There is no pattern here

I haven’t written in a while, not because there is nothing to say, but because I have been busy with other stuff. So here is a post of random thoughts.

Gaming thoughts

So last month L.A. Noire, advertised as the most expensive game ever, was released for XBOX360 and PS3, but not for PC. People keep talking about a “next generation” in consoles, but that next gen already exists among us PC enthusiasts. Now I do not want to start a war between consoles and PCs, but this is something I have learned and have numerous examples to its veracity: Complex games are far better on PCs than they are on consoles. Console controllers are fine for simple games like arcade ports, 2D scrollers, racing games, simple sports sims, etc., but for FPS, or third person 3D, or RTS games, PC controls are far superior. Keyboard in one hand and mouse in the other just feels more natural than two thumb controls and a dozen awkwardly placed buttons on controllers designed for 12 year old hands.

So why do gaming companies not support PC gaming anymore? Most likely it is sales, and also copy protection, and not having to try and support 3 dozen different graphics cards, all good reasons. But games are hitting an upper limit in how complex they can be by pandering to consoles. A complex game like L.A. Noire could be a lot better on a PC, but there are no plans to port it.  Even though I own both an XBOX360 and a PS3, I will not be getting it anytime soon.  I already got Red Dead Redemption collecting dust, having never gotten past the tutorial because I hated the controls so much.  (I don’t really play game with controllers, I use my PS3 for watching videos, and my XBOX360 for playing Kinect Sports and occasionally Windows Media Center).

I tried the demo for Dragon Age 2 on my PS3, the PC version is better.  I tried console and PC versions of DC Universe Online, and the PC version is better.  They ran into a problem on DCUO in that there is a power combo that is uber powerful when played on the PC version (specifically the Transmutation power in the Sorcery line and Shuriken Storm on the Martial Arts line would, when executed in sync, do massive amounts of AoE damage).  This combo was easy to execute on the keyboard/mouse, but damn near impossible to do on the console controls for the PS3 version.  The problem was that there was no fix for the PC version that did not create a massive nerf of the PS3 version.  I do not know if they ever fixed it, I stopped playing DCUO back in February, and haven’t gone back.

WTF is going on here?

Another blogger name Cyber Trekker over at http://thegreatslexpedition.blogspot.com/ has been posting a lot that Cyberspace (aka the Metaverse, aka the 3D web) is already dead, thanks to mobile communications which are moving people back to “reality”.  (He’s not the only one, I have been seeing a lot of 3D web is dying articles lately, this was just one).  Simultaneously I see this video demonstrating Windows 8’s new interface model, which looks like Microsoft has plans to turn the PC into a big Windows phone.  Simultaneously EA announces that SimCity 5 will be a Facebook App. Meanwhile, famous game designer Richard Garriott wants to create a new “semi-3D” Virtual world portal that will tie social networks like Facebook, with mobile apps, with new virtual worlds into one big happy family.

I’m sorry but, this is insane.

Let me be clear: There is enough room on the Internet for everything and everybody.  Some may get the impression that the 3D virtual worlds are dying because their “share” of the internet is getting smaller.  In fact, the 3D Web continues to grow and it is only a matter of time before it too expands into the realm of mobile computing.  Its already making minor dents. But I have always said that the 3D web will never take over the 2D web, instead they will enhance each other.

Second: Memo to Microsoft: If I wanted to have my PC work like a tablet, I would just get a freaking tablet.  The Windows 7 interface is the greatest PC interface ever, and I already have gadgets on my desktop that show me news and weather and other stuff, and it is a lot prettier than the ugly orange-green-blue-purple mobile phone interface you are pushing for Windows 8.  Why not multiple interface models? One for traditional keyboard and mouse, one for “touch screen”, and one for Kinect?  You did not think of Kinect did you?  The bottom line is this: If you focus on merging the PC experience with the mobile experience, you are going to lose on both fronts.  Android, based off Linux, is already available for PCs that want to behave like mobile phones. There is no need to have common interfaces between devices.

