Tony Dyson: robots, films and Second Life

Tony Dyson
Tony Dyson passed away at his home in Malta

Tony Dyson, the creator of R2-D2 and Emmy-nominated film SFx supervisor who worked on films such as Superman 2 and Moonraker, Dragon Slayer, Saturn 3 and The Empire Strikes Back, has passed away.

Professor, author, educator, and more, Tony Dyson was also keenly interested in Second Life.

He first became involved with the platform, as Azar Shelman, while investigating distance learning mediums, and recognised the Second Life’s potential as a means of creating real-time animation, something he had tried to do outside of the platform without much success.

As a result of getting involved in SL, he was introduced to  machinima producer and publisher Chantal Harvey,  (via Phalen Fairchild), and they found they had much in common. Chantal invited Tony to head the jury in the 2012 48 Hour Film Project for machinima, and thus a working collaboration between the two of them was born.

As well as investigating ways and means to produce better machinima, this collaboration led to the development of Bobbekins, interactive e-books for children which would utilised advanced animation, music, and machinima shot in Second Life, and illustrated by another SL resident, Dawny Daviau.

Bobbekins was developed on the idea that children expect to engage all their senses when involved in a story or learning exercise  – something to which educators can attest. Filming took place in Toy City, created by Tony as a constantly changing place discovered by the alien Bobbekins, who claimed it as their home. The books were developed under the Netdreamer Publications  banner authored by Tony, illustrated by Dawny and edited by Chantal, and the first book in the series, Medieval Farm, is still available through Amazon (and you can read more on the project here).

Bobbekins
Bobbekins

However, it is the builder of R2-D2 that he will be most clearly remembered. A regular guest at science-fiction conventions around the world, he never lost his love of the cylindrical little robot, and used the fame he gained through his involvement in star Wars to talk about creativity and learning and give ene[encouragement to young people to pursue their creative endeavours.

As well as building the original eight R2-D2 units, Tony Dyson was responsible for the design of Hector, the robotic antagonist in Saturn 3, and developed a robotic character modelled on (and voiced by) John  Cleese for a series of television adverts aired in the 1980s for Sony. He also designed robots for Philips and Toshiba.

Tony Dyson had a wonderful view on creativity “Be playful,” he told the The Times of Malta newspaper in 2015. “Never stop playing. If you look at life the way it really should be – enjoyed – then you become very creative”. It’s a view he shared with Shad Engkilterra at the Malta Comic Con in 2015.

Tony Dyson passed away at his home on the island of Gozo, Malta. My condolences to his family, and to Chantal and Dawny, and those who knew him.

Rod Humble’s Chaphat announces Cults and Daggers

Image courtesy of Chaphat LCC
Image courtesy of Chaphat LLC

Just over a year after departing Linden Lab, former CEO Rod Humble has announced the release of his new game, Cults and Daggers, which will take place under the Chaphat label on February 12th, 2015.

The game, priced at US $29.99, will be made available through the Steam platform. Described as “a sprawling and complex turn-based strategy game set in the Hellenistic era between the death of Buddha and the birth of Christ”, the game will be available for PC and Mac.

In it, players are charged with creating their own religious cult / faith and engage in a secret war for the soul of the world, lest the ancient Gods, unable to rule the world, seek to destroy it. Once they have created their faith, player must travel across the Mediterranean regions, spreading the word of their faith, converting the masses and gaining the support for the nobility. They must compete not only with the ancient Gods, but also the forces of other cults, spies, occult forces and other hindrances and opposition forces. As such, you can also engage in espionage, arm the members of your cult / faith

Cults and Daggers play screen (image courtesy of Chaphat LLC)
Cults and Daggers play screen (image courtesy of Chaphat LLC)

Commenting on the game in the official press release, Humbles says of the game:

With Cults & Daggers, I sought to explore beyond the traditional strategy game model of ‘build and fight’, and offer up a more cerebral experience. At the same time, I wanted players to challenge themselves by navigating the chaotic web created by corruption, religious avarice and betrayal as rival factions vie for power.

