Patterns: all change for a new experience

LL logoUpdate, October 9th, 2014: Linden Lab announced that development work on Patterns has been discontinued.

Patterns, Linden Lab’s slowly maturing sandbox game for the PC and Mac saw a new release on Friday May 9th. The update brings with a host of new features, including the promised new user interface, which I previewed in April.

Version 0.7 requires acceptance of the Lab’s Terms of Service, which tends to be the case with each major update of the game. Once this has been done, the changes to the game are evident right from the start, with the new right-hand sidebar now managing both logging-in to the game / creating an account and launching the game options, which now comprise five options:

  • Create: allows you to create new worlds using the basic worlds provided with Patterns, or using your own existing worlds, either saved locally or previously published to the Patterns Cosmos
  • Explore: allows you to explore the worlds in the Cosmos and access them. Worlds are defined in terms of featured, recently uploaded, and popular with users
  • Find Multi-player allows you to quickly find any multi-player games which are in progress
  • Tools: allows you to launch tools associated with Patterns. This is currently the Materials Editor, which I first looked at back at the start of January 2014 and then again in a little more detail and the end of that month
  • Settings: access the game’s settings: controls, keys, graphics and audio.

The Create, Explore and Multi-player options preview available worlds in tabs, each world having its own thumbnail (if available) which, when clicked, displays more information on that world. This makes previewing worlds and selecting interesting ones for game play a lot more informative than earlier Patterns versions.

It's a lot easier to preview Patterns worlds - your own or those in the Cosmos - with the new release of Patterns
It’s a lot easier to preview Patterns worlds – your own or those in the Cosmos – with the new release of Patterns

You can also opt to open any world in both the Create and Explore modes as either single player or multi-player. When starting a world in multi-player mode, you can either leave it set to “open”, allowing it to be displayed in the Multi-player tab such that anyone can select it and join the game (up to the maximum number of four players), or you can set a password against it, which other players have to use in order to access the game (handy for when you want to keep a game among friends).

The streamlined UI makes selecting shapes, materials and models a lot easier, and also offers a cleaner overall UI. At the bottom of the Patterns window is a tool bar area which has a toggle option on the left which switches it between elements and materials, and each of which have ten placeholders apiece, which can be used to store your preferred elements and materials ready for immediate use. an Inventory icon on the right of the toolbar will open your full inventory of shapes, materials and models, allowing you to quickly drag and drop them into the placeholders, replacing anything previously stored in any given placeholder, making selecting and swapping shapes to suit your needs fast and easy.  ESC closes the inventory window and returns you to the game play.

When used in-game, ESC will pause the game and call-up additional options, but in a slightly different format to previous releases, with everything other than the option to save the world to your hard drive now also located in the right-hand sidebar. These options include the familiar game settings, the respawn world option, help, and a new scene settings option.

The scene settings option provides access to a number of tabs which allow you to adjust a number of options associated with a world – how gravity works, what appears in the sky, fog effects, lighting (direct, reflections, etc.), SSAO blurring, and so on.You can also use this option to add your own materials packs to a world as well. A video from SandovalCurse (aka happyhappygaming on YouTube) of the Curse team provides and overview of the scene setting options.

Continue reading “Patterns: all change for a new experience”

Patterns: of UIs and passwords

LL logoUpdate, October 9th, 2014: Linden Lab announced that development work on Patterns has been discontinued.

In March I reported on plans to overhaul the Patterns user interface at some point in the future. These plans took a step closer to being revealed on April 5th, when Sandoval Curse (aka HappyHappyGaming on YouTube), keeper of the Patterns community on Curse, issued an initial sneak peek at the current updates to the UI. The changes are both extensive and appear to be exceptionally well thought through.

While the video comes with a warning that it shows elements of the UI from a Patterns nightly build, and are thus subject to possible change, what is presented suggests that the team are looking to make using Patterns a look easier and the ability to move between elements of the UI and modes of operation a lot more fluid, while at the same time offering a less cluttered build / play space.

The changes to the UI are evident right from start-up, with the log-in panel moved over to become  sidebar on the right, which also doubles as a game mode launcher once a player is logged-in.

