Firestorm 4.7.1 to be blocked from January 7th

MadPea and Firestorm: working in collaboration to enhance the experience those new to Second life have with the platformFirestorm have announced that as from Thursday, January 7th, Firestorm viewer 4.7.1 is to be blocked from accessing Second Life, and those using 4.7.1 are being encouraged to update to a more recent version (or revert to 4.6.9 for the time being if using Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.6) ahead of the block coming into force.

The move is in keeping with Firestorm’s commitment to Linden Lab to only have 3 versions of their viewer (allowing for specific issues which might otherwise come us, as has been the case for Mac users, who have had to face a series of (apparently) Cocoa related issues impacting their ability to use viewers incorporating these updates) active at any given time.

As noted in the announcement, this means that only Firestorm 4.6.9 will remain available for those still using Windows XP or versions of OS X older than 10.7, and this will be blocked some time after the next release of Firestom, which currently looks to be set for some time in February.

Those needing help in updating their version of Firestorm can find it on the following Firestorm wiki pages: backing up and restoring your settings and Updating Firestorm.

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Of Heritage and Vestige in Second Life

Heritage: Vestiges - Gem Preiz
Heritage: Vestiges – Gem Preiz

Heritage is the over-arching title of two immersive installations created by Gem Preiz. The first, Vestiges, opens On Thursday, January 7th,  with the second, Wrecks commencing on Monday, March 7th 2016.

“Heritage is the theme of the two exhibitions,” Gem explains of the pieces. “The heritage passed to us by our predecessors, and the one we shall bequeath to our descendants in the endless fight of life against Time.”

Vestiges evokes the first of these aspects: the heritage passed down to us by others; a journey through the past, visiting the ancient places and secrets of long-past civilisations – but are they the civilisations which gave rise to us, or are we perhaps archaeologists travelling through space and time, witnessing the past of worlds and those who inhabited them, the examination of their past causing us to reflect upon what we might leave for those who follow us?

Heritage: Vestiges - Gem Preiz
Heritage: Vestiges – Gem Preiz

This is a huge installation, eighteen rooms in total, through which the visitor travels as if on a quest. Those who are familiar with Gem’s fractal art will know he can produce huge and beautifully complex pieces, rich in detail and grandeur, and the rooms the visitor travels through are intended to enhance the feeling of being immersed within the scenes they present.

The arrival point offers notes  on the installation, presenting a wealth of background material as well as providing guidelines on how to both best experience your time spent exploring them, and how best to set your viewer.

Heritage: Vestiges - Gem Preiz
Heritage: Vestiges – Gem Preiz

A teleport system (which will only be available to the public once the installation has opened to the public on January 7th) then carries visitors to the first room, and the start of their journey. Do make sure you enable the music stream here to enjoy the compilation of music Gem has created specifically for the installation.

From here you journey comprises alternating between witnessing the exteriors of vast citadels and then visiting “hidden” chambers within them, each with its own treasure to be found. The way forward is variously indicated by rocks on the ground marking a path, or pillars between which a footpath is set, or arches under which you must travel. Guidance is given in chat, and invisiprims help to ensure yo stay on the right track, gently nudging you in the right direction and lifting you to the phantom passages between rooms (use CTRL-ALT-T to see them if you find this easier).

Heritage: Vestiges - Gem Preiz
Heritage: Vestiges – Gem Preiz

Some of the citadels have a certain familiarity about them; there is s distinctly Egyptian feel to the second, for example, while another suggested to me an echo of the ancient orient. Whether these citadels represent our own distant past or that of another civilisation entirely is for you to decide. For while all we see is somewhat familiar, so to is it so very alien; And thus the installation – and the images within – toy gently with our sense of perspective, causing us to stop, examine, and ponder.

The intricacy of Gem’s fractal art is always a marvel to behold, and this installation is a veritable tour de force of his work, where the extent to which he has used fractals may not always be immediately apparent, and so considered study of both citadels and chamber images is required. The former are of such a huge scale that only careful camming can really bring out their beauty, allowing our impressions about what they are and represent to flow freely as we move across them. Similarly, it is only through considered study of the images within the chamber we can fully appreciate the extent to which Gem has used fractals in their construction.