The game spans a 400-year period of history, between the death of Buddha and the birth of Christ, and can be played as a single player against the game’s AI, with a multi-player mode for up to four players (hot seat and play-by-e-mail supported). As well as building their own faiths, players can seek to subvert their opponents’ followers, train disciples to become fighters or assassins, gain additional rewards by directly thwarting the plans of the ancient Gods, and more.

Adam Smith, writing in Rock, Paper, Shotgun, says of the game, “I’m absolutely hooked by the theme and the world is an active place, with plagues and wars interrupting my plots”, another he notes a couple of things aren’t immediately clear when playing – although he also notes these isn’t sufficient to put him off, and he’s very keen to try the multi-player options.

A trailer video for the game has also been released on You Tube, so take a look for yourself. And for those of you who like Dance / Electronic music, you might want to have a listen to Mr. Humble’s debut album Outsurge, released last Apirl.

A new shadow looms over Innsmouth

Innsmouth
Innsmouth

There has always been a shadow hanging over H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. That much has been known since the town first appeared in Lovecraft’s writing, when it made its début in the 1936 novel The Shadow Over Innsmouth. It is a place with a long and mysterious history, involving shipbuilding dating back to the mid-1600s, the rise of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, intrigue, strange  happenings and more.

Innsmouth is also a town which has been lovingly recreated in Second Life, forming a centre of role-play, an homage to Lovecraft’s writings and very much a famous and significant landmark. Dark and atmospheric, it captures the spirit of the deserted Innsmouth and its air of mystery and menace quite perfectly.

But now a new shadow is, as SLexplorer and Ciaran Laval indicate, falling over the SL Innsmouth and threatening its future.

Innsmouth
Innsmouth

The news of the threat first broke via a post on the H.P. Lovecraft Festival website, and which reads in part:

On September 15th, Darmin Darkes, the owner of the Innsmouth-themed Sim announced the following: “Innsmouth sim is for sale. I’m giving first dibs to you folks in the hopes that someone will want to keep some of the build. Worst case is having to flatten it and sell it. I just can’t afford it any longer. I’m not leaving SL, but I have to cut back my sims. Thank you for your years of support and friendship and the passion you’ve given to Innsmouth. It’s only pixels and I’m sure there are better versions waiting to be built.” — Darmin Darkes

Innsmouth in Second Life has enjoyed passionate and loyal support, and the news has led to a group being formed, The Innsmouth Preservation Society, which has Darmin Darkes’ blessing and is working on ways to secure a continued future for Innsmouth.

The group, led by Arik Metzger, who is the Coordinator of the HP Lovecraft Festival in SL, and Founder/Producer of the HPL-RPG  (HP Lovecraft Roleplay and More Group), has already set out initial plans to try to save the region.

“The first goal is to raise enough funds to purchase the sim and cover one month of rent,” he informed me when I hopped over to Innsmouth to speak with him. “Beyond that, there are ideas and plans for returning regular events and activities to Innsmouth, replacing older-style builds with more prim-efficient reproductions of the current structures, free up prims and increase potential for residential and commercial tenant options.”

Inssmouth
Innsmouth

The group has already held an initial meeting to discuss these plans and more, and a second meeting is scheduled for 19:30 SLT on Thursday, September 18th,  at the Innsmouth Opera House. All those wishing to support the preservation of Innsmouth are invited to attend, listen and get involved.

“We boosted the Innsmouth Preservation Society group to 33 members. A number of people expressed concerns and interests, and ideas were shared along with an overview of the immediate goals involved in saving the sim and revitalizing it for all,” Arik informed me in discussing the initial meeting. He’s been spending a fair amount of time spreading the word since the news broke, and visitors at the region will likely find him walking the streets of Innsmouth, imparting news on the group’s work, handing out meeting flyers and more.

