Artful Expressions in Second Life

Artful Expressions: Ninna Dazy
Artful Expressions: Ninna Dazy

Artful Expressions is a new gallery opening at 12:00 noon SLT on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016, and which is curated by Sorcha Tyles, an artist and photographer we featured in the November exhibition at Holly Kai Park. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity of previewing the upcoming inaugural exhibition for these pages.

With a 30m x 40m footprint and high ceiling, gallery is ideal for presenting images in a large format. Sorcha has used double-side room divider with built-in frames for images to divide the floorspace into three distinct areas: a front lobby area with seating and where Sorcha displays pieces of her own art, and to exhibition spaces, separated by a central walkway leading down to them.

Artful Expressions: Ninna Dazy
Artful Expressions: Ninna Dazy

“I wanted to offer a place where those artists who seldom get the chance to exhibit,” Sorcha said, as we chatted about the gallery over coffee, “Or are too shy to volunteer their work to be displayed in an ensemble exhibition.” The two display areas are well suited to this role, offering artists displaying here an intimate space for their work, whilst also allowing them to be part of the gallery as a whole.

For the opening exhibition, which will run through until the end of the month, Sorcha has invited Hayael Bracula (Flickr) and Ninna Dazy (Flickr). Each presents nine pieces of their work for the exhibition, all of which richly demonstrate their eye and talent, and it is fair to say they are perfectly suited to a joint exhibition.

Artful Expressions: Hayael Bracula
Artful Expressions: Hayael Bracula

Both women focus there work on avatar studies – although not exclusively so; but their approach is strikingly different. Where one stays with colour within her images, the other leans towards monochrome; while one opts for what might be called a “traditional” approach to her studies, the other in places presents studies which run close to being surreal. However, there is no denying the evocative essence in their respective pieces.

I confess to not having come across Ninny or Yaya prior to seeing their work at Sorcha’s gallery – and that’s to my loss. However, it also perhaps demonstrates that she is achieving her aim from the start in bringing those SL photographers and artists who may have escaped wider public attention to the fore. As such, I hope other art bloggers will also provide coverage of Artful Expressions and the exhibitions held there. “We’ll be changing exhibits monthly,” Sorcha said, “And people are always welcome to come, view, hang out.”

Artful Expressions: Hayael Bracula
Artful Expressions: Hayael Bracula

Artful expressions will official open to the public on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016, at 12:00 noon.

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VR and AR catch-up

Oculus Touch: shipping December 6yh, price: US $199.00
Oculus Touch: shipping December 6th, price: US $199.00

It’s been a while since I’ve covered anything in the VR and AR markets, so here’s a very quick catch-up on the main products I have been following on-and-off in these pages, and about which I’d been meaning to write about during October / November.

Oculus Rift: Touch and AWS

In October 2016, Oculus Rift opened the doors to pre-orders of the Touch, their hand controller system, due to start shipping on December 6th, 2016. The Touch price point is US $199.00 (approx. £189 / 187 / AU $265), which includes of Toybox, the multiplayer sandbox application designed specifically to show-off the controllers, and five Touch-ready game tiles.

Alongside of the Touch, Oculus announced additional Rift sensors would also be shipping on December 6th, 2016, at a price of US $79 (approx. £62.55 / 74.18 / AU $106.47), offering similar room-sized scanning capability as the HTC Vive. A new earbud system, designed to replace the earphones on the headset for a more immersive sound experience, was also made available for pre-order (again shipping on December 6th, at a cost of $49 (approx. £38.81 / 46 / AU $66).

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift

As a rough-and-ready price comparison. The HTC Vive, which includes a headset with front-mounted “see-through” camera, two controllers and two room sensors for tracking) is prices at about US $800. The Oculus Rift (which ships with one sensor) + touch + and additional sensor comes to roughly US $877, with some recommending two additional sensors offer optimal scanning bringing that total to US $956. Obviously, the latter package also includes a hefty amount of additional software, including Toybox.

On November 10th 2016, Oculus VR confirmed they were lowering the minimum specification for hardware needed to run an Oculus VR experience  comfortably, as a result of something called Asynchronous Spacewarp, or AWS.  The announcement came with a long and involved description of what AWS is, which the press announcement summarised down to a TL;DR summary:

Oculus is releasing a new technology aimed at reducing system hardware requirements while maintaining content quality across a wider array of hardware. Asynchronous Spacewarp (ASW) is a frame-rate smoothing technique that almost halves the CPU/GPU time required to produce nearly the same output from the same content. Like Asynchronous Timewarp (ATW), ASW is automatic and enabled without any additional effort from developers.

In other words, and to summarise the summary, AWS allows VR experiences remain fluid to the eye by “making up” the “in-between” animation frames, reducing the demand of continued, heavy processing on the part of the CPU / GPU.

