A poignant Second Life machinima for Christmas

Jenny’s Holy Night

Nikira Naimarc is a budding machinima maker who contacted me about her first film, Jenny’s Holy Night, asking me if I’d like to watch it.

When most of us would consider entering machinima cautiously, perhaps with a piece of a few minutes duration to test the waters publicly, Nikira went for something far more ambitious. At little under 20 minutes in length, Jenny’s Holy Night easily qualifies as a mini movie.  And it is a moving piece.

“It is a Christmas video, Nikira told me, when she contacted me. “It’s based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Little Match Girl. We premièred in November, and I’ve had very positive feedback.”

First published in 1845, The Little Match Girl is the sad tale of a poor little girl attempting to sell matches on New Year’s Eve. Ignored by the passing people, she is too afraid to go home lest her father beats her. Instead, she sleeps in the cold, dreaming of better times – times she may never see.

For Jenny’s Holy Night, Nikira has updated the story to a modern setting and has moved it to the days leading up to Christmas, with the little girl now an orphan trying to sell little Christmas wreaths she has made to unsympathetic shoppers, concerned only with their own needs.

Made with the support of Die Villa video, who have also made available on YouTube through their channel, Jenny’s Holy Night is a poignant tale. It is a reminder that “the season of giving” can be especially hard for those who don’t have the luxury of having the money to give in order to receive what they need; that that all too easily exist unseen and outside of the excitement of the holiday season – until it is too late.

Please take the time to watch the film below, and if you appreciate it, do consider leaving a comment for Nikira here or on the film’s YouTube page.

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Revisiting Future Shock – sci-fi machinima in Second Life

Future Shock: sci-fi machinima
Future Shock: sci-fi machinima

In September 2016, I previewed a new machinima series, Future Shock, by Pryda Parx. At that point in time, the first episode had just been released, and Pryda was kind enough to allow me see the next two in the series. What I saw was intriguing in terms of story, setting and production values. Given the final episode was released just before Christmas, it seemed a good opportunity to watch the episodes back-to-back and talk a little more to Pryda about the work.

When we first discussed the series in September, Pryda told me her aim was to produce a series which could entertain, but also provoke debate on technological and social trends; to explore what the future might actually hold.

To achieve this, she presents us with a world where technology infiltrates every part of our lives. It watches over us, seemingly for our own protection, as well as providing various means personal gratification and escapism. It is also a world where everyone is defined in terms of their credit and net worth. So long as both are in good standing, then you are (reasonably) safe – not even death needs be an impediment; while if there is something about your body you don’t like or feel it lacks, you can have it modified / augmented to suit your desires. Should credit evaporate or net worth show every indication of becoming negative, however, then things can be  – uncomfortable.

In a world where everything is defined by whether or not you will remain in credit, even legal judgement on your acts become a clinical binary decision equitable to life or death
In a world where everything is defined by whether or not you will remain in credit, even legal judgement on your acts become a clinical binary decision equitable to life or death

Thus this is a world of questionable values, both in terms of technology and the people – who may be driven by their baser elements of self: avarice, jealousy, the potential for violence. Thus this is a world of questionable morals and ethics – a fact cleverly reinforced through the use of predominantly monochrome and grey scale settings and characters.

But there is more here as well; everything appears to be run by the “state”, against whom some have rebelled, seeking sanctuary – and more – from within the technology intended to watch over them. Thus, the story is layered, which the fully arc designed to progress over a total of three series of episodes. For this, the first element of the overall arc, we follow a central character by the name of Tracy. As much enmeshed in moral ambiguity as everyone else (she is perfectly willing to betray a lover to gain credit, and potentially go further), her character is as grey as the world she lives in.

Future Shock: Tracy

Future Shock: Tracy

By introducing us to Tracy first, Pryda effectively drops us into the middle of things. This both adds to the mystery of the series – but also makes the narrative a little hard to fully comprehend. The intent here is obviously to raise questions and encourage us to follow the story as more unfolds through the remaining two series.

“There is a complete arc,” Pryda told me. “But it will unfold slowly. The second series covers the same time period as this one, for example. But telling it from the rebels’ point of view. You get to understand more about the relationship Tracy’s boyfriend has with them, and so on. Then in the third series you discover what the state is really about.”

While the narrative might seem a little uneven in places, one thing that more certainly isn’t is the quality of the production. To put it simply, Future Shock is extraordinarily well done. Considering this is Pryda’s first foray into episodic storytelling and machinima production, it is a polished production.

Being in sufficient credit means you can afford exotic changes to your body - such as wings and the ability to fly. But there is still the mystery / threat / salvation hidden within the Dark Grid ...
Being in sufficient credit means you can afford exotic changes to your body – such as wings and the ability to fly. But there is still the mystery / threat / salvation hidden within the Dark Grid …

“Before this I’d practice making videos in Second Life with a couple of fairy/music videos, but the story with those is minimal,” Pryda informed me. “I’ve always been creative, but my writing and drawing isn’t strong, so I have been very inspired with the idea of story telling with machinima techniques. But it has all been new territory for me, and I’ve been learning as fast as I can.”

