The Dickens Project 2018 in Second Life

The Dickens Project 2018

In 2012, and to mark Dickens Bicentenary Year, Seanchai Library created The Dickens Project, a celebration of the life and times of Charles Dickens, focused around what is perhaps his most popular novel – and one which still resonates with meaning today – A Christmas Carol. Since then the event has evolved and grown over the years, in the process becoming a Second Life Tradition.

Now in its sixth year, The Dickens Project opened its doors on Friday, November 30th bigger and bolder than ever, offering a truly packed programme of activities, including over 40 hours of events and entertainment across four weeks of exploration and storytelling focused on A Christmas Carol.

What’s new this year? There is no short answer to that. In almost every conceivable way, the Project has flourished in the full region format. This year was a team effort – our first real foray into collaborative build creation. We learned a lot, and we are confident people will enjoy the results.

– The Dickens Project director, Caledonia Skytower

The Dickens Project 2018

Events actually started on November 28th with a preview of Urchins In Dickens’ London – the opportunity for people to discover what it might have been like to live as a poor street urchin in London during Dickens’ time, and to share their experiences. It was followed on November 30th with a special performance by Idle Rogue to mark the official opening of The Dickens Project.

Created by Aoife Lorefield, a Dickens Project co-creator with Caledonia,  Urchins In Dickens’ London will be available throughout The Dickens Project 2018 run, and will culminate in a special Urchins Extravaganza on Wednesday, December 26th. Residents of all ages are welcome to participate, and will find information and the Urchins HUD near the main landing point in Dickens Square. Enquiries about Urchins should be directed to Aoife, with additional information available through the link above.

Charles Dickens was ever a champion of children, writing stories about those who were poor and unprotected,” says Lorefield, “His child characters are often triumphant, finding ways to build lives of purpose and sometimes even happiness in a difficult time.

– Aoife Lorefield on Urchins In Dickens’ London

The Dickens Project 2018

For those who missed the opening performance by Idle Rogue, they will be back on Saturday, December 8th and Saturday, December 15th, as part of a wide-ranging entertainments schedule encompassing music and dance – see the calendar below for more about all the music and dance events. Also participating this year are community contributions led  by the Community Virtual Library (CVL)  and Ce Soir Arts.

Obviously, the main focus of the month remains the presentations of A Christmas Carol in a variety of adaptations, in sections and in its entirety, and at different times to make the live readings accessible to residents from different parts of the globe. Also, other works from within the author’s vast canon are featured in the weeks leading up to “Carol Week” (December 17th through 23rd), which climaxes in a marathon “Big Read” presentation of A Christmas Carol performed by a relay team of Seanchai staff and storytelling friends, scheduled for Sunday, December 23rd. While throughout the month there will be a number of community-related tours of The Dickens Project region.

As with previous iterations, The Dickens Project for 2018 takes place on a regions designed to recreate various settings from A Christmas Carol, and that incorporates additional elements as well, such as the main events square, and CVL’s Dickens Resource Centre.

The Dickens Project: The CVL Dickens Resource Centre

The setting can be toured on foot independently of any story readings, while  Elite Equestrian have provided horse-drawn carriages for those we would prefer more of a pre-planned tours (and one of the horse may even give visitors a gift!), while a hot air balloon located close to the events square provides the opportunity to see the setting from the air.

Further depth is added to the experience this year via an immersive sound scape created by Dagmar Kohime. simply enable local sounds in your viewer, and you’ll experience sounds of all kinds as you explore the region: a fiddler playing at Fezziwig’s warehouse, the sounds of Nephew Fred’s party guests wafting into the street near his home while the Merchants Alley rings with sound of urchin laughter.

In addition, visitors can pick up the Voices of the Story Path HUD on arrival and hear short selections from A Christmas Carol in locations within the region that correspond to settings from the story.

Nor is Dickens the only focus for storytelling: Wednesday, December 26th will focus on tales with a definite Lovercraftian twist. Again, for details on individual events and times, check the calendar below (all times SLT), and also see The Dickens Project at the Seanchai Library website.

 

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2018 SL UG updates 48/2: Content Creation Summary

The EEP sky over Hippotropolis,designed by Whirly Fizzle. Credit: Whirly Fizzle

The following notes are taken from the Content Creation User Group (CCUG) meeting, held on Thursday, November 29th, 2018 at 13:00 SLT. These meetings are chaired by Vir Linden, and agenda notes, meeting SLurl, etc, are usually available on the Content Creation User Group wiki page.