On the left, a game with every frame directly rendered at 45fps by the GPU. On the right, the same game using software AWS to render some of the
On the left, a game with every frame directly rendered at 45fps by the GPU. On the right, the same game using software AWS to render some of the “in-between” animation frames, where the direction of the fox’s motion is “known”. Credit: TechRadar

This is turn means that “lower end” systems can now in theory run VR experiences which incorporate AWS. Although it has to be said that “lower end” must be approached with something of a caveat: it reduces the GPU requirement from a minimum of a NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 and  Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater to a NVIDIA GTX 960 / AMD Radeon RX 470 or greater and Intel i3-6100 / AMD FX4350 or greater – which some might consider a small move of the needle.

Finally, Oculus VR is working on an untethered version of the Rift headset, currently called Santa Cruz. It appeared in prototype form in October 2016, and includes a built-in processing system mounted with the headset, removing the need for it to be connected to a PC. Initial reports from those able to try the prototype were mixed, with several reporters noting their evaluations were carefully controlled, and that Oculus engineers were evasive when asked about the actual processing power and performance of the headset.

HTC Vive

On November 11th, 2016, HTC announced pre-orders were open for a “tether-less” kit for the Vive headset, produced by TPCAST, a Vive X Accelerator invested company. The kit comprises a wireless relay unit and battery pack to power the headset, bot of which attach to the headset harness, removing the need to connect it to a PC via USB cables. In difference to claims that wireless is “unsuitable” for VR due to factors such as latency, TPCAST is said to have no “noticeable difference” when using it with a Vive headset when compared to using the headset tethered directly to a PC.

The TPCAST wireless kit mounted on an HTC Vive
The TPCAST wireless kit mounted on a HTC Vive. Credit: HTC / TPCast

Continue reading “VR and AR catch-up”

Second Life Skill Gaming applications to re-open in 2017

secondlifeOn December 1st, 2016, Linden Lab announced they would be accepting a new round of applications from those interested in becoming Skill Gaming Operators and / or Skill Gaming Creators.

Applications will officially open on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017, and the blog post announcing the move reads in part:

As we blogged back in the Summer of 2014, gambling is strictly prohibited in Second Life and operating or participating in a game of chance that provides a Linden Dollar payout is a violation of our Terms of Service.

However, games of skill are legally permitted in many jurisdictions, and we’ve seen that many Second Life users are interested in playing such games for Linden Dollars. We updated our gaming policy in Second Life at that time and opened applications for Skill Gaming. Skill Gaming applications will reopen on January 3, 2017, for those who wish to become authorized creators and/or operators of Skill Games in Second Life.

Skill Gaming is covered by the Second Life Skill Gaming Policy, which in turn is supported by a Skill Gaming FAQ.The latter will have a link to the Skill Gaming Application form, once applications have re-opened on January 3rd, 2017.

In short, Skill Games are games which, in the Lab’s words:

1) whose outcome is determined by skill and is not contingent, in whole or in material part, upon chance; 2) requires or permits the payment of Linden Dollars to play; 3) provides a payout in Linden Dollars; and 4) is legally authorized by applicable United States and international law.

All Skill Games in Second Life must be created and / or operated by Lab approved Skill Gaming Creators (SGCs) and / or Skill Gaming Operators (SGOs), and must be located within Skill Gaming Regions.  The latter must be Full regions, which cannot be located on the Mainland, and cannot be located adjacent to non-Skill Gaming Regions. They have an increased maintenance fee (tier), which (at the time of writing) is US $345 / month. Existing Full regions meeting the criteria above can be converted to Skill Gaming Regions for a one-off fee of US $100 per region.

Applications for those wishing to become Skill Gaming Operators and / or Skill Gaming Creators re-open on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017
Applications for those wishing to become Skill Gaming Operators and / or Skill Gaming Creators re-open on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

The Skill Gaming Policy sets out all requirements in full, and should be read, along with the FAQ, by anyone wishing to become a Skill Gaming Operator and / or Creator, or who wishes to access Skill Gaming regions and participate in the games on offer.

The first round of Skill Gaming applications in 2014, took somewhat longer to come into effect than the Lab had planned, and several applicants experienced some delay between submitting their application and receiving confirmation of acceptance (or refusal). In the end, some 45 SGOs, five of whom are also registered as SGCs, and between them, they provide 44 skill games in Second Life.

In August 2016, and as a way of introducing Second Life users to Skill Gaming, Linden Lab  introduced Gaming Islands. These can be accessed either directly or via the Portal Parks and provide information on what Skill Games are, the kinds of games user might encounter, how and where they can be played – and why, in some instances, users may not be allowed to access the regions where they can be played.