Where Does The Time Go?

We were reminded by one of our social networks that we have been active with them for 3 years. Well, we’d hung our shingle out long before then, so we decided to have a look at some =IcaruS= history. We pulled out some memorables since 2008, and we thought we’d share.

Our Metaverse headquarters are in our new digs in Amicus Curiae, Second Life, and we look forward to seeing more visits from our friends and neighbours. For brief descriptions, hold your mouse over the pictures. Click to see larger views, or more views where available.

A Quick Look Back, A Big Step Forward

So much has happened in 2012. Technological storms roared through like the cars on a Formula 1 circuit and left the unmistakable tracks of change on the landscapes of various virtual worlds. The ripple effect of these shifts have affected many of us; =IcaruS= is no exception. We’ve been working on different projects while maintaining our presence in Second Life and elsewhere, carefully choosing our steps and iterating through the creating-experimenting-observing-implementing process in our work.

When issues in the blogosphere came up that resonated, we spoke up. We also observed (and learned from) what others had to say. This was an exciting year with Kitely, Cloud Party, Creatorverse and Patterns, 3D printing, pathfinding in Second Life and OpenSim, convergence trends, mobile apps and tablet computing, to mention just a few of the developments.

Come what may, we are ready for this new year. We at =IcaruS= hope for continued progress forward into 2013. We hope for a new spirit of healthy competition and more collaboration in this big world of ours. The image below is of a card we created and distributed in Second Life. Each of the subscribers to our inworld group received a special free gift with the card. We invite you to join us there, too.

Virtual Osmosis

With the recent news of Microsoft’s patent coming out a couple of weeks after we spoke of virtual rooms in our most recent post on the subject of virtual worlds, we have a few more thoughts to share on the topic.

So far, the games industry and virtual worlds arena have followed separate roadmaps, only crossing paths with a few developments in common, such as Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO’s) and the gamification of some virtual world regions. Like feuding cousins, each thinking the other is beneath them, they tend to attract separate and different demographics of users.

However, there exists a third demographic able to see the possibilities, that one can help the other, by using each other’s strengths. One has the popularity and an audience bigger than the motion picture industry, while the other offers a much smaller but technically savvy user base.

As this third demographic grows, the likelihood of a better metaverse with new and more immersive virtual worlds increases.

A key catalyst for this will be a solid foothold in the mainstream consciousness, in the same way that smartphones and tablet PCs have done. Smartphones have been around for years, with only a small portion of the public ever feeling a need for one. Then along came just the right sales pitch aimed at the Average Joe, and now nearly every Average Joe and Jane feels they are missing out if they don’t have one. Thus demand is created, it generates necessity (the mother of invention), and soon there is the equivalent of a gold rush, with some attrition occurring over time: Open source Android’s worldwide smartphone market share grew from around 25% in third quarter 2010, to 52% in the third quarter 2011 to 68% in the second quarter of this year. It’s interesting to note that the market share of the originator of the smartphone’s popularity is still hovering around 15% – 20%.

Can you see the parallel we’ve drawn here?

Convergence

So, what will cause a virtual worlds boom? Looking again at the early stages of the smartphone market, phone technology companies were still trying to come to grips with what a smartphone was, let alone creating some benchmark for people to build on. It’s going to be a process of experimentation and iteration, with convergences here and there.

There are steps in that direction and developments that, while they may not have gained the expected direction or popularity, they push others toward getting that step closer. Blue Mars is seen as a failure by some for not going the way some expected, but that’s a myopic view – look at the technical achievements, such as avatars within Google maps. There wasn’t the Wright brothers’ plane, then the Concorde; there were a lot of different attempts in between with varying degrees of success, and none of them was ‘just another plane’.

Virtual osmosis should bring us toward a brighter future.

=IcaruS= Gallery: Exploring a World

Last weekend, we updated the =IcaruS= Gallery. A clue to the featured contents might make you smile – or groan:


“I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow in the knee.”

You guessed it! A sentence often repeated by various characters in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the phrase is now a running gag among enthusiasts and the subject of numerous jokes across the Internet. But the popularity of the game is undeniable; it reaches out and draws you in with its inescapable armoured grasp.

