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  My Avatar Soils Local Paper  
Posted 2006-10-06 by Tony Walsh
My Avatar Soils Local Paper
Brent Lawson of the Hamilton Spectator has written a 1-pager on virtual world Second Life, featuring myself and 3pointD's Mark Wallace in our own mixed-reality vignettes. I've only had my face appear in a newspaper a few times--this time, it's my avatar, which I designed to mirror (well, "mimic," maybe) my own features. It's pretty strange to see my own homonculus plastered on the printed page.

Lawson's article introduces Second Life to the uninitiated fairly well, although it does contain a few minor factual errors and a hilarious take on the virtual world by McMaster University professor Robert Hamilton. While Hamilton is correct that Second Life "fails miserably" on several levels, his opinion seems exceedingly uninformed.

Continue reading: My Avatar Soils Local Paper
  ‘Games and Culture’ Journal Covers ‘World of Warcraft’  
Posted 2006-09-20 by Tony Walsh
The October edition of the Games and Culture academic journal is now available, featuring the mega-hit MMOG World of Warcraft. Articles include:I'm particularly keen on the "WoW is the New MUD" angle, after drowning myself in Warcraft last year, but only having dabbled with text-based virtual worlds over the last two decades.
  Canadian Killer’s Gaming Connection  
Posted 2006-09-14 by Tony Walsh
Canadian Killer’s Gaming Connection
Students at a Montreal college were reportedly shot yesterday by Kimveer Gill, a 25 year-old male armed with a rifle. I saw a brief TV news story on the tragedy this morning, and remarked to my wife that it wouldn't be long before a video game connection was found. It turns out the connection is easy to make. Today's Toronto Sun ran with the headline "Video Game Killer." The Sun reports that Gill claimed Super Columbine Massacre was his favourite game, and that his online tagline read "Life is a video game and you gonna die sometime." No doubt games will be looked at as a possible cause of the terrible attack, despite the appearance that Gill was simply a deeply disturbed individual. Personally I see this more of a copycat attack.

The game Super Columbine Massacre was ostensibly designed to be an examination of the Columbine incident. The creator of the game's statement reads, in part, "This game asks more of its audience than rudimentary button-pushing and map navigation; it implores introspection... people from six continents and all walks of life are discussing the game itself and the incident it is based on... At the end of the day, the understanding of the Columbine school shooting is deepened and redefined. That is the real object of the game."

Richard Castaldo, a survivor of the Columbine incident, has played Super Columbine Massacre. "I appreciate the fact at least to some degree that something like this was made," He told "I think that at least it gets people talikng about Columbine in a unique perspective, which is probably a good thing. But that being said there are a lot of things that are hard to play or watch. And it seems to partially glamorize what happened. It shows a stark-contrast between fantasy and real life in an interesting way."
  3,000 ‘Second Life’ Businesspeople Make $20k Annually  
Posted 2006-09-07 by Tony Walsh
Annalee Newitz reports from the virtual world of Second Life on behalf of Popular Science magazine. The in-depth article cites several interesting factoids and stats, but approaches the virtual world with a "gee whiz" attitude rather than a critical eye.

Here are a few of the tidbits that caught my attention:
  • 50% of SL users are men, the average age is 32. [nothing has changed here since the beginning of the year, apparently]
  • SL has an annual gross domestic product of $64M USD
  • "There are at least 3,000 entrepreneurs making $20,000 or more a year on SL businesses."
  • "The next version of Second Life will be seamlessly integrated with the Web..." [SL 2.0? Mozilla integration was promised as far back as June, 2005 but hasn't fully been realized as far as I know]
  • "Working in SL will only become more appealing as graphics become more detailed and SL adds voice chat..." [live, location-sensitive voice chat has been demonstrated in SL by Vivox but SL-maker Linden Lab hasn't yet announced plans to integrate the technology]
I've got a few minor gripes about the story, but the most noteworthy is that Newitz writes "The banking giant Wells Fargo built its own branded island inside SL [clickback], designed to train young people to be financially responsible," but fails to follow that up with the fact that security issues subsequently plagued the branded island, and within a few months, Wells Fargo ditched Second Life in favour of There Active Worlds, ruffling some feathers.
  ‘Lumalive’ To Light Up Future Fashion  
Posted 2006-08-28 by Tony Walsh
Philips Research has developed "Lumalive" textiles that will be capable of displaying full colour animations. According to an official press release, "Lumalive fabrics feature flexible arrays of colored light-emitting diodes (LEDs) fully integrated into the fabric - without compromising the softness or flexibility of the cloth. These light emitting textiles make it possible to create materials that can carry dynamic messages, graphics or multicolored surfaces."

Fans of Gibsonian cyberpunk may already be familiar with this technology in the form of the mimetic polycarbon suits posessed by the fictional Panther Modern anarchist group introduced in Neuromancer (1984): "The eyes of the two Moderns stared out of madly swirling shades of polycarbon, their suits unable to keep up with the confusion of shape and color that raged behind them... The Panther Modern leader, who introduced himself as Lupus Yonderboy, wore a polycarbon suit with a recording feature that allowed him to replay backgrounds at will."

