idea for a new virtual world. With this news, a wave of panic and rumours spread like wild fire over the Second Life grid.

The primary form of panic was this. When this new Second Life 2 arrives, SL will be closed down. The two grids will not be compatible and everything you have spent your hard earned money on will be lost. Don't buy anything as you will lose it. Second Life has as little as 18 months left.

Ironically I had heard this before, rumours spread by people that mesh would destroy the grid and any purchases you made would be useless. I stepped in at this point with my first article on the subject. I looked at this with the facts on offer, not the rumours and the conclusion was this.
Second Life 2 was a separate grid, an entirely different project that would take years to arrive. There was no justification to spread panic or rumours and it was not going to replace SL.

From this point things progressed slowly and very little news came out on Second Life 2. In fact after the initial flurry of calming words from Linden Lab they went painfully silent. I think considering the fact they did go so silent refusing to even acknowledge the fact that they were even doing this project only helped to stoke the fires of rumour and panic on the grid.

In January 2016 we finally had some news to report. Second Life 2 had evolved in to the new brand name of Sansar with Linden Lab breaking their silence on it, although I have to say this very clearly, not on Second Life. 18 months had passed, and we were only at the basic specs stage with Sansar in very early Alpha testing. I posted my thoughts on the subject and I was far more critical of what Sansar was and how it would play out.
I made a clear prediction at this point that sadly Sansar would most likely fall on its face due to a central problem that Linden Lab seems to have. They still don't understand their own product. Second Life in its history was never meant to be the lunatic asylum it is today. In fact it was originally designed as a business tool that was opened up to the public and from there it evolved in a very haphazard and organic way. The problem that they have is this.

They think they created SL, and as a result if they build a new one people will come.

It is a flawed premise. They actually created the tools and the infrastructure, not what is today Second Life. That was solely down to the thousands of creators on the grid, the crazy people who saw SL as a utopia of crazy and stupid ideas. A playground for the wonderfully insane.
Sansar would need to try and emulate that, and from what everyone was seeing, it would never be designed to do that. In fact it seemed that they were trying to recreate the original idea of SL as a business tool.

Let's skip ahead to today.  Where are we now?

In July this year with great fanfare, Linden Lab released Sansar as an Open Beta.
I have not tried it, but I know dozens of people who have and the result is this.

Fantastic. This looks awesome. (Five minutes later) Okay... what is there to do here?

Funny that. I said 18 months before this that Sansar would be an empty, pointless wasteland and guess what?
I can't blame LL's for trying this, but I can blame them for nearly killing their primary business through their lack of information. They let the rumour mill run riot and the result is SL is in a bad state today.
In fact and I will say this very seriously. Their only communication up to the point they started talking about the Sansar open beta, from 2014 to early 2017 was one reference to Sansar in 2016. On April the first. Yeah, they decided it would be funny to put Sansar in to their April fool's joke.
User log ins are down, hundreds if not thousands of companies have gone out of business, sims are closing down because of lack of traffic. I won't say the rumour mill has won, but it has had a terrible effect on the grid.

So where is Sansar now? From what I hear it is still in development, but the initial user reaction to it was far less than positive. Will it survive? I would say they are flogging a dead horse, but I think those of us who have seen how LL's do business will understand they will keep going and who know, some good may yet come out of it.

There is one truth however in this whole story. It looks like LL's finally woke up and smelt the coffee.
They sent out an email to all users at the start of the month. At first glance it looks very positive and upbeat as they announced their recommitment to Second Life promising big investment in Second Life and loads of new features and goodies (of which most of them were actually long term well known projects).
Read between the lines, it looks like LL's have panicked. They have been hell bent on Sansar development for over three years now putting all their eggs in one basket. Now they see that Sansar didn't come out as they expected they suddenly realise SL is in a sorry state and they need to save it.

I welcome this news from LL's and maybe now we can try to tempt people back to the grid without the dark storm cloud threat of Sansar swallowing and destroying the grid hanging over it.

So, me being Nostradamus and all predicting the future where do I see Sansar going from here?
I think I said it in January 2016. At some point in 2018, Sansar will be quietly swept under the carpet and the development work and features created for it will be cannibalised and integrated in to SL.