Animesh

Avatar Rendering Cost Calculations Adjustment

An upcoming change that should be appearing at some point in a Maintenance RC viewer will see the avatar  rendering cost calculations adjusted in respect to Animesh.

The updates for the calculations were made more frequent in the Animesh viewer (now the release viewer), with the intention of now accurately handling the rendering load with Animesh objects attached to an avatar.

However, there are some types of attachment that make frequent updates to prim properties, and when these are combined with the Animesh-related complexity calculations, it can trigger unintended side-effects (such as repeatedly showing the complexity alert dialogue (e.g “You may not be visible to X %age of avatars”).

The  update will throttle the number updates to try to prevent the alert being displayed with every single change, no matter how small, to the complexity cost (significant changes will still generate the alert). It is also hoped the update will address the issue of the complexity alert dialogue being triggered simply by using CTRL-ALT-T.

Silas Merlin has provided a free, Full Permissions Animesh creation that can be used as an example of making / converting rigged mash for Animesh use

Possible Rate limits?

Even with the above change, there is still concerns over code that frequently changes prim parameters, because of the additional load it places on the graphics pipeline in calculating / handling the updates. The engineering team is therefore discussing potential rate limits being imposed on such updates in the future – however, this is not something that will be implemented in the short-term, but is something that will be considered over time, most likely as a part of the ARCTan projects as a whole.

Firestorm Animesh Support

A limited beta test version of Firestorm should be available very soon. Depending on how well this performs in testing, a public beta should follow, paving the way for a release in the near future. This update will primarily focus on Animesh integration, but will include some other updates and feature improvements, including significant improvements to the mesh uploader by Beq Janus – as she demonstrates in the video below.

Bakes On Mesh

Project Summary

Extending the current avatar baking service to allow wearable textures (skins, tattoos, clothing) to be applied directly to mesh bodies as well as system avatars. This involves viewer and server-side changes, including updating the baking service to support 1024×1024 textures, and may in time lead to a reduction in the complexity of mesh avatar bodies and heads.

This work does not include normal or specular map support, as these are not part of the existing Bake Service, nor are they recognised as system wearables. Adding materials support may be considered in the future.

Resources

Current Status

At the time of writing, a new version of the Bakes on Mesh project viewer was about to undergo QA testing with the Lab, as is expected to appear either on Friday, November 30th, or in the early part of week #49.

This is currently being considered as the “feature complete” version of the viewer, and Oz Linden requested that creators wishing to leverage BoM to please put it to the test to see if there are any serious bugs / issues that need to be addressed.

Depending on the level of feedback gained, and the type of feedback (positive / negative)  it is possible the viewer could quickly progress to release candidate (RC) status and perhaps even to release. However, without feedback, the Lab will not be able to fully assess its suitable for RC, etc., promotion.

For testing, note that the back-end support for BoM (which has recently received a “significant” performance update) is now grid-wide on Agni (the Main grid).

Environmental Enhancement Project (EEP)

Project Summary

A set of environmental enhancements allowing the environment (sky, sun, moon, clouds, water settings) to be set region or parcel level, with support for up to 7 days per cycle and sky environments set by altitude. It uses a new set of inventory assets (Sky, Water, Day),  and which include the ability to use custom Sun, Moon and cloud textures. These can be stored in inventory and traded through the Marketplace / exchanged with others, and can additionally be used in experiences.

The project also includes a new set of render shaders to support atmospheric effects such as rainbows, crepuscular rays (“God rays”), better horizon haze and fogging (but will not include rain / snow).

Resources

Current Status

Rider continues work on the last of the SL functions for EEP support: llSetAgentEnvironment. This allows the environment parameters as applied to individual agents (avatars) within an experience (so if part of the experience requires the environment to be foggy at a certain point, avatars in the experience will have their view become foggy – but visitors who have not allowed the experience to control their avatar (e.g. because they are just observing) will not be similarly affected).

This should be the last of the server-side updates for EEP, allowing Rider to re-focus his attention on the viewer, including updating the experience dialogue to inform users their environment may be modified (where applicable). It’ also hoped that when ready, the next update to the viewer will have more / the rest of the EEP shader updates included.