While it looks like Lumalive fabric's pixel-resolution is very low, I expect you'd be able to play Pac Man on a duvet-cover. You know, if you wanted to take your games to bed. I'm just sayin'.
  ‘Second Life’ Enlightenment For Sale  
Posted 2006-08-25 by Tony Walsh
Fostering a robust, enjoyable experience for new users has always been one of Second Life's weak points, in my opinion. The virtual world is a strange place with its own cultures and social systems, and if the clunky interface doesn't prove too problematic for newbies, many are left wondering what to do, where to go, or even why they should bother.

In my first week of experiencing Second Life, I was disappointed by the lack of helpful documentation. The docs instructed me to go to the region of Jessie, buy a gun, and shoot the place up--actions the residents of Jessie seemed to strongly object to. Right away, I could see that the outside rules created by Linden Lab didn't always agree with resident-created rules. The lack of proper documentation, and the disjuncture between system and resident rules has never been solved... until now.

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Enlightenment For Sale
  MySpace Stats Noted  
Posted 2006-06-27 by Tony Walsh
The Virtual Handshake Blog took notes at a recent iBreakfast meetup, where MySpace's senior vice president of marketing and content Shawn Gold revealed (I suspect informally) some recent stats. I've placed a selection of these stats next to data presented earlier this year by Steve Rubel.
MySpace Stats
June, 2006 [source] March, 2006 [source]
84m registered users
2m new registered users per week (size of Houston)
48m uniques/month
61m registered users
220,000 new registrants daily [1.5m per week]
21m unique visitors [per month?]
2nd-most popular site for content consumption as defined by page views 2nd largest destination on the web, as defined by page views
29,000 indie film profiles
1.8m music profiles
87m stories in the database
They have 1.4 million registered bands
350,000 band blogs
Myspace reaches 51% of 13-17 year olds online (which is 85% of all 13-17 year olds)
79% of the site is 18+
25M users are 30+
The primary age demo is 16-34
Average page is visited 30 times a day. --
25,000 volunteers police school site --

Obviously some steady growth and solid numbers here. But when will MySpace reach its peak?
  Re-Wrapping Books in ‘The Elder Scrolls’  
Posted 2006-06-01 by Tony Walsh
Re-Wrapping Books in ‘The Elder Scrolls’
A re-skinned book jacket by Phoenix Amon in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.
Guilded Lilies discovered an unusual modding project for the most recent and past edition of The Elder Scrolls series of adventure games. Artist and modder Phoenix Amon is hard at work replacing all of the book-covers found in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion with carefully-crafted, unique versions. Amon previously modded the book jackets from Elder Scrolls: Morrowind.

A project like this is a hell of a lot of work, but the payoff is so sweet, it almost seems worth it. One of my dislikes of adventure and role-playing games is the "generic" look of items (most crates, books, chests, and scrolls look identical, for example). The developers of a game never seem to have time to add the minute levels of detail that make a fantasy world seem more believable. Phoenix Amon's mod might be mistaken for a minor addition to the game, but the presence of unique books is sure to please those looking for a high level of immersion. Be sure to check out her gallery, the images are quite impressive.
  ‘Independent Roleplay Magazine’ Open For Advertorial Business?  
Posted 2006-05-01 by Tony Walsh
How independent is a magazine when its editorial opinion is for sale? Today I received an apparently-legit email from the producers of IRM, the "Independent Roleplay Magazine," letting me know that they are "offering to each publisher and studio the opportunity of getting reviews of products and placing advertorials or press releases within IRM." Actively pursuing advertorial content seems like a great way to invalidate the editorial value of a magazine. If IRM goes the advertorial route, it would be best off dropping the "I" from its acronym.
  10 Steps to Games Journalism, the RAM Raider Way  
Posted 2006-04-24 by Tony Walsh
Saint RAM Raider of the Crushing Truth About Games Journalism, I salute you for your latest missive, cheekily entitled "How To Be A Games Journalist - In 10 Easy Steps." You've encapsulated several key reasons why, once I dropped off the mainstream games journalism wagon, I stayed off and may never crawl back on.

RAM Raider's step #4 is: "Expect shit pay." I think I was spoiled freelancing for Canada's ill-fated Shift Magazine several years ago. It paid what you'd expect from a "real" magazine, and maybe that's why it went out of business. I haven't been offered a comparable rate by a magazine since, and frankly, I just don't give a damn any more. Writing is now a labour of love for me, except when I'm getting paid to write for interactive entertainment projects. Same writer, different industry, quintuple the pay. What's wrong with mainstream journalism that many good writers can't get decently paid?

Continue reading: 10 Steps to Games Journalism, the RAM Raider Way
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