The new log-in panel looks set to become a sidebar for both logging-in to Patterns and for launching game modes
The new log-in panel looks set to become a sidebar for both logging-in to Patterns and for launching game modes (click for full size without so much screen cap blurring)

Once logged-in, the panel allows the player to select from world building, continuing game play, accessing the Patterns tools (I assume these are the shape forge and the substance editor) and change their settings.

Selecting any of these options many display a further slide-out panel. For example, clicking on the world building option displays a list of available worlds in the Cosmos the player can use as a template, together with options to select either single (default) or multi-player modes.

Selecting existing worlds as templates when building worlds is a lot slicker
Selecting existing worlds as templates when building worlds is a lot slicker (click for full size without so much screen cap blurring)

Inventory and shape / substance management has been completely overhauled, with a new inventory bar at the bottom of the screen which allows for much easier toggle between shapes, materials and models, as well as offering a cleaner drag-and-drop panel when applying materials to shapes, etc.

The new inventory bar allows easier toggling between shapes and elements / substances. Where appropriate, it appears to open a panel for easier drag-and-drop of materials and substances onto shapes
The new inventory bar allows easier toggling between shapes and elements / substances. Where appropriate, it opens a panel for easier drag-and-drop of materials and substances onto shapes (click for full size without so much screen cap blurring)

In-world game controls have been revised somewhat, making shape and model manipulation easier as well as trying to make it easier to move, rotate or delete things. I might be wrong in saying this, as it is hard to tell from the video (and any settings Sandoval uses), but it looks as if the default third-person camera angle may also have been revised.

According to the video, not only may things change between now and the UI being released, but there is a lot more still to be demonstrated, and a further sneak peek video is promised. This being the case, and in lieu of being able to fiddle with things directly, I’ll leave you with Sandoval’s video.

Password Recovery

Nalates Urriah has a piece up on Patterns password recovery, drawing on a video posted to YouTube. The short version is: there isn’t a password recovery option. The support team’s advice, should you forget your password is to create a new account. However, this isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds. Passwords are only required to access the Cosmos. You can still play offline without logging-in. What’s more, even if you do create a new account and password, you should still have access to all the worlds you have built yourself, whether playing offline or when logged-in to the Cosmos.

If you forget your Patterns password (or user name), you should be able to create a new account and still access your existing world builds (tested usin Patterns build 0.06a via Desura and Steam)
If you forget your Patterns password (or user name), you should be able to create a new account and still access your existing world builds (tested using Patterns build 0.06a via Desura and Steam)

The only pain I can see with this – and admittedly, I’m no longer a regular Patterns player – is that if a player is well-known as a Patterns world builder, any worlds you upload to the Cosmos after an account change will obviously be linked to the new account name, and so may not be instantly recognisable to other players. Also, those who regularly play in the multi-player mode will have to advise other players of any change in order to ensure they receive invitations into games.

Related Links

Patterns to get new “cleaner” UI

LL logoUpdate, October 9th, 2014: Linden Lab announced that development work on Patterns has been discontinued.

With recent focus being on the axing of three of LL’s initial new product offerings – and particularly Versu – it is easy to forget that the longest-running of LL’s moves to diversify is still out there, and actually has yet to officially launch in a release mode.

I’m of course talking about Patterns, LL’s PC / Mac game / content building sandbox application. This first appeared in September 2012, although there had been clues as to its name, if not what it would be about, as far back as July 2012, when Rocky Constantine spotted what appeared to have been a slight boo-boo.

I’ve not followed Patterns as closely as perhaps I could, but I have tried to provide periodic updates under my Patterns tag (menu: News-Updates-Opinion > Linden Lab > LL Products > Patterns), including recent notes on it gaining the ability for users to edit and create their substances, followed by support for materials.

The original Patterns UI
The original Patterns UI

While still in its “Genesis” form, Patterns has built-up a small but strong following in the gaming community and via the likes of Desura and Steam. Many of those who have purchased Patterns have provided feedback and input to the game’s development over the last 18 months, which have seen new capabilities added, functionality improved and a number of enhancements to the UI.

