Blocksworld – LL’s latest acquistion

LL logoI actually missed this yesterday, despite tending to look-in on LL’s Press Room on a daily basis. I did so yesterday, but Pete Linden must have been waiting until I’d done so before slipping the announcement that LL have acquired Blocksworld in their latest move in the world of “shared creative spaces”

Blocksworld is created by Boldai AB, a team of three programmers who jokingly refer to themselves as being, “From the country that gave you Minecraft and the country next to the country that invented Lego”, and is described as, “A perfect mix of Lego and Minecraft.”

Currently available for the iPad – although the Bodai website suggests there are (or were) plans to port the game to other platforms – Blocksworld allows users to create 3D models of just about anything they can image from a set of defined shapes / tools such as cubes, wedges, rockets, wheels, motors These models – which can be cars, planes, animals, people, spaceships, etc., come alive with realistic physics simulation, and users can play, interact with, or even blow-up their creations.

Commenting on the acquisition, Linden Lab’s CEO, Rod Humble, said, “Blocksworld is a great fit with what we do at Linden Lab,” said Rod Humble, CEO of Linden Lab. “It’s a very user-friendly complement to our portfolio of shared creative spaces. We’re happy to have the Blocksworld team join Linden Lab and are looking forward to bringing Blocksworld to the App Store worldwide soon!”

As with Creatorverse, a key aspect of Blockeworld is the ability for users to share their creations with others to explore, play with, and modify / remix them to make them their own.

Blocksworld looks designed to appeal to the creatively minded of all ages, with an intuitive, easy-to use interface. To promote the product, the team behind it last year produced as couple of video trailers, one of which – the “Honest Trailer” is a slight tongue-in-cheek piece which promotes the product in an imaginative and fun way which perfectly encapsulates the product and fixes it firmly in one’s mind.

…Perhaps LL should let the Boldai team brainstorm how to promote SL?

Related Links

“Quick Tips” and the return of Torley

There was a time when the words “Torley Linden” and “Second Life” were synonymous with one another. His was frequently the first Linden name and voice users would encounter on entering SL, where his weekly TuTORial and Tip of the Week videos were a much-loved and enjoyed Thursday event through the old (and vibrant) Second Life website.

That’s how I started a post back in November 2012, both celebrating Torley Linden’s presence in SL over the years and lamenting the fact that of late, we’ve rarely heard from him other than via his profile feed (I think the last “official” output from him which was in any way visible to many was a TuTORial video in July 2012).

In that post, and elsewhere in this blog, I made mention of both Torley’s video TuTORials and “Tip of the Week” videos which over the years helped many an SL user (old and new) make better use of the viewer and get deeper into the many and varied things which can be done in SL.

An early Tip of the Week video from Torley Linden

The Tip of the Week videos were often an anticipated part of people’s SL on Thursdays, and were, back in the “old” days of the SL website, a featured part of the SL home page and (for a time) the TuTORIAL videos did actually feature on the dashboard.

Then LL, in their wisdom, saw fit to stop the production of these videos and remove them from the dashboard. In doing so, something was lost in terms of getting people  – especially those new to SL – familiar with both using the viewer and getting around and doing things in-world.

Now, it seems they are back in the form of a new “Quick Tips” series of videos, the first of which launched yesterday, and which are once more hosted by Torley himself.

The first of the new “Quick Tip” videos

The new video is designed to give beginners a quick overview on how to use the Avatar floater to quickly change one’s own appearance.

At 1.01 minutes long, it is a very superficial soundbite and doesn’t touch upon the deeper nuances of avatar customisation – but this doesn’t necessarily detract from it. In a world where people want instant answers and have short attention spans, it provides enough of a kick-start to get people playing with their appearance – particularly since the Avatar floater was (wisely) replaced as the “open by default” floater by Destinations when the Basic and Advanced view modes were merged – so the ability to change your in-world appearance isn’t that obvious from the get-go. If there is any niggle with the new video, it is perhaps in that it references another without indicating where it can be found (because it has yet to be released …), which might cause some frustration*.

The blog posts indicates that the Lab intends to release a series of these videos “over the next few weeks”, which suggests there may be a finite number of videos in the run. Hopefully, this will not be the case, and the Lab will continue the series beyond a “few weeks”, giving tips, tricks and explanations in much the same way as the Tip of the Week videos used to provide. Given that the company has recently taken the plunge with Amazon and will shortly be linking-up with Steam, it is important more guidance and support for new users is provided in some manner, particularly as the new user process is still (for the time being at least) very hands-off.

In this, the question as to how visible the videos are / will be is a concern. Simply posting links to them to the SL dashboard potentially isn’t enough. The videos – and the YouTube channel carrying them – needs to be more fully presented, preferably in a dedicated panel in the dashboard where they might have a higher visibly than on a rolling list of blog links. It would also be handy – and assuming the current new user process isn’t going to be massively overhauled – if the videos could be made available in-world at the current Destination Islands, to at least provide some guidance to new users the first time they arrive in-world (although this would perhaps be more informative if more basic guidance on “getting started” were also covered – such as using the Camera floater and controls).

That said, and even if LL don’t fully leverage the videos, and assuming broadcasting YouTube videos within SL is less of a challenge now than it was following changes at the Google end of things, the videos might hopefully be a useful resource for the various help islands and mentor areas run by groups and communities within SL.