Given that her learning curve has also encompassed GIMP, Audacity for audio, and even Blender – Future Shock is an even more remarkable debut series, and there is more than enough in these first series to engage the curiosity and leave one wanting to know more about where things are going.

Sadly, it’s going to be a while before we get to find out: the second series is currently slated for a late 2017 release. But in the meantime, you can catch up with the first series on Pryda’s You Tube channel, and I’m embedding the introductory prologue to it below.

 

Revisiting the Reshade injector with Second Life

Reshade is a real-time post-process injector allwoing you to overlay Second Life with various shader options, individually or collectively, to produce assorted effects and results
Reshade is a real-time post-process injector allowing you to overlay Second Life with various shader effects, individually or collectively, to produce assorted results, real-time, in both images and video

Back in August 2015, I blogged about Reshade, a post-processing injector for games and video software available for Windows. When installed and associated with a game or application like Second Life, it can be used to overlay the screen with a wide range of shader-based effects. These can them be used in screen captures or when recording machinima, to provide “real-time” visual effects.

Since that time, Reshade has been through a couple of iterations, with version 3.0.3 appearing on October 21st. As I’ve not revisited Reshade since that 2015 article, I thought I’d provide a short overview of installation and general use of this latest version.


A quick and dirty demo video I made with Reshade 1.0, showing how it can be used used in Second Life machinima filming

Installation

Please ensure you’re logged out of Second Life when setting-up ReShade.

  • Go to the Reshade website and download the installer, double-click to run it.
  • You will be prompted to select a programme for association with Reshade:

install-1

  • Click Select Game and navigate to the installed folder of the viewer with which you want to use Reshade and click on the viewer EXE file.
  • You will be prompted to Select Rendering API:

install-2

  • Click on OpenGL (note this may already appear to be selected – click on it anyway). You will be asked if you want to install the shaders- make sure you do.
  • The shaders will be downloaded and installed in a folder in your viewer’s installation location on your computer.
  • The Reshade installer will report Done, and can be closed.

To associate Reshade with any other viewer you have installed on your PC, you will have to follow these instructions again. You do not necessarily have to install the shaders again (although this is easiest) – you can set any additional versions of Reshade to point to shaders already installed.

Using Reshade

Note: the following is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to using Reshade. It is intended to get you started. The best way to gain familiarity with Reshade is to use it; should you need additional assistance, please refer to the Reshade forums. I don’t profess to be an expert in the applications, and will probably not be able to help with detailed technical support!

Reshade is available whenever you launch the viewer with which it has been associated. To access it, press SHIFT-F2. This will display the UI panel which may enter Tutorial mode, if you haven’t saved any presets.

  • Click the Continue button in the Reshade panel.
  • The preset selection bar will be highlighted. Click on the + button to the right of it to open the Name bar, and type in anything you like – this will become the name of a preset INI file, which yo can save and then select at a later date, loading all the sahder settings you have established in it.
  • The available shaders are loaded (and highlighted in red in the tutorial). Read the explanatory text and click continue.
  • The settings panel is highlighted and briefly explained. Read and click Finish.
  • The full Home tab will be displayed.
The Reshade Home tab
The Reshade Home tab – click for full size

This comprises 5 sections:

  • Preset selection area (top), with + (create a new preset INI) and – (delete selected preset INI)
  • The shader search bar  – type in all or part of a shader to display just that shader and its settings options. This also includes the Collapse / Expand toggle for opening / collapsing all shaders in the upper and lower panes of the tab
  • A scrollable list of available shaders. Clicking on any one of these will open it to display the activation button (1), above, and the hotkey toggle option (2), above – you can type-in any key combination you like here to automatically select the shader.
  • A scrollable list of settings, by shader (3), above).
  • The Reload button (reset everything to defaults) and Show error log buttons.

The two main panes in the tab – shader list and settings – can be adjusted by clicking on the divider between them and moving it up or down.

Continue reading “Revisiting the Reshade injector with Second Life”

Revisiting Invictus in Second Life

Invictus
Invictus

In August, I wrote at length about Invictus, the stunning full region interpretation of William Ernest Henley’s famous 1875 poem which was given that name in 1900, when it appeared in the The Oxford Book of English Verse.

The installation is a marvellous work of art, deeply reflective of the thoughts expressed within the poem, and of Storm’s own circumstance and the trials she has faced. If you haven’t visited the installation, I urge you to do so before in closes in December, and while it may sound somewhat self-serving, I also offer my thoughts on the installation as well.

I have been drawn back to Invictus a number of times since then, wanting to produce a video of it for posterity. But what form should such a video take? Should it feature music, or the words of the poem itself? And if the words, should they be spoken, or presented on-screen? And if spoken, who should I look to recite them?

At the end of August, and having been reminded by several people that Morgan Freeman recited the poem in the film Invictus (and has done so elsewhere, it being a personal favourite of his), I opted to turn to the marvellous talent of Charlie Hopkinson, who is Morgan Freeman’s voice. And so it is that I offer a short film of Storm’s installation I hope you enjoy, and which encourages you to visit or re-visit Invictus in-world.