Free-form role-play in Second Life

Asphyxiation Point; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Asphyxiation Point – Upper Town

Asphyxiation Point wasn’t always the town that you see today. In fact, there was a time when it was nothing more than a small rocky outcrop jutting out of the ocean. The only way to get to it was past straits so narrow that sailors would hold their breaths as they made the perilous trip. And so the rock was named Asphyxiation Point and largely shunned for centuries.

All that changed when two fishermen – Jeremiah Newton and Fredrick Perry – happened to venture past the straits in search of new lobster hunting grounds.

So opens the back story to what is probably one of Second Life’s most immersive urban role-play environments to be opened in recent years. It is an elaborate story, rich in content, which steers the reader through a history which is both palpable and entirely believable; a story sharing the same depth and detail as the region itself.

Caitlyn and I were invited to tour Asphyxiation Point by one of the prime movers behind the role-play environment: Charles Newton Kuluk
Caitlyn and I were invited to tour Asphyxiation Point by one of the prime movers behind the role-play environment: Charles Newton Kuluk

Caitlyn and I were invited to visit Asphyxiation Point by one of region’s Admins and a prime mover in Asphyxiation Point’s development, Charles Newton Kuluk (kuluk).

Prior to his invitation, I’d only faintly heard of the region, knowing little more than it offered urban role-play. Charles was quick to offer more information, including the link to the region’s excellent website, which offers a wealth of detail for the interested visitor to the town.

“Asphyxiation Point was founded exactly one year back on February 22nd, 2015,” Charles said to me as we discussed a visit. “We’ve since grown to over 3000 members and enjoy a high level of both role-play activity and events, and my motivation for inviting you is  primarily to get more people interested in the idea of free-form role-play, and also hopefully break down  some misconceptions as to why a lot of such regions are labelled as Adult.”

As a free-form role-play environment, Asphyxiation Point doesn’t have a set structure on what it is necessarily about. There are no paragraph-heavy rules; common sense in the order of the day. Nor are there any pre-defined factions, political affiliations or anything else which might be found in more rigidly defined role-play environments. Players are free to establish their own factions and affiliations according to their in-game wants and needs; even the combat is role-played, rather than employing any metered system. Instead, the approach to role-play is perhaps best described by borrowing from the website:

A small fishing village turned tourist town, Asphyxiation Point is both beautiful and dangerous. [A place] ​where characters live, laugh and love while crime, despair and conflict brew just under the surface. Will you succumb to the darkness or will you rise above it all? Where will your adventure take you? Who will you be? 

In other words, those joining the role-play here are free to read-up on the back story of the town, develop their character accordingly, immerse themselves in its environments and gain familiarity with ongoing story lines and existing RP, and to naturally engage and role-play with one another. Hence why there is no insistence that visitors employ any observer or out-of-character (OOC) tags.

Asphyxiation Point; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Asphyxiation Point – Lower Town

“We believe in negotiation here,” Charles said of the latter. “So don’t worry about it. Stick to IMs once you leave the landing point. If you are approached in RP, just IM them and let them know you are observing / photographing or whatever.”

One way of keeping up with all that’s going on is to peruse the community’s local newspaper. In it you’ll find reports on the latest happenings in town, reviews on popular places and news on public events, such as the recent Mardi Gras festival. Again, the emphasis here is on community immersion and involvement: helping to make visitors and player feel fully a part of the local community.

Asphyxiation Point; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Asphyxiation Point – the beach and Upper Town to the right, Lower Town and the Red Light District in the distance

Players can further invest themselves within the community through the businesses established as a part of the role-play environment, or by starting their own business (again focused on role-play). A section of the website again provides a comprehensive guide to both, including an overview of the sim-owned businesses (which players can apply to run) located through the four districts of the town.

“Our objective is to promote diversity in RP opportunities and see what happens,” Charles told Caitlyn and I during our visit. “The build is cleaner in looks than a lot of urban RP environments, because we didn’t necessarily want crime on the surface – well, maybe except for some places like the Red Light District. But we did want to give opportunities to the more criminal elements too. The sewers are spread all under town and give folks an alternative path to stay out of the cops eyes.”

