SL projects updates 5/1: server releases & fitted mesh

Server Deployments Week 5

Main (SLS) Channel

On Tuesday January 28th, the Main channel received the server maintenance project previously on the three RC channels, which contains a single fix for a crash mode.

RC Channels

On Wednesday January 29th, all three RC channels should receive a new server maintenance project, which includes a crash mode fix and a fix for llModifyLand() modifying the wrong location in region, when called in a child prim.

Speaking at the Server Beta meeting on Thursday January 23rd, Maestro Linden described the llModifyLand() fix thus:

For example, if a child prim is offset by <8,4,0> from the root prim, then calling that function in the child prim will try to modify the terrain at <8,4,0>  of the region,  which may or may not work depending on who owns the parcel.

The fix is to make it modify the land underneath the child prim (which of course follows the same permissions rules – you can only modify land owned by the script owner.

SL Viewer Updates

The Fitted Mesh RC was updated on Monday January 27th with the release of version 3.7.0.285669.  This includes a number of additional fixes, include those for FITMESH-20 and FITMESH-6, which can be summarised as:

  • FITMESH-20: certain non-rigged mesh invisible with ALM disabled
  • FITMESH-6: worn mesh which is not rigged to the collision bones is seen to stretch away towards the 0,0,0 point of the region the avatar is standing in when using the Fitted Mesh

An interesting emerging issue with Fitted Mesh – which likely won’t delay its eventual promotion to release status – is that it prevents the Firestorm Bridge from attaching.

The Bridge is a is a scripted object which is used by the Firestorm viewer for a number of functions, notably: Move To Teleport, Flight Assist, Script Count, some radar functions, and Movelock. The problem here is that the Bridge uses a dedicated attachment point (127), which doesn’t seem to be supported or allowed in the Fitted Mesh viewer code. It is currently unclear as to how this might be resolved.

There has yet to be a promotion to the defacto release viewer. If there is to be such a promotion this week, it would seem likely that the Interest List RC would be the one to make it.

Other Items

Viewer Script Debug Window

During the Simulator UG meeting on Tuesday January 28th, Jonathan Yap asked, “Has any thought ever been given to a script debug window? t would let you input commands to trigger events etc.”

Kelly Linden, chairing the meeting in Simon Linden’s absence, replied:

Short answer is yes it has been thought about. A lot of what you expect from a debugger is very difficult in LSL and harder in LSL-on-Mono, such as most of looking at the actual state of the script. Being able to trigger events is an interesting idea but I think it has some security concerns if not handled very carefully.

So, to elongate  Kelly’s initial short answer, while it has been thought about, it’s not something that is likely to happen any time soon.

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Your avatar and you: opening the digital frontier or perpetuating the status quo?

Nick Yee is senior research scientist at Ubisoft who has been involved in studying the psychological impact our avatars can have both on ourselves and with others since the early 2000s, starting as an undergraduate researcher focused on Everquest before moving into studies involving Second Life. He is also the author of the recently published The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us– and How They Don’t, an examination of our increasingly complex relationships with our digital Doppelgängers.

In an article for Slate magazine entitled Virtual Worlds Are Real, Yee offers something of a taster for the book, and it’s a fascinating piece outlining the profound effect avatars actually do have on us, and which actually goes some way towards explaining why security concerns over how virtual worlds might be used weren’t as silly as people might think.

Nick Yee
Nick Yee

Some of what Yee covers is already familiar to many of us using Second Life; we’re often prone to state ourselves, while the avatars on the screen may be pixels, the minds and emotions behind them most certainly aren’t. Hence why  – unfortunately – Second life has been known to attract psychological predators bent on baiting others for their own perverse amusement, either individually or in cliques.

Many of us are also familiar with a range of studies and also individual cases where the positive identification with our own avatars has been shown to yield genuine benefits. Most recently, we’ve had the remarkable story of Fran Swenson (Fran Seranade in SL), and there have been studies such as those by  Dr. Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, which demonstrated how people’s choice of avatar directly affected their real-world existence and how they view themselves. Then, of course, there were the 2010 Stanford and 2011 Indiana University studies into avatars and weight loss. Yee points to the latter studies and on one involving students who, while initially unwilling to consider the future proved far more willing to put aside money for retirement after engaging with their virtual Doppelgängers which had been digitally aged by some forty years.