The Patterns UI as seen during a Liverstream event with members of the Patterns team (lower right)
The Patterns UI as seen during a Livestream event with members of the Patterns team (lower right)

On March 18th, 2014, the Patterns team revealed that as part of the run-up to release (which had originally been indicated as being “late 2013” when the Genesis version first appeared, but has yet to have a date firmly pinned to it), the UI will shortly be getting potentially its most radical overhaul yet, aimed at “optimizing the play space by cleaning up the real estate”, and which will see the move of the tools, substances, and shapes into “one clean area at the bottom of the screen, where you’ll be able to quickly toggle between each of these different toolbars with ease by hitting the Q or E buttons on your keyboard.”

Patterns: extensive UI overhaul coming soon
Patterns: extensive UI overhaul coming soon

There’s currently no ETA on when the new UI will appear in Patterns, but the team are promising more sneak peeks in the future as work continues. Also coming in the future, I assume under a separate cover, is the Patterns scripting capability, which should further enhance the application’s creative capabilities.

I’ll endeavour to update as further releases are made for those of you still following Patterns.

Lab says “no” to an independent future for Versu

One of the original Versu titles
One of the original Versu titles

Following the Lab’s move to axe Creatorverse, dio and Versu, I raised the question with Emily Short and the Lab on whether it might be possible for Versu to continue. I wasn’t alone in cogitating the idea, several others raised the same question, such as Ciaran Laval.

At the time I made my enquiries, Emily confirmed that discussions were underway while the Lab were reticent  to comment – understandably, simply because discussions were in progress.

On Saturday March 8th, and true to her promise that she would blog on the matter when she was in a position to do so, Emily issued a brief update, stating:

So for those who were curious, Linden has now given me a definite no about selling me the codebase and IP.

In reply to a comment expressing the hope that this won’t spell the end of Emily’s forays into social IF, she replied in part:

This is definitely not the end of my trying to build more socially-focused IF [interactive fiction], and we did learn a huge amount about how to make that work, not just in terms of a technical engine but in terms of authoring approaches. So there are things that can be built on even without access to the code or IP.

There is understandably a huge amount of disappointment involved here as well.  Blood and Laurels, the latest title Emily had been developing for Versu, represents the culmination of a concept she had been periodically working on for some fifteen years, and she acknowledges that she was really excited to see it finished. Even so, Emily remains pragmatic:

Still, on a total scale of possible bad things to have happen to one, it’s not very far along the bad thing spectrum. So we go on to the next.

Whether the Lab’s decision was based on them seeing a possible means of using the IP and code elsewhere is unknown. However, as Tateru Nino points-out in a further comment, that while regrettable, the decision by Linden Lab is actually a logical business decision, as whether it is used or not, the Versu IP represents a company asset. Even so, if the IP and code is destined to sit on a shelf unused, it is a shame a way could not be found to allow the project to survive. While it may not fit the Lab’s “shared creative spaces” model, the IF market does represent a viable niche market, and Versu itself represented a unique approach to presenting IF – and of even reaching beyond it into other fields of use.

While I never got to use Versu, of all the initial new product offerings from the Lab, it was the one that intrigued me the most; I’ll miss it.

Could Versu Live On?

Ciaran Laval beat me to the punch on this one, having cogitated on the matter and posted on the matter of Versu being allowed a Second Life.  However, I’m going to blog anyway 🙂 .

Of all of the offerings from the Lab which were axed on February 19th – Creatorverse, dio, and Versu –  it was Versu which I found most intriguing – and also most frustrating, as being restricted to the iPad, it was the only one I couldn’t try.

Versu offered a new approach to interactive fiction
Versu offered a new approach to interactive fiction

The concept and capabilities within it, both as an interactive fiction application and as a potential engine for wider things, such as a means of studying real-world social situations (as the UK’s New Scientist magazine reported in June 2013), were certainly fascinating, and it would be a shame to see them suffer an early death.

As I do feel Versu has a lot of potential, I dropped Emily Short a line on her blog, expressing my hope that a way could be found to allow it to continue. She replied:

I don’t have a concrete answer to that yet, but I’m currently investigating whether it’s possible to regain the IP from Linden.