See you next year?

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Too Short a Season

There are two kinds of people on Second Life. Those who play it as a game, and those who use it as a Second Life. It’s a point that is often covered in nuance really, but the effects are profound. Second Life is an escape from RL, where they can be who or what they want to be, however for some, there is no difference from who they are in the real world. The person behind the keyboard is the same person as you meet in world, while others are less pleasant, seeing their avatar as anonymous and when they press the X Button in the top right, they return to who they are.
I tend not to get on with those that think SL is a game, because my experiences over the years has taught me that Second Life is a real thing, as real as the keyboard I am typing on, with real people and real feelings.

A few weeks back, I was tired, and elated. I had just been finishing up the last pieces of the sim reworking project. It was just past midnight and I had been forcing myself to get this job done, having worked for over 14 hours straight on the project.
Juggz came on, and said something to me that just stopped me in my tracks and left me sitting there stunned, shocked and with an awful feeling of heartbreak.

Roughly 4 years ago, I had a new company come to rent with me in the mall, and I got to know the owners a little, however I learnt the creator of the products was a different person who was quiet and had brilliant mind. I got to know her, and I instantly clicked with her. She was funny, naughty, sarcastic and was very typically british.

Over some months of on and off talking about business and design, I grew to have a deep affection for her, and when she said she was struggling to find somewhere quiet she could build without interruptions from her friends, I offered her a spot in my lab which she happily took.
At first I took my usual role for a young and obviously very talented designer. That of a mentor, however while there were certain areas she struggled with, I soon learnt that she was more of an equal to me, who occasionally needed to bounce ideas off me and I found myself learning from her.
And for me, it was a happy time, having someone with a thirst to learn in my lab, whos presence just lit the room up and she made you laugh.

She was always very frank and open, and shared pieces of her Real Life with me, however one day in the lab she was quiet and I knew something wasn’t right.
It was at that point she told me about her long struggle with cancer.
When I first met her she was in remission, and confident it was being fought effectively, however she had just learnt it was back.

From there, she started coming on the grid less and less, and then one day, she disappeared.
A year later she did pop on to say hi, however it was a passing visit and I didn’t get to talk to her properly. After that, I didn’t see her again.

That was near enough 2 years ago but she remained in my thoughts.

Earlier this year, while cleaning up my sim lists, I stumbled across someone in the access to my home sim I had forgotten about. While she was working with me, she had a fellow builder and friend pop through, and I had added her to the sim list.
She was always in my thoughts in one way or another, so I thought I would check in with her friend to see how she was. I had been watching for signs of her both here and on her Deviant Art account which we followed each other on and on her DA account it was the same as Second Life. She hadn’t logged in for two years, so obviously it was worrying me.
In short, she was still fighting, and was happy to hear from me as her friend talked to her over Skype and I was relieved and pleased she was okay. I have kept in touch with her friend since then.

Which brings me back to 2 weeks ago, sitting here staring at the computer just feeling like I had been knocked for a six.
Juggz had just told me she passed away, at the time of me writing this roughly a month ago.

Last night, I went to a Celebration of her life on Second Life. I knew her through her work, and her thirst to learn and I knew about what she was involved with on Second Life and the celebration was being held by those people she spend not only her work time with, but her free time and for many years more than I knew her.
The room was full and for two hours I stood and listened to so many precious memories of her, her infectious wit and humour, her brilliant and quirky mind, her perchance for misbehaving, and the generosity and kindness she gave without question.
And I heard this from people who loved her dearly.

I didn’t say anything. I was amongst her dearest friends who all knew her for so long, and her was I, and outsider to this community who never had the real opportunity to know her as long as they had.
And what could I possibly say that they didn’t already know of her.

There was another reason though I didn’t say anything.
I was angry.

In my life, I meet a lot of highly creative people. Some have been trained to be creative, some see their creativity as just doing a job, and other think they are creative as they stand on the shoulders of others.
But there are wonderful and very rare moments you meet someone who is a natural.
They exude talent and skill through their skin, and they have this thirst to learn more.
In think in my many years I can count on one hand the number of people I have stumbled across who were so gifted.

