High Fidelity: September update and things to come

HF-logoThe September newsletter from High Fidelity appeared at the end of that month, with Chris Collins highlighting some of the work that has been going on of late, providing an update on particle effects, procedural textures and – most interestingly – avatar kinematics and in-world object manipulation using an avatar’s hands and via suitable controllers.

Procedural textures allow for complex, algorithm based textures to be created using tools such as ShaderToy and used directly within High Fidelity. Brad Davis has created a video tutorial on procedural entities which Chris references in the newsletter, the write-up also follows a short video released on the High Fidelity  you Tube channel which briefly demonstrates procedural textures in HiFi.

However, it is the object manipulation that’s likely to get the most attention, together with avatar kinematics and attempts to imply a force when moving an object.

In terms of avatar kinematics, Chris notes:

In 2016, when the consumer versions of the HMD’s are released, you are also going to be using a hand controller. It is therefore important that we can make your avatar body simulate correct movement with the hand data that we receive back from the controllers.

The results are shown in the newsletter in the form of  some animated GIFs. In the first, Chris’ avatar is shown responding to a Hydra controller for hand movements and echoing his jaw movements. The second demonstrates object manipulation, with Chris’ avatar using its hand to pick up a block from an in-world game, echoing Chris’ motions using a hand-held controller.

Manipulating in-world objects in High Fidelity via an avatar's hands and a set of controllers (image: High Fidelity)

Manipulating in-world objects in High Fidelity via an avatar’s hands and a set of controllers (image: High Fidelity)

The animation in picking up the block may not be entire accurate at this point in time – the block seems to travel through the avatar’s thumb as the wrist is rotated – but that isn’t what matters. The level of manipulation is impressive, and it’ll be interesting to see if this might be matched with things like feedback through a haptic style device, so that users can really get a sense of manipulating objects.

The object manipulation element, together with attempts to imply a force when moving objects in-world which make up a core part of the video accompanying the newsletter (and which is embedded below). Again, this really is worth watching, as the results are both impressive, and illustrate some of the problems High Fidelity are trying to solve in order to give virtual spaces greater fidelity.

Coupling object manipulation with implied force opens up a range of opportunities for things like in-world games, physical activities, puzzles, and so on. There’s also potential for learning and teaching as well, so it’ll be interesting to see how this aspect of the work develops.

The newsletter also promises that we’ll be seeing some further VR demo videos from High Fidelity in October, so keep an eye out for those as well.

Fearsome valleys, spiritual battles and caped crusaders

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous story-telling in voice, brought to our virtual lives by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, October 4th, 13:30: Tea time at Baker Street

The Valley of Fear, The Strand Magazine, 1915. Illustration by Frank Wiles

The Valley of Fear, The Strand Magazine, 1915. Illustration by Frank Wiles

He sat with his mouth full of toast and his eyes sparkling with mischief, watching my intellectual entanglement. The mere sight of his excellent appetite was an assurance of success; for I had very clear recollections of days and nights without a thought of food, when his baffled mind had chafed before some problem while his thin, eager features became more attenuated with the asceticism of complete mental concentration. Finally he lit his pipe, and sitting in the inglenook of the old village inn he talked slowly and at random about his case, rather as one who thinks aloud than as one who makes a considered statement.

“A lie, Watson—a great, big, thumping, obtrusive, uncompromising lie—that’s what meets us on the threshold! There is our starting point. The whole story told by Barker is a lie. But Barker’s story is corroborated by Mrs. Douglas. Therefore she is lying also. They are both lying, and in a conspiracy. So now we have the clear problem. Why are they lying, and what is the truth which they are trying so hard to conceal? Let us try, Watson, you and I, if we can get behind the lie and reconstruct the truth.

“How do I know that they are lying? Because it is a clumsy fabrication which simply could not be true. Consider! According to the story given to us, the assassin had less than a minute after the murder had been committed to take that ring, which was under another ring, from the dead man’s finger, to replace the other ring—a thing which he would surely never have done—and to put that singular card beside his victim. I say that this was obviously impossible.

“You may argue—but I have too much respect for your judgement, Watson, to think that you will do so—that the ring may have been taken before the man was killed. The fact that the candle had been lit only a short time shows that there had been no lengthy interview. Was Douglas, from what we hear of his fearless character, a man who would be likely to give up his wedding ring at such short notice, or could we conceive of his giving it up at all? No, no, Watson, the assassin was alone with the dead man for some time with the lamp lit. Of that I have no doubt at all.

So it is that Sherlock Holmes has concluded that there is far more to the murder of John Douglas than meets the eye. Forewarned by Porlock, an agent ostensibly in the employ of criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty but given to supplying Holmes with information on the latter, that Douglas was in mortal danger, Holmes and Watson had travelled to Birlstone village in Sussex. Only they arrive too late to save the unfortunate man.