SL Permissions System

Sansar uses a “supply chain” permissions system. In short, this allows creators to offer goods that can be purchased by others, modified and resold at a higher price, with the original creator receiving a “commission” on each sale, based on the original item’s sale price.

This has generated some interest among content creators engaged in both Second Life and Sansar in seeing a similar system introduced here – or perhaps in extending the Full Permissions option to additionally limit the further resale of unmodified Full Permission items.

However, any changes to the permissions system can have significant impact, and as such, are not something the Lab is liable to approach lightly or tackle in the short-term (or, as Vir Linden puts it, tends to have Lab engineers hiding under the furniture at the thought of changes! 🙂 ).

In Brief

  • A reminder that if there are specific improvements people wish to see with Second Life, feature request Jira are the best way to bring them to the attention of the Lab.
  • Vir Linden is currently working on a set of under-the-hood inventory improvements. After this, he will likely work on various “low hanging fruit” fixes within the viewer, etc.
  • The texture caching project is currently gated by the work on the rendering side of EEP, however, TPVs are advised not to make any significant changes to how they handle texture caching because of the Lab’s own project.
  • The code for Linden Realms is to be open-sourced – read here for more.
  • The next CCUG meeting will be on Thursday, December 13th, 2018.

Lab to open-source Linden Realms code for creators

The re-vamped Linden Realms and rock monsters. Credit: Linden Lab

During the Content Creation User Group meeting on Thursday, November 29th, Oz Linden announced that Linden Lab will be open-sourcing the code used within the Linden Realms game to content / experience creators.

The aim of the move is to make the code available to (Premium) users wishing to build interactive experiences / games within Second Life, so they might study it, re-purpose elements from it, and even critique it.

The release, when it is made, will be of the latest iteration of Linden Realms, which was updated in October 2018 to provide a completely new look and offer a broader range of game elements. It is also supported by end-user documentation on how to play the game, which might also be useful to experience creators in generating their own supporting end-user games.

Making content like this available to a wider audience is something that has been requested on numerous occasions during Content Creation meetings. The move also fits into the broader pattern of the Lab involving creators and users in the development of capabilities within Second Life – as Vir Linden noted during the meeting when Oz made his announcement. Given that the code is to be open-sourced, it means that updates and improvements to it – or new capabilities / options added to it – could be contributed back to Linden Lab, and thus to others building experience-based games.

Part of the re-vamped Linden Realms. Credit: Linden Lab

The move is also potentially in keeping the Lab’s hope to increase the Second Life user-base. Games are an obvious means of attracting new users to a platform, and providing the means for creators to develop and run more comprehensive games using mechanisms that both work and which can potentially be extended and enhanced. Coupled with the means to bring users directly into said games – such as by the new user API and / or Second Life Place Pages (although the latter do perhaps require further enhancements themselves to be more practical) – they might come to assist in attracting new users. Time will tell on that.

It’s not clear   exactly when the code will be made available; as Oz linden noted, it requires careful checking to avoid the risk of code that could be exploited to the detriment of Second Life. Hopefully, there will be an official blog post when the code is made available to all.

Calas: A Christmas Midnight Clear in Second Life

A Midnight Clear; Inara Pey, November 2018, on Flickr
A Midnight Clear – click any image for full size

On Thursday, November 30th, the 2018 Calas Christmas regions opened to members ,and over the weekend of the it will open to the public at large. This year the theme is A Midnight Clear, and the two regions are once again beautifully presented for lovers of winters scenes and Christmas time to enjoy and share.

A Midnight Clear features all that we’ve come to love about the Calas Christmas regions: the Christmas Pavilion, entertainment, sleigh rides, skating, balloon and reindeer tours. In addition, this year offers visitors the chance to ride Bento horses (or reindeer!) around the regions, adding a wonderful depth to exploration and enjoyment, or take their rest aboard the marvellous Calas Christmas Special train.

A Midnight Clear; Inara Pey, November 2018, on Flickr
A Midnight Clear

The arrival point for the general public is on the Homestead region of Eriador (also initially the landing point for Calas Group members, although a special group only SLurl and landmark on the Full region of Erebor will be provided to group members once the regions are fully open to the public, to help split the load). However, to avoid traffic overload, Eriador has been capped at 25 avatars at a time – so visitors are asked not to loiter / park while AFK in that region, as they could block others from gaining access.

