Alts: a public service announcement

I am okay with her.  :)

Dear friends and potential friends and casual acquaintances and minions and potential minions: I am okay with your alts.

If you’re out on the grid as an alt that I don’t know, and we happen to run into each other at a club or something, casually, and even get to talking for whatever reason, it’s okay if you’d rather not tell me that you’re the alt of someone I know. You don’t need to worry, to feel guilty, to run off as soon as you see me to avoid having to tell me who you are, or anything like that.

Of course if you want to tell me, if the knowledge imbalance would feel too strange, or if you just feel that it’s polite, that’s fine too; it would make me happy that you cared enough to worry about it. And if you didn’t tell me, there would be a knowledge imbalance, you would know something relevant to me that I wouldn’t know. But that’s okay, I don’t mind knowledge imbalances now and then. I like to take things as they happen to come to me. And in fact you’ll find that I will tend to treat you and your alt as different people even if you do tell me, because, well, they seem to be different people to me. :)

I am not okay with anyone using an alt maliciously, toward me or anyone else, but I know you wouldn’t do that. You are nice. And I know some people are not really okay with friends having alts that interact with them and they don’t know that they are alts, and I can understand that, and I don’t mean to be criticizing them for that. I’m just saying, as a public service, for the next time the situation arises, that I personally am perfectly okay with it.

And the time this other friend IMd me from an alt, and told me that she was an alt, and challenged me to guess who of, that was good fun too. :)

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FPSage

Speaking of Blue Mars (see previous post), the reason I can run it at a bearable frames-per-second now is that I did get that Birthday Laptop that I was doing research for the other month.
PowerPro 15:3
I didn’t get either of the Alienwares, or the Sager that I was considering. Instead I got a PowerPro 15:3 (which that there is a picture of one of). I called up Power Notebooks to order the Sager, in fact, and the guy on the phone convinced me that the PowerPro (their own house brand) was a better machine for the money when you took everything into account.

And it is quite the screaming little machine (I say modestly). Intel Core2 Duo P9700 running at 2.8Ghz, 4GB of RAM, 64-bit Vista (and I really hope the rumors about having to reinstall everything after upgrading to Windows 7 aren’t true, sigh), and an nvidia GTS 160M video card. I get at least 20 fps (usually quite a bit more) all over SL, 15-40 fps in Blue Mars, like 50-60 fps in WoW (even in downtown Dalaran!), etc, etc. And if I do it very long the bottom of the machine gets hot enough to make tea. :)

And it has a big huge half-terabyte hard drive, so I’ve been installing all sorts of things that I’d moved off of the prior laptop’s always-full hard drive, like The Sims 2, and I’ve also installed The Sims 3 which I got for my birthday in addition to the laptop, as well as the Emerald viewer for SL and pretty much anything else that springs to mind. I even installed Bryce 4 yesterday because I happened to run across the CDs while searching for something else. :) I’m probably not going to get a whole lot of use out of a ten-year-old 3D modelling package, but hey it’s only a couple of GB, so why not?

So anyway, I’m all happy and spoiled, tech-wise. Not to mention, old!

Blue Mars: hup hup hup!

Dale Running in Blue Mars, with silver hair

There’s a patch out for the Blue Mars beta client, so I applied it and went in again. I changed my look a little; like the silver hair? :)

It was a very small patch; not much has changed. There’s a round non-watery floor over the central part of the landing area (although you can still walk out into the moving water if you want to). And (as I was able to verify when I ran into Eladrienne Laval and Phineas Messmer who were also exploring around) women now have some clothing that goes below the knees (although the unchangeable and rather eye-rolling female animations are still the same).

We also discovered that draw distance for avatars is much smaller than draw distance for buildings and terrain. (I’ll speculate that in general draw distance for dynamic, as opposed to pre-installed, objects is going to turn out to be much smaller.) So although you can see ‘way off into distant vistas, you’ll only be able to see people who are relatively nearby. (In fact after a few more running paces, the person that you see at the base of the bridge in the picture there suddenly vanished, even though they were actually still there.)

Which seems like it could be awfully freaking confusing, but we’ll see how it turns out once there’s some actual content to play around with.

Yet more made things!

Yet More Made Things!

I taught the ThingMaker about cylinders (hence the PacMan shapes, from cutting cylinders) and about sort of vaguely monochromatic color schemes (hence the orange one upper-left, the first time that code got exercised).