Whiterun, Skyrim

Endlessly curious, Leon has wandered, thieved, fought and killed his way through much of the game. He’s done a good bit of exploring in between quests and killing dragons – in caves, along rivers, amid crumbling ruins. Vistas are sweeping scenes of Nordic beauty, with craggy, snow-covered peaks and rich, green valleys and all manner of beast both domesticated and wild. The characters that have sprung from the minds of the game creators are highly developed and will utter often amusing remarks as you pass by.

On Horseback in Skyrim

To iSkye’s great joy, Leon found the option to show the game’s dialogue in text and suggested that she try the game. Some of the quests were rather intense for her liking, but she found the more peaceful aspects of the world of Skyrim that appealed to her. She also discovered a perverse pleasure in acquiring and using Dragon Shouts.

Eager to dive into the game’s mechanics, Leon was soon creating mods with the SDK (available via Steam from Bethesda Softworks), but with other pressing matters on his mind, this has had to go onto the back burner while he continues developing his idea for a virtual world. With little time anymore for Skyrim, we thought we would display some of snapshots he had taken along the way, in our gallery.

And so we encourage you to come and visit the gallery and enjoy the views of a beautifully designed gameworld. It might even entice you to try it or develop your own ideas for the gamification of Second Life / OpenSim.

Better (Virtual) Worlds, Part 2

Following on our previous post, we have been busy doing viability tests on various 3D engines, looking at what others are trying or have tried, and noting the good and bad points of each.

Leon’s been burning the midnight oil, locked away in a secret government location, held at gunpoint. ;-p

But seriously, we want something that looks the part, has a good workflow and is future proof (as much as is possible, anyway) with the ability to be customized and tweaked for our purposes.

Highlands

We have thus far narrowed our search down to three candidates, and created various landscapes and models. We’ve looked at what actually can be altered with the code as well as what the licences offer and the associated costs.

We don’t want to give away our game just yet, no pun intended, as we have not finalized our choice of engine, but things look very promising. While it will involve a shed load of work, as you can see from the screenshot we can easily get the look we want for our landscape and we are delighted that scale isn’t a problem with the engines in question – 25 to 50 square kilometres seems like a good starting size of a world to explore.

The downside of all this is that nearly everything we made for Second Life and OpenSim isn’t usable; it is just too ‘basic’. There are some textures, however, that we can still use if we go back to our original high resolution sizes, and some of the later meshes that we made may also be of some use.

Of course, this is just the start. There are other details to consider: the network issues, coding and interaction, and avatars. It’s not just the content creation, but from Leon’s point of view it is good to be getting back to 3D (using Cinema4D and the like), creating models and landscapes that look as good in world as when in the 3D package. We can get beyond just the ‘bump map’ that is available in SL/OS; we can use more map options like environment, displacement, normals, specular, etc. that we’d almost forgotten.

The ability to have rocks, floors and roofs that look wet when it rains, trees with seasonal changes, dynamic weather, global or localized weather and lighting, better physics, the ability to climb up mountains and wander without lag or mushy textures – it all makes us smile.

Virtual Wet Rock

As time goes on we will follow up occasionally, whenever we reach any significant landmarks in our project, and we hope to have an alpha version sometime next year (if Leon can keep out of Skyrim long enough!).

Meanwhile, we have no current intention of leaving Second Life. Our products are on display at our Metaverse Headquarters, =IcaruS= House, and also the SL Marketplace, with new products added as they become available. We’re still passionate about the things that matter to us here – our communities, like our home base in Avalon Town; our friends, colleagues and causes; our builds and the things of wonder and beauty that continue to rez across the grid, conceived in the minds of kindred creatives and given a virtual form through prim, sculpt, texture and mesh.

Come to fence on the rooftop of =IcaruS= House, dance to the music stream, ponder the horizon from our gazebo or pier, even try your luck in the game room of the Rose Pub. It’s all there for you and your friends to spend a few moments of virtual pleasure with us in our little corner of the (virtual) world. If you’ve a pioneering spirit, =IcaruS= RealmS is in the Metaverse, our continuing exploration in OpenSim, you’re welcome to visit there as well.