Further details on the group’s plans, and information on how to get involved in donating towards keeping Innsmouth alive in Second Life will be given at the upcoming meeting. In addition, updates and other information relating to preserving the region will be posted on the HPL-RPG website.

Related Links

Call for chapter proposals on art in virtual worlds

Dr. Denise Doyle of the University of Wolverhampton, UK, has issued a call for chapter proposals for a new book to be entitled New Opportunities for Artistic Practice in Virtual Worlds, which she will be editing.

Dr. Denise Doyle (image courtesy of Wolverhampton University)
Dr. Denise Doyle (image courtesy of Wolverhampton University)

Dr. Doyle is an Artist-Researcher, and Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Wolverhampton, PhD Co-Supervisor at SMARTlab Research Institute, University College Dublin, and Adjunct Professor in Virtual Worlds and Digital Practice, Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U), Toronto, Canada. During her PhD research she developed Kriti Island, an art laboratory space in Second Life, to investigate creative practice in virtual world spaces. She has published widely on the subject of the virtual and the imaginary, the experience of the avatar body in virtual worlds and game spaces, and the use of virtual worlds for creative practice.

Her call for proposals has been issued through a number of outlets, including Wired Online, and JISCM@il. It reads in part:

Introduction

Although virtual worlds remain unstable phenomena a substantial amount of research continues to be undertaken within them and is reflected in the number of disciplines that study them particularly in an interdisciplinary context.  Whilst there is already a history of artists investigating new spaces and new technological forms this exploration has continued more recently with sections of the artistic community utilising virtual worlds as a new form, or a new potential artistic space. Established real-world artists have explored virtual worlds as environments for practice and a number of artists and designers have continued to specifically work with Second Life to explore the potential and limitations of the platform itself. A range of early key works and other seminal works produced in Second Life still hold strong to be scrutinised in the context of new technologies and for their contribution in expanding our understanding and experience of virtual space.

Objective of the Book
The mission of the publication is to provide a coherent account of artistic practices in virtual worlds and to consider the contribution the Second Life platform has made in an historical, theoretical and critical context within the field of art and technology and digital art. The book will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders who have yet to have a coherent dialogue on Second Life’s contribution to artistic practice and will provide a platform to bring together artists critical reflections on the work they have undertaken in the platform and in other virtual worlds. Finally, the volume will examine the specific features and characteristics of Second Life that contribute to the virtual aesthetics and languages born out of the nature of avatar-based interaction that have been developed by the artistic and creative community.

Target Audience
The volume is intended for both artists and scholars in the fields of digital art, art and technology, media arts history, virtual worlds, games studies and a broader academic audience who are interested in the history of art and technology and the philosophical implications of virtual space. It will be an important study book for media arts, games studies and virtual worlds studies students and will be a useful resource as a historical and critical reference for new media art. The book will be of value to the field of the philosophy of technology and contribute to the continued theoretical discourse of physical and virtual space.

Researchers and practitioners are invited to submit a 2-3 page chapter proposal which clearly explains the mission and concerns of the proposed chapter, and the call includes a list of recommended topics proposals might consider (although they are not restricted to just that list of topics. Chapters from accepted proposals will be reviewed on a double-blind review basis. Contributors may also be requested to serve as reviewers for this project.

The book is scheduled to be published by IGI Global (formerly Idea Group Inc.), and it is anticipated it will be released in 2015. Please refer to the call itself and the IGI global website for details of their publications.

Important Dates

  • February 28, 2014 –  Proposal Submission Deadline
  • March 15, 2014 – Notification of Acceptance
  • June 30, 2014 – Full Chapter Submission
  • August 30, 2014 –  Review Results Returned
  • October 15, 2014: – Final Acceptance Notification
  • October 30, 2014 – Final Chapter Submission

Those wishing to submit proposals, or who require further information on this call should contact:

Dr. Denise Doyle
Faculty of Arts, MK Building
Molineux Street
University of Wolverhampton
WV1 1SB

With thanks to Draxtor Despres