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  ‘Project Gotham Racing 4’ Impressions  
Posted 2007-11-05 by Tony Walsh
I spent about a week in Quebec City a couple years ago for my honeymoon. Playing Project Gotham Racing 4's Quebec City tracks, I swear I could spot the B&B where my wife and I stayed. Certainly human memory is flawed, but my impression is that PGR-developer Bizarre Creations did a spectacular job of recreating the city streets. The mirroring is so well-done that over the entire course of the track I never felt lost, passing by many of the sights and tearing up many of the streets I'd spent days wandering around as a tourist. It's rare to be able to practically navigate game-space based on real space.

Continue reading: ‘Project Gotham Racing 4’ Impressions
  Virtual World Meetings As Replacements For Real Ones  
Posted 2007-09-10 by Tony Walsh
Cisco's Christian Renaud thinks that virtual worlds exemplify collaboration technology capable of "drastically [reducing] the need for travel and the resultant emissions." While I agree that virtual worlds could reduce or eliminate travel emissions, I'm not as enthusiastic as Renaud. Leaving aside the environmental impact of actually operating a virtual world, any "drastic" reduction in travel emissions could only result from a "drastic" increase in virtual-world meetings as a replacement for real-world ones. And I don't see that happening in the short term. Longer term, perhaps, depending not only on the quality of the virtual world experience, but on public and private demand.

Replacing real-world meetings with virtual ones--whether via a "world," or some other telepresence environment--is going to take an effort. Meeting attendees will need to demand it, and meeting organizers will need to facilitate and promote it. I don't see any indication this is happening today, having flown via jet plane to Austin, NYC, San Francisco, Sydney, and Tasmania this year--primarily to discuss new technology such as virtual worlds. In particular, I find it mind-boggling that conferences about virtual worlds are not held in virtual space. The "Virtual Worlds" conference slated for this October actually features Cisco's Christian Renaud as a keynote speaker. This would be a great opportunity for Renaud to walk the talk and show up via an avatar instead of in the flesh.
  Next-Generation Haunted Portraits  
Posted 2007-08-08 by Tony Walsh
One of the main advantages of 3D characters (as opposed to 2D) is the ability to view the character from any angle. MotionPortrait technology and (as far as I know) unrelated service Gizmoz both map photos of human faces onto 3D models of human heads. Sure, heads can be made to turn slightly, eyes to blink and mouths to smile, but the technology can't be expected to invent features that weren't shown in the original photograph (such as the side of someone's head).

There are plenty of practical uses in games and chat software for two-and-a-half dimensional photos, but I find the constricted range of motion shown in MotionPortrait and Gizmoz characters goes beyond beyond the obvious "Uncanny Valley" effect to something even ghastlier--like a portrait in a haunted house that follows you with its eyes.

The trick with awkward technologies is to flip the constraint around into a feature. I can see 2.5D characters fitting into a haunted house game, or on digital trading cards, or maybe as part of an in-game communication system, but not as characters I can easily relate to.
  links for 2007-07-24  
Posted 2007-07-24 by Tony Walsh
  Games, Television, Dreams, and Doing Things Over  
Posted 2007-06-12 by Tony Walsh
Why would office workers watch shows like The Apprentice or Hell's Kitchen and professional soldiers play games like Full Spectrum Warrior or Battlefield 2? The first thing that comes to my mind is that certain TV shows and video games provide an opportunity for a "do-over" that real-life, high-stress jobs don't allow. Television shows give us a form of weak agency, where we can imagine what we might do in another person's shoes and potentially work through the day's problems as a result. Games give us a strong form of agency where we are largely responsible for our own path and fate--as well, we are afforded multiple attempts at solving the same problem.