But what has his death to do with Moriarty? And why should Barker and Mrs Douglas lie about events? The mystery deepens as Caledonia Skytower, Kayden Oconnell and John Morland as they continue to read The Valley of Fear, the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel.

Monday October 5th, 19:00: A Night in the Lonesome October

The Seanchai staff are marking the arrival and passage of the Halloween month with readings of Roger Zelazy’s A Night in the Lonesome October. The latter is the last of Zelazy’s published works, and 31 of its 32 chapters (the first being an introductory chapter) each take place on a night in October.

Lonesome OctoberThe book is satirical in nature, and is written in the first person – the narrator being Snuff the dog, the companion of none other than Jack the Ripper.

Once every few decades, when the moon is full on the night of Halloween, the fabric of reality thins, and doors may be opened between this world and the realm of the Great Old Ones.

At this time, men and women with occult knowledge gather at a certain location to engage in The Game – an attempt by some to open the doors, and others to hold them closed. Should the Openers ever win the game, the Great Old Ones will come to Earth, remake it in their own images and enslave or slaughter the human race in the process.

Thus, through the month of October, the Players in The Game – all archetypal characters from Victorian Era Gothic fiction – form alliances, make deals, oppose one another, and even resort to murder in their attempts to make sure the doors are ready to be opened or can be held fast when, on the night of October 31st, the final ritual takes place and the fate of the world is decided.

Tuesday October 6th,19:00 The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid

Thunderbolt KidKayden Oconnell reads from Bill Bryson’s memoirs of his childhood, growing up in Iowa in the 1950s. However, given this is Bill Bryson, these are no ordinary memoirs.

Born into an era when “automobiles and televisions and appliances (not to mention nuclear weapons) grew larger and more numerous with each passing year, and DDT, cigarettes, and the fallout from atmospheric testing were considered harmless or even good for you”, the young Bryson held a daydream typical of so many American youngsters of the time: to be a superhero.

For Bryson, this meant spending time wearing a football jersey emblazoned with a lightning bolt together with a towel for a cape whilst spending time righting imaginary wrongs, overcoming evil-doers, travelling faster than a speeding bullet and leaping tall buildings in a single bound and being known as The Thunderbolt Kid.

And it is through the eyes of this childhood alter ego that Bryson allows us to witness his home and family life as he grew up in 1950s Des Moines.

Wednesday October 7th 19:00: Serafina and the Black Cloak

serafinaCaledonia Skytower continues reading of Robert Beatty’s spooky mystery thriller.

Serafina lives a life of total secrecy. While her father may be the maintenance man for the great house of the Biltmore Estate, the wealthy owners of the estate have no idea that he lives in the basement of the house – and much less that his daughter lives there with him.

Not that this is a problem for Serafina; she is quite at home exploring the great house and its grounds whilst avoiding being seen. There’s certainly no need for her to venture into the great forest beyond the estate, and with which, he father has said, lie many dangers.

But when the children on the estate start vanishing, Serafina is forced to join forces with the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners, and discover the identity of the one they believe to be behind the disappearances: the Man in the Black Cloak. But in order to do so, Serafina must enter the forest her father has warned her against; and within that forest lies a deeper secret Serafina must confront – that of her own identity.

Thursday, October 8th 19:00: Quietly Creeping

With Shandon Loring.

Also This Week

  • Seanchai Library is participating in the Good Reads Hunt.  To get started, visit the Good Reads starting point at Literature Alive!/Desi’s Gifts and Prints
  • Don’t forget to visit the Five Irish Haunts panels at Seanchai Library to discover something about ghosts and hauntings!


Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule. The featured charity for August / September is Water for People, “When one person or one family has clean, accessible water, their lives are changed. But when entire regions and countries have water, the world is changed.”

Additional Links

Amidst the Ironwood Hills in Second Life

Ironwood Hills; Inara Pey, October 2015, on Flickr Ironwood Hills (Flickr) – click any image for full size

While it draws its inspiration from further afield than Halloween, a visit to Ironwood Hills is nevertheless in keeping with the time of the year, offering as it does a suitably dark and atmospheric place for exploration and investigation.

The work of Cyrus Knight (josman2088) and Jestyr Knight (Zeke Jestyr), the region offers a range of environments, all linked by a common post-apocalyptic theme, with plenty of photographic opportunities (with rezzing available), all of which is loosely based on Silent Hill.

Ironwood Hills; Inara Pey, October 2015, on Flickr Ironwood Hills (Flickr) – click any image for full size

This is a forever twilight place, where the sky is leaden, the streets wreathed in shadow and subject to the encroachments of nature. It is a town that has seen better days, still held thrall to whatever has befallen it. Quite what that might be is hard to determine, but the wailing of sirens tends to suggest something destructive, as does the ruined state of some of the buildings. similarly, the distant sounds of fairground music tends to suggest most of the locals departed in a hurry.