As with previous years, the main landing point sets people down close to the automated sleigh rides. These offer a choice of ride for couples or for up to four people to share, and with thoroughly recommend them, and they offer a tour of both regions, above ground and through caves, revealing all the major points of interest that can then be re-visited on foot or horseback. Simply sit in a waiting sleigh, and when ready, touch the back of the sleigh to start the ride.

A Midnight Clear; Inara Pey, November 2018, on Flickr
A Midnight Clear

Just above the sleigh rides is the balloon tour pavilion, and a further enjoyable way to appreciate both regions, particularly with a friend our a loved one the couples poses make a ride very much as shared experience), while one of the horse rezzing signs can be found just beyond the hill mounting the balloon pavilion: simply click the sign and accept the horse and tail when they are offered to you.

These Water Horse Bento horses have been a part of Calas Galadhon for around 18 months (they were also a part of last year’s Calas Christmas setting), and Caitlyn and I cannot rate them highly enough – if you’ve not tried them before, be sure to available yourself of them during a visit to A Might Clear, and you can read more about their presence in the Calas park lands here of the Calas park lands using them.

A Midnight Clear; Inara Pey, November 2018, on Flickr
A Midnight Clear

Both the sleigh rides and the balloon tour deposit visitors up at the Calas train station, perched on the cliffs lying between both regions. Decked out for Christmas and offer warmth away from all the snow, the train offers a place to rest and enjoy refreshments before travelling onwards. Don’t expect the train to offer a ride home, however. According to the timetable, the next service out of the Calas Pavilion Station has been “cancelled until after Christmas” – and rightly so!

The path down from the station is denoted by red lanterns, and offers a choice of routes down to the familiar frozen lake, where ice skating can be enjoyed, and along a snowy path to the ever-marvellous Calas Christmas Pavilion. Along the way there are plenty of opportunities to sit and simply watch all the comings and goings, and little wintertime scenes to be enjoyed. For those who missed the horses close to the main landing point, there is a further sign for them just under the railway bridge, on the path leading to (or away from, depending on your direction of travel) the main Pavilion.

The Pavilion will be home to this year’s entertainment within the regions, as indicated by the schedule below.

A Midnight Clear schedule of events

The Calas team always bring us visual treats to enjoy in October for Halloween and through December to the New Year, and for 2018  – the tenth year for Calas Christmas – is no exception. A Midnight Clear is visually engaging and offers a lot to enjoy when visiting. Group members should keep an eye out for the group gifts!

As is my usual approach, I’ll leave you with a short video showing some highlights of the regions.

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LEA announces restructure

On Thursday, November 29th, 2018, the serving committee of the Linden Endowment for the Arts gave notices that the LEA will be undergoing restructuring, which will include – for the initial part of 2019 – the closure of the 20 Artist In Residence (AIR) regions currently held by the LEA (LEA 10 through 29).

The core part of the announcement reads as follows:

Come January 1st 2019, the Linden Endowment for the Arts, known as the LEA, will be temporarily closing its Artists in Residence regions (LEA 10 – 29) to allow for a major restructuring.

Over the last seven years, these regions have been open for artists who apply to build their dreams, each for a six month grant. We have seen many great installations here – and some that have attracted controversy.

The nine Core regions (which include the Theatre, the Sandbox and Photohunt) will remain for the present, and short-term grants will still be available in these regions for community-inspired arts projects.

Discussions between the present Committee and Linden Lab about the future form of the LEA are ongoing, but it is anticipated that there will be a new organising committee when the AiR regions re-open.

KÖMA – LEA 22, November 2018 – read here for more

While it is undeniable the LEA has done a huge amount of good for art and artists in Second Life, particularly those who would not otherwise be able to amount large-scale events, it has also not been without its own controversy and for – in some circles – gaining a reputation for being something of a “star chamber” in terms of the committee’s method of operation.

For example, in 2013, just 18 months after the LEA was formed under the tenure of Mark Kingdon as the Lab’s CEO, the former Community Manager, Mark Viale, was forced to step-in after public concerns and reported irregularities with how the LEA was being run. That resulted in the formation of the LEA Committee bylaws. Intended to offer transparency, the bylaws perhaps resulted in the opposite by allowing what were effectively closed-door meetings, few of which generated public transcripts or notes. The bylaws themselves became in part a subject of controversy in 2015, when they were quietly removed from the LEA website when the committee of the time was challenged under them, after a committee member griefed an art gallery (for the record, the bylaws can still be seen via  the Wayback machine).

