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  ‘Thursdays Fictions’: Book, Film, and ‘Second Life’ Presence  
Posted 2007-07-23 by Tony Walsh
Earlier this year I traveled to Tasmania to co-mentor teams of film and TV producers as part of the ongoing LAMP initiative driven by AFTRS. I had a rewarding experience working as the "guardian mentor" for a project known as Thursday's Fictions, which began life as a book, migrated to a DVD film (to be aired on ABC TV), blossomed into an interactive concept at LAMP, and will now be extended into Second Life.

The creative artists behind Thursday's Fictions, Dr. Richard James Allen and Dr. Karen Pearlman of The Physical TV Company, are brimming with imagination and talent, so I'll be interested to see how their original concept has evolved in collaboration with Second Life-savvy Gary Hayes, Director of LAMP at AFTRS and The Project Factory.

Following the ABC TV broadcast of the film on July 29, you'll be able to teleport to ABC Island in Second Life, where Drs. Allen and Pearlman will host a meet-and-greet in avatar form. A virtual Thursday's Fictions environment is now under construction, with new sections planned for launch this week, and some surprises to follow the broadcast. More info available on the ABC TV microsite for Thursday's Fictions.
  ‘Music Lounge’ Users In ‘Vogue’ [Updated]  
Posted 2007-07-13 by Tony Walsh
‘Music Lounge’ Users In ‘Vogue’ [Updated]
Users of brand-friendly microworld The Music Lounge have started their own lifestyle magazines featuring in-world gossip, personalities and fashions. One of the first, dubbed The Lounge Issue, by user 'Softcoppertone,' seems to have made it to issue #2, but wasn't available online at the time of writing. The Lounge Issue's second issue contained an article on cybersex which caused a bit of controversy due to the teenage demographic of the Lounge. Meanwhile, all 24 pages of Lounge Vogue's first edition published by 'limy' are available online, featuring music, fashion, bootlegged real-world brands, and snapshots of Lounge culture.

I think the emergence of an in-world press (even lifestyle rather than hard journalism) marks the maturity of a virtual world. While the production values of these Lounge magazines are amateurish, it's obvious substantial effort went into Lounge Vogue, apparently the only such magazine covering the Lounge currently available online. Chatter on the Lounge message boards indicates other users hope to kickstart their own magazines. Personally I'm hoping for deeper cultural substance--it's a pity The Lounge Issue and its cybersex article are no longer available. [update: it's up now, and issue 2 contains some great inside scoops!]
  ‘Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames’ Released  
Posted 2007-07-09 by Tony Walsh
Ian Bogost's latest book, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, looks at how video games make arguments, offering a theory of rhetoric for games, and covering a wide range of example games with an eye towards politics, advertising and learning. It's now available through Amazon and MIT Press.

Bogost is an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, and founding partner of Persuasive Games, a firm which recently entered into a publishing relationship with the New York Times, creating newsgames for the paper's online op-ed page. I'm particularly looking forward to Persuasive Games (the book), as one of the colleges where I teach part-time will make persuasive games one of its main areas of investigation this fall, and because most of the games I've worked on over the years have had an educational or marketing agenda.
  links for 2007-07-09  
Posted 2007-07-09 by Tony Walsh
  Thanks, ‘Broken Pencil’!  
Posted 2007-06-21 by Tony Walsh
My best Ren-Faire flourish goes to Broken Pencil, Canada's guide to underground arts and culture, for its recently-published, positive review of Clickable Culture. Reviewer James King applies my musings on digital decay to Clickable Culture's archive of blog posts (a few thousand or so since 1999)--wouldn't it be interesting to flip through past posts and see the amount of "wear" on the pages? It's actually something I could set up... definitely would add some character to a future visual update.

Interestingly, King's most negative comments pertain to a couple of commentators ruining the vibe here. Glad I cleaned that up.

Thanks for the review, Broken Pencil--it's been 10 years since you last checked in on me :)
  Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?  
Posted 2007-06-19 by Tony Walsh
Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?
Spider-Man crawls 'Second Life' walls. Photo credit: Onder Skall.
A couple of years ago, superhero-comic publisher Marvel sued superhero-game makers NCSoft and Cryptic for copyright and trademark infringement. Marvel felt that NCSoft/Cryptic's game City of Heroes induced infringement by giving players tools to create facsimiles of proprietary characters such as Spider-Man and The Hulk. The issue was settled amicably the same year, and Cryptic Studios is now officially on board for the development of Marvel Universe Online.