These are also positive examples of how we relate to out avatars and, in some cases to those around us. However, Yee also points out there are negatives as well. In terms of gender, for example, he notes how those using the opposite sex for their character within World of Warcraft were more likely to conform to gender expectations, helping to perpetuate a false gender stereotype. “We assume that virtual worlds allow us to reinvent ourselves and leave behind offline norms and prejudices,” Yee notes in regard to this. “But the truth is more sobering. Virtual worlds can and often perpetuate the status quo.”

The Proteus Paradox
The Proteus Paradox

That avatars can have a profound psychological impact on us might also help in understanding why GCHQ and the NSA were (are?) concerned about the potential of virtual environments to foster terrorist or other activities.

At the time the news on the activities of GCHQ and the NSA broke, there was talk of how an “Osama bin Laden” like avatar could be used to influence others. Yee counters the dismissals that such worries were “nonsense” with a quite sobering counter-argument.

Just before the 2004 US Presidential election, Yee and his colleagues invited people of voting age to each sit before photos of the two contenders: John Kerry and George Bush and select, purely on the basis of the photos, who they would be inclined to vote for. Unbeknownst to each participant, either the photo of Kerry or the photo of Bush has been morphed to include around 25% of the participant’s own features.  The result?

“Even in a high-stakes, high-information election scenario,” Yee says of the experiment, “our study participants were more likely to vote for the candidate they had been morphed with. When participants were morphed with Kerry, the effect was strong enough to have won him the election.”

Yee goes on, “That study helps explain why a Bin Laden avatar is potentially useful: It could be individually tailored to potential recruits. In a virtual world where every user sees only her version of reality, a Bin Laden avatar could be tailored to hundreds of users at the same time. ”

This doesn’t excuse the manner in which GCHQ (in particular, who developed a means to access and trawl the XBox Live network and who sent three days gathering some 176,000 lines of data pertaining to Second Life chats, IMs and transactions) and the NSA went about their business within Second Life and World of Warcraft, but it does tend to underline why they were concerned.

All-in-all a fascinating article introducing what would appear to be a fascinating book. I’ve already ordered my copy.

Related Links

A long time ago in a region far, far away

Onderon, January 2014Onderon – Iziz City (click for full size)

Goizane Latzo led me to travel to Onderon (not to be confused with the region of the same name), an adult-rated Star Wars role-play area located at Tropical Paradise. I’ll say from the outset that I’m not a Star Wars fan by any stretch of the imagination, but the images Goizane captured drew me to the region out of curiosity (I actually had no idea it was directly related to Star Wars until I arrived).

People often get quite het-up over Second Life being described as a “game” and / or that Linden Lab have attempted to add capabilities to the platform which are directed towards gameplay mechanisms of one sort or another (the most obvious perhaps being pathfinding).

Onderon, January 2014Onderon – the forests of Onderon (click for full size)

I’m not about to suggest SL is a game; far from it; but I would point out to those who do complain about the latter of the above two points, that however you prefer to refer to Second Life, it is an environment where a large percentage of creativity on the part of users has actually gone into trying to create immersive game-like environments. People like the MadPea team, or Timmi Allen and his team with things like Dranopia and their other games, for example and SL has always been attractive to role-players from a wide range of genres. So is it really that bad if the Lab try to provide tools which could enhance such environments?

As an immersive role-play environment, Onderon is quite skilfully executed. The arrival point is located high above the planet in at the space station Dauntless, which includes an orientation centre (reached by TP) and a shuttle bay leading down to the planet (reached by a series of passages that take the visitor through the mall space). As this is a role-play region with a specific setting , do please take the time to read the rules which can be found on the Onderon website.

Onderon, January 2014Onderon – bounty hunters! (click for full size)

These will not only set-up the requirements for RP within the region, but also introduce you to the back story of the planet,  Iziz City and the undercity. If you’re there as an observer, please ensure you wear the observer tag (and please don’t metagame!). As a neutral planet, all are welcome to Onderon except Sith.

The planet exists as a couple of region-wide platforms sitting at altitude, and the ground level terrain. In these are located the jungles of Onderon, Iziz City and, down on the ground, the undercity, each providing region-wide space in which to role-play. Teleports connect the space station, jungle and city with one another, and the undercity can be reached via Iziz. Do please note the need for environmentally sealed armour, gas masks or rebreathers; the air down there is pretty blargh, so don’t say i didn’t warn you. I’ll also leave it to you to find your own way down, lest I be accused of trying to encourage you to risk your health making such a visit…

Onderon, January 2014Onderon – the undercity (click for full size)

For those into Star Wars RP and with a hankering to visit other worlds (or take a break from disputes between rebels and Empire) may well find Onderon’s neutrality appealing. There’s certainly space for a lot of role-play, and even a little mystery with dark presence of the undercity. For the casual visitor – again, please reminder the rules for observers – there is also a lot to see and the environment is friendly enough that one needn’t be worried about being accosted for being OOC or anything.