Thirdly, Facebook sucks for gaming!  I know how the 300 million facebook users seems like a huge audience for gaming, especially social gaming, but every game on Facebook is a novelty at best.  SimCity might do well, as long as it is simplified to the casual user (wasn’t that what the godawful SimCity Societies try to be?)  As far as trying to interface a virtual world with Facebook, its been tried multiple times, always ending up in failure.  Facebook is a place designed for real people and real identities, virtual worlds are place for fantasy and role play make believe.  Are you really interested in letting your family, friends, and workplace know about your cosplay activities? Virtual Worlds and real life Social Networks do not belong together, ever!

Is there a pattern here? We have console game designers trying to turn console gaming into something it is not. We have advocates of mobile computing saying that mobile computing will take over everything, which is clearly not true. We have game designers tinkering with gaming on social networks, something it is clearly not designed for.  We continue to have people wanting to merge social networking and virtual worlding, which are incompatible.

The only pattern I can see is that there seems to be an ongoing battle between those that want to merge everything together, and those like me that think we are better off using the right tools for the right uses.  But this battle has been going on for a couple of decades.  In the 90’s “portal” websites like AOL and Yahoo wanted to be everything for everybody.  They wanted to make their websites so complete, there would never be any reason to go anywhere else.  They failed of course, but a lot of good came out of those attempts.  Now Facebook wants to play the “portal” role, and mobile phones and gaming consoles want to eliminate the need for PCs, and none of these objectives will succeed, but maybe some good will come out of the attempts.

Or, maybe there is no pattern here.

The Problem of a Multi Grid Economy

My last post was about the slowly being developed 3D Internet, which I am guessing is likely to be built on the Open Simulator platform. There are other open source platforms in the competition, Open Cobalt is one I mentioned, while Open Wonderland is one mentioned in the comments. For completeness sake, I should also mention Sirikata, another open source platform.

Don’t expect a battle royale between these different open source platforms.  It is possible that in the end, they all might work together.  The IEEE (a major engineering organization that develops standards for web protocols) has put together a workgroup called VWRAP (Virtual World Region Agent Protocol).  The group’s first easy to read paper on the topic can be found here in PDF form, if you are more technically inclined, you can read their preliminary drafts here.

From a Second Life perspective, a 3D Internet presents many challenges.  The biggest one on the minds of most people is “How do I make money?”  Because of the open nature of a 3D internet, any rules regarding permissions and copying simply cannot be enforced.  The Second Life economic model will not work.  There will be money making opportunities on the 3D internet, but the buying and selling of 3D goods for virtual cash can only be done in a closed off system like Second Life or an individual Open Sim grid.  The 3D internet will involve multiple grids and possibly multiple platforms.  Moving stuff from grid to grid, platform to platform, and avatar to avatar makes the SL economic system worthless.

Second Life’s Flawed Intellectual Property Policy

Before discussing what a multigrid economy might look like, lets take a look at the biggest weakness with the Second Life economic model.

Second Life is the first ever to try creating a virtual economy where people retain ownership of their creations. When Second Life decided that was what they wanted to do, a lot of people said it was unprecedented and would never work.

Guess what? It doesn’t work!

There are two court cases right now, one I mentioned here, and another detailed here.  Both take issue with SL’s Intellectual Property policy from two different perspectives.  While neither case has been tried yet, these cases are the apparent cause of  Second Life’s recent rather draconian Terms of Service changes.

The problem with making an unprecedented policy is that the legal ramifications are unclear, and it may cost quite a bit of legal fees to hammer out clarity in the courts, a price I am not sure LL is willing to pay.  Eventually, Linden Labs is going to have to change to one of these two proven models:

1. The There/IMVU/Facebook/MySpace model where “We own everything you upload, so you can’t sue us if your stuff is copied, or if we remove your stuff, because we own it, not you”.

