Enjoy a little Egnog this Christmas with Loki!

Your quest: help the Winter Engineer recover his magic crystals
Your quest: help the Winter Engineer recover his magic crystals

Back when my island was called ‘Goony Island’ it would get to these winter months and Christmas would slowly take over Second Life. But rather than celebrate a coca cola deity, we decided to create a character only available in Second Life that all countries could meet.

Thus opens a blog post from the Chief Digital Mischief Maker (all in the best possible fun, of course!) Loki Eliot.

The post introduces Loki’s latest experiment with the Lab’s new Experience Tools / Keys, which in turn offers people a little light-hearted fun over the holiday break. It’s called Egnog the Winter Troll.

As an Experience Tools game, the quest makes use of a single scripted attachment - a HUD - to help you progress through the game and record the crystals you've found (in the watch itself)
As an Experience Tools game, the quest makes use of a single scripted attachment – a HUD – to help you progress through the game and record the crystals you’ve found (in the watch itself)

As Trolls go, Egnog isn’t that awful. During the festive season, for those who come to his winter grotto via the magic portal, he’s prone to giving gifts.

And this is where you come in. The portal must be opened each year by the Winter Engineer, using a magical fob watch. Unfortunately, the four crystals that power the watch have been taken and hidden around the island, each one with a clue to the whereabouts of the next, and the first clue left with the Winter Engineer. All you have to do, is riddle the clues and find the crystals. When you have all four, the portal will be open, and Egnog will reward your efforts. Or quite possibly dine on you (yes, that’s on not with – he is a troll, remember!), depending on his mood!

No, neither of these guys are Egnog. But they might help you find him...
No, neither of these guys are Egnog., and that’s not the portal they’re guarding, but they might help you find him…

As already noted, this is a light-hearted quest, so don’t expect anything too heavy or convoluted, just a little bit of gentle fun to while away 10 minutes while you let your Christmas dinner settle. Game play is simple enough. Find the Winter Engineer and touch him; by return you’ll receive a HUD that will explain the game, track how many crystals you’ve recovered, provide you with each clue in turn and, ultimately, take you to Egnog.

Because the quest uses Experience Tools commands, the HUD will control everything (other than you actually locating the crystals). No permissions are requested (such as to transport you to Egnog on finding the last crystal), because you gave permission when you joined; thus everything is seamless. However, should you detach the HUD or leave the region, all permissions are revoked and the HUD will detach. If that happens before you complete the quest, nothing is saved, and you’ll have to start over with the Winter Engineer.

And as to your rewards from Egnog? They’re actually quite spiffy; one in particular comes in  handy on snowy days  – and also makes a passably good jet ski (as I found out when I totally missed the bridge on a region crossing in Second Norway!).

Hacing fun with one of Loki's presents to successful questers!
Having fun on the Egnog Snowmobile, one of Loki’s presents to successful questers (helmet and goggles not a part of the gift)

Egnog the Winter Troll will be open through to the New Year, so if you have 10 minutes to spare, why not give it a go. If you do, be sure to enjoy the rest of Escapades in it’s winter wonder – there’s a lot to do (including another Experience Tools game). And please do show a little Yuletide spirit and offer a donation to help keep the island open!

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A look at the Lab’s new promo videos

secondlifeUpdate: December 26th: Seems I may have been a little hasty in critiquing the Welcome to Second Life video. Both of the new videos are intended as part of an e-mail campaign, and so additional context will be given. 

Tuesday, December 23rd saw the Lab issue two new promotional videos on You Tube (although interestingly, at the time of writing, one one appears on the WhatIs page of the official SL website). I missed both when released – so thank you to Whirly Fizzle for sending a G+ notification of both, which showed-up on my Nexus tablet.

There has often been strong criticism of past SL promotional videos produced by the Lab, some if which have seemed a tad confusing, while others have perhaps given a bit of a false impression about the platform. In the past I’ve droned on about the Lab doing more to work with established machinima makers to put together promotional material; in fact I did so as recently as January, thanks to Strawberry Singh raising awareness of a very slick promo video for an in-world brand.

So what are the latest videos like?

Well, pretty good, actually. The first one I caught is called Create in Second Life, and it’s a very good demonstration of just that – content creation in Second Life. It comes with the descriptive tag of Second Life is a powerful platform for creativity. Everything in Second Life – interactive 3D objects, unique experiences, global communities, and more – is created by people just like you.

