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.

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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 debut 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, mysterious happenings and more.

Innsmouth is also a town which has been lovingly recreated in Second Life, forming a centre of roleplay, 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
Inssmouth

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

SL project updates week 3 (1) Server and viewer + misc items

Simulator User Group meeting (stock)
Simulator User Group meeting (stock)

Server Deployments: week 3, 2014

There are no server deployments this week on either Tuesday 14th (Main channel) or Wednesday 15th January (RC channels). The latter was anticipated to be the case, after Maestro Linden indicated there were no maintenance or other projects in the RC pipeline during the Server Beta meeting of Thursday January 9th.

While it had been thought that issues relating to STORM-1831 were not sufficient to prevent the RC package deployed in week 2 from being promoted to the Main channel, the decision has been taken to allow the package to run a further week on the RCs.

Week 4 Deployments

It now seems as if the plan is to deploy the RC maintenance project to the Main grid in week 4 (week commencing Monday January 20th), and to issue a new server maintenance project on the Wednesday of that week, although details on this have yet to be finalised.

SL Viewer

The Project Interesting viewer with the viewer-side interest list changes (notably the changes to how region information is cached and re-used by the viewer) gained a further update on Tuesday January 14th, with the release of release candidate 3.6.14.285213, which includes a number of additional bug fixes – see the release notes and download page.

STORM-1831: LSL Syntax Highlighting

This contribution by Ima Mechanic will allow LSL syntax highlighting in the viewer’s LSL editor to be updated and defined using a file obtained directly from the simulator the viewer is connected to, with the intention to eliminate issues of the viewer using outdated versions of the file. The server-side updates for this work are currently deployed to all three RC regions. However, as of the end of week 2, additional work was required on the syntax file itself.

In addition, there are a number of issues which are currently being addressed with the viewer-side code. These are listed on the JIRA for the project – STORM-1831, and require resolution prior to the code being issued  in a release candidate viewer. Most of these are currently being worked on, and are not seen as major show-stoppers, but will delay the code’s appearance in the short-term.

Other Items

Values for brush constants in calls to llModifyLand

One issue which has (again) been raised through STORM-1831 is that the values for brush constants in calls to llModifyLand, used for scripted terraforming operations, are out by 1 each (they are set to 1, 2, 3 and should be 0, 1, 2). This means that, for example, a call using LAND_SMALL_BRUSH will edit an area of 4×4 metres, not 2×2. The wiki documentation for the function notes the error as well. As a result of discussing this issue in the Open-source Developer’s meeting on Monday January 13th, a STORM JIRA was raised to (again) highlight this issue (STORM-2006).

However, as the issue itself is actually related to either STORM-1831 per se and because it will actually require server-side changes, the issue is liable to be moved to a BUG status and triaged from there.

Snapshot uploads to the SL Feeds

“It has to do with authentication under the hood when getting the credentials and then using them to fetch the snapshot config info,” Simon Linden said at the Simulator User Group meeting on Tuesday January 14th. The problem is still being worked upon for those still affected by it (I am), but there is currently no ETA as to a complete fix for the matter.

With thanks to Mona Eberhardt for the meeting notes.

SL projects update: week 2 (2): Fitted mesh, breedable issues and [L4L]-Gestures & Walkers (Freebies) <3

Week 2 Deployments – Recap

  • On Tuesday January 7th, the Main channel  received the server maintenance project that had been on the RC channels for the past few weeks. It contains a single bug fix, related to vehicles becoming stuck in the ‘sat upon’ state (which prevents parcel auto return)
  • On Wednesday January 8th, all three RC channels received a new server maintenance project, which contains some crash fixes and the new LSL functions for uniformly scaling linksets, all of which are immediately accessible using current viewers (see part one of this week’s report for details).  This project also contains updates related to STORM-68 and STORM-1831, both of which require viewer-side updates which have yet to be released by the Lab.

LSL Syntax Highlighting Updates

Related to STORM-1831, these updates, which were deployed to the RC channels as noted above, will eventually see the viewer able to fetch LSL syntax highlighting rules directly from the simulator. However, there are currently some errors in the syntax file as deployed to the RC channels this week (repeating text, bad whitespace, or inaccurate definitions of functions), which require further corrective work. As there is currently no publicly available viewer which can use this new capability, it is unlikely this issue will prevent the server maintenance project from being promoted to the Main channel in week 3.

The file is designed to be cached by the viewer (once the viewer-side updates are released), and is around some 600KB in size. This means that the file should only ever be downloaded and updated if the LSL editor is open, and the viewer detects a version number difference between the file it has cached and the file held by the simulator to which it is connected.

It is unclear when the viewer-side updates for this work will appear. While planned to arrive in a release candidate viewer containing a number of Snowstorm updates, it appears there are still a few bugs in the STORM-1831 code, such as with function arguments being presented in an incorrect order in the tool tips, which may delay its inclusion.

Week 3 Deployments

It is likely the server project currently on the three RCs will be promoted to the Main channel in week 3 (commencing Monday January 13th). However, it is also likely there will be no RC updates for the week, as there are no server maintenance updates ready to go, and no other projects (such as group ban lists) are in a position to be deployed.

The first Server Beta UG meeting of 2014
The first Server Beta UG meeting of 2014

Viewer News

Release Viewer

Thursday January 9th saw the PackageFix viewer (dated January 2nd, 2014) promoted to the de facto release viewer. As per pervious notes in this blog, this viewer has no SL-related functional updates. Rather, it corrects an issue introduced with the 3.6.12 code base whereby the Windows executable name was changed from “SecondLife” to “SecondLifeViewer”, without removing any executable using the “SecondLife” name from the installation folder. As a result, any shortcuts pointing to the “old” executable would allow it to run if used, thus potentially triggering further auto-updates.

With this fix, any executables using the old name (“SecondLife”) are removed from the installation folder, so any shortcuts created to them will cause Windows to display an error message, and the user can then remove them or modify them to point to the correct executable.

Fitted Mesh Progress

Oz Linden is anticipating a release candidate of the Fitted Mesh viewer Real Soon NowTM. There are currently no open issues at present, and work is underway to move it to a release candidate status. Exactly how soon “Real Soon Now” might be, however, is a little up in the air, as Oz went on to note at the Open-source Dev meeting on Wednesday January 8th, saying, “there are a bunch of steps [still to be taken] and I don’t know how long they’ll end up taking.”

Continue reading “SL projects update: week 2 (2): Fitted mesh, breedable issues and [L4L]-Gestures & Walkers (Freebies) <3”