Opening the virtual doors to The Great Gatsby

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. ” (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 1) – Nick Caraway’s summer cottage, Explore the Great Gatsby

In December 2014, I wrote about a new venture in educational outreach and public engagement through the use of virtual worlds when I took an early peek at Seanchai Library’s upcoming Explore: The Great Gatsby, the first instalment in their new Explore the Stories Behind the Art series.

Coinciding with a production of Simon Levy’s stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which will be in performance from January 23rd through February 8th at the Tacoma Little Theatre (TLT), Tacoma Washington State, Explore the Great Gatsby is a collaborative project undertaken by TLT and Seanchai Library, and forms a part of the latter’s extensive facilities in the virtual world of Kitely.

Officially opened on Thursday, January 15th at 12:00 midday, Explore: The Great Gatsby allows visitors the opportunity to visit key locations from the novel and play, and by doing so learn more about the era in which the story is set, explore Fitzgerald’s life and writings, and discover more about the theatre in which the play is being performed. It is open to users of virtual worlds and, as a part of the collaborative nature of the project will be presented to audiences attending performances at TLT as a place they can visit.

"But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg" (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2)- The "Valley of Ashes", an iconic part of the novel and home to the tragic Wilsons (that's their garage you can see being built in the background), forms one of Explore The Great Gatsby locations
“But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg” (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2)- The “Valley of Ashes”, an iconic part of the novel and home to the tragic Wilsons, forms one of Explore: The Great Gatsby locations

“We have information available in our programme and via our website,” TLT’s Managing Artistic Director Chris Serface said in reply to my question about how audience will be made aware of the project. “I will also mention it in my curtain speeches that I give each night,  and in addition local media outlets have been alerted about the project and we will hopefully get some coverage in that respect.”

Chris and Explore: The Great Gatsby’s creative director and powerhouse behind the partnership, Caledonia Skytower, had kindly offered to allow me a preview tour of the in-world facilities ahead of the opening, and while construction was very much still under way. “We’re also producing a short video on Explore,” Cale added, “TLT will be able to show that looped on their lobby screen.”

To assist those unfamiliar with using virtual worlds, the TLT website links to a special Explore website created by Seanchai Library, which provides basic guidance to visitor on downloading and installing a viewer, and a guide to using an avatar.

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Seanchai Library’s Explore website is supported by the Explore: The Great Gatsby welcome centre,  where users new to virtual worlds can receive guidance on the basic mechanics of in-world activities: walking / navigation, interacting with objects, using media and voice, and so on. The Welcome Centre also acts as a social hub for the Explore experience

As well as providing the opportunity to explore the locations of the novel and learn more about Fitzgerald and his writings on their own, Explore:The Great Gatsby will feature a range of events both before and during the play’s run at Tacoma Little Theatre.

The first of these will launch on Friday, January 16th at 19:00 SLT / PST with the opening reading from the novel, which will take place in a small park specifically created for such readings. Part two will then follow at noon SLT / PST on Saturday January 17th, with the developing schedule of events available at the Explore website.

To encourage repeat visits to the installation, elements will be rolled-out over the course of the the next few weeks, such as the arrival of Jay Gatsby’s mansion. This is likely to initially appear in full party regalia representative of Nick Carraway’s first major encounter with Gatsby; later the mansion will be redressed, again to encourage further re-visits.

The Fitzgerald Gallery, located close to the facade of the Buchananan's mansion (and which houses a replica of the Tacoma Little Theatre), provides information to vistors on F Scott Fitzgerald's life and times and his writings
The Fitzgerald Gallery, located close to the façade of the Buchanan’s mansion (seen just on the left edge of this sketch. and which houses a replica of the Tacoma Little Theatre), provides information to visitors on F Scott Fitzgerald’s life and times and his writings

As a part of its service to the community in Tacoma, TLT present daytime performances of the plays they stage for local schools to attend. Thus, through the Explore: The Great Gatsby partnership with Seanchai Library TLT is presented with a dramatic – no pun intended – new way to engage with teachers, educators and school children in an immersive manner which links the performance of the play directly with classroom learning opportunities. In preparation for this, Chris Serface has been meeting with local teachers and explaining the environment to them – and has been getting very positive feedback.

Explore: The Great Gatsby is the ideal début for Seanchai Library’s Explore series, being something of a labour of love for Caledonia Skytower, who has been closely involved with the Tacoma Little Theatre both professionally and artistically for a number of years.

