Firestorm is (SL) Go – and across multiple grids!

SL go logoImportant note: The SL Go service is to be shut down on April 30th, 2015. For more information, please read this report.

On Tuesday, December 16th, 2014, OnLive, the providers of the Second Life streaming service, SL Go, announced a new addition to the SL Go service: The Firestorm Viewer.

The announcement follows several months of collaboration between the Firestorm Team, lead by Jessica Lyon, and the folk at OnLive, lead by Dennis Harper, the results of which now mean that with immediate effect, SL Go now provides a choice of TWO viewers to subscribers and users:

  • The existing SL viewer – which OnLive are referring to as “SLV” – can be used from any Mac computer, PC, and from Android devices and iPads to access Second Life
  • AND The Firestorm viewer, initially available for Mac computers and PCs, which can be used to access Second Life and OpenSim grids.

SL Go’s pricing options remain the same whichever viewer you opt to use, and you can swap between them at any time you like, should you wish. Simply make your choice from the SL Go selection screen.

SL Go users access the service via PC or Mac now have a choice of viewer: the SL Viewer (SLV, as OnLive refer to it) or Firestorm
SL Go users accessing the service via PC or Mac now have a choice of viewer: the SL Viewer (SLV, as OnLive refer to it) or Firestorm (image via OnLive)

Since its launch in March 2014, which I covered in-depth at the time, the SL Go service has proven to be very popular with people who are using low-end systems which traditionally have problems when trying to run the viewer locally. Because the viewer is streamed from OnLive’s dedicated servers,  it’s the servers that do all the heavy processing, delivering a fast, smooth service to users, thus helping to give a new lease of life to older hardware.

Of course, because SL Go is streamed, it means that – like the SL viewer offered by OnLive – certain functionality within the Firestorm offering has either been removed for security reasons (such as the Develop menu, and no access to debug settings and content cannot be uploaded), or has been disabled (such as the option to save snapshots to a hard drive – as that would effectively mean saving them to the OnLive server).

Firestorm viewer on SL Go from OnLive - click for full-size
Firestorm viewer on SL Go from OnLive (click for full-size)

The big benefit in using Firestorm through SL Go is that – with the noted exceptions due to security issues, etc., – it brings the richness of Second Life’s most popular third-party viewer to those on older systems who have perhaps felt themselves to be increasingly edged out of Second Life, something Firestorm Project Manager Jessica Lyon commented on when discussing the release with me.

“I’m really happy about this,” Jessica said. “For years folk on lower-end systems have seen significant improvements to Second Life, particularly with how the world looks, pass them by because their systems are unable to run them. We’ve even heard from many that they simply cannot use Firestorm or any other viewer and as being pushed out of SL completely.

“This release of Firestorm through OnLive, together with the existing SL viewer, hopefully gives those people a new way to enjoy Second Life. I really hope this works for them!”

I can personally attest to that. In 2010, I purchased an Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook, which has found running a viewer like Firestorm increasingly heavy going. With Firestorm through SL, with all the bells and whistles turned-up, I’m averaging around 60 fps!

Firestorm on SL Go from OnLive: almost 60 fps on a Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook with all the bells and whistles active! (this image replaces an earlier version, after I realised I'd uploaded the wrong screen cap - one with shadows disabled)
Firestorm on SL Go from OnLive: almost 60 fps on a Asus PC EEE 1201N notebook with all the bells and whistles active! (this image replaces an earlier version, after I realised I’d uploaded the wrong screen cap – one with shadows disabled)

That SL Go does bring a new lease of life to older hardware can be seen in the fact that since the launch of the service in March, 2014, the largest take-up among users has been by those using the service through the OnLive PC and Mac clients. But those who want Firestorm on their mobile devices need not fear – it will be coming in 2015.  This is something Jessica is also looking forward to.