If so, I’d likely take it forward in a slightly different direction than the Lab would have done, but still with the aim of making some tools available to the general public. I’m actually really pleased with some of the things the authoring tools could do at the end — I was able to put together Blood and Laurels, which is a massively branching, 250K word piece, in a couple of months. I’m obviously biased here, but the output feels way tighter than our earliest Versu stories, has much more plot, but still allows for considerable variety in the outcomes of various character relationships. Basically, it’s a type of IF I have been wanting to write for a long time, and for which most of the existing tools are not a very good fit.

So I’d really like to see both the finished stories and the toolset reach an audience, since outside of Linden and a few conference demos hardly anyone has seen what we did. But a great deal depends on what I’m able to arrange.

Anyway, if I have news on the future of Versu, I’ll mention it on this blog.

Not long after she replied to me, Emily also posted on the subject directly.

Blood and Laurels, a 250,000 word title for Versu had, prior to the Lab's 19th February announcement, been expected soon
Blood and Laurels, a 250,000 word title for Versu had, prior to the Lab’s 19th February announcement, been expected soon

Obviously, and as Emily says, there is nothing concrete here to say Versu will be able go ahead, and negotiations are down to her, the Lab and (I assume) Richard Evans to see how it might be taken forward outside of the Lab’s purview. However, I can’t help but keep fingers crossed on the matter; particularly given there is a chance the tools for people to create their own stories would remain a part of any continuance.

The news that Versu was to be axed must have come as a severe disappointment to Emily. As she notes in her blog reply, Blood and Laurels, which had been reported as “coming soon” to Versu as recently as January 25th, 2014, amounted to a 250,000-word piece, which is roughly twice the length of something akin to a work of historical fiction.

The idea of a company releasing technology IP as a result of a shift in focus coupled with a departure of staff isn’t new. Perhaps the most recent high-profile example of this occurring was when Gabe Newell allowed Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson walk away from Value with the IP for castAR, an augmented reality (and potentially VR-capable) headset they had been developing on the company’s dime. By doing so, Newell enabled them to set-up a company and Kickstarter in order to continue the work. So it’s is not beyond the realm of possibility that an agreement between the Lab and Ms. Short / Richard Evans cannot be reached.

CastAR: Gabe Newell allowed  glasses (image courtesy of Technical Illusions / The Verge)
CastAR: Gabe Newell allowed Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson to depart Valve with the IP when the project was effectively canned. could LL reach a similar agreement with the creators of Versu? (image courtesy of Technical Illusions / The Verge)

Meanwhile, Qie Niangao has been musing whether Versu’s technology might find a re-use in SL helping content creators develop more immersive user experiences alongside of, or a part of, the still-to-be-released Experience Tools.

Again, it’s an interesting idea. Pathfinding has not turned out to be quite the AI winner in Second Life that perhaps had been hoped, but whether the actual engine from Versu could be re-tailored for use within the platform is perhaps questionable (as Qie himself also notes). It is also unclear what expertise in terms of Versu’s development remains at the Lab, both Richard Evans and now Emily Short having departed.

Of the two options, I confess I’d rather a means be found for Versu to continue elsewhere in more-or-less the form in which we’ve come to recognise it (just with a flavour for the Android OS!). As already noted, it’s an intriguing approach to IF, and one with potentially huge opportunities.

Note: While preparing this piece, Ciaran contacted me to say he was working on a further piece related to Emily Short’s blog post. you can read it here.

Lab confirms dio, Creatorverse and Versu axed

LL logoUpdate: Peter Grey has confirmed with me that Versu and Creatorverse will be removed from the App Store (and the other places Creatorverse had been available) and their websites taken down in the immediate future. The dio website will remain until the end of February, with a message announcing its forthcoming closure.

Linden Lab has just confirmed that three of its products, Creatorverse. dio and Versu have been axed.

The announcement in full reads:

After careful consideration, Linden Lab has decided to cease development and support for dio, Versu, and Creatorverse. We’re grateful for those who took the time to experiment with these products in their early days, but ultimately we have determined that due to a number of factors, we and our customers will be best served by focusing our efforts on continuing to provide exceptional service and compelling new experiences for the users of our other products.

Where's dio and Creatorverse?
dio, Versu and Creatorverse gone from most LL web properties

The products have been removed from the footer area of the Lab’s webpages, and from the corporate home page banner and products page.

So Ciaran Laval called it right!