A look inside Explore the Great Gatsby's Welcome Centre
A look inside Explore the Great Gatsby’s Welcome Centre

Residents of virtual worlds can visit Explore: The Great Gatsby at any time simply by logging-in to the Seanchai Library homeworld on Kitely, or teleporting / hypergriding to it. Anyone with a love of The Great Gatsby and / or Fitzgerald’s work, or indeed, interested in learning about one of the oldest community theatres in the United States, and the oldest on the U.S. west coast, with a rich heritage going back to 1918, is warmly encouraged to pay Explore the Great Gatsby at least one visit.

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The Great Gatsby: virtually redefining educational outreach

Explore TGGThose of us involved with and immersed in virtual worlds are very familiar with the power and opportunities they offer for educational purposes.

In January and February 2015, this will again be demonstrated in a unique way as literature, live theatre and a virtual world combine to present theatre goers and school children with the opportunity to not only witness the unfolding of one of the great stories from American literature – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – but to actually immerse themselves in the story itself due to a new an unique collaborative partnership between the Tacoma Little Theatre (TLT), in Tacoma, Washington state, and the folk at Seanchai Library.

From on January 23rd, 2015 through until  February 8th, TLT will be presenting Simon Levy’s stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby, directed by Dale Westgaard, to adult audiences and daytime audiences from local schools.

Coinciding with the play, through their extensive facilities on Kitely, the Seanchai Library will be offering audiences and schools attending performances with the opportunity to explore the world presented by the novel from the comfort of their own home or from within the classroom.

Explore Gatsby will run alongside TLT's production of 's stage adaptation of the novel, giving patrons the opportunity to explore F. Scott Fitzgerald's world in greater detail
Explore Gatsby will run alongside TLT’s production of Simon Levy’s stage adaptation of the novel, giving TLT patrons and schools  with the opportunity to explore F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world in greater detail

Explore the Great Gatsby Online, the début production in Seanchai Library’s EXPLORE the Stories Behind the Art series, will open its doors on January 14th, 2015. It will offer visitors the opportunity to visit key locations from the novel and play, and in doing so learn more about the era in which the story is set, explore Fitzgerald’s life and writings and discover more about the theatre in which the play is being performed.

On offer within Seanchai Library’s virtual environments will be a reproduction of the fictional West Egg, where the story’s narrator, Nick Carraway rents a small holiday guest house, only to find himself living next door to the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, giver of lavish summer parties. Both Carraway’s little holiday house and Gatsby’s mansion will be open to explore.

Also presented with the Explore Gatsby facilities will be a portion of East Egg, where Daisy Buschanan, the subject of Gatsby’s desires, lives in opulence with her husband Tom. Here, behind the Buchanan mansion’s façade, will reside a reproduction of the Tacoma Little Theatre itself, offering the opportunity for people to discover more about the theatre itself, which is among the oldest community theatres in the United States, and the oldest on the U.S. west coast, with a rich heritage going back to 1918.

And, of course, there will be the opportunity to visit the so-called “Valley of Ashes”, the industrial dumping ground so pivotal to the unfolding story, which lies between the fictional East and West Egg and the beating heart of New York City.

These various locations will serve as venues for a range of live events which both support TLT’s  production of The Great Gatsby and which also encourage visitors to further immerse themselves in literature, the stage and more; there will be readings and performances from the novel, interactive elements, within the various settings will provide information on a broad range of subjects, including information on the 1920s and the social issues people living then faced, the characters from the novel, etc.

Explore Gatsby will essentially be an educational study guide brought to three dimensional life. Through a special portal currently being developed by Seanchai Library, visitors will be able to learn how to download and use a viewer and operate an avatar, and then connect to Explore Gatsby in Kitely.

Tacoma Little Theatre will feature in Explore Gatsby, allowing people to discovery more about this historic community theatre
Tacoma Little Theatre will feature in Explore Gatsby, allowing people to discover more about this historic community theatre

Of special note with the project is the fact TLT present daytime performances of the plays they stage for local schools to attend. Thus, through their Explore Gatsby partnership with Seanchai Library TLT is presented with a dramatic – no pun intended – new way to engage with teachers, educators and school children in an immersive manner which links the performance of the play directly with classroom learning opportunities. The same also goes for TLT’s patrons, who can take a performance of The Great Gatsby home with them and them delve into Gatsby’s world through the Seanchai Library’s virtual recreations and events.

