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  links for 2007-10-03  
Posted 2007-10-03 by Tony Walsh
  ‘Second Life’ Finally Gets Updated Physics  
Posted 2007-09-30 by Tony Walsh
One of my consistent complaints about Second Life over the last couple of years has been that the virtual world hasn't aged well. Powered by the now-ancient "Havok 1" physics engine since at least 2003, Second Life will at long last be updated to the more current Havok 4 engine, improving the performance, features and capabilities of the virtual world. This is welcome news for veteran Second Life residents like myself, who have been patiently enduring the hand-waving and vague promises of Linden Lab for ages--Havoc 2 was supposed to be rolled out by the end of 2004. That's like an eternity for techies.

According to Linden Lab, Havoc 4-powered Second Life is in public beta-testing. The new engine will obviously improve and speed up physics simulation in the virtual world, but won't help to reduce network lag (slowdown) caused by too many user-created programs or avatars crowding in a single locale. A list of technical changes expected with the new engine, clipped from the Linden blog, are listed below:

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Finally Gets Updated Physics
  ‘Endless Forest’ Gets Bigger, Smaller  
Posted 2007-09-26 by Tony Walsh
‘Endless Forest’ Gets Bigger, Smaller
The Endless Forest, a unique, open-ended virtual world where users become Stags has doubled the size of its lush woodland environment while reducing the file size of its client software. A new landscape has been added, featuring birch and sycamore trees, a playground, and a rock quarry. New users of The Endless Forest now begin the game as Fawns, added last year, and level up to take on the eerie Stag appearance the virtual world is best known for.

According to an emailed news bulletin, The Endless Forest has been downloaded 130,000 times and attracted 18,000 registrations since its first release two years ago, with up to 1,800 unique users monthly. Admirable stats for a virtual world constrained by nonverbal communication and devoid of explicit goals. Users make their own fun--something that appeals to a limited audience.
  links for 2007-09-24  
Posted 2007-09-24 by Tony Walsh
  Bungie Forges User-Created Content Path For ‘Halo 3’  
Posted 2007-09-22 by Tony Walsh
Bungie's upcoming Halo 3 multi-player shooter will not only support real-time collaborative level-building, but facilitate sharing of said levels amongst the game's players. Bungie's "Forge" object layout editor, provides eerily-similar functionality to "Garry's Mod" for Half-Life 2. With Forge, players modify Halo levels (solo or with friends) using interaction methods learned through game play, manipulating existing objects, creating new ones, and deleting what doesn't amuse. Forge-spawned maps can be played as Custom Games, or shared along with saved game-films, game variants, and screenshots.

Hey, it's no LittleBigPlanet, but Forge is bound to provide innumerable opportunities for emergent game play and potentially innovations in level-design. Not to mention extending Halo 3's shelf-life all the way to Halo 4. Just make sure you obey Microsoft's rules governing user-created content.

Incidentally, Bungie's first "Forge" map editor was created for its seminal Marathon series, which has a number of thematic and specific similarities to Halo.
  ‘Metaplace’ Virtual World Platform Revealed  
Posted 2007-09-19 by Tony Walsh
Raph Koster's mysterious startup Areae has finally revealed what's been up its corporate skirts since last December: Metaplace, an online world platform described by Koster as working "how the web does."

According to the official Metaplace site, it's possible to create a world in "just a few minutes" using an open markup standard and "MetaScript" scripting language based on Lua. The idea is to be able to create an graphical online world that doubles as a web site, or import web data into your world:
"Every world is a web server, and every object has a URL. You can script an object so that it feeds RSS, XML, or HTML to a browser. This lets you do things like high score tables, objects that email you, player profile pages right on the player -- whatever you want. Every object can also browse the Web: a chat bot can chatter headlines from an RSS feed, a newspaper with real headlines can sit on your virtual desk, game data could come from real world data... you get the idea."

Continue reading: ‘Metaplace’ Virtual World Platform Revealed
  Blocking Eyesores in ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2007-09-14 by Tony Walsh
An independent developer has created a Second Life client with the ability to make eyesores--such as ugly in-world content--disappear. Chris Carella discusses Able Whitman's brilliant "Mute Visibility" feature, available in the "Able Edition SL Viewer," pointing out some brilliant suggestions for additional functionality:
The concept could be extended to visually mute avatars, their attachments and any objects they own. With some changes to the server code you could potentially give Mute Visability options to land owners, who could set parcel wide rules, mitigating common land griefing problems (first suggested by Argent Stonecutter). Kooky Jetaime has an interesting idea around “intelligent” muting. If a threshold of avatars on a parcel visually muted an object it would be visually muted for everyone.
Carella mentions a visual trust network, which is a great way tap into crowdsourcing. I'd add that block lists should be able to be easily shared among avatars, so that avatar A and avatar B can instantly synchronize their views. Some interesting social consequences are bound to emerge from any visual blocking system, but we won't know for sure until something like Mute Visibility is widely adopted.
  ‘Command & Conquer’ Invades Google Earth  
Posted 2007-09-05 by Tony Walsh
Game publisher/developer Electronic Arts has unleashed hordes of war machines across Google Earth, turning a layer of the 3D planet-viewer into the violent world of Command & Conquer 3. In effect, this is an officially-sanctioned mashup between a game world and the real world: gamers were invited to showcase their talent by bringing models from the game into Google Earth through Google Sketchup, a streamlined 3D-modeling tool, and placing them on the globe.

"Tiberium Earth" can be viewed by clicking this Google Earth link [kmz file], and models from the game are available via Google's 3D Warehouse. It's encouraging to see a mega-corporation like EA facilitate loosen its grip on one of its games to allow fan input and participation.

  links for 2007-08-31  
Posted 2007-08-31 by Tony Walsh
  WiiCade Opens Up Flash Control  
Posted 2007-08-28 by Tony Walsh
I had the pleasure of meeting David Stubbs, part of the WiiCade team, yesterday. The WiiCade project allows 90% of the Wiimote's functions to be used with Flash content piped through the Wii's Internet Channel. Although it was previously mandatory to run the WiiCade API through the team's servers, the code was opened up for host-your-own solutions just over a week ago. Indie game developers rejoice!

David demonstrated a couple of simple multi-player Flash games, both of which performed pretty well (a bit of control-lag noticeable), considering how severely the Wii's processing power is tapped--the little white console is not only running the Opera browser, but that browser is running Flash, and some sort of Java-enabled layer through which Wiimote signals are accepted and passed back into Flash. Probably I'm butchering the explanation--all I really care about is that Wiimote-controlled Flash games are now easier for anyone to create, thanks to the WiiCade team.
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