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  Electric Sheep Company to Launch New ‘Second Life’ Shopping Site  
Posted 2007-07-19 by Tony Walsh
The Electric Sheep Company plans to launch a new third-party Second Life shopping web site to replace, which acquired and relaunched last year. Merchants who have existing shops on SLBoutique will be migrated over to the new service, "Shop OnRez," next Monday, July 23, with the new shopping site set to go live on July 24.

According to the Sheep, "Shop OnRez will be the first service of OnRez, our consumer software brand, and there will more to follow." More of what, I wonder? In the short term, Shop OnRez merchants are promised a better, more dependable, and more usable e-commerce site, with selling capabilities extended deeper into Second Life. I sell a few items through SLBoutique (under avatar MiraWhirl Mainline) and look forward to checking out the new digs. Hopefully the transition will be seamless--some vendors sell dozens (if not tens of dozens) of items, so having to tweak individual goods for the new service could be a major pain.
  ‘GameStar Mechanic,’ The Game-Making Game  
Posted 2007-07-16 by Tony Walsh
GameStar Mechanic is a game designed to teach game design skills within a steampunk-inspired game world. Aimed at young people, the project is a collaboration between Gamelab (New York) and the Games, Learning, and Society Group (University of Wisconsin-Madison). Project leads include James Paul Gee (author, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy), as well as Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (authors, Rules of Play).

Gee and Salen have kicked off a discussion about GameStar Mechanic on the MacArthur Foundation-supported Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning blog. Gee says that he wants children to see games "as a unique form of communication, like language or music," and considers game design "a core way of thinking about the world..." Salen provides a two-part FAQ [1,2] for the project, which in my opinion adds up to an affirmation of the importance of game design in today's world.

I hope there's a third part to the FAQ explaining how I can get my hands on GameStar Mechanic once its launched. I have a feeling its relevance extends beyond a youth audience.
  Collaborative Building in ‘Half-Life 2’ [Updated]  
Posted 2007-07-14 by Tony Walsh
Imagine a 3D virtual world where users conjure coffee mugs or freight trains out of thin air, and work together to build roller coasters or giant robots. No, this isn't another Second Life story, but one about Garry's Mod, a sophisticated third-party modification ("mod") for the popular game Half-Life 2 that allows users to build and play together. Garry's Mod was made available last year as a paid download through the Steam distribution service, indicating an endorsement from the makers of the game it modifies.

I wouldn't call Garry's Mod a game as much as a game-powered sandbox--the main rules are those of physics; the only goals are those users set for themselves. Fun Motion describes how it all works:
"The primary method of interacting with objects in the game world is 'the physics gun." [I]t allows you to move and rotate objects, as well as freeze them in place with ease... A second gun, 'the tool gun' is used to weld objects together..."
Fun Motion's review concludes "If you can remember spending hours building with Legos, you have some idea of the sense of accomplishment that can come from building things in Garry's Mod." I'd add that if you're interested in collaborative building within a true game (rather than sandbox) environment, check out SourceForts, a Team Fortress-style Half-Life 2 mod where teams build their own fortifications prior to each round of combat.

[Update: Corrected paragraph about Garry's Mod availability on Steam. Thanks, Sven.]
  Wii Workout  
Posted 2007-07-12 by Tony Walsh
Even a little wiggling around is better than no wiggling at all, which explains how the Wii Weight Loss guy and Wii Sports Experiment guy have melted some fat, or why the game Dance Dance Revolution was added to the State of West Virginia's school curriculum.

Adding fuel to the fat-burning fire, Nintendo has reportedly revealed new Wii hardware and software intended to increase gamer health. According to TG Daily, players stand atop the Wii Balance Board, which measures body weight and balance. The Wii Fit software will use the Balance Board to chart the results of a fitness regime over time. Nintendo will apparently be adding Wii Balance Board support to future games. I can see surfing games working really well with this, or relaxation games which require stillness, or (obviously) dancing games.

