2015: a look back – part 3

Kaleidoscope; Inara Pey, December 2015, on FlickrKaleidoscope (Flickr) – blog post

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’ve been once again breaking thing down into three parts, this section look through the months of September through December. You can find January through April here and May through August here.

The Lab

Following-up on some comments made at the SL12B Meet the Lindens events, I spoke to the Lab about the (still) upcoming return of the community gateway programme on a trial basis. In October, I followed this up with a look at their focused web landing pages, designed to attract users from specific market verticals.

A part of the education landing page, which includes links to details on the education discount, the SL education wiki,

A part of the education landing page from the Lab, one of a series of targeted ad campaign landing pages designed to attract new users to SL, in operation since around June 2015

The Lab added “Latest Photos” to their blog in September and a photo contest was launched, offering the winning entrants the opportunity to have their images used in a Second Life marketing campaign. The latter was followed in October / November by a Halloween themed contest, this one with the usual L$ prize pool.

Also in September, those using credit and debit cards to make payments directly to the Lab were advised to update their payment information as the Lab transitioned to a new payment system. Was this the first indication of what was to come?

In November, and thanks to the initial sleuthing by Vick Forcella, I was able to report on – and speculate about – the Lab’s new payments and compliance subsidiary, Tilia Inc.

Also during November, we saw the launch of their revamped corporate website.

The Terms of Service get updated, and a fair few people get upset … about things that haven’t actually changed, but to which their attention has been drawn as a result of the things which have changed. In December the Lab also made what seemed to me to be an odd offer; fortunately, several people helped me understand things a little better:) .

Second Life

While regions continued to fall off the grid, September seemed to be the month when some more notable region known to SL travellers vanished, such as The Forgotten City and Steelhead. News also came that the wonderful Mont St Michel would be passing, although it was still going in November (and still open at the end of the year).

The abyss Observatory re-opened its doors after being threatened with going permanently off-line

The Abyss Observatory brought news it had re-opened its doors after being threatened with going permanently off-line

On the technical front, the work on improving inventory management started to see the light of day, and the latest batch of HTTP updates reached project viewer status in September. Avatar complexity and the graphics pre-sets continued not to reach release status as the Lab continued to tweak things and splat bugs. The Chromium Embedded Framework (CEF) work for media, however, did get to project viewer status.

In October, attachment and Interest List issues became a focus of attention, and the Lab blogged about upcoming SL improvements, which I looked at in a little more detail.

In November came the surprising  announcement that land set-up fees were reduced and changes had been made to the policy and fees involved in transferring grandfathered regions to a new owner. At the time, I suggested the former would have little real impact, and this seems to have been the case. That month also saw further update on upcoming server-side validation checks intended to help reduce problems users might experience, although some of these were delayed after niggles in the system were found, with deployment finally taking place at the end of the month.

The new range of "Classic" human avatars for Second Life, released by the Lab in November to broadly positive feedback

The new range of “Classic” human avatars for Second Life, released by the Lab in November to broadly positive feedback

In what was a busy month for the Lab, the Marketplace Beta Search also launched in November, and reactions were very mixed.  Changes were made towards the end of the year in how inventory is synced between the Agni and Aditi grids. It was also in November that the Pocket Metaverse client ceased to be available for new users.

However, the biggest news for Second life came in December, with the announcement of the Project Bento skeleton enhancements for the SL avatar, and I presented what will be the first in a series of updates on the project.

Fortune and fate conspired against Bright Canopy just days after the service officially launched. On the one hand, the take-up proved highly popular, but on the other, Amazon’s Spot Instance pricing went through massive and unpredictable fluctuations.

Spot Instance pricing with Amazon made it impossible for Bright Canopy to firmly pin-down their monthly costs, forcing the service into temporary  suspension while pricing structures were re-examined

Spot Instance pricing with Amazon made it impossible for Bright Canopy to firmly pin-down their monthly costs, forcing the service into temporary suspension while pricing structures were re-examined

Both conspired to force Bright Canopy to suspended operations and rethink matters. An update a few days after the decision indicated the service could be down for a while. The service did successfully resume at the end of September, and is folded into Frame’s offerings at the start of December.

October offered me the opportunity to cover the remarkable work of the Pixel to Pixel Foundation in providing genuine help to SL users with disabilities, and I also looked at the joys of folkboat racing in-world.

Project Sansar

“Created Reality” cropped up as a possible contender for the name of the Lab’s next generation virtual worlds platform. Most of the rest of the Sansar news came via media interviews, and so is covered below.

In The Press

Geek Dad discussed “Project Sansar” in October, with a piece entitled Project Sansar: Giving Virtual Reality a Second Life. In  Second Life shows new promise as virtual forum for diabetes education Nidhi Subbaraman covered the news that a US $3.5 million grant had been awarded to the Boston Medical Centre to further studies into the use of Second Life to help diabetes sufferers deal with their condition.

Fortune Online and Road to VR both covered “Sansar” in November, while Ebbe Altberg discussed that platform and Second Life with TNW’s Martin Bryant, who offered an informed piece for our reading.