Continue reading “Free-form role-play in Second Life”

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SL project updates 16 8/2: TPVD meeting

Imesha; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Imesha – Blog post

The following notes are primarily taken from the  TPV Developer (TPVD) meeting held on Friday, February 26th, 2016. A video of the meeting is embedded at the end of this report, my thanks as always to North for supplying it, and time stamps in the text relate to this recording.

Server Deployments – Recap

There was no scheduled Main (SLS) deployment on Tuesday, February 23rd. On Wednesday, February 24th, all three RC channels received the same new server maintenance package, comprising a server crash fix and “minor internal improvements.”

RC and Project Viewers

RC Viewers

[00:58] The Current Maintenance RC viewer was updated to version 4.0.2.311655 on Friday, February 26th. This should have a fix in it for a significant crash problem it has been experiencing. Otherwise all the current RC and project viewers remain as per part #1 of this week’s updates, with no view promotion to de facto release status as bugs in the three RC viewers continue to be worked on.

[00:49] It is now believed that the major issues with the HTTP / Vivox viewer have now been resolved, with the version released on Monday 22nd February (4.0.2.311302) performing “pretty well” within its cohort. [23:45] It is hoped that Rider is in the process of clearing the last significant bug which is stopping this viewer from progressing forward.

[01:20] The Quick Graphics viewer (version 4.0.2.311103, dated February 17th at the time of writing) is continuing to gather fixes for assorted issues. Oz is reasonably certain the anticipated update for this viewer will be released as an RC in week #9 (week commencing Monday, February 29th), which could mark its last RC update, making it eligible for promotion to the de facto viewer.

[26:43] At the current rate of progress it is likely these three RC viewer could all be vying for promotion to release status at around the same time.

Project Viewers

[01:49] As per my last Project Bento report, work is being put into the final version of the Bento skeleton. Once this work has been completed, there should be a further viewer update. This could likely be the last iteration of this viewer as a project viewer prior to it progressing to release candidate status at some point in the future.

[02:04] The Oculus Rift viewer update is also still in progress, with what is regarded as the last major bug now having been fixed, so an update will now be appearing “soon”.

OpenSSL

[02:46] There is a new version of OpenSSL  coming out. Depending on the vulnerabilities it fixes, it is possible this will be folded into the current release viewer to get this out of the door, but no firm decision on this will be taken until the update is available.

64-Bit Project

[03:30] Work is progressing on the 64-bit viewer build for Windows and Mac, with the Windows tool chain and infrastructure being rebuilt to support both 32-bit and 64-bit builds (once live, the Mac viewer is likely to be 64-bit only).

Viewer Stats

[04:48] The Lab gathers statistics on viewer log-ins and crash rates (and has long done so). The former allows them to gather data on the numbers of users logging-in by operating system, by operating system flavour (32-bit of 64-bit) and by viewer build (using the viewer channel number).

Changes to how the stats are gathered, coupled with other factors means that they have not been disseminated to TPVs was once the case. However, this now seems likely to resume from March, with TPVs being furnished with their own stats and those for the Lab’s viewers.

Firestorm see this as useful as it allows them to directly compare their most recent releases crash rates not only with previous releases of their viewer, but also with the crash rates of the versions of the Lab’s viewer using  the same core code base, thus potentially helping to identify potential underlying causes of any elevated crash rates they may be experiencing.

This discussion on stats segued into a general discussion on viewer channels, viewer spoofing (an illegal viewer trying to appear as a legal viewer), blocking viewers by channel number, etc., which can be heard within the video.

Future Viewer Projects

Visual Outfits Browser  Viewer

[24:00] The Visual Outfits viewer is not publicly visible, but is designed to provide a means by which users can store and browse images associated with their outfits in inventory. There is currently no time frame for when this viewer will reach a public status (project or RC).

Inventory Code Improvements

[27:14] In September 2015 I blogged about the inventory improvements projects being undertaken by Aura Linden. This is a two-step project:

  • The removal of redundant inventory messaging paths from within the viewer because they have been replaced by more robust mechanisms or they no longer have any server-side support and so are redundant
  • A complete rationalisation of the inventory code within the viewer to  more closely couple functions with their actual purpose, followed by a refactoring of the code to make it easier to maintain going forward.