Second Life 1999 / 2017 – The Story – LEA 25, 2017 – read more here

Given this, some might feel reviewing and revitalising the LEA is something that is well overdue; a view I would share. I would certainly hope that any new committee – allowing for any ideas Linden Lab may have – would seek to better engage with the broader arts communities across Second Life, and seek to go about its work with greater transparency with meetings and through the keeping of public records.

In the meantime, those wishing to apply to use one of the core regions, which are available for 3-month grants (longer by arrangement) can do so via the LEA Core Sim application page.

US comedians in line-up for new Sansar series

Image courtesy of Linden Lab

On Wednesday, November 28th, Linden Lab announced a new series for Sansar: Comedy Gladiators, hosted by American comedian and television personality, Steven Hofstetter, which Linden Lab describes as:

A live comedy showcase that lets anyone, anywhere step directly into a comedy club for the night. The series will allow fans to do everything in VR that they would do at a real-life comedy club: purchase tickets in advance, shop for custom merchandise and memorabilia, even order drinks.

– From the Linden Lab announcement

Steven Hofstetter – Hosting and participating in Comedy Gladiators

The first event in the series is scheduled for 19:30 Pacific Time (US) on Monday, December 10th, and will feature the talents of Ben Gleib, Maz Jobrani, Alonzo Bodden, and Mary Lynn Rajskub – perhaps best known on television for her role as Chloe O’Brian in the action thriller series 24.

Comedy Gladiators represents a number of firsts for Sansar.

It is the first ticketed event on the platform. Ticketing is a capability the Lab have been developing for a while for Sansar, with the idea that in time, experience creators will be able to sell tickets to events held within their own experiences.

For Comedy Gladiators, tickets are offered for sale through the Sansar Store at US $4.99 through until December 5th, and then US $9.99 thereafter, up to the event itself. I would anticipate that in the future, experience creators will be able to sell their tickets the same way.

Another interesting factor with Comedy Gladiators is that it mixes the ability to purchase both virtual and physical through the Sansar Store – in this case, copies of Hofstetter’s latest book, Ginger Kidd – with the virtual goods including t-shirts, beer mugs.

Finally, the series is potentially the first large-scale showcasing of Sansar’s “Avatar Broadcasting” feature. This allows performers and presenters working from a single stage / experience in Sansar to reach a potentially unlimited audience through multiple linked instances of the event.

Every day, I get emails and DMs from fans who want to see a live show, but they live in parts of the world I’ll probably never tour in. VR allows those fans to not only see a live show, but feel like they’re part of a bigger community.

– Comedy Gladiators host, Steven Hofstetter

It’s not clear where else the event is being advertised – in checking various websites, including Hofstetter’s own, I didn’t come across any direct adverts. However, the media have picked-up on the event, with reports in the likes of  Variety, with the original press release being reproduced in multiple on-line media covering business, VR, and entertainment.

The Lab is clearly hoping for big things from this move, with Ebbe Altberg noting:

By bringing these commercial opportunities into VR, Sansar is taking virtual events to a whole new level – enhancing and expanding on what’s possible in-person. We look at Comedy Gladiators as the first ripple in a larger wave – the first event of many more that bring entertainers into VR.

– Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab CEO

The line up for the first Comedy Gladiators: Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ben Gleib, Maz Jobrani and Alonzo Bodden

It’s not clear how often this series will take place, or whether this first event is simply experimental. However, it is a daring move to bring something new and different to VR, and to extend the concept of social VR within the realm of entertainment.

One potential stumbling block is the comparatively low uptake of VR headsets; given Comedy Gladiators is being promoted as a “social VR event”, without very clear underlining that Sansar can also be enjoyed as a desktop activity, there is a risk people might avoid the opportunity to join the audience even if advertising does reach a wide audience due to the misapprehension that a VR headset is a requirement.

On a personal note, I am also curious as to the origins of this series – Comedy Gladiators is a monthly live event held in Bristol,  UK – which I believe is where Sansar’s community manager, Eliot, originally hails from…

With thanks to Wurfi for the heads-up.