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Amazon Lumberyard

Image source: Amazon

Image source: Amazon

Lumberyard is the name of Amazon’s new game engine, released on Tuesday, February 9th. Based on Crytek’s CryEngine, which Amazon licensed in 2015, Lumberyard will apparently be developed in its own direction, independently of CryEngine and is being provided as a free-to-download tool (with optional asset packs) which can be used to develop games for PCs and consoles on a “no seat fees, subscription fees, or requirements to share revenue” basis.

Instead, Amazon will monetise Lumberyard through the use of AWS cloud computing. If you use the game engine for your own game and opt to run it on your own server, then that’s it: no fees. But if you want to distribute through a third-party provider, you can only use Amazon’s services, via either GameLift, a managed service for deploying, operating, and scaling server-based on-line games using AWS at a cost of $1.50 per 1,000 daily active users.Or, if you prefer you can use AWS directly, at normal AWS service rates.

Lumberyard (image: Amazon)

Lumberyard includes a customisable drag-and-drop UI (image: Amazon)

As well as AWS integration and the development of new low-latency networking code to support it, and native C++ access to its service, Lumberyard has deep, built-in support for Twitch (purchased by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million), including “Twitch play”-style chat commands and a function called JoinIn, which allows viewers to leap directly into on-line games alongside Twitch broadcasters as they stream. The aim here, according to Mike Frazzini, vice president of Amazon Games, when talking to Gamasutra, is “creating experiences that embrace the notion of a player, broadcaster, and viewer all joining together.”

Described as a triple-A games development engine, Lumberyard has already seen many of the CryEngine systems upgraded or replaced, including the implementation of an entirely new asset pipeline and processor and low-latency networking code – hence why Lumberyard will diverge from CryEngine’s core development.  And Amazon is promising more to come, including a new component system and particle editor and  CloudCanvas, which will allow developers to set up server-based in-game events in AWS using visual scripting.

"Alien Abode" a game scene rendered in Lumberjack (:image: Amazon)

“Alien Abode” a game scene rendered in Lumberyard (:image: Amazon)

All of which adds-up to a very powerful games development environment – although Amazon are clear that right now, it is only in beta. This means that things are liable to undergo tweaking, etc., and that some capabilities – such as Oculus Rift support – haven’t been enabled for the current version of the engine.However, VR support is there, with Amazon noting:

We have been actively working on VR within Lumberyard for some time now, and it looks great. We are currently upgrading our Oculus VR support to Rift SDK 1.0, which was released by Oculus in late December. We wanted to finish upgrading to Rift SDK 1.0 before releasing the first public version of VR support within Lumberyard, which will be included in a future release soon.

Further, Amazon has already signed official tools deals with Microsoft and Sony, which means game developers licensed to develop games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can immediately start using Lumberyard to develop games for those platforms.

There are – for some – a few initial downsides to Lumberyard where independent game developers are concerned. At launch, the engine only supports models created in Maya and 3D Max, although this may change – Blender support is promised for the future, for example.  There is also no support for Mac or Linux, although Amazon have indicated that these will be come, along with iOS and Android support.

Use of the engine includes the right to redistribute it and pieces of the development environment within games, and allows game developers to any companion products developed for a game using Lumberyard with allow end users to modify and create derivative works of that game.

The CryEngine SDK is one of the Asset Packs available for download for use with Lumberyard (image: Amazon)

The CryEngine SDK is one of the Asset Packs available for download for use with Lumberyard (image: Amazon)

As noted above, the company has already started supplying asset packs developers can include in their games, Three packs are available at launch, including the CryEngine GameSDK,  which contains everything required for a first-person shooter game, including complex animated characters, vehicles and game AI, and which includes a sample level.

Amazon clearly have major plans for Lumberyard, and some in the gaming media are already wondering what it might do to the current development environment, which is largely dominated by the likes of  Unity, Unreal Engine, or even CryEngine itself, but which all require either a license fee or a royalty fee.

Is Lumberyard competition for the Lab’s Project Sansar? The engine certainly has the ability to create immersive environments, and Lumberyard will support VR HMDs as it moves forward, as noted.

However, everything about Lumberyard points to it being pitched as a professional games development environment with a dedicated distribution service through Amazon’s cloud services available for use with it. Hence, again, why Twitch is deeply integrated into Lumberyard – Amazon appear to be a lot more interested in building an entire gaming ecosystem. Amazon’s marketing is also geared towards gaming, as their promotional video (below) shows.

Which is not to say that it couldn’t be attractive to markets outside of gaming. As such, it will be interesting to see over time just who does take an interest in it – and how Amazon might support them.

With thanks to John for the pointer to Amazon.

Sources

Wareable examines Project Sansar

"Project Sansar" promotional image via linden Lab

Project Sansar promotional image via Linden Lab

In Virtual worlds reborn: Can Second Life’s second life democratise VR? Sophie Charara, features editor at Wareable, examines Project Sansar, using in part Ebbe’s comments from an on-stage discussion they had, together with Ken Bretschneider of The Void during the December 2015 Web Summit. I’ve embedded the video of that discussion at the end of this article.

While the piece in Wearable doesn’t offer much that’s new to those who have been following the Lab’s conversations to the press and SL users about their hopes for the new platform, the article does offer some interesting insights to what the Lab is doing and some of their thinking behind Sansar.

Sophie Charara

Sophie Charara

Starting out with what we already know – the Lab is pitching the platform as “WordPress for VR”: an environment where people can come in and create virtual environments without the need to be a software engineer, coder, etc. – the article covers a lot of ground, with comparisons to Second Life, references to other pioneers in VR (Chris Milk, Nonny de la Pena and Jeremy Bailenson) and a further look at hoped-for time frames with “Sansar”.