“A could of years ago we fooled a great many people with our April Fool’s joke of a Firestorm Mobile client,” Jessica said. “The excitement over the announcement, and the outcry when it turned out to be just and April Fool’s joke, was overwhelming. The great news is – and no joke this time! – that OnLive will be making this capability real very soon!”

And it doesn’t end there. One capability that Firestorm brings to OnLive and SL Go  users is the ability to log into other grids as well as Second Life. The version of the viewer supplied to OnLive is the OpenSim version, which means it is complete with the grid manager and start-up grid selection drop-down, allowing you to log into all your favourite grids – as I did, logging-in to Kitely and Fallingwater at the Seanchai Library.

Use Firestorm on SL Go and any PC / Mac / laptop to access your favourite OpenSim grids (click to enlarge)
Use Firestorm on SL Go and any PC / Mac / laptop to access your favourite OpenSim grids (click to enlarge)

Thus, with a single subscription to OnLive, you gain access to the entire metaverse from any low-end PC or Mac in your home.

“We’re happy to be able to empower SL Go users with more choice. They’ve told us they want a choice of viewers, so offering the popular Firestorm viewer was a natural next step.” said Rick Sanchez, VP of Product and Marketing at OnLive, at the launch of the new offering.

I’ll have a more in-depth look at Firestorm on SL Go available shortly.

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The Fantasy Faire 2015 calendar really is yours to own!

Fantasy Faire is without doubt one of the highlights of the year for all of us involved in Second Life. As a part of the Relay for Life of Second Life season, it brings with it the opportunity to immerse ourselves in incredible worlds and places, visit stalls and shops, engage in quests, quizzes and games, participate in role-play, auctions and more – and all the time help to raise a staggering amount to assist in the fight against cancer.

But each Fantasy Faire brings with it a melancholy of its own. Eventually, after the Faire has run its course and the gates have closed, the wonderful places lovingly created for each season’s Faire “go away”, most of them never to return. All we’re left with are fading memories and the images we’ve captured and saved on our computers.

2015 Fantasy Faire calendar - yours to keep
2015 Fantasy Faire calendar – yours to keep: cover by

Which is why, in 2014, the Faire organisers ran the Dream of a Lifetime competition. In it, visitors were invited to submit up to 12 photos each to the Fantasy Faire contest Flickr group, which they felt best captured the spirit of the Faire. From this pool, a panel of judges picked 12 images to be included in a special 2015 Fantasy Faire calendar which would be printed and made available in the physical world for anyone wishing to purchase it.

Now, and right on time for Christmas, that Fantasy Faire 2015 calendar is available to buy on-line for just UK£12.18 (US$14.99 – you’ll have to check other currencies for yourselves!) + shipping.

Delivery will take around 3-5 days, so if you order quickly, you’ll have the perfect Xmas gift for family and friends. What’s more, all profits from purchases of the calendar will go to Relay for Life of Second Life.

August - Judith Lefevre
August – Judith Lefevre

The calendar contains twelve beautiful images of the fantastic kingdoms, mysterious temples and enchanted forests of Fantasy Faire 2014 that both celebrating the beauty of the Fairelands and keep their purpose alive in our hearts for the coming year. The images themselves are by:

Ursula Floresby (cover / The Faerie Court) Justen Tyme (January / Hope’s Horizon);  Alisaundra Andel (February / Asperatus);  Wildstar Beaumont (March / Palace of Tears);  Caitlin Tobias (April / Mourningvale Thicket);  Cayenne Republic (May / Fairelands Junction); Vylna Daviau (June / Heavenslough);  Gabrielle Swindlehurst (July / Wiggenstead Mooring);  Judith Lefevre (August / Medhir Woods); Tamarind Silverfall (September / Faerie Court);  CharuStar (October / Blackwater Glenn); Beq Janus (November / Hope’s Horizon);  Pokute Burt (December / Sanctum).

December - Pokute Burt
December – Pokute Burt

And that’s not all; the calendar will also be available shortly through the SL Marketplace for just L$500, so you can have it in your home in-world as well. Each Marketplace purchase will include a special extra – but I’m sworn to secrecy on that until the in-world version is available!

