2015: a look back – part 1

Armenelos, Calas Galadhon; Inara Pey, March 2015, on Flickr The Shire one of  39 regions and locations I explored in the first four months of 2015

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 through this blog, and offer a chance to revisit the ups and downs and the good and the bad the last twelve months have brought us.

To make things easier, I’m once again breaking thing down into three parts, starting with a look back over January through to the end of April.

The Lab

The Lab kicked-off the year by announcing they had partnered with Skrill to provide users with further options for their payment activities, including buying L$ and paying account fees, as well as additional local currency options for those Residents outside the United States. Skrill actually gave word of the partnership ahead of LL, as I reported in my own article on the news.

February saw the photo booth contest open, with the Lab opting to try for a judging-by-panel approach to the contest, rather than simply operating a popular vote approach. A L$19,000 prize pool was on offer, although issues with contacting some of the users led to delays and a little confusion after the fact. As it was February and the month of romance, there was also an invitation for users to visit the Isle of View, or for those seeking a little more fun, there was the resumption of the of the Lab vs. residents snowball fight, which took place in the (then) recently opened Winter Wonderland.

Lindens in action: Torley Linden takes airborne aim; and a (possibly paranoid?) android from the Governance Team
Lindens in action: Torley Linden takes airborne aim; and a (possibly paranoid?) android from the Governance Team

The Lab also took the time to ask for assistance from the community. The first request was related to matters of inventory losses, and marked the start of a long-term project to try to improve inventory handling and management in Second Life. The second request was made to open-source developers to help maintain the viewer on the Linux platform.

February also saw me offer a brief look back over Ebbe Altberg’s first year helming the Lab, while confirmation came that Mitch Kapor had stepped back from an active role in the Lab’s board of directors, while remaining an investor in the company – a point which seemed lost to some following this confirmation.

During March, In the first of a series of moves, most of which appear to be driven by matters of compliance, the Lab called a halt to the use of Linden Dollars outside of their own platforms. Elsewhere, the Lab, in what was a good move, shifted emphasis on the perks being offered to those taking Premium membership, prompting me to one again mull over the idea of Premium perks.

Ebbe Linden as he appeared in-world at the VWBPE 2015 conference in March
Ebbe Linden as he appeared in-world at the VWBPE 2015 conference in March

Also in March, Ebbe Altberg was the opening speaker at the 2015 Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (VWBPE) conference, although he opted to take more of a Q&A approach, addressing questions on both Second Life and the Lab’s next generation virtual worlds platform.ahread of this, and in February, in keeping with moves to re-engage with the education community, a request was made for educators to share their success stories.

We also saw the first of what were to become semi-regular opportunities to meet the Lindens announced, which drew a fair number to the photogenic Meauxle Bureaux, as I reported at the time.

Second Life

My own thoughts on Second Life for 2015, started with further musings on the issue of tier – and subject which in some quarters still appears to be surprisingly misunderstood, as demonstrated in frequent comments on the subject which persist in comparing Second Life with much smaller operations.

Capabilities-wise, the start of 2015 saw a final farewell to the last of the legacy avatar baking code, the start of work to fix group chat, and confirmation that the Lab would be replacing llqtwebkit with Chromium Embedded Framework set to bring modern media handling capabilities to Second Life. Elsewhere, the Alchemy TPV developers revealed they had found one of the culprits behind issues of viewer texture thrashing; those little image icons displayed in chat headers, etc., can be quite obnoxious!

Playing with avatar hover height in February 2015 (and the reason I call my alt my "Crash Test Alt" - she suffer a lot!), the long-awaited Lab replacement for the much missed z-offset height adjustment
Playing with avatar hover height when it was released on Aditi, the beta grid, in February (and the reason I call my alt my “Crash Test Alt” – she suffers a lot!), the long-awaited Lab replacement for the much missed z-offset height adjustment. The capability reached release status in the viewer in March 2015

We also had official word about the Viewer-Managed Marketplace, the graphics presets capability, and changes to how the viewer itself would be built. As it turned out, some of these updates would take a while to surface (graphics presets won’t make it to release status until 2016).  In addition, the official viewer log-in screen got something of a clean-up, removing additional log-in buttons, and the Lab promised to investigate issues with attachment reliability and to re-visit how system clothing layers are handled as well and indicating a number of other projects they were starting into.