2. The Internet Host/OSGrid/Google model where “We just sell the server space and index stuff for search, so solve your own damn Intellectual Property issues.”

SL Beta member Oz Spade made a good response to this:

I think LL intended to do #2, but wasn’t doing it fast enough or in the right ways. I recall when they first announced this whole IP thing and people were asking questions like this and the answer was “well eventually we want to be like an ISP or Linux distributor or website hoster, we host, provide access to content, and support and you do everything else.” Which is fine, and would work if they really were going for that model and not sitting on their ass trying to sweep up the cash. The problem they’re having is relinquishing control because, well, they’re a company, and not a non-profit.

The other problem with that model is, in the example of the ISP/hoster you still have to respond to take down requests and “violations.” The difference between LL and the other models is, with the other models your content can go with you, i.e. you can have all the html files on your computer and take them to another hoster. However with SL, your content, if you play by the rules, can only be accessed via SL grid. So in reality they aren’t really providing only a hosting service, which is what fucks them and is completely their mistake / stupid-attempt-to-keep-out-competition-that-might-use-their-software-features. It’s like if to host a website on a hoster you had to write your website in a special language that could only be written and hosted on that hoster and you couldn’t convert it to html without hacking around.

So basically they made a legal decision before they had worked out all the kinks in the technology that uses it. Or had made a legal decision without wanting to fully commit due to money/selfishness/whateverdouchery.

The first thing they should have done when saying “you own the IP” is make sure that you can take that IP with you, that you actually DO own it. And this is what people have been screaming for since they announced it and why we have things that people freak out about like “copybot” and other ways to “illegally” copy objects/etc. If LL had ignored the douches freaking out about “holy shit people will steal shit!” and actually implemented backup features properly that allowed content to travel with the creators, we would be avoiding a majority of this bullshit.

Seems spot on to me.

And another problem I have not even mentioned is the conversion of dollars to lindens and vice versa.  Linden Labs has insisted that the “Linden” currency has no real value outside of the game, and yet nobody believes that.  Lots of virtual worlds, both 2D and 3D, have virtual currencies exchangeable for money.  If a court were to rule that these virtual currencies should be treated like real money, it opens a whole new can of worms legally speaking.

Linden Labs is not going to be able to straddle the line between IP freedom and IP protectionism for long.

Eventually these legal difficulties could eventually follow over to other grids, or other grids could take this as a precautionary lesson and try something else.

A Possible Open Grid Economic Model

The SL economic model can only possibly work in SL, because there is one entity that controls all the asset servers.

In an Open Grid model with cross grid travel and communication there will be hundreds of asset servers controlled by hundreds of independent companies, just like the 2D internet is controlled by hundreds of web hosts. In the case of avatars, everyone may possibly host their own avatar outside the grids, so we could be talking thousands of asset servers.

An OpenSim grid is going to have to toss the whole SL paradigm out completely. Forget about inventory, selling individual units, and permissions, it won’t work in an open grid.

The open grid must work as a true 3D internet, with the internet as a paradigm.
Region = website
grid = webhost
inventory = stuff you store on your computer or via “cloud”

Think of the way the internet works now. If I have a website, or blog, or facebook account, etc. I can easily copy pictures, text, scripts, music embeds, etc, from other websites and post them on my web site. Its my responsibility to make sure I have the rights to what I post, but of course, most people don’t check the rights of everything they post. Since most sites are non-commercial, and visited by very few people, nobody gives a damn mostly.

On the other hand, if a site gets popular, and designed to make money, or has a big company behind it, then that website will be required to have the rights to all content on that site, or find itself with a cease and desist notice, or the web host might get a take-down notice and suddenly your site is gone.

This is the way an open grid has to work as well: everything is full perm, but copyrights are still in play.