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The Drax Files Radio Hour: taking flight with an aeronautical legend

radio-hourI’ve not covered recent Drax Files Radio hour shows, primarily due to time constraints. However, show #49 features a special guest whose work has brought fun to a lot of people’s lives in SL (including my own), Steve “Cubey Terra” Cavers. Given his work has had such an influence in various aspects of my SL life, I couldn’t pass-up writing about this show.

The interview kicks-off after the usual preamble,  at the 21:35 minute mark. Cubey Terra may be a name unfamiliar to those who have come to SL in recent years, particularly as he decided to take a break from the platform for a couple of years. But to many in the SL aviation community and who have been around for a while, his name is instantly familiar, and often linked to the nickname “the grandfather of SL aviation”, a term he’s personally uncomfortable with, for reasons which are explored as his conversation with Drax unfolds.

As well as being active in SL from the earliest days (that is, from just after it opens its doors to the public in June 2013), Cubey also spent time working for the Lab as a part-time support volunteer. As such, he is ideally placed to discuss Second Life from several perspectives: content creation, the very early days of the platform and the users it attracted, and that of providing user-focused support and assistance back when the platform was just starting to grow.

Cubey Terra
Cubey Terra

However, before all of that is reached, the conversation kicks-off with an interesting exchange on the subject of alt accounts and our level of comfort with them, but from the perspective of using them ourselves, and the reactions from friends and those around on on discovering we have alt accounts.

What is interesting here is the somewhat divergent views Cubey and Drax, as individuals who don’t use their avatars as characters, but rather fully invest their personality into their avatar, have about their alt accounts. On the one hand, Drax finds it constraining, and consciously feels more of a puppeteer with his alts, while Cubey perhaps find his alts somewhat more liberating when used. These reactions aren’t uncommon; I’ve particularly identified more with Drax’s perspective in the past, although my view has perhaps started to lean towards Cubey’s more recently and in certain situations.

While he worked for the Lab “only” for a year, Cubey provides some fascinating insights into what it is like to be involved in user support back when Second Life was a lot smaller than it is today, and matters could more easily be handled in more of an on-going, hands-on and proactive manner:

Right from the beginning of Second Life, Linden Lab decided that it would be a good idea to have staff in-world, standing around in welcome areas or going around from sim to sim, making sure that things are running correctly, problem-solving, putting out fires – literally, because people would rez fires and worse. And so it was more a personalised experience than what you get now … so that’s basically what I would do.

As a personalised experience, it was, inevitably, something that couldn’t easily scale given the sudden and missive influx of users Second Life gained during the 2005-2007 period. This is something Cubey notes in the interview, explaining how the influx resulted in the support staff logging-in to the support service outside of their assigned hours in order to to try to ensure problems could be dealt with. Such was the situation, that even as early as 2005, those working in support were openly voicing opinions that the approach simply wouldn’t scale to meet the constantly rising demands for assistance – something which helps put the pivoting of support and assistance towards other means and channels into better perspective.

This part of the conversation also touches on broader aspects of governance and on the needs for some structure and rules, and Cubey offers-up so sage observations on matters of finding a a balance between creative freedom and a balance, open social environment.

One of the reasons Cubey may be averse to his title of "the father of SL aviation" is that he took his inspiration from those at the Kazenojin aviation group and Andrew Linden
One of the reasons Cubey may be averse to his title of “the father of SL aviation” is that he took his inspiration from those at the Kazenojin aviation group and Andrew Linden

Around half-way through the interview, matters turn more to Cubey’s involvement in the Second Life aviation community. In particular, Cubey touches upon how he got started in aviation via the Kazenojin aviation group, and Andrew Linden’s first aeroplane script. It is because his work was pre-dated by Kazenojin and Andrew Linden that he feels uncomfortable with titles such as “grandfather” of SL aviation.