Ebbe Altberg joined AltSpace VR’s Eric Romo in discussing How to Find Realistic Timeline for Virtual Reality with Bloomberg’s Emily Chang in December. PSFK also covered Sansar and Second Life in the enticing entitled Look Into a More Social Virtual Reality With the Makers of Second Life by Ido Lechner.

Notable Events

The annual Hot Bay City Nights took place in September, while the release of Duran Duran’s latest album was celebrated in-world. Although having help promote SL in the past through their involvement, the band themselves weren’t present.

Stand Up to Cancer in Second Life launched a two-week campaign of fund-raising involving over 40 venues and 150 artists, musicians and DJs, which I followed throughout, eventually raising over L$3 million, which was equally split between Stand Up to Cancer’s work in Canada, the UK and the USA.

MadPea

MadPea joined Feed A Smile / Live and Learn Kenya to raise money to build a school for underprivileged Kenyan children, raising a stunning L$ 1.6 million over the course of a weekend.

Loki Eliot’s marvellous Escapades Island celebrated its fifth birthday, in September, while October brought with it a plethora of Halloween related events, including the third-party of Loki’s The Well and the return of MadPea’s Peatonville Asylum. while the Lab gave us an updated Haunted Tour.

Two other notable highlights (for me) in October was BURN2’s A Carnival of Mirrors, the utterly marvellous Valyria. from Ty Tenk and Truck of Calas Galadhon fame.

Team Diabetes of SL, supporting the American Diabetes Association launched 2015’s Art In Hats event,and this is followed by the Winter Art Show and Showcase. Whilst in November, Virtual Ability held their annual IDRAC seminars and at the end of the month, Toys for Tots opened its gates.

The first Lab Chat, featuring Ebbe Altberg, was held, and I produced the transcript, with audio.

December brought with it the opening of RFL of SL’s Xmas Expo, which felt tad more muted than previous years, while an expanded Winter Wonderland returned to SL, and brought with it a most seasonally positions Lab vs. residents snowball fight – albeit one I missed. Firestorm and MadPea launched The Ghost Town within the Firestorm Gateway, a game intended to further help users new to SL gain more of a feel for the things they can discover in SL. Ty and Truck also got us into the Christmas spirit with their incredible White Christmas.

And what would Christmas be without a Dickens of a tale?

Art Highlights

The UWA’s Pursue Impossible 3D Art and Machinima Grand Challenge drew to a close in October, and the awards are held at the start of December. Singh Albatros also informed me about an exciting opportunity for the creators of the top three prize-winning machinima entries.

Bryn Oh opens The Gathering, another extraordinary immersive piece, while Givanna Cerise gave us Memories. Cica Ghost enthralled me through the last four months of the year Prison and Roots.

Drw (Drwyndwn Tyne) brought us what I felt was another attractive and engrossing exhibition with Dutch Masters, a wonderful collection of art from the Dutch Golden Age, and which demonstrated how effective exhibitions of physical world art can be in Second Life.  Also in October, I took the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the galleries at Timamoon Arts. In December, I was pleased to see the opening of the first exhibition under my curatorship at Holly Kai Park.

Other Worlds

While not strictly speaking  a virtual world, the news that Microsoft had acquired Havok, the games physics engine used by Second Life, certainly caught the eye. Meanwhile, High Fidelity demonstrated, among other things, the ability of their avatars to grasp, pick up and manipulate in-world objects.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Sinewave Entertainment, perhaps most famous for their Sinewave animations in Second Life, provided more information on their Sinewave.space virtual worlds platform, which is seeking to occupy the same space as the Lab’s “Project Sansar”.

Magic Leap revealed a little more about their potentially game-changing technology.

The Final Frontier

I opened September with a look at the mysteries of Mars and Pluto, with the latter continuing to amaze people as the data flowed back to Earth from New Horizons. Having focused on NASA’s rover efforts on Mars throughout the year (as I had in 2014 and 2013), I took a peek at Europe’s Mar rover aspirations. November also saw the amusingly abbreviated WTF hit the Earth’s atmosphere.

A second from touchdown: the Falcon 9 first stage booster, with landing legs deployed, about to make a successful landing at "Landing Zone 1", Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, having been launched from the space facility 10 minutes earlier as a part of a flight to deploy 11 Orbcomm telecommunications satellites

A second from touchdown: the Falcon 9 first stage booster, with landing legs deployed, about to make a successful landing at “Landing Zone 1”, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, having been launched from the space facility 10 minutes earlier as a part of a flight to deploy 11 Orbcomm telecommunications satellites

Elsewhere, SpaceX received its first order to fly crew to the ISS in 2017 (or more likely, 2018). I had the strange sensation of writing about an event taking place above Venus as it was happening. I also got the opportunity to cover Tim Peake’s ascent to the ISS, while before that, Blue Origin successfully launched and landed a sub-orbital rocket as part of a reusable launch system. In December, SpaceX did the same, but with the first stage of a rocket that was heading into orbit.

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