Heritage: Vestiges - Gem Preiz
Heritage: Vestiges – Gem Preiz

If I’m totally honest, such is the scale and presentation of some elements, that it can, on repeated visits diminish their overall impact. But these instances are in the minority, and more than compensated for by the knowledge of what is to come. One thing I would recommend is that if you plan to make one more repeat visits (I found myself drawn back a number of times to specific rooms and scenes), they try to do so in the company of a friend who hasn’t previously visited Heritage; sharing in their reaction experience of seeing these cityscapes and images for the first time can be as involving as any first solo visit.

As noted earlier, Heritage opens to the public on Thursday, January 7th.

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Oculus Rift now available for pre-order

The Oculus CR-1 - now available to pre-order
The Oculus CR-1 – now available to pre-order (image: Oculus VR)

Following a pre-announcement on Tuesday, January 5th, Oculus VR have confirmed that the Oculus Rift headset is now available for pre-order (for Windows users) for shipment to the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States.

The price for the headset and accessories is a nominal US $599 (€699 in Europe and £499 in the UK), although as the announcement notes, this is exclusive of tax and shipping costs, and the price may vary for non-USD purchases.

Oculus VR indicate that pre-ordered set will start shipping on March 28th, 2016, and limited stocks will be available to retailers later in April 2016. However, Engadget report even the March 28th ship date may have slipped due to the initial volume of orders already received by Oculus VR, and that some outside of the US may have had problems in placing orders.

The Oculus Remote is "esigned to make it simple and intuitive to navigate VR experiences"
The Oculus Remote is “designed to make it simple and intuitive to navigate VR experiences” (image: Oculus VR)

The complete package comprises the Rift headset with built-in headphones and microphone, sensor, and an Xbox One controller and the Oculus Remote.

Those pre-ordering also secure the opportunity to pre-order the Oculus Touch hand controllers when they become available later in 2016 (the  release of the latter was pushed back to the second half of 2016 to allow further time for development  / testing).

Also included in the package is a copy of Playful’s Lucky’s Tale, a platform game which has enjoyed much exposure and positive response as a part of Oculus Rift demonstrations, and also EVE: Valkyrie.

Those pre-ordering are reminded that a fairly hefty PC is required to obtain a suitable Rift experience, with the specifications listed as : NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater GPU;, an Intel i5-4590 equivalent CPU or greater; at least 8Gb of RAM; compatible HDMI 1.3 video output; 3 free USB 3 ports (and 1 USB 2 port) and Windows 7 + SP1 or greater.  Oculus also report that PCs supplied by manufacturers meeting this specification will start to ship with an “Oculus Ready” logo, and the company will be making suitable PCs with headset available for pre-order in February (presumably in the US only) at a starting price of US $1499.

A compatibility tool is available for download to help determine if your PC is “Oculus ready” and those wishing to pre-order can do so through the Oculus Shop.

The compatibility test will tell you if your PC is ready for the the best Oculus Rift experience
The compatibility tool will tell you if your PC is ready for the best Oculus Rift experience

There has already been some excitement following the announcement by those SL users who are interested in the Lab’s upcoming virtual worlds platform, “Project Sansar”, as this is being built very much with the Rift in mind (although use of a Rift headset with “Sansar” is not a requirement).

While the experience is acknowledged to be somewhat less-than-optimal, it’ll be interesting to see of the Oculus VR announcement spurs the Lab on update the Second Life Oculus Rift project viewer for those wishing to try the headset in Second Life. There have been promises that such an update is coming down the pipe, but until now it has likely been sitting at the back of the queue while the Lab pushes out updates and capabilities liable to be more widely appreciated by SL users.

Oculus CR-1 with microphone, Oculus Remote and Xbox wireless controller
Oculus CR-1 with sensor, Oculus Remote and Xbox wireless controller (image: Oculus VR)

As noted above, Engadget report that the initial response to the pre-order announcement has been positive. There is undoubtedly a lot of interest in HMDs from gamers around the world, and most likely from the curious and those with specific uses for the headset. However, it’ll be interesting to see how things go over the coming year. Whichever way you look at it, the Oculus Rift CR-1 and its nearest rival, the HTC / Valve Vive represent fairly hefty investments, and many might prefer to wait and see how the market develops in terms of newer, more compact headsets, lower prices, etc., before committing.

I confess to being in the latter category. To me, the potential of VR still lies down the road, and I’m more than happy to see how the hardware side of things shapes up, and what really develops in support of it in terms of practical applications which might appeal to me (games most certainly ain’t it). I also have to admit augmented reality holds far more fascination for me in terms of it potential for “every day” use than do most things so far imagined with VR.