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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
  Secureplay’s Steven Davis on Recent ‘Second Life’ DoS Attacks  
Posted 2006-10-04 by Tony Walsh
Two denial of service attacks have been launched on the virtual world of Second Life in the last two days [1,2], raising questions about the vulnerability of Linden Lab's metaverse and the company's ability to prevent such attacks from occurring in the future. Early on, Second Life was positioned simply as a social online world with built-in content creation tools. These days, the virtual world has been re-positioned as a platform for serious endeavours such as real- and virtual-world business or education. But how seriously can we take a platform that is so easily crippled?

I contacted Steven Davis, CEO of security solutions-provider SecurePlay, and author of the PlayNoEvil security blog for his thoughts on Second Life's apparent vulnerabilities. Although Davis hasn't ever been "under the hood" of Linden Lab's virtual world architecture, he's been watching Second Life's security situation with an expert eye.

Continue reading: Secureplay’s Steven Davis on Recent ‘Second Life’ DoS Attacks
  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.
  ‘Exclaim!’ Paints Weak ARG Picture  
Posted 2006-07-28 by Tony Walsh
I'm disappointed with Exclaim! Magazine's recent article on Alternate Reality Gaming. The Canadian publication couldn't seem to find a Canadian angle for the story. Instead, writer Joshua Ostroff covers American and UK efforts. It's not like a Canadian angle on ARGs is hard to find. Toronto's Xenophile Media has produced two award-winning ARGs supporting the TV show ReGenesis and is currently working with producer Matt Wolf on an ARG supporting the ABC Family property Fallen. Evan Jones of Xenophile often speaks to the media about ARGs, I'm known to be media-friendly (and worked on the game design of the ReGenesis ARGs), and Jonathan Waite is a Canadian who also happens to be the Senior Editor of ARGN. Toronto is even getting its own city-wide ARG this fall. Ostroff's article is sloppy, ill-researched, and, more importantly, doesn't acknowledge the contribution of Canadians to the art and industry of Alternate Reality Gaming.

As a matter of disclosure, I've written and illustrated for Exclaim! in the past on a freelance basis, and count Xenophile among my previous and current clients.
  Using ‘Second Life’ In Concept Work  
Posted 2006-04-21 by Tony Walsh
Last month I was contracted by Toronto-based Xenophile Media to create mockup screens for a proposed project involving a historically-based game-like environment. Xenophile Media is an innovator in the cross-media space, having produced two seasons of the award-winning ReGenesis Alternate Reality Game (I was involved as Game Designer), the convergent feature documentary Beethoven’s Hair, and numerous iTV gaming shows.

In developing their latest proposal, Xenophile wanted to simulate a 3D environment in mockups, but few tricks of design or illustration will achieve this effect. The only convincing way to simulate a game environment would be to use 3D graphics. I chose the virtual world of Second Life as a production tool, and was able to convincingly portray a game-like environment within a very reasonable time span. Following are my reflections on the process, which assumes the reader has a grasp of Second Life's basic landscape and features.

Continue reading: Using ‘Second Life’ In Concept Work
  ‘Second Life’ Inhospitable For Some  
Posted 2006-04-18 by Tony Walsh
While the virtual world of Second Life has grown rapidly since 2005, the number of residents logged in at any given time hovers around 6,000--about 3% of the total number of accounts created--and is usually scattered across Second Life's massive, contiguous 3D spaces. It sometimes becomes difficult to find more than a handful of gathered avatars in a single spot. Combine this with frequent, required software patches for the client "viewer" that connects to the virtual world, resident-initiated attacks on the "grid" of servers that binds Second Life together, crotchety performance on either or both of the server and client end of things, an overabundance of information, sub-par search tools, and an overall lack of creative cohesion. What you end up with is a harsh environment for some newcomers to adjust to, despite the world's boom in population.