What broke my heart the most was she was barely in her mid 20’s. This person so full of life and creativity and passion, now gone.
She enriched everyone she met and made the world a better place to be in, and now the world feels colder and more empty with only memories to hold on to.

And thats why I am angry. She was taken before she could ever realise her full potential.
And I certainly didn’t want my anger to taint those wonderful people who knew and loved her.

So I will simply say this.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if there was one, the idea of you causing chaos and joy to everyone you meet there does comfort me.
It was too short a season for you, but it was wonderful.
Goodbye dear friend.  

Friday, 8 January 2016

Violet Cybernetics goes all shiney....

A first sneak peak at the new all new 2016 Violet Cybernetics line up featuring full materials support and a little look back - 2009 vs 2016

First up - Dark Mech.

And then, Light Mech

Materials.. Okay, I am a convert!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Second Life 2 – Still don’t believe the rumours

Back in July 2014 (18 months ago), the grid went in to uproar when Ebbe Linden stuck his foot in his mouth and let slip that they were developing Second Life 2.
I say stuck his foot in his mouth because not only at this point was SL2 nothing more than words on a scope document with more questions than actions, but also because of the fevered pace of the Second Life userbase’s rumour mill.
At the time, there was hysteria, panic and chicken little style, people running around screaming the Linden Sky is falling.
Ebbe then tried his hardest, with the few items on his wish list, to calm the mass panic down answering questions, and trying to stop the hysteria.
It kind of worked but there has been very little since that time from him officially and quietly in the background, those rumour have persisted and grown stronger.

The results of these hysterial rumours are having a real impact in world. Sales are declining, users are declining and the people who care about SL are now trying to fight back. Recently Firestorm (one of the architects of blurting out that there was an SL2 coming and partly responsible for starting the rumour mill off in the first place) have now started a push to try and either get people back in to SL or get new users to join the grid.

My take on this is more simple. I am going to go back to my historical blog post, and see where we are today – facts... not fiction.

Quoting my original 2014 post “SL2 – Dont Panic”...
“..... SL may have as little as 18 months left” (Referring to the panic bringers comments)

Its 18 months later. Looking around, SL is still here. In fact very little has changed on the grid outside of the persistence of rumours and hysteria.
And where is SL2? Good question. Still in Alpha testing as far as I am aware.
In fact rereading my original blog post over time scales, I screwed up. I based an estimate of a beta at 9-12 months.. Its now 18 months and they still haven’t hit a beta.
Considering this dilated time scale, I would almost be hesitant to say SL2 will be released this year.

Anyhow... I think its time I looked at a few things and gave you a realistic look at why running around with your hair on fire is not a great idea.

SL2 however isn’t the official name of this new grid.
Sansar is the new Grids name.

The Second Life 2 mission statement that Ebbe Linden put out there 18 months ago follows roughly along these lines

“Sansar was to feature a whole new rendering engine – built from scratch. It was going to offer superior graphics and realism. LSL (the programming language of SL) would be replaced by a main stream language like C++ for a more professional approach.  Finally the limited way of creating rigging on SL would be a thing of the past with independent mesh and skeleton uploading being available (which means no more limitations and superior control for creators).”

This mission statements of sorts was written in 2014 and highlights the “Leap forward” Sansar would offer users.
However its 18 months on now and I have to question quite a few things here.

Firstly since that first “foot in mouth” moment, we have learnt the official brand name for SL2 – Sansar. I find that interesting as Second Life is an extremely well known brand name with good recognition out there. For Linden Lab to choose a whole new brand name should hint at the fact this new product is nothing to do with Second Life. In fact the name distances itself from SL.

When it comes to the new rendering engine, Second Life has since 2013 had the ability to run materials  - specular and normals mapping. When it was launched it went down a bit like a damp fart. It was heavy on your graphics card – it made things hard to work with, and caused multiple problems. But, since then, the viewer has been finessed, cleaned, and improved. Add to that the catch up of peoples graphics cards and the arrival of fitted mesh and since launch, more and more people have moved over to using Advanced Lighting Model by default. This is why during 2015, I have put so much effort in to materials support on my products. They make the world more realistic and offer superior graphics.
You only have to look at the new Tartarus Horns to work out how amazing SL is now with the use of materials.
But... you need to ask yourself this.
Sansar probably has an amazing rendering engine. I have seen screen shots and its pretty cool. But with Second Life evolving at such a rapid pace, as creators start putting materials on their products, you have to ask is SL’s lasting legacy of content catching up to Sansar’s standards and with that, is the superior graphics of Sansar ever going to be enough to deal with the sheer volume of slightly lower quality content SL has to offer?