What is needed are sites similar to Renderosity for open sim grids. Nothing on Renderosity is ever copy protected, because it makes it unusable. Buying a file is not what is important, it is buying a license, which is why most things are overpriced at Renderosity, but if you are using Renderosity objects for a commercial project, you damn well better have a receipt.

That has to be the model for open grid as well.  For example I make a couch object that in SL could sell for maybe 100L. For Open Sim I sell a commercial license for $10 or about 25 times the SL sales price, which I sell on a specialized website.  If someone buys it, they get a full perm object that they can edit, or copy, or give away, but can’t legally sell.  Most Open Sim grids have no in world currency so I can’t sell there anyways. I could try to post it for sale on a specialized website, but if the website is a legitimate one, they could investigate the origin of the items on sale on their site and prevent resales.

Because the object in world is copyable, why would anyone buy a copy when they could just grab a copy in world? Well that is where the “Internet” paradigm takes over. You could just grab a copy and post it on your region, but if the region is commercial in any way, you damn well have a commercial license for the object or be potentially subjected to litigation or grid take down.

The big money in Open Sim is going to be in the building of commercial regions for clients. Professional region builders who want to use your couch will definitely pay the $10 for the license to use it, just as the region builder expects to be paid for use of his region model for anyone that uses it.

I have proposed this idea to many, the primary objection is that it will limit the people that make money to only the best creators.  I’m sure that other methods of making money on the 3D internet would emerge that we have not thought of yet.  My primary point is that the SL economic model is not one we can (or should) consider.

Why Open Sim is the Future Metaverse (and why it is not the present)

I have been following the Open Sim development for a couple of years now. Some of the latest developments have convinced me that if there is ever going to be a 3D internet, it will be based on Open Sim. I say this knowing that Open Sim currently has a rather low population of participants, low enough that one could question the sanity of such a statement.  Well here is a brief summary of this conclusion.

What is a 3D internet?
A 3D internet is one that is navigable in 3 dimensions rather than two. Instead of websites, you have explorable regions. Instead of 2D text chatting, you have 3D avatar chats.

Why is a 3D internet inevitable?
Sometimes things can be explained easier visually rather than textually, and 3D often gets visual points across better than 2D. For example if you are a photographer with a website, and you want people to see your photographs and find the ones they like best for purchase, the “slideshow” approach is a bad way to do it. After the 4th or 5th click, people start to wonder if it is worth it. Immerse the visitor into a 3D gallery of your photos and people will venture around, allowing them to find the pictures they most like fast.

Hyperlinks in 3D

The thing that got me interested in talking about the 3D web again is the recent development of  “hypergrid” teleporting.  Teleporting from region to region is easy if your start point and end point are on the same grid, but the 2D World Wide Web is built on the ability to move from page to page, where the pages are often on different sites and different hosts.  The development of a 3D web requires the ability to move from grid to grid, and from host to host.

While far from perfect, that obstacle has been resolved.  It is now possible to move from grid to grid without needing to create accounts on every grid or closing your browser.  The picture above is the OSGrid me meeting the Reaction Grid me after clicking on a “hypergrid” link.

It works similarly to the slurl’s in SL except if your destination is on a different grid, your avatar is uploaded to the new grid and your name changes to firstname.lastname @ gridyoucamefrom to prevent conflicting names. It is really cool when it works, but unfortunately a lot can go wrong.  Instructions can be found here, if you want to try it.

Not all hypergrid enabled regions can reach all other hypergrid regions.  Took me about a dozen tried to find a combo that worked.  To get from OSGrid to Reaction Grid, I found a region called Hypergrid Market Middle on OSGrid (a very boring place BTW), then clicked on this link: secondlife://hypergrid.reactiongrid.com:9009

Eventually all the bugs will get ironed out and an independent 3D web will really start to develop.