It had originally been indicated that the first part of this work might appear within a project viewer before the end of 2015. However, as it is utilising HTTP, it has been delayed pending the release of the HTTP updates viewer.

It is now anticipated that once the HTTP updates reach release status, the initial phase of the inventory work will be released and allowed to progress through to a release status and gain adoption by TPVs. Once this has been done, the Lab will start removing legacy APIs from the simulator code.  One consequence of this will be that very old viewer versions which do not support the Advanced Inventory System (AIS v3) code updates (which have been available in most recent viewer releases for some time),  will no longer be unable to log-in to SL as a request of inventory load failures.

Continue reading “SL project updates 16 8/2: TPVD meeting”

Casablanca: a classic movie in Second Life

Casablanca: Aero Gare - "Here's looking at you, kid"
Casablanca: Aerogare – “Here’s looking at you, kid”

Update, February 29th: Sommer contacted me to let me know the Casablanca build will remain open for the foreseeable future – as long as visitors continue to behave themselves! – so if you’ve not already done so, done miss the opportunity of a visit!

Update, February 27th: TracyLynne dropped by to read this post, and afterwards IM’d me in-world to let me know she had, and that the chess table mention in the piece as missing, and which featured in Rick’s exchange with Peter Lorre’s Signor Ugarte where he is given the Letters of Transit for safe-keeping, has now been added. Thank you, TracyLynne!

It’s one of the all-time classic romance films of the 20th century, the tale of American Rick Blaine in Casablanca during 1941, trying to run his own bar and ostensibly stay out of the war. However, he is drawn into matters when his former lover, Ilsa Lund, now married to a fugitive Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo, walks into his bar, trying to find a way to reach the still neutral United States – and he happens to have the means by which they might do so.

At the time it was made,  no-one involved in it expected Casablanca to become the iconic film we know it as today. But in the years and decades following its initial release in 1942, it has become adored for its leading pair of Bogart and Bergman, its many quotes, its memorable theme song and its atmospheric sets. And, until around the end of the month, Second Life users can immerse themselves in this cinematic legend thanks to TracyLynne Carpenter and Sommer Shepherd.

Casabalanca
Casablanca

Sitting above Sommer’s full region of Nantucket Island, lies a beautiful recreation of some of the key locations from the film. It started life as the setting for an in-world party, but Sommer has opened it up for public visits, and it is a place any lover of the film or great and photogenic Second Life builds is not going to want to miss.

Teleporting to the build brings you to the location of the film’s iconic finale: the concrete of Casablanca Aerogare, where an Electra aeroplane bound for neutral Lisbon awaits its passengers. It is here, on a foggy night that Rick persuades Ilsa to board the flight with her husband rather than staying with him, warning her that  if she doesn’t, she will regret staying. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” Then, as the plane departs, Rick walks off into the fog with his new comrade-in-arms, Captain Louis Renault. Regarded as one of the finest endings to a movie (and one in places ad-libbed by Bogart), it is the perfect opening to your visit.

From the airport, you can walk down one of the winding streets of Casablanca, past the headquarters of the Vichy police, to Rick’s Café Américain, the central set of the movie, fabulously reproduced (perhaps only missing the chess board – see the comment at the top of this piece – over which Rick first learns of the means by which he will eventually be able to help Ilsa and Laszlo), when Signor Ugarte persuades him to look after two “letters of transit”  he has acquired, guaranteeing the holders free passage throughout German-controlled Europe.

Casabalanca: Rick's Café Américain - "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."
Casablanca: Rick’s Café Américain – “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

But this is more than just set pieces from Casablanca, it is an imaginary glimpse into the making of the film. Cam along some of the buildings on the street leading to Rick’s bar, and you’ll find them to be wooden façades, propped into place from behind, indicating this is in fact one of the sound stages on which the film was made – albeit one lovingly blended into a suitable desert environment through the magic of Second Life.

