Project Bento User Group update 13 with audio

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, April 28th 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 this update is not intended to offer a full transcript of the meeting, nor does it present the discussion points in chronological order. Rather, it represents the core points of discussion to Project Bento, grouped together by subject matter were relevant / possible.

Issue Fixes

Partial Joint Offsets

As noted in my last update, one issue facing Bento is in how best to handle defining partial joint offsets – a mesh that specifies the override positions for some of the joints but leaves  other joints alone, which would allow different meshes to be mixed and matched to create an avatar look. Currently, the viewer doesn’t handle  multiple root bones in a mesh with partial rigging correctly, and to help correct this, Vir Linden has published a proposal for moving forward. Essentially, this would filter out any joints which have a position unchanged from their expected default, even if the mesh claims to use an offset, with only a very small adjustment (0.1mm or greater) is required to have a joint treated as having its own offset.

Offset and Slider Conflicts

Another issue which has been discussed recently is that joints offsets (notably translation offsets) can conflict with adjustments made using the appearance sliders, resulting in adjustments made using the sliders “snapping back” to their original location on leaving edit shape or following a relog or after removing / rewearing the avatar mesh.

An adjustment has now been made so that where an offset has been set for a joint, adjustments made using the sliders which only affect the offset will be ignored, only changes to the scale of a joint (length, height) made using the sliders will work. It is thought that this fix will also address the likes of BUG-11854.

Work in progress: Aki Shichiroji demonstrates a wearable wyvern utilising Bento bones for animation.
Work in progress: Aki Shichiroji demonstrates a wearable wyvern utilising Bento bones for animation.

It has also been noted that BUG-10991, “[Bento] Mesh rigged to the new joints either partly disappears, collapses or melts when viewing that avatar as an imposter” has not been fixed with the latest version of the project viewer. It will hopefully be one of the issues addressed with the next update.

Next Viewer Update

The above fixes, coupled with other work which has been carried out are regarded as being sufficient to kick-off another update to the project viewer, although there is a further piece of work Vir hopes to include. If all goes according to plan, this should see a new version of the Bento project viewer appearing in week #18 (week commencing Monday, May 2nd).

Animation File Size Limit

Currently, there is a file size limit of 120 Kb on animation files enforced by the back-end servers. With the increased number of bone available for animation. As it is now possible to animate a far large number of joints, some creators have started to find this limit a problem, and a request has been put in for it to be increased (see BUG-11836).

While there is potential for this to be done, it is currently unclear how much the file size limit should be increased. There are also other considerations to take into account, such as the intention for animation assets to be moved to the CDN for better delivery.

If there are specific examples of animation with large file sizes which could be attached to the JIRA as examples, they would be welcomed by the Lab. It has also been suggested that the Lab establish a best practices guide for animations files on the wiki.

This lead to a brief discussion on interpolation and the differences between .BVH and .ANIM animations, with Vir providing background information on how each are respectively handled.

Sliders for Remaining Bento Bones

While many Bento bones  – notably those of the face / head – have been tied-into the existing appearance sliders, there are still those which do not have slider support because they would require the development of dedicated sliders. this has been considered outside the scope of the initial Bento work, and it is far from certain it will be taken up in the near-term future, if at all.

Part of this comes down to the added complexity further sliders would thrust into the viewer UI, and also – as Vir explains – because the use of many of the Bento bones is intended to be arbitrary, therefore providing sliders to adjust them may not suit all of the uses to which they might be put, and cause further confusion / unpredictable results when used.

Continue reading “Project Bento User Group update 13 with audio”

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The hidden paths of Osprey Ridge in Second Life

Osprey Ridge; Inara Pey, April 2016, on Flickr Osprey Ridge – click any image for full size

Osprey Ridge is a homestead region within the United Sailing Sims located eastward of Blake Sea and a place we’ve often passed when our sailing or boating. Open to the public, the region has been landscaped by Markarius Viper and is cared for by Flo (SweetFloXO) and presents a pleasing environment in which to spend time.

The best place to start a visit is at the moorings on the north side of the island, sheltered from the passage linking Blake Sea with Second Norway by a natural grassy breakwater. From here, visitors can walk eastwards along the moorings and the beach to come to a cosy summer gazebo sitting alongside a reedy pond, or head inland along a wooded track which winds its way to a sturdy and comfortable log cabin.