Why will the 3D Internet be based on Open Sim?
It wont be Second Life.  There are many reasons. First, a 3D internet cannot be controlled by one company.  Second, it is inappropriate for a 3D internet to be under a virtual economy if it is going to be universally adapted.  Thirdly, the designers of Open Sim are moving away from SL’s strict protocols.  Open Sim regions no longer have to be strictly 256m x 256m, they can be larger.  Researchers have managed to put 200 avatars on a single region, and have run up to 40 regions on a single server.  Open Sim offers a flexibility that SL cannot offer.

It wont Be Blue Mars, IMVU or any other current 3D Virtual World. These all do what they do well enough, but they are all designed to be proprietary.  IMVU is strictly a chat program in 3D, Blue Mars is a gaming platform.

The only real open flexible 3D platform that could be competitive is  OpenCobalt.  It interfaces with Google protocols allowing Sketchup KMZ files used in Google Earth, allowing import of the huge library of 3D objects in Google’s database, as well as in the OBJ format.  This is stuff OpenSim still can not do.  My knowledge of OpenCobalt is small, but there are three reasons why OpenSim will win: 1. it is already proven scalable technology, 2. More developers are working on Open Sim than OpenCobalt, 3. It is a lot easier to add KMZ and OBJ support to OpenSim than it is to add the OpenSim scalable multi-region stuff to OpenCobalt.

Of course, something designed from scratch could be better than OpenSim, but it would take years to develop, and OpenSim has a huge head start.  Network protocols could be designed to replace TCP/IP as well, but would never be implemented because TCP/IP is too well entrenched.  I believe we have reached a point where we are stuck with OpenSim.  Improving the platform is easier than rewriting it.

If OpenSim is the future, why is it not more popular now?
This is a very valid question.  SL has more than three times as many regions (32,000) as all of the OpenSim Grids combined (10,500).  The OpenSim grids are growing at a rate of 10% a month so far this year, while SL has only grown 1.4%.  That’s the best stat comparison.

SL has more than 500 times the number of accounts as OpenSim, and over 100 times the number of active players.  At any given time, about 60 to 70% of all regions in SL are uninhabited. In OpenSim, that percent is closer to 99%.  OpenSims one advantage is cost.  It costs 10 times as much to get a dedicated region in SL as it does to get one on OSGrid, but your SL region is 100 times more likely to get visitors than in OS, so if you want visitors, the premium is probably worth it.

Why the horrible stats?  I like to think of the 2D internet as it existed 20 years ago.  SL is AOL, and the WWW is a couple of years away.  The people who were on the web at that time were students, researchers, hobbyists, some businesses and governments.  So who are the few people on OpenSim?  students, researchers, hobbyists, some businesses and governments.

When it became obvious that the open WWW was superior to AOL, everyone flocked to WWW.  I’m hopeful that history will repeat again with OS and SL.  On the other hand, maybe it is more accurate to think of SL as “Windows” and OS as “Linux”, and OS will be forever stuck as a niche platform despite its parity.

Open Sim Grids

In my last post, I decided to venture in to the untamed islands on the frontier of the Metaverse: The Open Sim Grids.  Today I introduce 4 good grids to start out on, and I will introduce others in the weeks ahead.

A few basics about Open Sim.  Open Sim is to Second Life, what Apache is to IIS.  Both are internet server software that work with a common client.  To the casual visitor they will seem to be the same, but there are underlying differences that will show up when you are building. Open Sim for example does not support vehicles, but does allows prims bigger than 10 meters per side.

If you are used to Second Life, you will find Open Sim grids to be very similar, and you can even use your Second Life program to connect to these Open Sim programs by adding ‘-loginuri’ and the grid web address on the client shortcut target.  The Second Life client was released as open source under the GPL, allowing programmers to play with the code.  The Second Life server was not released as open source, though it is for sale by Linden Labs.  Open Sim is a freeware open source program that works in tandem with the Second Life client. It was built from scratch and released under BSD, and shares no copyrighted code with the Second Life Server, meaning Linden Labs has no control over Open Sims.  So far Linden Labs has fully supported the Open Sim grids, but even if they stopped supporting them, Open Sims can still continue to operate legally.  The upshot is, if Second Life were to suddenly close down like There or Vivaty did in the last month, the Open Sim grids would still be around.  Its a safe bet that as long as there is an internet there will be Open Sim grids available to play in (in the same way that text based MUDs have been around for over 30 years).