Take a walk around the back of the set, and you’ll find film supplies, spare cameras, tented catering and make-up facilities, and the caravans which might have been used by Bogart and Bergman had they really been on location, offering them places to rest between takes or rehearse lines. Other hints that this is a film set can be found elsewhere, such as the camera and director’s chairs sitting alongside the arrival point, or the camera set up in Rick’s bar.

Casablanca: inside Rick's Bar: "You played it for her, you can play it for me! "
Casablanca: inside Rick’s Bar – “You played it for her, you can play it for me!”

This really is the most marvellous build; one which shouldn’t be missed while there is the opportunity to visit. if you haven;t yet dropped into Rick’s Café Américain, neither Caitlyn nor I can urge you strongly enough to make sure you do. You may not encounter Bogart of Bergman when visiting, but if you love the movie, I can guarantee you’ll hear their lines echoing around you.

SLurl Details

Wounded Angels in Second Life

Wounded Angels
Wounded Angels

The 2016 Home and Garden Expo (HGE) in support of Relay for Life of Second Life and the American Cancer Society, is currently under way, and runs through until Sunday March 6th, 2016. As a part of this year’s event, HGE includes a number of art installations to be found through the event regions.

One of these is an installation be Decades Galleries, entitled Wounded Angels. Developed by Sisterbutta and Robijn Resident, it offers an interactive exhibit honouring breast cancer sufferers through the ages, as seen through the eyes of some of history’s greatest artists.

Wounded Angels
Wounded Angels

Wounded Angels comprises three parts: a garden meadow in which is set a comfortable place to sit, located close to a tree around which a series of famous paintings placed around tree; a companion book, with the same title, which can be obtained  by clicking on the in-world copy close by and then worn as a HUD; and your imaginary companion for your journey into the meadow, as Sisterbutta explains in the introduction to the book:

An unseen woman of the present time, who has recently been diagnosed with spreading breast cancer, comes to a meadow behind her home … The woman, an artist by training and occupation, has set up around a tree reproductions of artworks and decorative items she loves the most  … Faced with the threat of her returned cancer, the woman comes here often to sit and look at what she loves, choosing beauty and the exuberance of creation to celebrate her life as well a to fight for it.

Wounded Angels
Wounded Angels

Visitors are invited to walk in the garden with the Unseen Woman, studying the paintings and either reading her reflections on each of them, or by clicking on the paintings to obtain a note card on each one.

The result is a journey through a new perspective on breast cancer, presented in a very personal way – through the eyes of the Unseen Woman, as she seeks comfort and strength in the art and items set out around her tree.

It’s also personal in another way as well, as SisterButta indicated to me, “in a sense, this is what I would do if I were given such a diagnosis…gather up the things that I love and that have meaning and gather strength from them.”

But while taking comfort in those things we have loved throughout lives, why use art in the depiction of breast cancer?

“Because science show us the facts,” Sisterbutta explains. “Journalists report on the state of current research. Governments and other third-party payers look at the bottom line. Business and industry measure the impact in terms of lost productivity in the workplace.

“But is the artist who shows us cancer’s human face as he or she portrays the disease in a living, breathing, feeling individual and makes this cancer almost unbearably palpable.”

Wounded Angels
Wounded Angels

The keepsakes and items placed out around the tree with the art can also be touched. These have been donated by members of SL’s history and education communities, and can be purchased either directly or via the vendor boards on the meadow fences. All proceeds from sales  go to RFL of SL.

Wound Angels may be a small display in the scheme of things at HGE 2016, but it is one that is beautifully brought together and shouldn’t be overlooked when hurrying between the larger exhibit spaces. So do please be sure to stop by during your HGE explorations.

SLurl Details

Project Bento User Group update 6 with audio

Project Bento extends the avatar skeleton, adding a significant set of bones (e.g. 30 for the face, 30 for the hands Project Bento - extending the SL avatar skeleton
Project Bento – extending the SL avatar skeleton

The following notes and audio were taken from the weekly Bento User Group meeting, held on Thursday, February 25th at 13:00 SLT on Aditi. For details on each meeting and the location, please refer to the Bento User Group wiki page. Note that the audio excepts are not necessarily chronological, one to the next. Items such as wing bones were discussed at a couple of different points in the meeting, but the comments have been drawn together in an attempt to present a complete discussion of the subject; however, the subjects within each audio extract are provided in the order the discussion proceeded (i.e. the initial part of the discussion on wings is presented first, and the that later additional discussion presented at the end of the audio).