Osprey Ridge; Inara Pey, April 2016, on Flickr Osprey Ridge

The cabin sits nestled between tall columns and plateaus rising to the south and west of it, topped by tables of grass from which tress grow. Of these more anon; for now however, take the path onwards around the front of the cabin, and it will turn southwards and lead you between more trees and under the shadow of a another mesa on the east side of the region bore your arrive at the southern shore, a deck overlooking the open waters, with another ribbon of beach pointing westwards.

If you prefer, there is a track on the west side of the cabin, just within the tree line, which leads the way to the waters at the foot of the rocky cliffs, which are in turn spanned by a bridge made from the trunk of an old, fallen tree. From here it is possible to pass between the tall mesas on either side to reach the south-western corner of the island, or scramble over the rocks and into the cavern beneath the west side plateau.

Osprey Ridge; Inara Pey, April 2016, on Flickr Osprey Ridge

The cavern is a place of peace, watched over by a fae waystone which, for those running with ALM enabled, casts patterns of light across the surrounding rock faces and over the pool of water in which it sits. A narrow opening on the north side of the carven provides a short-cut back to the moorings, which eagle-eyed visitors may have spotted as they followed the rack down towards the cabin from the north side of the island.

The broad, grassy tops of the plateaus are home to a tree house, a camp site, Greedy, Greedy and a romantic cuddle swing. A wooden bridge connects the two plateaus, but how to get up to them without flying or double-click teleporting actually defeated Caitlyn and I (we eventually went the double-click TP route).

Osprey Ridge; Inara Pey, April 2016, on Flickr Osprey Ridge

The region could perhaps benefit from having the moorings on the north side parcelled-off so that auto-return could be set to say, 60 minutes, to allow those arriving by boat to come ashore and explore without fear of their vessel poofing to Lost and Found as soon as they do so, but this is a minor point. Osprey Ridge offers a pleasing visit to those passing or who are looking for photogenic spots within Second Life, with plenty of places up high and at ground level for simply sitting and enjoying the environment or having an intimate cuddle (including a bed suspended from the trees in the woods!).

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Fantasy Faire 2016: Otherworld

Otherworld
Otherworld

I’ve already written about what, for me, makes visiting the regions of Fantasy Faire special, so it may seem unfair to pick out one or two for mention beyond that post. However, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I am a long-time admirer of Elicio Ember’s work and designs, and so Otherworld tends to call to me strongly wherever I’m in the Fairelands.

Otherworld
Otherworld

I particularly love visiting it during the mornings (my local time, that is). It is then that the Fairelands are at their quietest and I can wander through the caves and high fields of Otherworld, climb the stairs,  descend under water or wade through the pools – and simply enjoy the tranquillity and the marvellous architecture.

At these times, My thoughts can roam, taking a short break between getting myself upright and plunging into all things physical and virtual, as demanded by the day.

Otherworld
Otherworld

Time has again conspired against me this year, preventing me from writing anywhere near what I had hope might have otherwise been the case for each of the Faireland realms; so I hope this video of Otherworld goes some way towards making up for things.

Motherboard looks at Second Life

There have been a couple of interesting articles which have appeared in Motherboard over the last couple of days which make interesting reading.

In the first, Men Are Working Out Their Issues By Playing As Their Lovers and Exes in RPGs, published on April 28th, Cecilia D’Anastasio looks at a little researched aspect of avatar use within Second Life and MMORPGs: using their capabilities to create avatars in the likeness of a ex- or current partner or spouse.

Cecilia D'Anastasio: writing on identity in the digital age
Cecilia D’Anastasio: writing on identity in the digital age

I’ve always enjoyed reading Ms. D’Anastasio’s pieces on matter of digital identity, and have previously written about her excellent Avatar IRL, which appeared almost exactly a year ago.

This new article examines a number of ways in which people – notably, but not exclusively, young male gamers – have created representations of current or past Significant Others in the virtual environments they use.

Some of the related stories are pretty innocent. From Second Life, for example, we learn that well-known boat designer Jacqueline Trudeau  uses an avatar “minutely resembling” her husband to help promote her designs, even though he seemingly has no interest in either the platform or his wife’s ability to generate an income through it.  Similarly,  Kevin D. Kramer, a Second Life DJ in his 50s, has designed an avatar modelled on his wife which they both use, candidly admitting it offers him the opportunity to buy gowns, dresses and outfits to surprise her with in ways he cannot easily replicate in the physical world.