As it stands, it’ll be interesting to see where this new series goes, how long it lasts – and how effectively LL will try to put it in front of new users. In the meantime – Friendly Greetings, Torley, and welcome back!

* Update: Having just dug around the SL YouTube channel, I wonder if the reference is to this video, and we’ll be seeing it resurrected in the near future? The video is apparently e-mailed out to new users on signing-up (although I didn’t receive it when I last signed-up for the purposes of keeping an eye on the “new” Destination Islands), so are the new “Quick Tips” also going to be mailed to new users?

SL project news 4 (2): server and materials processing

Server Deployments Week 4

The RC channel deployments went ahead as planned on Wednesday 23rd January. BlueSteel and LeTigre Received the Threaded Region Crossing Code, and Magnum the Interest List code.

The week 3 maint-server release had been the only contender for the Main channel on Tuesday 22nd January, but was not deployed due to the issue of places not indexing correctly in search. A fix was available for this issue, but was rolled to Magnum as a part of that deployment.

Magnum Issues

There have been widespread issues in regions on the Magnum channel since the deployment, some of which have been reported in the deployment discussion thread on the forum, others of which have been reported in groups such as the Firestorm Support group. These issues may be related to a high bandwidth issue leading to packet loss for people on slower connections. Symptoms include:

  • High packet loss / ping to the simulator
  • Avatars initially unable to move on arriving in a region
  • Avatars apparently unable to move on arrival, but then suddenly “warping” to new position if movement keys have been pressed
  • Avatars already in the region being visible to a newly arrived avatar, then vanishing the first time the avatar moves or rotates camera
  • Objects failing to rez or to rez correctly (including attachments on avatars)
  • Other issues as reported in the forum discussion thread, including notable issues being encountered with JVA bots.

At this time, the issues remain under investigation by the Lab.

Deployments for Week 5

There is currently no clear news on deployment plans for the week commencing Monday 28th January. However, if there is a Main Channel release, Maestro Linden is of the opinion that it will likely be the threaded region crossing code.

The maint-server release originally on Magnum in week 3 will be re-deployed on an RC (which one is TBA at this point), which includes a number of additional fixes, including the fix for the search indexing issue.

Materials Processing

There has been little direct news on the materials processing project from those working on it. However, at the Server Beta User Group meeting on the 24th January, Maestro Linden reiterated that the server-side code is very close to a Release Channel deployment and, “May even get a slot next week [week 5].”

Maestro also gave some information on new options for what the alpha channel means during rendering, with four settings available:

  1. None –  the alpha channel is ignored, rendering the face opaque, or
  2. Alpha blending – essentially the same as we currently have for any alpha texture, or
  3. A 1-bit alpha mask with each pixel either 100% transparent or 100% opaque, with a cutoff setting to determine where the threshold is (alpha masks should render faster than alpha blending, and eliminate issues with alpha layer sorting), or
  4. Emissive mask – so the alpha layer is interpreted as a per-pixel glow setting.

(Note that these options appear to suggest a surface cannot have both an alpha mask (or alpha blending) and an emissive mask; however, as Maestro Linden pointed out, there will still be options in the build floater to set glow or face transparency.)

Maestro additionally indicated that the remaining “mesh sandbox” regions on Aditi (DRTSIM-169 channel: Mesh Sandbox 3, Mesh Sandbox 6, Mesh Sandbox 22) have been updated with the server-side materials processing code, so that builders can test the new capabilities once a materials processing viewer is available.

Testing materials processing in SL. Note the texture of some surfaces and reflections on others (image courtesy of Geenz Spad) - click to enlarge
A “sneak peek” at materials processing in SL, provided by Geenz Spad. Note the texture of some surfaces and reflections on others – click to enlarge. (Note this image should not be taken as indicating materials processing is available for public use as yet – see below.)

Viewer Status

Even though the server-side code is available on selected Aditi regions and may be deployed to a Release Channel in week 5, it will not be usable until such time as a materials processing project viewer is made available. Currently, this is unlikely to be for another few weeks, as there is further work to be completed on the viewer itself, including UI updates (such as the new build floater), code for fetching the additional materials data and for rendering it.

Server Object Rezzing Code

As I outlined back in week 1,  Baker Linden is working on improving how objects with large file sizes (as opposed to them being physically large when rezzed in-world) are handled by the simulator software when being rezzed.

In the first part of this update, I reported that Baker hoped the code would be progressing through LL’s QA for deployment to an RC channel in the next few weeks. In the meantime, the code is now available on the DRTSIM-194 channel (e.g. CCMTEST26).

The key point about this work is that it is specifically aimed at preventing the simulator processes from choking and a region stalling when there are a number of large object files being read / parsed, not at actually “speeding up” the physical rezzing process. As such, it is unlikely that objects will appear any faster in people’s in-world view as a result of this work. However, what it does mean is that the simulator code will be better able to handle rezzing multiple “large file” objects without the attendant region lagging which can occur as a result of the simulator being unable to process messages from viewers and other simulators, etc.

Aditi Issues

Issues continue with Aditi, both in terms of people being able to log-in, and with inventory syncing problems. It is currently unclear as to what the status is regarding potential solutions which have been mentioned in the past – culling “stale” accounts from Aditi and obtaining additional hardware to handle the load. In the meantime, problems continue for some, and the advice remains to keep trying a password change and waiting 24-48 hours for it to fully propagate before attempting to log-in to Aditi once more.

Related Links

Note that all SLurls given in this report are for the Aditi (Beta) grid.