The Lab has, on numerous occasions, indicated that initially, Sansar is being targeted at some very specific verticals where immersive VR has practical application. Education, healthcare, simulation, business, design and architecture have all be very specifically mentioned in this regard. So a point of interest for me was reading the specific example cited by Ebbe as to how Sansar is already been used, albeit on a test basis, by an architect:

An architect named Diego, who works for a big firm that is completing a major medical centre project, built the entire building in Sansar as an experiment.

“When he experienced it in virtual reality for the first time, he walked into the lobby and said ‘Damn, it’s too big,'” said Altberg. “It took him one second to realise that something was off and he’d been working on this project for a long time. That had value instantly.”

In this instance, the power of virtual realisation is clear, and having a platform which allows companies and individuals easily leverage this kind of visualisation, connect with other and have them shared in such visualisations / experiences / models is clear. In the example above, it is only a short step from Diego witnessing the flaws in his design (and being able to correct them as a result) to him being able to invite his clients into the model, so they can witness first-hand what his company’s vision for the project is. It also potentially allows his company to retain the model as a part of a virtual portfolio of projects they can showcase to future clients.

That the Lab had identified architecture as a suitable environment where Sansar could offer significant value for clients can also be ssen in the fact that the first public demonstration of the new platform took place San Francisco’s month-long Architecture and the City Festival in September 2015.

VR capabilities have a huge potential for various vertical markets, such as architecture and design, and these are markets the Lab have indicated they are targeting (image archvertical.com)

In 2014, Jon Brouchoud demonstrated the potential of architectural visualisation using the Oculus Rift and Unity 3D (image archvertical.com)

Hence why “Sansar” could, potentially, be a very powerful platform with the sectors the Lab has identified, particularly if it really does allow clients the freedom to create environments which can be standalone or interconnected, and / or which can be accessed directly through a closed Intranet, or open to all via direct web portal, according to individual needs.

Picture, for example, a university using Sansar to build a virtual teaching environment, access through its own Intranet and using it’s exiting log-in and authentication process so students and staff can seamlessly move into and out of the virtual space. They could then open a public portal to elements of that space, and / or link-up with other education institutions, enabling students to share in their virtual learning spaces, building-up their own “world” of connected experiences.

Second Life has proven itself and the value of virtual environments in education. "Project Sansar" could present opportunities to significantly build on the foundations laid by SL

Second Life has proven itself and the value of virtual environments in education. “Project Sansar” could present opportunities to significantly build on the foundations laid by SL

Not that Sansar is purely about these niche environments. The potential social power of virtual spaces and virtual opportunities has long been established by Second Life, and the article does make it clear that as things progress, the Lab does see Sansar as potentially being able to replicate a lot of what Second Life can already do and offering it to an audience as a much more accessible medium.

This obviously is something of a worry for those of us deeply rooted in Second Life – much has already been made of the potential for the “cannibalisation effect” Sansar might have on the current Second Life user base. It’s actually a valid concern, and something we should perhaps be prepared for at some point down the road, if Sansar proves to be a success and starts to pull SL users away from this platform. But frankly, it’s not something which should be held up as a reason for the Lab not to press ahead with Project Sansar.

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Lab Chat: January 21st, 2016: 10:30 SLT

Lab Chat LogoDon’t forget that recording for the second instalment of Lab Chat takes place on Thursday, January 21st, at 10:30 (am) SLT , at the LEA Threatre in Second Life.

The guest will once again be Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg,through his alter ego, Ebbe Linden. He’ll be answering questions selected from the 80+ submitted to the Lab Chat forum. The selected questions include the following topics:

  • Project Bento
  • Notifying users in-world about technical issues occurring with Second Life
  • SL credit processing
  • How is “Sansar” to be regarded – a place to live, or a place to visit?
  • Sansar avatars
  • Sansar in-world and out-world building tools.

In addition, and time allowing, there may be questions on things as diverse as land, art, sailing and aviation in Sansar, permissions systems and (inevitably!) Oculus Rift.

Ebbe Linden takes questions from jo Yardley and Saffia Widdershins during the first Lab Chat discussion in November 2015

Ebbe Linden takes questions from jo Yardley and Saffia Widdershins during the first Lab Chat discussion in November 2015

So, make sure you get a seat during the live recording. You can access the LEA Theatre via any of the following SLurls:

If you can’t make the recording, videos of the show will be available in due course, and I’ll have a transcript of the Q&A both here and on the Lab Chat website iASAP after the show.

Lab: share a Valentine’s vision and help promote SL

secondlifeWith Valentine’s Day roughly a month away, the Lab is inviting residents to share what that special day means to them by means of a photograph – and gain the opportunity to be a part of the Lab’s advertising campaigns for Second Life.

The post reads in part:

Valentine’s Day is just on the horizon and will be here before you can get through a handful of heart candies! We’re looking for some great Second Life pictures from the community to feature in upcoming email and banner campaigns – with credit to the photographer – of course!

In a snapshot, let us know what Valentine’s Day means to you in Second Life.

Share your story in a picture and on our Official Flickr Page with the tag “SLVday2016” so that we can see all of your amazing works. You may submit as many as you like between now and January 29, 2016.

We’ll showcase the chosen image(s) in an email to Residents, as well as in some banner campaigns. We’ll let the chosen image creators know via Flickr and ask for an avatar name for the credits.

The submission guidelines are fairly straightforward:

  • Images must be at least 2048×1207 in size
  • Avatars must be shown in-world,and suitably lit so they can be seen
  • All images must be free of additional text or logos, and must be appropriate for all audiences.
  • Images that tell a story are going to make an impression.

As noted in the Lab’s blog post text, the closing date for submissions is Friday, January 29th, 2016.