Or perhaps some remained. Certainly, when walking the cracked, darkened streets under the few still-working lamps, it is possible to come across echoes of childish laughter, which is not entirely comforting in its tone. Turn a corner here or there, and you may even come across a youngster, perhaps playing hopscotch and strangely indifferent to your presence…

Ironwood Hills; Inara Pey, October 2015, on Flickr Ironwood Hills (Flickr) – click any image for full size

Signs of what seems to have been a panicked exodus (or some other upheaval) can be found elsewhere as well: a police car smashed into a fire hydrant, a taxi lying in the local river the local river, the wreck of a truck on the edge of town, victim of an altercation with a tree.

Just when all this occurred is hard to assess. On the one hand, that power still flows through part of the town, allowing street lights to offer some illumination and signs to flicker weakly, offers a suggestion that the calamity is only recently passed. On the other, however, the state of the local vegetation and the way it is encroaching on roads, buildings and vehicles, suggests a fair amount of time has passed since whatever transpired here.

Beyond the town, with its church and drive-in theatre, baseball court and the rest, lay much more to explore. Cross the bridge, for example, and you’ll come to a partially flooded fairground. Perhaps the water here is the result of some natural disaster. Travel further afield, and other things might be brought to light – but I’ll leave these for you to discover.

Ironwood Hills; Inara Pey, October 2015, on Flickr Ironwood Hills (Flickr) – click any image for full size

This is a design which makes excellent use of the space available at ground level within a region to present an environment rich in content. So much so that given the ambient lighting and the care put into the design, it is possible to miss things if limiting yourself to just a casual visit. So be sure yo take your time and that your follow all the footpaths, roads, tracks and trails you come across, or you’ll never know where they might lead or what might await discovery.

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Microsoft acquires Havok, the Second Life physics engine

Haovk: acquired by Microsoft

Haovk: acquired by Microsoft

News has been spreading about Microsoft’s acquisition of the Havok physics engine from Intel for an undisclosed sum.

Ciaran Laval was perhaps the first SL blogger to report the news, which has been featured on the likes of the IGN website, Engadget, Venture Beat’s Gamesbeat, and other on-line tech news outlets.

For those unfamiliar with Havok, it is it the physics engine that drives a vast number of computer and console games. It allows these games to simulate effects such as gravity, friction, collisions between objects and other natural forces, without the need for them to be individually coded and accounted for on a per-game basis.

Within Second Life, Havok is used for the purposes of physics simulation, and Havok sub-libraries licensed by the Lab are also used in such aspects of the platform as pathfinding (remember that?) and the official mesh uploader.

As well as being used for in-world physics, Havok libraires are also used within the official viewer (and TPVs which have signed a sub-licence agreement) to handle aspects of pathfinding and mesh uploads (shown here)

As well as being used for in-world physics, Havok libraries are also used within the official viewer (and TPVs which have signed a sub-licence agreement) to handle aspects of pathfinding and mesh uploads (shown here)

Microsoft has been a Havok partner for a number of years, and as a part of the acquisition has promised to allow developers elsewhere to continue to use it, stating:

Havok is an amazing technology supplier in the games industry and the leading real-time physics creator. We saw an opportunity to acquire Havok to deliver great experiences for our fans. Throughout the company’s history, they’ve partnered with Activision, EA, Ubisoft, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and many others to create more than 600 games including Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Destiny, Dark Souls and The Elder Scrolls.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Havok continues our tradition of empowering developers by providing them with the tools to unleash their creativity to the world.   We will continue to innovate for the benefit of development partners.

But, if a long-term partner with Havok, why take the step of purchasing it outright? Jeff Grubb, over at Gamesbeat takes a lead from a part of Microsoft’s announcement of the acquisition, to suggest the company are looking a the potential for cloud-based physics capabilities within multi-player games, as recently demonstrated in the upcoming Crackdown 3 sandbox-style third-person shooter title:

For that open-world crime game’s multiplayer mode, Microsoft is enabling players to go in and destroy skyscrapers and everything else in the world. That mode is only possible through the power of Azure, which means Crackdown 3 developers Sumo Digital and Cloudgine are building a cloud-based destruction engine that probably runs on Havok. Once that’s built, and now that Microsoft owns Havok, it could potentially license that destruction engine out to other developers.

In August, IGN had a demonstration of these capabilities within Crackdown 3, and the results are impressive:

It’s unlikely the Microsoft’s acquisition of Havok will have any immediate or medium-term inpact on Second Life. As it is, the platform currently uses the Havok  2011.2, and so far as has been indicated at various in-world meetings, there are no public plans to update the engine at the moment. Longer-term, it will be interesting to see if / how any new / additional capabilities brought to the engine might come to be deployed in Second Life and / or “Project Sansar” (assuming Havok might be the physics engine used with that platform, something that the Lab has not as yet revealed).