This was a short meeting, with the primary topic of conversation being finalising the Bento  skeleton in terms of additional bones and bone sets, following the recent survey (see my week 4 update).

Additional Tail / Limb Bone Sets

Vir indicated that he, Cathy Foil and Matrice Leville have been discussing a couple of ideas. The first is to cull some of the additional wing bones to produce a second set of “tail” bones, which could then be used for a variety of purposes, including creating additional limbs, or a new limb and additional animation options on the existing tail, etc. This approach would see each of the tails have 5 bones, compared to the current tail having six bones.

The second idea revolves around creating a pair of new limb bones using bones taken from the wings, and which would share the same mPelvis anchor point within the skeleton along with the existing tail (which would retain its existing 6 bones). This would simplify the creation of hind legs on avatars, allowing the tail to be moved”backwards” with them. At the same time, it would mean the additional limb bones could also be used for other purposes, if required.

This sparked a discussion on what might be the optimal approach to additional bone sets, naming conventions and whether any additional bones were in fact required, given there is now the ability to translate bone positions as well as rotate them. Vir agreed that naming does need to be considered, as that using terms like “tail” should mean the bones are limited to that particular use.

Concern was also raised on whether adding additional bone might add to the Bento time frame and if there might be other impacts. With regards to the latter, Vir indicated his hope is to run a stress test once the skeleton is finalised.

Other suggestions have been to simple add further bones to existing sets – such as with the hands, as suggested by Gaia Clary in the forums, although this has seen been seen as perhaps not as required as originally thought. Vir also reiterated that any additional limb bones could be used for arms as well as legs,

Medhue Simoni demonstrates an alternative use for "wing" bone sets, which he uses to animate his elephant's ears
Medhue Simoni demonstrates an alternative use for “wing” bone sets, which he uses to animate his elephant’s ears

There has also been some discussion on the forum concerns limitations within the wing bone sets, which could be solved through the addition of wing “fingers” which would allow better animation of bat / dragon wings, with an explanation on how provided by Teager, who also explains the differences involved in animating such wings and those of birds.

Overall Status for Skeleton

In terms of any consensus for additional bones, it is Vir’s view that there is slightly more interest in having additional limb bones rather than a “two tails” approach, together with additional bones for wings (which could also be used for things like ears, etc.).

Vir will be taking this into account when defining the final skeleton, which he hopes to have available for people to review and test by the next meeting. However, he did warn that the overheads in getting the work completed, tested and signed-off might impact on this target, but it is one he’ll push for.

Issues Update

Additional Spine Joints

Vir is investigating problems with adding extra spine joints in the avatar, and has come across two issues. The first is that doing so can cause the current version of the Bento viewer to crash, although he believes he has a fix for this problem. The second, and more serious issue, is that additional spine joints, whilst working for mesh avatars, it will break the rendering of the default avatar. This appears to be a complex issue, and Vir isn’t confident it is one which might be fixed in time for the initial Bento deployment.

Avatar Deformations

A rather squished Dan Linden
A rather squished Dan Linden

Dan Linden continues to try to hunt down the cause of avatar deformations (BUG-11157). It has been noted that this is a complex problem, involving multiple factors – something which makes it hard to reproduce in a consistent manner. Following investigations, as I’ve previously noted, one causes appears to be scripted deformers which can have an adverse impact on avatars, in that they can continue to run when changing from one avatar to the next, causing the newly worn avatar to deform when seen by others.

However, the issue seems to be slightly broader than this, in that it appears a deformer used by one avatar can appear to impact another avatar when seen by others, whether or not that avatar is using the Bento skeleton.

An example of this occurred during the meeting, when Dan Linden, who was using the default avatar skeleton, arrived just as someone else was swapping avatars using deformation scripts. The result was that for myself and another attendee at the meeting, Dan’s avatar appeared deformed when viewed using the Bento viewer, while others who arrived a little later saw him normally. However, even the circumstances under which this situation occurred seemed to vary when put to a short test following the meeting, highlighting the fact that determining precise causes remains difficult.