As noted above, Explore Gatsby will be opening its doors on Wednesday, January 14th, 2015, with in-world events and activities commencing on Friday, January 16th. Everyone involved in virtual worlds is extended a warm invitation to pop along and join in with planned activities as they take place – a programme calendar will be available nearer the time, and I’ll also be presenting it through these pages.

I’ve been privileged to be associated with Seanchai Library for a while now, and as a part of this association, I will be covering Explore Gatsby and the EXPLORE the Stories Behind the Art series as it develops. I’ll be kicking-off things in due course with a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for the début production.

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Kitely’s Metered Worlds become Premium Worlds

kitely-logoOn Wednesday June 11th, Kitely, the on-demand virtual world provider, announced that their “Metered World” offering has been restructured as a “Premium World” offering.

“Metered Worlds” were one of two world types offered by Kitely to customers, the other being Fixed Price Worlds (which remain unaffected by this change). Rather than being paid for through a fixed monthly fee, “Metered Worlds” were paid for through small fees charged for various actions performed on them, as specified in the Kitely Services web page.

Up until the June 11th announcement, both Premium and Regular Account holders had been able to add  new Metered Worlds to their accounts at a cost of 10 KCs per world, per day. However, as of the June 11th announcement, only Premium Account holders remain able to so; hence the product being renamed “Premium World”.

Furthermore, from July 1st onwards, any existing Premium Worlds held by Regular Account holders will only be accessible to Premium Account holders. This means that Regular Account holders must consider what they want to do with their existing Premium Worlds.

For example: to retain access to their own Premium Worlds beyond July 1st, Regular Account holders will need to either upgrade to a Premium Account, or convert their world(s) to one of Kitely’s Fixed Price World plans. Alternatively, they could allow their Premium Worlds to continue “as is”, and simply not be able to access them until such time as they do upgrade their account or convert these worlds to a Fixed Price plan. Because only Premium Account holders will be able to access these worlds, no additional charges will accrue in the interim.

As noted in the Kitely blog post, Regular Account holders can even, up until July 1st, opt to export their Premium Worlds to OAR files for use elsewhere (subject to object permissions and the normal export fee of 150 KCs per world).

Fallingwater, my region-wide build on Kitely utilises was was a Metered World. I now face a decision on what to do about its future ...
Fallingwater, my region-wide build on Kitely utilises what was a Metered World. I now face a decision on what to do about its future …

A single Premium World will continue to be provided to new users signing-up to Kitely’s Regular Account. However, only the account holder and Premium Account holders will be able to visit it during the initial 6-hour trail period supplied to Regular Accounts – the world will be closed to other Regular Accounts and Hypergrid users. At the end of the trial period, if the user wishes to continue using the world, they must either convert it to a Fixed Price world plan or upgrade to a Premium Account.

Again, please note that these changes do not affect Kitely’s Fixed Price worlds, which remain available to both Premium and Regular Account holders.

Reaction to the announcement has been mixed, with some expressing disappointment at the move, and others appearing to be somewhat confused, at least initially. Some of the disappointment has perhaps been the result of Regular Account holders feeling they are being disenfranchised from land ownership in Kitely.

However, an alternative viewpoint to this is that the move might actually help to further stimulate Kitely’s in-world economy by allowing land rental businesses to develop, particularly where Fixed Price worlds are concerned. If so, this could have a further benefit of allowing themed estates to develop, which in turn may help give in-world locations more of a “community” feel than might currently be the case.

Kitely goes Hyper(grid)

kitely-logoOn Monday May 19th, Kitely, the on-demand virtual worlds provider, announced it now supports the Hypergrid, and provides strong content support in doing so.

The ability to teleport between Kitely worlds and other Hypergrid enabled OpenSim grids was actually enabled on Sunday 18th, ahead of the official announcement, and saw a number of Kitely / OpenSim users putting the capability through its paces.

Announcing the move in an extensive blog post, Oren Hurvitz, Kitely co-founder and Vice President of R&D (and who is also an OpenSim core developer), said:

We have an important announcement: Kitely now supports the Hypergrid! Kitely users can visit other grids, and users from other grids can visit Kitely worlds. Kitely is the only OpenSim grid that supports the Hypergrid and also has strong content protections that prevent unauthorized items from leaving the grid.