While the Lab had asked for assistance in trying to improve inventory management, as noted above, sod’s law dictated that inventory issues would be precisely what users would encounter on the RC channels in March.  However, in April, the main grid beta for the Viewer-Managed Marketplace launched.

On the TPV front, the notable news came from Singularity, the popular v1-style viewer, which made its one and only update in 2015, providing a much-needed fix for AMD GPU users; something that took AMD slightly longer to do. CasperTech, who announced that due to a dispute over branding, they were discontinuing support for the popular text-based client, Metabolt.

SL Go

OnLive and the SL Go service got off to a rosy start in 2015 – although it was to prove a rocky, and ultimately disappointing first quarter for those using the service, not to mention those employed by OnLive as a whole.

The first announcement came in January, with the launch of an in-world support group to assist users of the SL Go service. In February came the news that an in-world support island had also been established, and the nagging teleport issue affecting those using the SL viewer on SL Go got a fix, (the company had already provided existing users with a free month’s subscription because of the problem).

Things seems to be going well for SL Go at the start of 2015, including the launch of a trial system for paying for the service using L$
Things seems to be going well for SL Go at the start of 2015, including the launch of a trial system for paying for the service using L$

On the subject of payments, the ability to pay for the service using linden Dollars got a trial starting in March, before things went decidedly pear-shaped in April with the news the service would be discontinued, with no hope of continuance, for reasons I attempted to explain. And so, at the start of May, OnLive and SL Go bid us all a farewell.

Even so, a chat with Dennis Harper, OnLive’s former Product Manager for SL Go, got me wondering whether Amazon’s AppStream might offer a possible “replacement” for SL Go.  This fired a few imaginations, most notably Bill Glover, an SL user, and Nikola Bozinovic, the founder of Frame, a service delivering a range of applications to users through the cloud, who  suggested his service would be ideal as a delivery mechanism for an SL viewer service. While I had a quick play with the service, Bill at down with Nikola, and thus the final pieces of the puzzle came together, and Bright Canopy, a streaming service for SL (and OpenSim) was on its way to becoming a reality.

Sansar

Besides Ebbe Altberg’s comments and replies to questions at VWBPE, linked-to above, the first quarter of 2015 also offered me the opportunity to reflect on the Lab’s next generation platform (as it was still known at the time) and Second Life, courtesy of comments from Oz Linden.

China Grove - blog post
February, the month of the Chinese New Year had me pondering destinations oriental in Second Life

In the Press

Freelance writer Mark Hay discussed Second Life in Good magazine, with a piece entitled Second Life is Staying Alive and in doing so, showed something remarkable after a series of lowest common denominator media articles about SL, as I pointed out in covering his piece: he actually researched his subject before putting fingers to keyboard.

Cecilia D’Anastasio wrote a thought-provoking piece on the question of avatar identity, identity tourism and gender. Avatar IRL is a piece which appeared in Motherboard section of the VICE web magazine and which offers an insight – for those not directly involved in platforms like SL – on how virtual environments can assist in self-discovery of one’s identity. As I reported at the time, it is a well-written piece, worthy of taking the time to read if you’ve not already done so.

Notable Events

One Billion Rising returned to Second Life in February, while the Second Life Science Fiction Convention was one of several notable events during the first quarter of the year supporting RFL of SL, marking the start of the 2015 season, and I went along in costume.

Watching the sunrise over the 2015 Sci-Fi convention regions
Watching the sun rise over the 2015 Sci-Fi convention regions

Staying with RFL of SL, Fantasy Faire opened its gates in April, prompting a series of articles from myself, while earlier, in March, Burn2 launched their 2015 season with the Burnal Equinox,

MadPea launched Buried, and followed it up with the arrival of the eagerly awaited, and two years in development UNIA. For those seeking calmer pursuits, the merfolk of Blake Sea invited people to come and explore their undersea world at the start of April.

In education, San José State University’s School of Information held the 2015 Virtual Centre for Archives & Records Administration (VCARA) Conference in SL, and the  Universidad de San Martín de Porres (USMP), Perú, launched their 3rd Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) designed to help Spanish-speaking educators in the use of Second Life as a starting point in their interaction with emerging and innovative environments.