Despite the number of grids being more then 300, the total combined regions, players, and traffic on these grids is considerably lower than Second Life.  Second Life is more than twice as big as all the Open Sim regions combined.  The people that run these grids do not always have the resources to make sure the grids are stable and always online, so sometimes logging in is a problem.  Inventory can suddenly disappear as well occasionally.  Luckily its all free.

Before you begin, you are probably going to want to get a dedicated client.  The Hippo Viewer is designed primarily for Open Sim use, and allows you to log in automatically to many different grids.  Decide on a name as well and use it on each grid.  I am Ariane Barnes on all of these grids. A common name makes switching grids easier.

You may notice that I am wearing nearly the same thing in each picture.  These are the nicest hair and clothes I have available in my Second Inventory program to upload.  When you first join these Open Sims, you will look like “Ruth”, as they call the default avatar.  All of these grids have freebie avatars available if you don’t have your own hair, skin, or clothing textures to upload.  Second Inventory allows you to move stuff that is free and full perm or stuff that you made yourself to other grids, but the program itself is not free. There are free and legal ways to move inventory between Open Sim grids by “hypergridding” but that is a topic for later.

The four Open Sim grids I have chosen to post about first are all free, all allow free uploads (textures, animations etc.),  have free sandboxes that allow Second Inventory uploads,  and all have English as a primary language.  These four also are representative of many different kinds of grids out there.

Inworldz
Website: http://inworldz.com/
Account Registration:  http://inworldz.com/register.php
Login URI:  http://inworldz.com:8002/ (in Hippo Viewer you will have to add this to the grid list)

Inworldz is the smallest of the grids I am visiting. I picked this one first as it is the most SL like. They host some mainland regions as well as offer private grids at considerably lower than SL costs. They also have their own in world currency the Iz exchangeable at $1 = 500 Iz.  Inworldz reminds me of SL as it once was: small, friendly, and very experimental. Its a place to build and play, and hang out in the welcome center and chat.  The picture above was taken at the Inworldz welcome center.

OSGrid
Website:  http://www.osgrid.org/elgg/
Account Registration: http://www.osgrid.org/elgg/account/register.php
Login URI: http://osgrid.org:8002/

OSGrid is by far the largest of the Open Sim grids, it is sort of the closest thing there is to an “official” Open Sim grid, though there really isn’t such a thing. OSGrid.org is a non-profit organization and maintains a small core of regions and the grids main asset servers via donations. They do not sell or rent space.  Instead, they provide a service where you can attach your own private region up to the  grid for free if you have your own web server.  I have seen hosting services offer your own private OS region hooked up to the OSGrid for as cheap as $15 a month.  Dedicated core regions with 15,000 prims can be obtained for $30 a month with no initial setup costs.  A real bargain!

The downside is that the OSGrid is made up of hundreds of different providers, including many regions hosted on home computers connected with home broadband.  No telling what regions are up or down at any given time, and no central authority to go to for troubleshooting, or reporting bad behavior of other players.  It is very close to a 3D internet in that regards.  No central authority also means no central economy. Sales of in world items are done through PayPal usually.