I'm keen to try out the Wii Fit system: It seems like a great example of the productive play I wish more game companies would get involved in.
  links for 2007-07-11  
Posted 2007-07-11 by Tony Walsh
  links for 2007-07-09  
Posted 2007-07-09 by Tony Walsh
  Pushing the DS Envelope  
Posted 2007-07-08 by Tony Walsh
Pushing the DS Envelope
"Sleeping Kayu" by Shtroodle
I don't like to tinker much with my gadgets, but I just might have to get my hands dirty with some hot Nintendo DS homebrew action. Auriea Harvey pointed out, two third-party applications which captured my interest: DSOrganize (PDA-like) and Colors! DS (turns your DS into a paint canvas). The more productivity I can squeeze out of my DS, the better. Lately it's been weeping in a corner next to my bed, relegated to alarm-clock duty.

The only reason I'd even consider mucking about with DS homebrew applications is that there's apparently very little mucking involved. Just pop in an M3DS Simply cartridge, pop an SD card into that, and whip through the handy Idiot's Guide. I've got an SD-reader built into my PC, so shuttling files between the DS and PC should be a snap (failing a WiFi link). I'm particularly interested in applications for the DS video camera... so much potential...
  Gnomes Rain From Azeroth’s Skies  
Posted 2007-07-04 by Tony Walsh
The skies of Azeroth rained gnomes today, but none survived the impact, according to a reader of Raph Koster's blog. The gnomes left behind corpses arranged to spell out the name of a web site dealing in virtual gold sales--an effective means of advertising third-party services Blizzard (creator of the Azeroth setting) is firmly against, allegedly carried out using client-side hacks (another Blizzard no-no). Gamers on the official Warcraft message boards reported the gnome-rain fell on at least several servers.

This is the most spectacular case of corpse graffiti I've ever heard of. Although World of Warcraft added weather effects over a year ago, "raining gnomes" wasn't on the list. I'd probably re-subscribe if gnome-rain was a regular occurrence. Anyone got the weekend forecast handy?

Continue reading: Gnomes Rain From Azeroth’s Skies
  Researcher Seeks ‘Second Life’ Pupeteering Pointers  
Posted 2007-07-03 by Tony Walsh
Last year, Linden Lab announced that "expressive puppeteering" would be added to Second Life, allowing users to grab and move avatar body parts in real time, teaching the avatar new animations.

While the future of the unreleased pupeteering system is uncertain, a researcher affiliated with USC hasn't given up on the idea: Marc Tuters seeks technical help manipulating avatar "inverse kinematics" points in real time by piping data directly into Second Life from an external source. I suppose this could facilitate both human and automated/generative pupeteering. The latter could be used to give organic animations to non-user characters such as bots.

If you've got any advice or assistance to offer Marc, feel free to get in touch via mtuters -at- annenberg -dot- edu, or post a comment. Thanks!
  Chatterbots Evolve in ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2007-07-01 by Tony Walsh
Chatterbots Evolve in ‘Second Life’
Image credit: Gary Hayes.
Distinguishing between a Second Life avatar controlled by a person and one controlled by scripts has always been easy. The Second Life suite of tools doesn't come equipped with realistic non-user characters. As a result, "bots" have resembled cubist paintings and have conveyed limited intelligence--a fair comparison between bots and human-controlled avatars hasn't really been possible, as the latter seem so much more lifelike. This becomes a problem when you'd like to build a hotel, for example, and your staff look like they've been made out of Lego bricks, or if you've constructed a fantasy castle and its king's ability to communicate is on par with the village idiot.

One of the chief advances in Second Life technology--the ability for the virtual world to request data from the web--facilitated the return of the classic A.L.I.C.E. chatterbot, which powers the SL Chatbot project. Combine this with a more recent Second Life advancement--the advent of "sculpties"--and bots are capable of taking a much more believable form. It's also possible (but inefficient) to rig a user avatar to run on autopilot, leveraging chatterbot tech.

Continue reading: Chatterbots Evolve in ‘Second Life’
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