Metroblogging co-founder Sean Bonner isn't sure what to make of "Sucknd Life." Although his localblog network added the game world of Azeroth to its stable of real locales, Bonner isn't adding Second Life any time soon. On his personal blog, Bonner wrote: "Here's my usual Second Life experience - Log in. wait for everything around me to load. Keep waiting. Finally loads, Try to move, no luck. Keep trying. Keep having no luck... check the map to try and find some people. Ok, there's some. Teleport there. Oh, that's a private zone that I can't get to, so instead I've been teleported off to this other place where no one is....Finally get some place where there are other people. They are all Away or talking about scripts. I try to talk to several of them. No one ever responds."

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Inhospitable For Some
  Enticing Headline Leads Nowhere, Film at Eleven  
Posted 2006-04-13 by Tony Walsh
The April 2006 Computer Gaming World article "Sounds of Silence - Sanitizing Expression in Brave New Worlds" is, in fact, about a long-dead controversy over public discussion of player sexuality in the game World of Warcraft. It's fine that the author's entire universe of brave new worlds apparently consists of just one game. It's just stupid to suggest far more than this in the headline.

Here are some stories at Clickable Culture relating to sanitizing expression in places other than World of Warcraft:
  Daniel Terdiman On Reporting About ‘Second Life’ Age Play  
Posted 2006-04-13 by Tony Walsh
CNET's Daniel Terdiman reported yesterday on a controversial issue concerning the virtual world of Second Life, where a tiny fraction of adult users adopt the appearance of minors and engage in sexual situations. This apparently-legal behaviour has been the subject of heated debate within the official Second Life discussion forum, and the merits of Terdiman's report, at the time of this writing, is currently being discussed by residents of that virtual world.

Terdiman chatted with me yesterday via instant message about the story and his experiences in putting it together. With his permission, I've reformatted the transcript in the form of complete sentences for easier reading.

Continue reading: Daniel Terdiman On Reporting About ‘Second Life’ Age Play
  Connecting Real Voices Through Virtual Worlds  
Posted 2006-04-11 by Tony Walsh
Given Second Life's overabundance of objects such as 3D castles, functional cars and "deadly" ray-guns, finding a traditional British phone box inside that virtual world seems unremarkable at first glance. Users logged into Second Life are accustomed to inhabiting castles, driving cars, and firing ray-guns in its game-like environment, even though none of these actions impact the real world in any meaningful way. The phone box, however, contains a secret. Inside is a device capable of making outgoing calls to the real world. Dial it in virtual reality, get a call in actuality. Hear that ringing? It's the future calling.

No longer mere play-spaces, videogames and virtual worlds are becoming pop-culture institutions, workplaces, and social systems. The once-rigid borders between synthetic worlds and the so-called "real" world are evolving into permeable meshes, allowing information and culture to pass back and forth with increasing frequency. Vivox is the only communications company bridging these spaces as a main line of business. Its integration of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology into the fabric of online worlds is a unique development that will allow users not only to engage in real-time voice conversations while immersed in virtual environments, but directly control their communications from within, and even dial up the outside world.

Continue reading: Connecting Real Voices Through Virtual Worlds
  Duelling ARG Articles  
Posted 2006-03-05 by Tony Walsh
Joyce Schwarz of Hollywood 2020 contributed an article to iMedia Connection last week entitled "Alternate Reality Gaming 101." Unfortunately, the article reads like one of those hastily-researched pieces written by a marketer who doesn't really understand the medium. Schwarz seems to have gathered her material from a variety of online sources, and was obviously inspired by an earlier article on ARGs published by CNET--about a week before hers went live.

In the CNET article, author John Borland wrote: "The alternate-reality games have their roots in role-playing, in old text video games like 'Zork,' and in real-life geocaching, treasure hunts played with GPS, or Global Positioning System, devices."

In the iMedia Connections article, Schwarz wrote: "Alternate Reality Games may find their roots in role-playing from old text video games like 'Zork' or in real-life geocaching GPS technology treasure hunts."

If you have to pick one Alternate Reality Game article to read today, make it Borland's. But for what it's worth, I don't see any relationship between Zork and Alternate Reality Games beyond both having a relationship to imaginary places. I agree that ARGs have roots in role-playing games, but RPGs didn't originate as electronic text adventures. Bryan Alexander has posted a partial list of antecedents to alternate reality games if you're interested in tangential roots to modern ARGs.
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