However, some are much more disturbing in tone, notably the examples drawn from Skyrim and XCOM-2 where the motivation for creating likenesses of ex-partners be 20-something gamers as a means to exert greater (and not entirely positive) control over them, even to the point of subjugation, or to increase their own self-image as a “protector” of the women formerly in their lives.

The piece is certainly an interesting read, going by way of Nick Yee’s research into matters  of gender-bending as covered by his Daedalus Project (you can also learn more about his work on matters of avatar identity here and via Draxtor’s excellent interview with him), and including feedback from Dr. Jamie Banks of Department of Communication Studies, West Virginia University. However, it is not without potential fault.

There is an acknowledged lack of research in why people might create avatars in the likeness of former or current partners; as such, there is perhaps a bias present in the piece, which I did find undermined it in places.

For example, while it is hard to reconcile Dr. Banks’ view of creating avatars in the image of a former partner as a means of coping with the Skrim and XCOM2 examples cited (they are far too calculated in their creation and use), it doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t have merit in other possible cases. Unfortunately, any potential credence it might have is more-or-less directly thrown under the bus in the paragraph of the article following Dr. Banks’ comments.

There are other flaws evident in the writing as well. It is noted, for example, that one of the people who created a female avatar based on his ex-girlfriend has since been banned from an unrelated game. The reason for that ban isn’t specified and could be entirely unrelated to the issues being discussed in the article. Thus, the inclusion of this statement seems to serve no other purpose than to enhance the reader’s negative view they may already have of the individual.

However, given this is an aspect of the use of avatar-driven environments and MMOs that hasn’t really been deeply researched, the article does open the door to discussions on the subject, and may encourage a greater academic study of the issue.

In Why Is Second Life Still a Thing?, which appeared on April 29th, Emanuel Maiberg poses a question I suspect might be asked by a lot of journalists who have perhaps been previously familiar with the platform and are suddenly exposed to it once more.

In asking the question, Mr. Maiberg also does a fair job in answering it as well, and in doing so, takes the reader on a no hold barred tour of the platform, commencing with what has been it’s crucial differentiator over other, “prettier” platforms and games:

A crucial difference between Second Life and MMOs like World of Warcraft is that the latter are mostly fixed worlds. Once in awhile, developer Blizzard will introduce a new continent or reconfigure an existing location, but all players are guests in the world that Blizzard created. Second Life, by contrast, allows users to not only create their own avatars, but also to shape and create the world they’re in, importing their own 3D assets and modifying the world with the Linden Scripting Language.  

Emanuel Maiberg - a frank look at Second Life
Emanuel Maiberg – a frank look at Second Life

A potted history of the platform follows, together with an examination of much of what goes on in-world being referenced: art, education, user-generated transactions, and so on, together with the highs and lows the platform has seen. Of course, sex gets a fair mention within the piece; no surprises there, as it does both act as a draw for at least some of those coming into the platform (although equally, they may find their interests moving elsewhere once they are engaged in the platform), and it does contribute fairly to the platform’s economy.

Project Sansar is also touched upon – as is one of the core reasons why the Lab is keen to emphasise it is a platform designed to run alongside, rather than replace, Second Life. The very success of the latter and the level of investment users have within the system mean that displacing them anywhere else is at best exceptionally difficult; no other platform or service as thus far managed to achieve what Second Life invented in terms of environment, capabilities, user numbers and economical viability.

Those of us familiar with Second Life may not find much that is new in Mr. Maiberg’s piece, but that’s beside the point. What he offers is a frank look at the platform, free from bias or agenda but which fairly addresses many of the reasons which have made the platform a success in and of itself.

Overall, both pieces made for interesting reading.

Visions of Hope in Second Life

Visions Of Hope 2016
Visions Of Hope 2016

Officially opening on Saturday, April 30th ins the 2016 Visions of Hope silent auction in aid of Relay for Life of Second Life.

First held in 2015 (see my preview here), has been organised by Randy Firebrand and Ricco Saenz on behalf of Hope Haven Heroes, where the survivors and caregivers support groups meet.