Woot yay. :)

A next thing to work on: teach it about things that aren’t quite so circularly symmetrical…

Thoughts from Thoughts from Burning Man

I’ve been not paying much attention to the Web around Second Life lately (RL has been crazy, and I’ve barely had time to get into SL itself). In catching up a bit today, I ran across Philip Linden’s post Thoughts from Burning Man, and couldn’t help but comment.

Executive summary: Second Life has certain good things in common with the Burning Man festival. Philip says that Second Life has to change radically (whereas apparently Burning Man doesn’t). Why is that, exactly?

So I’m gonna be a contrarian here for a minute, at least.

Burning Man was a big part of the inspiration for Second Life, and some of what’s special about Second Life is also some of what’s special about Burning Man.

But, you say, the two are very different.

Burning Man has always been comparatively small and comparatively hard to get to, and you don’t have a problem with that; or at least I don’t see you saying that you think it would be improved if there were convenient shuttle-bus service, and the place was expanded enough that millions of people could attend.

On the other hand, you say that Second Life must “get a lot bigger”. It must change in fundamental ways. The changes will be disruptive and painful. Things that we love now must be swept away by tides of progress, so that Second Life can become more palatable to “hundreds of millions”.

I’ll bite: why?

The other possibility, which has been mentioned only very indirectly here, is that Second Life should stay as it is; or rather, should continue changing as it has. As an open and freewheeling place, driven by Resi ideas rather than marketing plans, friendly to the odd and the creative, chaotic and ugly in spots, confusing in places, mystifying, annoying, disturbingly lovely in places. All those things that the shopping mall down the street is most definitely and intentionally NOT.

I think, and maybe I’m naive to think it, that in fact if SL continues that way, without being pushed into an “all things to all people, easy and safe and bland” direction, that it would turn out that the hundreds of millions *would* in fact eventually come. Come not as passive sheep going toward whatever looks safe and familiar and was recommended by a celebrity on TV last night, but come as hundreds of millions of creative individuals, creative as every truly engaged individual is who either creates directly, or acts as a creative viewer, contributing their own thoughts and feelings and trails through the world.

By all means let’s make SL something that will appeal to and benefit the hundreds of millions. But let’s do it by allowing SL to be what it is, not by killing the magic that makes it special. If SL becomes accessible to the hundreds of millions by becoming dull, by becoming something that advertising agencies link to bikini-clad models on prime-time TV, by becoming bland and easy and undisturbing and nonconfusing, we will have wasted a huge opportunity. Might as well have made yet another soft drink or TV drama, rather than a whole new world.

Burning Man would not benefit from being opened to, and made “accessible” to, hundreds of millions of people in the obvious ways.

Do you, do we, really think that Second Life would?

And as always, I would love to hear your thoughts…

Dale Visits Blue Mars

Finally all trace of the NDA was scrubbed from the website registration and the installer, and I was able to get into the Blue Mars Beta! I wasn’t able to get there for very long, because RL has been amazingly busy suddenly with work stuff, and college starting, and computers needing upgrade and replacement, and driving children around, and so on, but I think I got enough for a weblog entry. :)

The first message is that you should not go to Blue Mars expecting to compare it, in its present form, to Second Life, or WoW, or anything else. It’s still very much in Beta, and the only reason to go there at this stage is to be a beta-tester, help them try out their software under load, push buttons and tell them if anything breaks, get an early view of a new virtual place, and like that. In terms of actual user experience and the state of the world, there’s nothing there yet that isn’t already done better in Second Life. Which isn’t to say that there won’t be eventually; just go in with the appropriate expectations.

One thing that isn’t there yet is avatar customization. Here’s the current Dale Innis:

Dale in Blue Mars

Bland boy in bland clothes.

Here I am talking to friend GoSpeed, who has been in the Beta quite a bit longer, and has posted at least one very nice posting on it.

Dale in Blue Mars, with GoSpeed

She is showing me around New Venice, which is a very nice build. (All of the current Blue Mars was built by professionals, and it’s quite well-done and pretty, although none of it is at the level of, say, Pteron in SL.)

Note the multi-colored chat balloons. I hate them. :) And so does everyone else in the beta, if the forums are any indication.

One funny quirky thing: as I said, AV customization is quite limited, and there are very few clothes available (it is a beta after all), but there is a tool that lets you draw colored smudges all over your face! Here I am putting a purple glow on my forehead.

Dale in Blue Mars; glowing face spot!

Drama-wise, I’ve noticed two Controversial Issues in Blue Mars already.