All told, Onderon is an immersive and colourful place to visit, offering a lot to see and do whether you’re into Star Wars or not. Just respect the rules and be careful when waiting on a friend while in any cantina you happen into …

Onderon, January 2014Onderon – Iziz City (click for full size)

More images on my Flickr pages.

Related Links

Call for chapter proposals on art in virtual worlds

Dr. Denise Doyle of the University of Wolverhampton, UK, has issued a call for chapter proposals for a new book to be entitled New Opportunities for Artistic Practice in Virtual Worlds, which she will be editing.

Dr. Denise Doyle (image courtesy of Wolverhampton University)
Dr. Denise Doyle (image courtesy of Wolverhampton University)

Dr. Doyle is an Artist-Researcher, and Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Wolverhampton, PhD Co-Supervisor at SMARTlab Research Institute, University College Dublin, and Adjunct Professor in Virtual Worlds and Digital Practice, Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U), Toronto, Canada. During her PhD research she developed Kriti Island, an art laboratory space in Second Life, to investigate creative practice in virtual world spaces. She has published widely on the subject of the virtual and the imaginary, the experience of the avatar body in virtual worlds and game spaces, and the use of virtual worlds for creative practice.

Her call for proposals has been issued through a number of outlets, including Wired Online, and JISCM@il. It reads in part:

Introduction

Although virtual worlds remain unstable phenomena a substantial amount of research continues to be undertaken within them and is reflected in the number of disciplines that study them particularly in an interdisciplinary context.  Whilst there is already a history of artists investigating new spaces and new technological forms this exploration has continued more recently with sections of the artistic community utilising virtual worlds as a new form, or a new potential artistic space. Established real-world artists have explored virtual worlds as environments for practice and a number of artists and designers have continued to specifically work with Second Life to explore the potential and limitations of the platform itself. A range of early key works and other seminal works produced in Second Life still hold strong to be scrutinised in the context of new technologies and for their contribution in expanding our understanding and experience of virtual space.

Objective of the Book
The mission of the publication is to provide a coherent account of artistic practices in virtual worlds and to consider the contribution the Second Life platform has made in an historical, theoretical and critical context within the field of art and technology and digital art. The book will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders who have yet to have a coherent dialogue on Second Life’s contribution to artistic practice and will provide a platform to bring together artists critical reflections on the work they have undertaken in the platform and in other virtual worlds. Finally, the volume will examine the specific features and characteristics of Second Life that contribute to the virtual aesthetics and languages born out of the nature of avatar-based interaction that have been developed by the artistic and creative community.

Target Audience
The volume is intended for both artists and scholars in the fields of digital art, art and technology, media arts history, virtual worlds, games studies and a broader academic audience who are interested in the history of art and technology and the philosophical implications of virtual space. It will be an important study book for media arts, games studies and virtual worlds studies students and will be a useful resource as a historical and critical reference for new media art. The book will be of value to the field of the philosophy of technology and contribute to the continued theoretical discourse of physical and virtual space.

Researchers and practitioners are invited to submit a 2-3 page chapter proposal which clearly explains the mission and concerns of the proposed chapter, and the call includes a list of recommended topics proposals might consider (although they are not restricted to just that list of topics. Chapters from accepted proposals will be reviewed on a double-blind review basis. Contributors may also be requested to serve as reviewers for this project.

The book is scheduled to be published by IGI Global (formerly Idea Group Inc.), and it is anticipated it will be released in 2015. Please refer to the call itself and the IGI global website for details of their publications.

Important Dates

  • February 28, 2014 –  Proposal Submission Deadline
  • March 15, 2014 – Notification of Acceptance
  • June 30, 2014 – Full Chapter Submission
  • August 30, 2014 –  Review Results Returned
  • October 15, 2014: – Final Acceptance Notification
  • October 30, 2014 – Final Chapter Submission

Those wishing to submit proposals, or who require further information on this call should contact:

Dr. Denise Doyle
Faculty of Arts, MK Building
Molineux Street
University of Wolverhampton
WV1 1SB

With thanks to Draxtor Despres