Even so, for many of us who came into SL around 2006/7, his name is pretty synonymous with flying and aeronautical matters in Second Life. To use myself as an example; long before I started flying aeroplanes in SL, I was deeply into SL skydiving as a direct result of discovering the Terra range of parachutes, which in turn led my to joining a skydiving club  / group in SL (and I still use the TerraSport III Pro ‘chute in-world to this day). And when I did start flying in earnest, it was the Terra Stingray I turned to to get started (and I still fly that today as well!).

The Cubey Terra Stingray was one of my first real forays into flying in SL - a great aircraft (which also doubles as a speed boat and submarine!)
The Cubey Terra Stingray was one of my first real forays into flying in SL – a great aircraft (which also doubles as a speed boat and submarine!)

The end of the interview turns its attention to what draw Cubey back to SL after his break, and start creating once more. The answer is given pretty much in one word: mesh. Through it, Cubey now has the opportunity to learn new content creation techniques and develop the kinds of aircraft he’s always wanted to create, but has been unable to do so due to previous constraints within the platform.

All told, another fascinating interview (and one deserving of a full hour, frankly), providing a lot of insight into times past in SL, and not a few thoughts on times present and times yet to be.

Cubey marked his return to SL with the release of the Terra Xplorer "hover disk"
Cubey marked his return to SL with the release of the Terra Xplorer “hover disk”, a fun way to travel around

Summer can still be found in Second Life

Salt Water; Inara Pey, December 2014, on FlickrSalt Water (Flickr)

Winter has drawn a snowy cloak over much of Second Life. However, for those seeking sunshine, sand and a little warmth, it can still be found.

One place were the sun does still shine is Salt Water. Once the home of Baja Norte (which relocated to a region of its own a while ago), the region is still a place of verdant green and yellow sand, albeit bathed in the light of a forever setting sun (causing me to fiddled windlight to an earlier time of day when making my visit).

Now an Adult rated region, Salt Water is maintained by TreMeldazis, and forms one of three regions in his care. The other two are Isle of Grace, which is restricted access and appears to be Tre’s home, and Sounds of Silence, a homestead region designed by Sunshine Zhangsun (who also worked on Salt Water) for the purposes of photography, and now kept open through Tre’s generosity.

Salt Water; Inara Pey, December 2014, on FlickrSalt Water (Flickr)

There’s no actual description with Salt Water, but given it is Adult, and cuddle spots are scattered right across the region (as are dance systems), don’t be surprised if you do come across a spot of canoodling going on should you decide to wander the beaches or explore inland.

The island has an eye-catching design, with beaches forming most of the perimeter, together with low grasslands no the north side. The interior of the island is largely given over to tall rocky outcrops and plateaus, paths winding up their sides and stone bridges spanning the gaps between them. A channel of water curls inland from the beach on the west side of the island, into which fresh water tumbles from rocky cliffs rising above it.

Salt Water; Inara Pey, December 2014, on FlickrSalt Water (Flickr)

Atop the tallest of the plateaus can be found a studio house, open to the public, its woodwork bleached and worm from exposure to the sun and the salt of the air around the island. The remaining plateaus all have their own features to be enjoyed by couples and groups, with places to sit and chat or cuddle or places to dance through the evening light. For those who enjoy the beach, there are sun loungers to be found, while a further wooden house has been built out over the water at Mermaid Cove, partially protected from the tide by a breakwater of rocks.

Needless to say, the opportunities for photography within the island are myriad, the landscape offering a rich diversity of backgrounds. Rezzing is open for those who need props for their photos – but do please be sure to clean-up behind you. With both Isle of Grace and Sounds of Silence visible from Salt Water, some great backdrops can be had for the photographically gifted.

Salt Water; Inara Pey, December 2014, on FlickrSalt Water (Flickr)

For those wishing to extend their explorations, Sounds of Silence is a simple hop away, and offers a charm of its own. However, I’ll be saving that for another article on another day!

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