According to some, dreaming is a way for us to re-envision, re-enact, or re-contextualize the day's events. Do dreams provide a similar do-over environment to digital games and so-called "reality" television shows? In the preface to the book Lucid Dreaming, author George Parish writes "Dreaming is our method of assimilating the new by either discarding it or integrating it into our world model. During dreaming we eliminate errors from and make modifications to our internal private virtual reality, our world model... The business of living does not allow sufficient on line time to even attempt to perform the process of critical assessment and integration of new information into our world model. Our waking minds are not equipped to conduct the review, analysis, and modification required. Dreaming is the process by which our brain integrates the new into our personal virtual reality."
  Going Downunder May 14 - 26  
Posted 2007-05-14 by Tony Walsh
I'll be in various parts of Australia between May 14 - 26, lending my mentoring skills to the LAMP residential entitled "Story of the Future." Eight projects have been selected for expansion and development--I'm tentatively assigned to "Thursday's Fictions," a story-centric experience (based on a book and film by the same name) which asks participants to decide what they'd take with them if they had five minutes left to live.

Assuming the jet-lag doesn't strike me dead, I'll be speaking about "The Real, The Virtual and The Mixed" on Thursday, May 17 as part of "Mixed Reality, Branded Entertainment," a day of seminars hosted at the Museum of Sydney between 1 and 4pm.

Between May 20 and 25, I'll be working at the LAMP residential in beautiful Freycinet. I should have internet access during this time, but don't expect to be posting much (if at all) to Clickable Culture.
  IBM Rolls Its Own Virtual World  
Posted 2007-05-08 by Tony Walsh
IBM staffers have created their own metaverse, according to eightbar, a blog authored by staffers of the company's "Innovate Quick" team. IBM recently announced plans to roll out a high-powered server capable of running massive virtual worlds, and has been tinkering with Second Life for about a year.

The IBM-created virtual world was spurred by "a desire to have a more secure intranet environment where [the team] can meet and explore the potential technology and social implications," writes eightbar contributor Ian Hughes, adding that "We in the IQ team are certainly not trying to be Second Life. We are however using some of the elements of virtual presence, and examining the potential balance of content creation versus deployable content in a business context."

The company is using Garage Games' Torque Game Engine, a low-cost game platform supporting dozens of simultaneous users (about as many as a single Second Life area). Hughes writes that the team is integrating their Torque-based virtual world with existing IBM communications systems: "What we need is the ability to gather some people together and use the human aspects of the avatar interaction to be more effective in our communications."

Continue reading: IBM Rolls Its Own Virtual World
  IBM Cells Virtual-World Severs  
Posted 2007-04-26 by Tony Walsh
IBM has created a new-generation server by stuffing Cell microprocessors (which power the Sony PS3) into the guts of a mainframe computer, reports the International Herald Tribune: "The result is a server system capable of permitting hundreds of thousands of computer users to interact in a three-dimensional, simulated on-screen world described as a 'metaverse.' [...] IBM said its new 'gameframe' system was being designed in collaboration with Hoplon Infotainment, a Brazilian game developer that is interested in creating a software layer it calls a 'bitverse' to support virtual online worlds."

IBM has been monkeying around virtual worlds such as Second Life since last year as part of an official initiative. A group of IBMers over at Hursley Park Lab in the UK have been blogging about Second Life since last April. IBM IT Specialist Ian Hughes wrote today that "The very powerful cell processor is not solely in home consoles, but is being applied to other major applications that need lots of power and speed and reliability... it is a nice evolutionary step in using computing power, and very exciting in the mainframe business...The virtual world industry is certainly hotting up, having the mainframe business, which is core to IBM gives even more credibility to whats happening."

Continue reading: IBM Cells Virtual-World Severs
  Birding in Azeroth  
Posted 2007-04-21 by Tony Walsh
Human-Computer Interaction expert Sylvie Noël is considering taking pictures of birds in Azeroth (the "World" of World of Warcraft) as a birdwatching project. Sounds like a great idea to me, it's a pity there aren't more opportunities to do this sort of thing in the game. As Noël writes:
    "Alas the bird population in Azeroth isn’t all that interesting: parrots, chickens, owls, vultures, buzzards and other carrion birds - there’s just not that much variation. And once you’ve seen one owl, you’ve pretty much seen them all. The only difference between the species is in the feather colouration."
Even with limited choices, it's worth considering that birding in Warcraft is actually possible--one of the things I enjoyed most about playing the game is that "playing the game" as it was intended isn't really necessary. For some, it's just as fun to poke fun at design choices, find hidden areas, base-jump, or run gnome foot-races.
  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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