Then there is independent Skeleton and mesh uploading. Until last month, this was a big plus for Sansar. I have looked at wings, or tail, or even heads on SL and wished I had more advanced control options. Other have too, and they have been employing all sorts of hacks and tweeks to get them to work without having to upload huge mesh models and stop frame animation.
However, once again, Second Life is catching up to Sansar. Linden Lab released their official Project Bento last month, and most likely it will be on the grid by Feb 2016.
Bento gives a new series of bones to work with. Fully articulate hands, Wings, Extra arms, Tail and a very well developed face expressions system, with a new animation uploading feature.
Once content creators like myself catch up to this new tech, it will transform the grid all over again.
So another question.
Project Bento is not independent skeleton uploading (although for statement of fact, I believe this was previously looked at as an option and was even developed by Linden Lab for SL as part of the mesh project back in 2012). However the Second Life approach is very smart here with a set of standard rules to work with. Admittedly they have been slow to adopt, usually reacting to naughty creator hacks of the SL skeleton and attachment points more than an effort to improve but... Bento really gives you a massive advantage now, and although not perfect, is extremely good (pending me testing it of course).
Sansar’s independent skeleton uploading gives you the ultimate flexibility to create amazing items. But you have to say that SL’s Project Bento actually gives you more than enough to work with as a creator and will offer probably 90% of what you need from the perspective of independent skeleton uploading.  Is Sansars extra 10% of flexibility really worth it?

The only other thing I pointed out here was C++ as a default programming language. Sure, that would be brilliant on SL, and lets be honest, they could do it if they wanted to. But while LSL is a utter pig to work with and has an infinite list of flaws, the fact is, you can get it to do most of the things you want it to do.

So what conclusions can we draw from this relook at SL2 or as its now known, Sansar.

As another bloggers on this subject pointed out, Linden Lab is a company, not a product. They created Second Life, but they also created many other products over the years, including things like Blocksworld. Linden Lab seem to have made it clear, Sansar is a separate product from Second Life, much like their many other products over the years and indirectly they are distancing Second Life and Sansar. The only thing that can be said is that Sansar is in the same area as Second Life. It could be said its the successor to SL, but only time will tell there.

18 months on from the initial slip up, Sansar is still an embryo. Its a closed world, mostly likely buggy as hell, and still pending the development and design of many of its support systems like groups etc. Thats why its an Alpha test – they haven’t got to the closed beta test stage yet of a working product.
Even when Sansar arrives, it will be a pretender to the throne that is Second Life.
I am not going to mince my words here. Sansar follows in the foot steps of many other virtual world clones of Second Life, some of which were light years ahead of Second Life in the technical department. And they effectively failed to dethrone the ruler of virtual worlds which is Second Life.

Second Life is Linden Labs bread and butter. Its their most profitable product outright. When the “doom bringers” and “Chicken Littles” out there scream that that Second Life has months to live, they are talking rubbish. Anyone in business knows if you have something, you don’t kill it in favour of something new. Linden Lab has shareholders to answer to and I doubt they would be so insane as to kill their most profitable business in favour of the idea of opening something cooler (if devoid of users, sims, creators and content).

There has been talk in some areas that Sansar will cannibalise the remains of SL when it arrives. This is yet another misinformed, misguided and idiotic statement. However the idea may not be far fetched if utterly wrong.
I have been thinking about Sansar a great deal since my original post on the subject and I have been watching the technical developments on SL. The past is a great teller of the future, and putting the idea of previous pretenders trying to takes SL’s crown in the past, and failing totally I have come to a prediction.