 The blog post itself explains how Kitely users can teleport from Kitely to other grids, how they can – if they wish – enable their Kitely worlds for Hypergrid access, and how other OpenSim users on hypergrid enabled grids can teleport to Kitely worlds.

Kitely users can select whether or not they want their worlds open to hypergrid connectivity - although those with
Kitely users can select whether or not they want their worlds open to Hypergrid connectivity – although those with Metered Worlds need to remember that they will be charged for the time Hypergrid users spend in those worlds if they are opened to Hypergrid access

Considerable length is given to the important matter of content protection and export permissions. This includes information on how items defined as No Export are protected from being physically removed from Kitely worlds either by Kitely users or those visiting from other Hypergrid enabled grids. To ensure content is fully protected, Kitely have also implemented changes to their Export World capability.

Given the in-depth extent of the Kitely announcement, I refer readers to that post for further details.

Overall, a long-waited move by Kitely, and congratulations to the team for achieving this milestone.

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Kitely launches hypergrid market and a new logo

kitely-logoIn August 2013, I covered the opening of the Kitely Marketplace, having previously reported on its development in January 2013 when it was first announce, and again in May 2013, when it opened to merchants.

In developing the Marketplace, the Kitely team of Ilan Tochner and Oren Horvitz always had the goal of making it possible for merchants to not only sell into Kitely itself, but also into other hypergrid-enabled grids, using a special Export permission flag which can be set by merchants. At the start of March 2014, they took a major step towards this with the opening of the Market Hypergrid Delivery Beta Test.

On March 21st, Kitely announced that the Kitely Market Hypergrid Delivery is now open to all.

The blog post provides guidelines and instructions on using Kitely Market to purchase  goods from the Kitely Market for delivery to hypergrid-enabled destinations, and I don’t propose to repeat things here. By default, the Market offers delivery to the top five (by use) hypergrid capable grids of Craft, GermanGrid, Littlefield, Metropolis, and OSgrid, and more are promised should they prove popular among purchasers. I also understand that delivery to other grids supporting hyerpgrid can be manually configured using the Market’s built-in Grid Manager – all that is needed is the grid’s loginURI.

Customers browsing the Kitely Market can now opt to have goods delivered to other hypergrid-enabled destinations – providing the creator has set the Export permissions flag (thus preventing goods from moving between grids against the creator’s wishes) – image courtesy of Kitely Market, click for full size

Items specifically set for delivery to other grids by their creator can be located using the Export option on the Permissions search filter (lower left corner of the each Market page).

Alongside of the hypergrid delivery capability, Kitely have enhanced their merchant tools to assist with the new capability, as the blog post explains:

We’ve made it easy for merchants to test that their products work correctly in other grids. It has always been possible to use the “Test delivery” link in the Edit Product page in order to deliver the product to the merchant’s avatar in Kitely. This feature has now been extended to deliver to other grids as well. The way this works is that you go to the Shopping Cart page, and select a grid and an avatar. You don’t actually have to buy anything; just enter that information. Then return to the Edit Product page, and click “Test delivery”. The product will be delivered to the “foreign” avatar that was selected in the Shopping Cart instead of to your Kitely avatar.

Another feature for merchants is that in the Sales History, merchants can see which grid each sale was delivered to, because foreign avatars appear along with their grid: e.g., “Jane Vespa @ OSGrid”.

Also, sales reports themselves can now be downloaded as a CSV file, providing improved historical context for merchants as they track sales long-term.

Additional hypergrid-enabled grids can be added via the Market’s Grid Manager

Implementing hypergrid delivery in the Kitely Market is innovative and interesting. Many creators in walled garden grids avoid OpenSim out of fear of content ripping – not that content ripping isn’t a problem in walled garden grids, either. Some OpenSim grids (like Kitely) proactively take steps to reduce the risk inherent in “easy” content ripping (such as by limiting OAR exports to those items created by the exporter themselves). Even so, the fear is there, so it will be interesting to see how many take advantage of the opportunity to sell into multiple environments from a single point. Certainly, the option has been seen as attractive enough to well-known SL creator Lilith Heart of Heart Botanicals fame, who has already opened a store on Kitely Market.