First, in a discussion of how non-humans AVs might work in BM, some troll posted a nasty anti-furry comment, and it’s still there. It’s not clear to what extent the BM folks are actually monitoring the forums at all. They hardly ever post there, and for that matter they don’t post to their own weblog much. Their main means of communication seems to be Twitter, which is very Web 2.0 and all :) but a little odd.

And second, there’ve been a few small things which, while harmless enough in themselves, are raising the worry that, where SL was inspired by Burning Man, Blue Mars might turn out to be inspired by, say, FMH. :)

The initial female animations are painfully quasi-sexy and simpering, and the initial male ones annoyingly strutty. BM announced the addition of skimpy bikinis to the female default clothing set as though it were an important new advance. And then we hear of the occasional appearance of swarms of NPC groupies around some male players, scantily clad and saying dumb things (see for instance this SLUniverse posting).

I do hope that this is just a coincidence of anomalies, and not an indication of the guiding spirit inside Blue Mars HQ.

So anyway! :) That’s the summary. In terms of actual beta feedback, here’s what I wrote on the Blue Mars forum. (I’m not linking to things on the forums, because many of you probably haven’t signed up there, and wouldn’t be able to follow the links.) Warning: it’s long!


Background: I’m a heavy SL user, moderate WoW user, don’t play any modern graphic-intensive FPS type games. Just got into Blue Mars tonight (because I’d been waiting until all trace of the NDA was scrubbed from the registration process!).

As far as content, there’s not much to do but wander around and help beta-test by letting the AR team watch things not crashing. :) But that’s expected since it’s the beta an’ all. I look forward to seeing what sorts of things start to appear once content creators start creating content. I might even sign up for that myself, once *that* NDA is lifted.

Feedback on game mechanics and stuff (none of which will be new, I suspect):

Really really slow, even with the highspec.cfg trick, setting the number down to 1. I’d estimate 3-5 FPS at best. This machine is probably slightly underpowered for Blue Mars: Vista with a mere 3GB of RAM, AMD Athlon 7450 Dual-Core running at 2.4GHz, NVIDIA GeForce 8200. I’ve got a more muscular machine (4GB of RAM, Intel® Core™2 Duo P9700 at 2.8GHz, NVIDIA 160M) coming next week; things will I hope be smoother there.

The chat bubbles are just annoying; get rid of them, or at the very least let me get rid of them as an option. I’m surprised that these survived the closed beta; I haven’t seen anyone say they like them. The scrolling text window should (therefore) definitely not be called “Bubble chat”. And it should scroll more reliably; mine tends to stop autoscrolling for no obvious reason, so I can’t tell what anyone’s said recently unless I manually scroll to the bottom (at which point it starts autoscrolling for awhile, until it randomly stops again). Even when it is autoscrolling, it sometimes randomly doesn’t show me the last line or two of text. And there should be at least the option to log all chat (and whispers, when we get whispers) to disk; those of us with awful memories rely heavily on that. :)

All the avatars look like very slight variations on the same person. Even the male and female avatars look like fraternal twins! Very much like Twinity (last time I tried Twinity) that way. The face sliders have a very limited range, and there seems to be only one face texture (with the different “races” being different shadings of that same texture?). I suspect that what’s happened here is that someone is very concerned that people not be able to make “weird looking” faces by having more extreme sliders, and that the result is that everyone looks like clones. That should of course be fixed. We need real control over faces, and even (ooh!) body shapes, and we need tons more default clothes and accessories. Don’t obsess about people making funny-looking AVs; that’s part of the fun!

On the other hand I’m *very* amused that we have a tool that lets us make multi-colored smudges all over our faces. What is up with that? I love it in that I can now have a glowing purple spot in the center of my forehead, but it seems like a rather weird thing to have in the beta, given how many other things that I’d consider more important are missing. But hey I like quirks. :)

The little chirp every time you start moving has GOT to go. Both for arrow-key walking and for click-to-move walking. It’s just maddening. I actually like the click-to-move model, but it could use some intelligent pathing. Right now the algorithm seems to be “walk directly toward the destination, and if you hit any kind of obstacle, give up”. I expect that can be improved.