Em Larsson - Visions of Hope
Em Larsson – Visions of Hope

The auction features pieces by seventeen of Second Life’ photographers and visual artists, who have all donated up to three pieces of work for the auction and who comprise: Bijou, Boudicca Amat, Ciottolina Xue, d-oo-b, Dru G Eiren-Milneaux, Em Larsson, Hills, Inara Pey, Mareea Farrasco, Nikolai Warden, Proph, Pusher, Randy Firebrand, Ricco Saenz, Tomais Ashdene, Trinity Yazimoto and Ziki Questi.

All of the pieces on offer to the highest bidders are in large format (they may include resizer scripts), and have a reserved starting bid of just L$500 (bidding can be increased in L$100 increments). As this is a silent auction, bids will be tallied and the winners announced on May 31st. 100% of all proceeds from the bidding will go to RFL of SL.

D-oo-b - Visions of Hope
D-oo-b – Visions of Hope

To mark the auction’s formal launch, there will be a special party on Saturday, April 30th, from 16:00 through to 18:00 SLT, featuring music from DJ Cupric. An open invitation is extended for people to attend. The auction items will be open for bidding from the start of the party, and will remain open to bids until Monday, May 30th.

All the pieces that have been donated are unique to the auction, making this a one-time opportunity to obtain some really superb artwork while also raising money for RFL of SL. So be sure to make a note of the event in your diary, and do pop along to the Hope Haven Heroes gallery to make a bid on any that appeal to you once the auction commences.

Inara Pey - Visions of Hope
Inara Pey – Visions of Hope

The gallery is already open for those wishing to view the pieces and perhaps decide which they might like to make bids, however, as notes above, the auction boards will not be enabled until the official start of the auction on  April 30th.

I am particularly honoured to have been invited to join such a distinguished group of artists, and am delighted to participate in this year’s auction, and would like to thank Ricco and Randy for inviting me to do so.

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High Fidelity moves to “open beta”

HF-logoTuesday, April 27th saw High Fidelity move to an “open beta” phase, with a simple Twitter announcement.Having spent just over a year in “open alpha” (see my update here), the company and the platform has been making steady progress over the course of the last 12 months, offering increasing levels of sophistication and capabilities  – some of which might actually surprise those who have not actually set foot inside High Fidelity but are nevertheless will to offer comments concerning it.

I’ve actually neglected updating on HiFi for a while, my last report having been at the start of March. However, even since then, things have moved on at quite a pace. The website has been completely overhauled and given a modern “tile” look (something which actually seems to be a little be derivative rather than leading edge – even Buckingham Palace has adopted the approach).

High Fidelity open beta requirements
High Fidelity open beta requirements

The company has also hired Caitlyn Meeks, former Editor in Chief of the Unity Asset Store, as their Director of Content, and she has been keeping people appraised of progress on the platform at a huge pace, with numerous blog posts, including technical overviews of new capabilities, as well as covering more social aspects of the platform, including pushing aside the myth that High Fidelity is rooted in “cartoony” avatars, but has a fairly free-form approach to avatars and to content.

High Fidelity may not be as sophisticated in terms of overall looks and content – or user numbers – as something like Second Life or OpenSim, but it is grabbing a lot of media attention (and investment) thanks to it have a very strong focus on the emerging ranging to VR hardware systems, and the beta announcement is timed to coincide with the anticipated increasing availability of the first generation HMDs from Oculus VR and HTC. Indeed, while the platform is described as “better with” such hardware and can be used without HMDs and their associated controllers, High Fidelity  describe it as being “better with” such hardware.

High Fidelity avatars
High Fidelity avatars

I still tend to be of the opinion that, over time, VR won’t be perhaps as disruptive in our lives as the likes of Mixed / Augmented Reality as these gradually mature; as such I remain sceptical that platforms such as High Fidelity and Project Sansar will become as mainstream and their creators believe, rather than simply vying for as much space as they can claim in similar (if larger) niches to that occupied by Second Life.

And even is VR does grow in a manner similar t that predicted by analysts, it still doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will be leaping into immersive VR environments to conduct major aspects of their social interactions. As such, it will be interesting to see what kind of traction high Fidelity gains over the course of the next 12 months, now that it might be considered moving more towards maturity – allowing for things like media coverage, etc., of course.

Which is not to share the capabilities aren’t getting increasingly impressive, as the video below notes – and just look at the way Caitlyn’s avatar interact with the “camera” of our viewpoint!

 

 

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