It will also be interesting to see how this new capability within Kitely Market affects the overall OpenSim economy. On the positive side, it means that merchants wishing to extend their reach into new markets (grids) can do so from a single, powerful point, and Kitely’s own pricing structure makes it fairly competitive for them to do so, including the use of the free access Kitely Merchant Sandbox, if required. Through it, merchants can reach multiple channels and also have a good degree of control over where and how their products are used (with some obvious caveats). For those used to only dealing with one market – such as SL – this could open the door to building channels to markets outside of the walled garden environments, such as those grids with a specific focus  / purpose, such as education or business.

The downside to this is the it might make it that much harder for smaller grids to attract content creators directly, and thus users – who tend to look for the content first. Grids may well also lose out on opportunities to lease virtual land to merchants, as they’ll potentially have little need for in-world stores. However, it’s fair to say that Kitely Market could actually help grids attract users: if it is seen that a grid actively embraces the Kitely Market and its growing numbers of merchants, then the could leverage that fact in attracting new users, as the lack of visible in-world merchants is negated by the ability for merchants to reach the grid via the Kitely Market, particularly if said grids also take steps to ring-fence what can be exported via the likes of OAR files.

New Logo and OpenSim Core Group Invitation

Oren Hurvitz

Alongside the Hypergrid Delivery launch, Kitely unveiled their new logo (seen in thumbnail at the top left of this article), and have included a few notes on making it easier for people to get started on Kitely included the blog post.

And in a modest footnote to the piece, Oren Hurvitz, Kitely’s co-founder, reveals that he has been invited to join the OpenSim Core Group of developers. The invitation is in recognition of Oren’s ongoing contributions to OpenSim on behalf of Kitely, and is very well deserved; my congratulations to him.

Mine is just a material(s) world (in Kitely at least)

Fallingwater showing interior lighting reflected on the bedroom terrace using materials
Fallingwater showing interior lighting reflected on the bedroom terrace using materials

It’s been almost a year since I last wrote using the “f” word.

You know.

“Fallingwater”.

You almost got away with nigh-on a full year with nary a mention. If only I could have just kept quiet ten more days. Sadly, however,  I can’t; and for that you can blame two people: Oren and Ilan over at Kitely :D.

The Great Room with materials added
The Great Room with materials added

You see, back in November they introduced materials processing support into Kitely, with a further update at the start of December. Given the nature of Fallingwater – notably the stonework in the build – I had to hop over and give things a go.

So, as and when I can, I’ve been spending time jumping into Kitely and adding normal and specular maps to Fallingwater. I still have areas in the build – noticeably in the stucco finish and with the ceilings – where I need to re-scale the repeats; with the addition of normal and spec maps the patterning is a little exaggerated and somewhat overbearing (as seen in some of the images here). This is going to take a little more time to fix, and time is one thing I’m fast running out of with the holiday season tap-dancing its merry way ever closer to me.

I am, however, reasonably satisfied with the look of the stonework, where I think the additional maps really bring things to life. I’m also pleased with the stone flooring as well, where the specular map helps bring the polished shine of the original to my build – although I still have yet to get the texture suitably tinted to match the original a little more closely.

As to how materials works on Kitely, there’s an easy answer: “exactly like they do on Second Life”. I did have some issues with applying maps across multiple faces, wherein maps would fail to apply to some faces; however, I’ve found this to be a problem elsewhere within OpenSim when using diffuse maps, so don’t see it as a problem specifically with Kitely’s implementation of materials.

The footpath up to the guess house and staff quarters, with materials help bring the stonework to life
The footpath up to the guess house and staff quarters, with materials help bring the stonework to life

Materials also helped m bring a little more life to the water passing by under the house, where a specular map helped me to create the impression of the house lights being reflected in Bear river. Again, it’s not perfect (the ability to independently animate the specular map from the diffuse would help) and entirely dependent upon windlight settings, but the result works reasonably well under the region’s default lighting (Bryn Oh’s Mayfly). A specular map also brought a “wet” sheen to the rocks of the falls as well.

There’s more I’d like to do with the place in the future. Not only sorting out the stucco finish, but things like raising the level of the house so I can correctly scale the falls themselves and try to re-created a more accurate look to the rocks of the falls. But that kind of work is going to have to wait a goodly while until I have the time I need to devote to being in-world in Kitely. Sadly, that’s not likely to be any time soon. Or perhaps that’s fortunately for you, as you won’t have to put up with more of my witterings about the place :).

A better feel for the stone walls using the guest house wall as an example
A better feel for the stone walls using the guest house wall as an example