It runs for bang-on one minute (with 52 seconds of actual footage). The editing is fast-paced without being confusing, and the various sequences provide a pretty good glimpse at various elements of content creation within the platform.  There is a lot showcased in the film, including Cica Ghost’s Little Town and the famous Dwarfins, together with Chouchou, to name the three I instantly recognised. What’s more, footage from The Drax Files: world Makers series is used (notably clips from segment #23, featuring Loz Hyde).

All told, it is a snappy, tightly-produced video that showcases SL very well.

The second (for me in terms of viewing order) is entitled Welcome to Second Life. It runs to slightly longer – 1:07 minutes, with 1:04 comprising footage. It also includes a more detailed description:

Second Life is an online 3D virtual world imagined and designed by you. From the moment you enter Second Life, you’ll discover a universe brimming with people and possibilities.

Create and customize your own digital 3D persona, also known as your avatar. Be a fashion diva, a business-savvy entrepreneur, or a robot or all three. Changing identities is quick and easy, so if you tire of your avatars outfit or body, shop for a new one in Second Life or from your web browser. Then switch it in seconds.

Every minute, Residents assemble buildings, design new fashion lines and launch clubs and businesses. There’s always more to see and do.

However, as much as I like it, it does cause something of a niggle; the video supposedly takes one through engaging in Second Life in “five easy steps”. However, actually joining SL by creating an account is completely missed. Instead, the video  gives the visual impression that all someone has to do is download the viewer and start from there (i.e. any sign-up process is inclusive to the viewer, when in fact it is a separate step), the second step being to “login to Second Life”.

A persona niggle for me with the second video is it does gloss over the need to have an SL account before downloading the viewer
A personal niggle for me in the “Welcome to Second Life” video, which is otherwise pretty good overall, is it does gloss over the need to have an SL account before a new user downloads the viewer and attempts to log-in.

This may sound nit-picky, given it is a promotional, rather than instructional, video. While I don’t expect a promo video to get bogged-down in all the steps required to sign-up, at the same time I can’t help but feel that failing to even point to the Join Now options on the web page could result in people following the steps as outlined by the video only to find themselves facing the viewer log-in screen and screaming a frustrated, “HOW?!”

Beyond this, however, the video is again slick, well-edited and does show off SL’s better features – and it is certainly good to see attention drawn to the likes of the Destination Guide to help people with their engagement in the platform, and to aspects of help and support, as well as to the broader community as represented through the website and forums.

Having said that, both videos do offer a bright, positive look at SL, with Create in Second Life really carrying the banner very well.

2014: A look back – part 1

Isle of Mousai, January 2014Isle of Mousai, Ancient Alexandria, one of my first ports of call in 2014 for my Exploring Second Life series

Christmas is upon us, and following not far behind, the year’s end, which is often a time of reflection as we look back over the old before pausing to await the arrival of the new. It’s become something of a tradition in these pages to look back over the virtual year’s events as I’ve seen and reported them, and offer a chance to revisit the ups and downs and the good and the bad the last twelve months have brought us.

Once again, this has been an incredibly busy year for me, blog-wise – over 950 articles published so far (and counting!) since the start of the year. So I hope you’ll forgive that as I look back over the year as I’ve managed to report it through this blog, I’ve broken it down into three parts, which I’ll be publishing between now and the end of the year. Not everything that happened through the year may be here; there are some aspects of  SL in which I’m not active, and so may have missed some headlines. Nevertheless, I hope this review sparks a few memories and provides some interesting holiday reading.  Just to (hopefully) make the reading a little more interesting, I’ve tried to avoid just breaking things down entirely by month, in favour of offering what I hope is more of a narrative flow. Part two and part three are also available.

The Lab

The year gets off to something of a quiet start – literally. With communications from the Lab slowly drying-up throughout the period 2010-2013, There is an announcement (absent from any of the SL channels, due to the Lab’s approach of “siloing” what communications were forthcoming), that the still pre-release Patterns sandbox game / creation tool for Mac and PCs had been updated with materials processing and more, some of which gets a further tweak during the month. An update on the required documentation being sought from users meeting certain transaction thresholds is given, but doesn’t entirely enlighten, prompting me to seek further clarification from the Lab. Given the confusion evident, the Lab does issue a tax and account info FAQ to help people.

Rod Humble, with a little reminder from his past, becomes an CEO of the past at Linden Lab
Rod Humble, with a little reminder from his past, becomes an CEO of the past at Linden Lab

However, the biggest news to start the year comes  via Facebook messages, Tweets and tech media reports, as it emerges that, after three years at the Lab, Rod Humble had departed for pastures new around the end of 2013.

As a result, I look back over his tenure, and decide that, allowing for the warts it brought with it (breakdown of communications, the ToS changes, etc), in terms of the technical aspects of SL, it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t a popular view.