The fact that the camera doesn’t move when the AV moves is weird; feels like The Sims. Having to move my AV, and then move my camera as a separate step, feels awkward and like alot of work (although click-to-move helps somewhat there). And stop the AVs from staring into the camera all the time! I’m gonna have nightmares tonight. And speaking of nightmares: the AVs should (1) actually blink, at a reasonably realistic rate (rather than staring constantly with the occasional creepy squint), and (2) stop twitching around constantly like they need a bio-break! (Oh, and although I’ve seen quite a few complaints about the default slutty female animations, the male walk is infinitely dorky also; please fix.)

Make more use of mouseovers. It’s very nice that mousing over a usable things causes it to glow (reminds me of Metaplace), but it would be nice if there was hovertext giving you some hint about what will happen when you click on it. In SL, I always have “tips on all objects” turned on, and it’s very useful.

Some of the builds are really beautiful, but I’m worried that the “download every city that you visit to your hard disk, in its entirety” model isn’t going to scale. In fact it can’t scale. So you’re going to have to do something else, and I’m wondering what that something else will be, and how it will change the experience.

All the social amenities are missing, and needed, as everyone else has said. I want to be able to tell who is who, I want whispers, I want profiles (with a page that I can write on, please, and give that page more data capacity than it has in SL!), I want a friends list that shows me which ones are currently online, etc, etc. This is all Known Art, and BM should just have it as a matter of course. No need to reinvent it, or do it differently than everyone else just for the sake of difference. And I recommend against leaving it to each city builder to do separately, because then they will be confusingly different, and won’t work well between cities.

Walking / jogging everywhere is slow and tedious. I’d like to be able to fly, but if that’s too SL-ish for you :) give us motorbikes or medium-distance teleportation or something. I found this thing in New Venice that showed me a map and let me mouse over things to see points of interest, but as far as I could figure out the only way to get to any of those points of interest would have been on foot, and would have required somehow not getting lost. And that wasn’t going to happen! (I never did find the water taxi; maybe tomorrow.) Click-to-teleport would have been very nice (maybe it was there and I just didn’t find it?).

Need maps, both world-size and mini (both SL and WoW have these, and that’s because they’re useful). Need to be able to see where other people are, ’cause people like to find people (or to avoid them!). Need to be able to talk while dancing, for heaven’s sake! :)

I’m still not sure what Blue Mars will turn out to be *for*, and I suspect even the devs don’t really know. But that’s okay; it’s a platform, and as long as it’s flexible enough, it will have a good chance of finding one or more purposes and one or more ecological niches.

It should be interesting!

Over (and under) the Bounding Main

The caption on a lovely Callipygian Christensen snapzilla photo the other day reminded me of the Steampunk Hunt, and I actually managed to find a little time to spend on it. As Calli says, the exploring of new places is at least half the pleasure of the hunt.

Some of these Victorian Steampunk builds are really lovely, both in conception and in execution. I could take tons of impressive pictures and deluge you with them, but instead I’m gonna show off one particular theme that I ran across, and just loved. The theme is, essentially, what one might do with a region that has little or no land. (Besides, say, sailing around in it, which is lots of fun, but a little obvious.)

First picture:

Armada Breakaway

This is Armada Breakaway, the same region that Calli’s picture shows. I love the motif here: a city built entirely on a ragtag collection of boats and rafts and blimps and ramps, walkways, piers and docks, with essentially no actual land; the trees to the left there are growing in a “park” that’s housed in a pair of boat hulls. This is a snap of just part of the sim, cammed quite a ways up. (I’m standing on the large ship more or less in the lower center, but I’m just a few pixels.)

Then another region on the Steam Hunt, also steampunk and also almost entirely without land above water, but otherwise very different from Armada: Vernian Deep. (Took me awhile to make the connection to Jules!)

It’s a really lovely build, full of atmosphere and detail. Here I am standing in a long corridor way down in the depths:

Vernian Deep, in the depths

Almost the entire sim is under water, full of ramshackle buildings constructed from wrecks and debris and sunken diving bells, and also at least one elegant conservatory full of art and comfort, sitting elegantly on the ocean bottom among the octopi.

There are two things (that I noticed) up above the waves in Vernian Deep. I won’t tell you about the larger one, so you can have the fun of discovering it yourself. :) Here’s the other one:

Vernian Deep, above water

A mysterious retrotech building; reminds me of Myst in a way. In fact Myst and the rather steampunk D’ni, with their gleaming brass and elaborate decorations, are well within this general space. (Except for the being-entirely-underwater part; the D’ni are obsessed with islands instead.)

So anyway those are two extremely cool places. :) And the Steam Hunt promises to take me through quite a few more.

I do love SL…