I’m feeling excited about SL again. It’s a novel experience after the last two or so years of feeling like I’m frequently shaking my head or burying my face in my hands so often.
It really started when Rod Humble started to make his presence felt. One could not help but feel that here is a man who – even if he claims he doesn’t understand Second Life – actually groks the potential of the platform on many levels. Since January, we’ve seen substantial progress on numerous fronts. True, it hasn’t always been quite what we wanted, or perhaps as far as we’ve wanted – but the positive results are undeniable in a number of areas. There may still be an almighty pile of things still sitting in the To Do box at the Lab, but no-one can hand-on-heart deny considerable effort has been put into trying to directly address matters of usability on a number of fronts, and to examine issues around user engagement and retention.
SLCC saw a round of talks and panels of Linden Lab staff that did much to reinforce the feeling that the Lab is back on the right track. What particularly excites me, are three things that have, I think, the potential to radically transform SL, and one that looks like it’s going to get some overdue focus. Namely:
- Gaming mechanics
- Non-player characters (NPCs)
If we’re honest, the first iteration of mesh is already here; the capability is rolling-out across the Main grid, the code to support it within the Viewer is now at Beta and is available in at least one third-party Viewer with others set to follow, and mesh creations are slowly beginning to appear.
True, what we’re getting in the first release may not be what everyone wants, and there has been much angst on the technical side about the capability to produce SL-efficient mesh objects. It’s also fair to stay that it may not initially be as well-suited to some areas of content creation as it is to others. However, Linden Lab are aware of many of the issues (real and perceived) and are working towards trying to resolve those that they can over time. As Charlar Linden himself said at SLCC 2011, there will at some point be at least one “non-trivially sized” set of improvements to mesh to follow-up the initial roll-out.
But the fact is, doubts and angst aside, mesh can be transformative within Second Life on many levels beyond “traditional” content creation, for example:
- It potentially offers new and previously unseen opportunities for creative collaboration as sim owners, groups and even businesses work with 3D artists to generate totally new and unique experiences within Second Life
- It potentially takes the opportunities for practical prototyping to new levels, and well beyond anything that can be achieved with prims, something that might open the doors to other forms of collaborative efforts in both education and business
- It can clearly bring an entirely new dimension to art within SL, be it static, mobile or through the lens of a camera; offering new ways for artists to express themselves visually both in-world and elsewhere.
Gaming mechanics also opens the door to many new possibilities, depending upon how they are implemented. At SLCC 2011, Gez and Esbee Linden gave a demonstration of the kind of thing LL staff have being playing with in order to better understand the mechanics of creation and the capabilities and limitations of SL, and how game-like mechanics might be used to enhance the SL experience. Even in a “rough” form, the results shine a light on a lot of potential, as Gez himself commented at the convention:
“Second Life itself is not a game. However, you can make some great games inside of Second Life, and you can use game mechanics, and game tutorials, and game systems to help people become more engaged and comfortable in Second Life.”
It’s amazing to think of the opportunities that the considered implementation of game-like tools, mechanics and controls could bring to Second Life. Just consider role-play quests (as a single example) wherein there’s no need to don a HUD or faff with notecards – everything can be done immersively on-screen, via simple prompts or icons and using intuitive controls such as point-and-click and / or point-and-drag.
Non-player characters (NPCs) offer a similar means for new an immersive interaction within a virtual world that potentially goes beyond the use of bots / scripted agents, as they could run without being attached to logged-in accounts. Little wonder, then that UK-based Daden Ltd., has been working on just such a capability for OpenSim, as Maria Korolov reported in Hypergrid Business this week.
NPCs can be applied to a wide range of uses within SL. Here’s just two:
- Within training simulations, where they can add depth of experience for trainees and perhaps be programmed to react a number of different ways as a result of interactions with trainees, making training simulations a lot more dynamic
- Within role-play environments, where they could be used to provide help and guidance to players, or present threats that need to be dealt with and so on, adding to the immersive experience in ways that again go beyond the use of account-based bots. And that’s just scratching the surface of opportunity.
Combined with the use of gaming mechanics, NPCs stand to give Second Life a new dimension in terms of the way people can engage with various offerings within SL, as well as providing those seeking to provide immersive experiences with a raft of new tools and opportunities.
Even in more mundane settings, NPC capabilities could be used to create, say, the “next generation” of pets beyond the likes of Stitch on the left here; able to both interact and react to avatars and their environment beyond the current limitations seen in pets at present.
Finally, there is the humble prim. Even if you’re not enamoured with any of the above, there is no need to worry, as it seems new life is to be breathed into the prim – and possibly the tools we have to manipulate it.
Not only is the new 64m upper size limit coming into effect with the release of mesh, but it seems that prims are to become central to a “directed experience” in the future aimed encouraging people coming into SL to engage in the process of content creation and the collaborative opportunities offered by in-world building. From the way Durian described it, this “direct experience” will be one of a number that the Lab is considering as ways of further user engagement with Second Life, and having a focus on prims and in-world creation is perfectly aligned with Rodvik’s view that Second Life is a shared creative space.
That prims should get additional attention is only right and proper – they may not be perfect, but they offer a lot of opportunities for those without deep-seated artistic and technical skills (i.e. me), to get a lot of fun and enjoyment out of SL. In this respect, it was very pleasing to see members of the LL product team engaging so much with the tools themselves in an effort to better understand them and – perhaps – start looking at ways and means to improve them down the road.
So, yes, I’m feeling pretty positive about Second Life and the future. The road ahead may be a little bumpy, and not everything is going to happen at once, or – again – necessarily as some of us might like it to happen; but the promise is there – and the Lindens themselves seem as determined as the rest of us to make it real.