However, the lack of anything from the Lab one the matter wasn’t encouraging at the time.

The first real confirmation of Mr. Humble’s departure from the Lab came with the announcement that Ebbe Altberg had been hired, and would join the company officially in February. This was met with statements of “Who he?” from many, so I dug around and put together a brief profile, which in turn prompted the man himself to drop by the blog – which is always welcome! Although admittedly, I couldn’t resist dropping him a letter on the subject of communications – not that I needed to have worried, as it turned out.

One of the first things undertaken as a result of Ebbe’s appointment is a review of the Lab’s attempts at diversification.This results in Creatorverse, dio and Versu being  axed, and I’m left wondering if Versu doesn’t deserve a future, particularly given a new title, Blood & Laurels, appeared ready to be launched; I’m not alone in this view. However, the Lab initially refuses the idea.

In the meantime, Patterns, having escaped the chopping block (or at least getting a stay of execution), gets its new UI. Positive moves continue elsewhere in the Lab as the door to improved communications is further pushed open, including a promise to re-open the SL JIRA  to public viewing and a promise to revisit the August 2013 changes to the Lab’s Terms of Service. The latter is made during an open Q&A session Ebbe takes  at the 2014 VWBPE; unfortunately, when it arrives, the update doesn’t, in the eyes of many (myself included), really seem to actually clarify anything – but more of that anon.

New man at the top, Ebbe Altberg (l), who quickly sets about reversing the Lab's policy on communications, opening things out and taking time to attend events such as the Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education, where he appear via his alt-ego Ebbe Linden (r - image by Strawberry Singh)
New man at the top, Ebbe Altberg (l), who quickly sets about reversing the Lab’s policy on communications, opening things out and taking time to attend events such as the Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education, where he appeared via his alter-ego Ebbe Linden (r – image by Strawberry Singh)

The re-engagement with the education sector continues later in the year with Ebbe meeting with representatives in-world, as he did with a number of other user communities, building bridges and seeking to understand needs and wants within SL as a whole – for which he should actually be congratulated. Also on the education front, the Lab  helps to promote education projects, such as the MOOC course for Spanish educators, which was to be repeated later in the year as well.

In April, the Heartbleed situation rears its head across the Internet, and the Lab offers advice to users, while I pick-up on a Tweet from Strawberry Singh concerning promotional videos and SL.

Second Life

The start of the year brings word from Tyche Shepherd’s Grid Survey that while region losses continued through 2013, the total loss is some 40% less than that experienced in 2013, although it still represents an 8.2% reduction in the overall number of regions. This does cause renewed demands for tier cuts from some quarters (although tier cuts are as best a very short-term answer, and could actually do more harm than good, as I explained back in January 2013).

Monty Linden: starts the year as he means to go on: overhauling the Lab's use of HTTP
Monty Linden: starts the year as he means to go on: overhauling the Lab’s use of HTTP

For me, my SL January starts with a number of questions from other users on the status of direct messaging on the SL feeds. Passing the enquiry on to the Lab, I receive confirmation that the option had been turned off, which surprises and disappoints some.

2014’s impressive list of updates and improvements to the platform takes off with the arrival of Monty Linden’s much anticipated HTTP project viewer, which he subsequently blogged about. As well as banging on all things HTTP, Monty also sets about cleaning-up the various third-party libraries used in the viewer build process, the first part of an on-going overhaul of that process that would continue through the year.

January also sees Andrew Linden’s last project for SL (completed prior to him departing for High Fidelity in December 2013), a capability to allow for the uniform scaling of linksets, arrive on the grid. Then, the end of January brings with it a surprise when there’s a change to the land bot policy, causing a few eyebrows to rise.

Among the Lab’s major projects, fitted mesh is impacted by AMD driver issues, one of several  AMD-related problems which will occur through the year, although they don’t prevent fitted mesh being officially launched in early February.

February also sees the first big step in the Lab’s AIS v3 project to improve inventory handling between the viewer and the simulators, with the release of the SSA / AIS v3 project viewer,

Photography in SL takes a couple of hits early in the year. January sees the issues that prevent snapshots being uploaded to the SL feeds continue, while in March, photo uploads to Facebook are disabled due to them violating FB’s policies by including SLurls.  This is finally rectified in April, with the formal release of SL Share 2, which allows photos (and messages) to be shared with Twitter and Flickr, and includes post-processing filter capabilities. I’m able to preview the capabilities ahead of the official announcement, which comes with a welcome video for Torley.

Continue reading “2014: A look back – part 1”