Sansar will launch, there will be limited interest in it. However Second Life thanks to the content and user base will continue to be the dominant product. Eventually Sansar will be deemed a commercial failure – how long it will take Linden Lab to realise this is another matter. However focus will return to Second Life again, and in the end, Second Life will cannibalise Sansar, picking the best features and technology from Sansar and integrating it in to Second Life.

Sorry Linden Lab, but it has to be said, you still don’t understand Second Life or why its successful.
As Linden Lab, you provide the sims, the viewers and the tools to create a virtual world. However it is the communities, the people who use Second Life, and the creators who invest their time and effort in to creating products that make what Second Life is. Without them, Second Life would be... well, Sansar. Empty, devoid of anything.
And irony here, the reasons people would possibly consider moving to Sansar grow smaller every day as Second Life catches up to the technical aspirations of Sansar.

There is one final thing to bring up though to hopefully quash the rumour mill.
The statement is Linden Lab will kill SL and replace it with Sansar. Everything people have in the SL inventory will be lost, all their investment will be lost.
In the last 18 months, Second Life has evolved, changed and improved. Linden Lab are releasing new features and improvement every week or two, and large projects on the grid, like Project Bento are still happening.
In addition, Linden Lab are investing in Advertising SL to new users, they are creating new user “portal” points, and trying to get new users in to this world.
If you have given up on a product, you don’t do these things.

Maybe in another year or 18 months I will post up another blog post about this subject.
As far as I can see though, my predictions were right about NOT PANICING!
SL is still here, growing more technically advanced and is still the undisputed king of virtual worlds.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Its Been a Long Road... and Still Travelling

Summer 2009 I was tinkering with prims, learning the art of making things with Akemi, and I said to her “you know, I could build some horns.”
So I did and the very first horns I came up with were Temptress and Prometheus.
It seems so long ago now – six years.
In that time, Second Life has changed and so have my products. From the release of my basic colour change system, Unlimited 1 to Unlimited 2 which improved things even more, to Unlimited 3, giving utter control over the products. Each stage was a leap forward.
But some things didn’t change. Namely the horns themselves – underneath everything, they were the same products as I designed back in 2009, and with as many texture and technology changes I have made, under it all, the same primitive objects remained.

Summer 2015. I was tinkering with mesh in the lab and I decided to do some experimentation with Materials.
Now, many people don’t get what materials are. The truth is, we have always had materials of sorts. You will know them better as “Shine” and “Bumpiness”. On this level though they were basic and you ended up with a polished surface, or with sculpts a surface that showed off the irregularities in the structures.
Materials are simply ways of adding detail to what should be a flat surface, and shine to highlight things. However the Advanced Lighting Model Materials are very different. No preset choices here. You create your own.
Anyhow, back to tinkering, and I decided to test out putting custom materials on to my Prometheus Horns. First lesson learnt was don’t do it. My sim unexpected threw a fit and the horns vanished.
After trying to work out what had happened I learnt that there is a limitation with Materials. They do not like Torus prims – which also happens to be exactly what horns use.
To give you an idea, Prometheus is a complex set of horns – 250 prims. By putting materials settings on to just one prim on the horns, the land impact went from 250, to over 12,500. And they were then instantly returned... and also I did manage to return a many items from my sim too... oops.

This meant one simple thing – in order to get materials on to my horns, I was going to have to change my horns to mesh construction.
This process hasn’t been easy – reworking every set of horns I have created over the years has proved to be something of a nightmare and something I have been doing on and off since this summer.

During this process has come a whole new design style too.
Many of the Torus metal “Sleeves” that were prevalent on my products has now been replaced with advanced gem sleeves.
Going through each set of horns, where necessary I have reworked the items, improved the structures of the mesh to make them smoother and more integrated, and I have even introduced a new U3 option for Two tone designs.
But the reason for all this work was integrating materials on to them.

The results... well, that is breath taking.
Comparatively speaking, my horns have always been market leaders, although in recent years, they have struggled against their more advanced competitors.
The Reworked Tartarus Generation of Horns has brought our products back up to the very top of their game and once again, Violet Studios horns are some of the finest on SL.

However you have seen the "Long Road" pictures... make your own mind up...

Always working to improve things, always understanding the jobs never done.