March saw the first of several in-world meetings with Lab staff, occurring Meauxle Bureaux
March saw the first of several in-world meetings with Lab staff, occurring Meauxle Bureaux

Art Highlights

Sniper Seimens offered us a walk through SL’s history. Award-winning machinimist Tutsy Navarathna demonstrated his 2D art skills with ReZilience. Kaya Angel produced a video demonstrating how magnificent Second Life can look.

The UWA announced the outstanding Transcending Borders book was available in the physical world. renewed my acquaintance with the art of Toysoldier Thor,  discovered the mathematical artistry of Lusus Saule, and David Peyton’s postcard art among the delights of Kayly Iali’s i4 Galleries.  Friends Owl Dragonash and Daallee opened their arts and music venue The Living Room, which I’ve had enormous pleasure in previewing throughout the year, while Mistero Hifeng, one of my favourite 3D artists in Second Life, combined with Ocho Tango to offer a fabulous joint art / music region.

A Slow Reveal – Dathúil Gallery
Dathúil Gallery which opened its doors in March 2015, quickly established itself as a premier gallery in Second Life, and my personal favourite. I’ve had enormous pleasure in covering exhibitions there, including the last one for 2015, by artist Goodcross

Omega Point also made a welcome return to Second Life, and Beq Janus presented SL users with a unique opportunity to enter the world of Maurits Cornelis (M. C.) Escher with the return of her outstanding immersive installation Metamorphosis. The utterly  compelling documentary Login2Life, featuring Second Life received a further public outing, this time in New York.

Other Worlds

Explore the Great Gatsby opened its doors on Kitely, offering theatre goers in the physical world who attended a professional stage performance of The Great Gatsby, to come in-world as a part of a unique cross-over. Once in-world, they could learn more about the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, visit scenes from the book, and hear the novel in full during a series of readings. As well as continuing their operations in Second Life and Kitely, Seanchai Library also expanded into InWorldz in March.

Rod Humble announced the launch of Cults and Daggers, his first game, which gains favourable reviews and is available on Stream. The game is released under his Chaphat brand, which also features his musical aspirations through the 2014 Dance / Electronic album, Outsurge.

Cults and Daggers play screen (image courtesy of Chaphat LLC)
Cults and Daggers, release by former LL CEO rod Humble early in 2015 (image courtesy of Chaphat LLC)

Perhaps the biggest news, at least for SL users, involving other worlds, might have been the February announcement at Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen had invested US $11 million in Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Oculus Rift appeared at CES 2015 in Nevada, demonstrating its Crescent Bay prototype, garnering very positive feedback, although the company remained keen to calm expectations that the consumer version would be arriving in 2015. In covering this, I also reported on the acquisitions made by Oculus VR at the end of 2014. Then came the news they were launching a movie studio.

Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) also got a lot of press at the start of the year, with gaming equipment manufacturer Razer and high-end VR specialist firm Sensics leading the charge. Meanwhile, HTC also announced their entry into VR, teaming with Valve to present the Vive, a headset to rival the Oculus Rift, and which gained some pretty positive feedback.

 

The Vive from HTC: a VR headset developed with Valve - set to rival Oculus Rift in 2016
The Vive from HTC: a VR headset developed with Valve – set to rival Oculus Rift in 2016

On the mobile front, LG took Google’s Cardboard concept and turned it into plastic. Not to be outdone, Mattel announce their granddaddy of “headsets”, their View-Master, was getting a complete makeover for the VR era. Google launched Works with Cardboard to help promote the concept, and a UK-based operation entered the mobile VR market with Freefly, both of which I reported on through a single article.

The Final Frontier

2015 proved to be an exciting year in space, mixed with a little melancholy. In January, it was confirmed that Britain’s Beagle 2 Mars lander did make it safely to the surface of Mars, by and on-board failure prevented it from functioning. Sadly, the man mostly notably behind the project, Profession Colin Pillinger never got to learn of this, as he passed away in May 2014. Virtual Reality started been used to assist in exploring Mars, while at the same time, Earth had the first flyby of a major object for the year.

An artist's impression of Beagle 2 on Mars (image: European Space Agency)
An artist’s impression of Beagle 2 on Mars (image: European Space Agency)

Europe took a further step towards developing a reusable payload delivery system with the first test flight of IXV.  Nitrogen became the topic of debate for both the NASA MSL mission and Europe’s Rosetta mission.

April started with the stunning news from CERN that we could now forget the Higgs Boson: they’d discovered the existence of The Force, although Dark Matter physicist Dave Vader was apparently less than impressed…

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