Elsewhere in the metaverse, the sandbox-style social world of Second Life has been wall-crawling with bootlegged superheroes for about as long as City of Heroes. Using Second Life's tools, it's not only possible to re-create a Marvel character's appearance more accurately than in City of Heroes, but to sell these facsimiles like Halloween costumes for a virtual currency easily convertible to real dollars. So why was City of Heroes threatened by Marvel while Second Life has been ignored? I asked attorney Benjamin Duranske, author of the blog Virtually Blind, for his informed opinion.

Continue reading: Bootlegged Superheroes Safer in ‘Second Life’?
  Canada Has a Game Studies Association?  
Posted 2007-06-13 by Tony Walsh
There's so much I don't know about my own country. Today I learned that we in Canada have our very own Game Studies Association. It was formed two years ago, mostly by educators, and just launched a journal called Loading.

Why is it that I'm more aware of American events, individuals and groups than Canadian ones? We have a serious self-esteem and outreach problem in Canada, I think. The last Canadian games conference I found out about (too late to sign up for, I might add) had to ship in Americans as speakers, but I don't think it's because of a lack of domestic talent. It's a lack of awareness of domestic talent, which is really unforgivable in this age of personal home pages and Google.
  The Non-Grabby Terms of ‘Gaia Online’  
Posted 2007-06-11 by Tony Walsh
I have a special hate-on for unfriendly Terms of Service--those legal agreements which govern the use of a web site or virtual world. The worst Terms of Service (ToS) are set up for wholesale exploitation of user submissions while giving the contributors nothing or very little value in return. These ToS agreements are known as "grabby." I wrote an article on grabby ToS agreements six years ago--it's remarkable how little things have changed since then.

While signing up for a Gaia Online account the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very user-friendly ToS agreement behind the scenes. Like many online communities, Gaia demands a license to exploit user-created content, but unlike most online services, Gaia promises to exploit the content "solely as necessary to provide the features and functionality of the part(s) of Gaia Online within which you choose to make your Member Submissions available..." Also unlike many online services, Gaia's license to your content expires when you remove the content. I'm no lawyer, but I do read a lot of ToS agreements (most users don't), and this is one of the fairest I've seen. Even Second Life's ToS, which is commonly believed to be user-friendly (and was recently found unenforceable), isn't as good as Gaia's.

Continue reading: The Non-Grabby Terms of ‘Gaia Online’
  Opera Browser: Free Wii Download Until June 30, 2007  
Posted 2007-04-12 by Tony Walsh
Opera Software announced today that its Opera-powered "Internet Channel" for Nintendo's Wii console will be available as a free download until the end of June, 2007. Although no price was mentioned post-June, Opera did state that once downloaded, the browser "is free for the lifetime of the system."

The Internet Channel has been improved since its initial launch as beta software. Most notably, the toolbar--which formerly obscured the lower 20% of the screen--can be hidden, and overall performance of the browser has been increased. Other adjustments include better zoom, search, scroll functions. The weakest new feature allows multiple cursors to be shown on the same page (if the users have multiple Wiimotes) in order to "point out interesting content."

I'm glad the toolbar is now optional, rather than required. Content-creators could certainly make better use of the screen real-estate. However, I'm not convinced adoption or usage of the browser will be widespread enough to justify a rush of Wii-specific content.
  Is ‘Blink 3D’ Ready for the Metaverse?  
Posted 2007-04-03 by Tony Walsh
Is ‘Blink 3D’ Ready for the Metaverse?
"Dark City" meets Blink 3D
Clive Jackson, CEO of Pelican Crossing announced today that his web-based 3D environment system Blink 3D represents the arrival of Metaverse 2.0--somehow, Metaverse 1 must have passed me by overnight. Blink 3D's client software is available as a fairly small browser plugin, and a variety of screenshots and a few 3D demos are available for viewing. After reviewing some of samples, I'm of the opinion that there's still a long way for Blink to go both from a technology, usability and design standpoint--I couldn't envision any of the sample environments reasonably acting as hubs of massively-multiuser activity.

Jackson told me via email that Blink's support for concurrent users varies greatly, depending on numerous factors, most notably typical issues such as polygon-count, client-side hardware, and client-server communication (such as the handling of chat and avatar position). In short, the more polygons, the lower the specs of the client hardware and the more avatars present on-screen, the more like a slideshow Blink becomes--much like any 3D environment.

Continue reading: Is ‘Blink 3D’ Ready for the Metaverse?
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