Useful Links

Sundry thoughts on recent bans in Second Life

From Pixabay
From Pixabay

Note: Linden Lab has provided the Better Business Bureau with a breakdown of the permanent ban process, which is available for public viewing.

On  Sunday, February 21st, I posted an article concerning SL content creator Teager (Breeder’s Choice and Teegle brands). In it I covered the news that Teager was asking people not to buy from her Marketplace store, on account of her accounts having been banned from Second Life.

Some 24 hours after posting that article – and approaching a week after she first started encountering problems, Teager had her accounted released. As I noted in my update to my original post on the situation, the news first came in a * Breeder’s Choice * group announcement, via Teager’s husband, AgentEightySix in SL:

There is news regarding Teager. She has been unbanned. She’s not home right now, she got the email on her phone, but I’m sure she’ll be on a little later. For everyone who donated at the donation box, thank you.  No need to do any more.  We’ll take it down tonight, and everything can get back to normal around here.

The following day, Tuesday February 23rd, it was confirmed another creator initially banned under similar circumstances, WarmAnimations Lisa, had also had her ban rescinded.  In both cases, warnings were given about the risk of further banishment in the event of a re-offence.

The notifications that their bans had been lifted was also the first time both Teager and WarmAnimations Lisa were actually told why they had been banned: they had used images within one or more Marketplace listings which were deemed to be “not acceptable” – the actual items specified in the listings did not appear to be in question.

While objecting to an image in a listing, even one rated as Adult, may sound odd, it is worth remembering that there are subjects which can still be deemed as offensive or disturbing even among those who have consciously opted to enable the Adult content rating when browsing the Marketplace. This is something content creators should keep in mind when preparing their listings; the Adult rating isn’t necessarily a carte blanche allowance to post absolutely anything.

But that said, for the Lab to immediately respond with an outright ban, as was the case with Teager and WarmAnimations Lisa (and possibly others) without warning nor explanation, is, in five words: excessive  and completely heavy-handed.

Even with the best will in the world people make mistakes. They’re not wilfully breaking the policy; they’re not attempting any kind of subversion, they have simply erred. This can happen even when they’ve read all the standards, requirements and policies related to something. As such, there are cases where people should be given – for want of a better term – the benefit of the doubt before a hand starts reaching for the ban hammer.

As it is, Linden Lab can remove any content at any time from both the Marketplace and / or in-world at any time, might it not have been better to go that route first with these situations? That is, remove the content causing the problem; communicate with the affected content creators and explain what has been done, why it has been done, and issue any appropriate warning (if necessary) on the possible consequences of future transgressions.

Such an approach achieves a number of beneficial goals for the Lab:

  • It allows the offending images to be removed without fuss
  • It offers a clear explanation of what has been done and why
  • It allows said content creators to consider any other items they have listed with images which might be considered “not acceptable”, and thus replace said images
  • It may allow word to spread through the content creation community without undue rancour or drama, so that others with possibly questionable images in their listings might also replace them, removing the need for future actions on the Lab’s part
  • It demonstrates that Linden Lab recognises that people can, and do, make mistakes, and that most are prepared to accept their error if it is properly explained to them
  • It demonstrates consideration without removing the explicit understanding that there are policies which must be adhered to, and that repeated violations won’t be tolerated.

Obviously, there are times when it is appropriate / necessary for the ban hammer to be wielded within Second Life. no-one is denying that. But equally, there are times when it should not be seen as the immediate and preferred tool of action when there are other means to initially handle a situation. This is a balance those at the Lab with access to the ban tool seem to have problems in understanding.

Over the past couple of years, the Lab has been investing time and effort in rebuilding users’ confidence in itself on several fronts. If nothing else, an over-reliance on bans as first response to policy transgressions when there are potentially other ways to deal with matters, risks unravelling at least some of that restored confidence.

As it is, when looking specifically at both Teager’s and WarmAnimations Lisa’s situation, it’s very hard not to reach the conclusion they were handled in a manner akin to the image at the top of this article.