Reaction Grid
Website: http://reactiongrid.com/
Account Registration: http://reactiongrid.com/Register.aspx
Login URI: http://reactiongrid.com:8008/ (in Hippo Viewer you will have to add this to the grid list)

Reaction Grid is a PG rated business friendly grid designed to be a place to host company meetings and conferences.  It is also used by schools and colleges for online courses in a 3D environment, which means you can expect to run into student created builds as you explore.  Many companies and colleges that used to be in SL have moved here for budget reasons.  Like OSGrid, Reaction Grid allows independently hosted grids (meaning there is no in world economy), but unlike OSGrid, Reaction Grid maintains some control over the grid so they can troubleshoot problems.  Reaction Grid has a good reputation as a result and an impressive list of clients.

New World Grid
Website: http://www.newworldgrid.com/
Account Registration: http://www.newworldgrid.com/lang/en-us/register/account
Login URI:  http://grid.newworldgrid.com:8002/

New World Grid is an artistic community sponsored by multiple non profit charities based in England, France, and Canada.  The primary one being Virtus France.  The grid is completely bilingual, everything labeled in English and French.  There is no in world economy, but because it is primarily an artist community, there are lots of freebies to be found.  Some lands are rentable, but you can also petition for a free land grant if you have something worthwhile to build and share with the community.  The latest addition was a region dedicated to “Life After There” for former therians.  If you go there, an incomplete Saja like platform hovers in the sky.

I include this grid as a good example of the majority of the grids out there.  Most of the grids I researched have a primary language other than English, providing a 3D multiplayer environment for people that speak something other than English.  There are at least 4 grids for German speakers, and they are working out a common currency between them. I have also seen Spanish, Italian, Korean, Japanese, and Portuguese grids, probably others.

There are many more grids out there to explore.  The grid list maintained at OpenSimulator.org is unfortunately out of date, with a lot of closed grids.  I have a list of 30 grids known to work on my 3D Virtual Worlds page (under the RealXtend / Open Sim Project section). This page lists 40 grids, with a note that there are over 300.

The next few posts will also be about Open Sim.  Next, I will revisit setting up your own private grid (it keeps getting easier) with links to free content, then take a tour of a couple of really impressive private grids, then walk through the hypergrid process which shows promise to join all the grids together in a single 3D world wide web.

The Mainstreaming of SL (or why I will reduce my coverage of Second Life)

On a web page I wrote about the history of computer animation, I charted how the industry went from cutting edge to mainstream in about a decade, wearing off the novelty, but still producing quality from time to time.  I believe that is the present state of SL today.

Second Life is becoming “mainstream”.

I have said on a few occasions that SL is like a 3D AOL before the world wide web exploded. In the early days of the web it was fun exploring new web sites to see what people were posting. As the web progressed, the number of web sites exploded, and the overall quality improved.

At that time I was a reader of PC Magazine and they were doing an annual “Best of the Web” list each year. They had to stop when the web reached a saturation point.  I feel like we have reached that point in Second Life.

We used to go to really original places like Svarga, Straylight, and Insilico and be amazed. Now dozens of new servers pop up monthly with similar looks to these places.  It is getting harder and harder for builders to trump the latest, and even if they do get something amazing built, it gets lost in the noise.

The overall quality of SL region builds is going up, which is a good thing for us players that love to explore, but it is getting harder and harder to find places unique and original and wonderful enough to blog about. My next post is going to be the my second annual best of SL, and it will probably be my last best of list.

At the same time SL is changing its business model. Recent xstreet changes have been made which have upset casual merchants, but at the same time should help keep the copybot pirates from making a quick buck. SL is also limiting scripts people can run simultaneously, and making other changes that hurts the “freedom” in SL, but should make the platform more attractive for casual “mainstream” users.

All of this is following the same trend we saw in computer animation and the world wide web.  We are reaching a saturation point. Second Life is no longer cutting edge, instead it has dulled a bit.

The cutting edge is in the Open Sim community, which still is working on improving the platform to match SL, and hopefully surpassing it soon.

The potential cutting edge can also be seen in Blue Mars, which recently added the Caledon “steam punk” community from Second Life to Blue Mars and is opening stores.

My current plan is to keep this blog going, but instead of pushing myself to post every week, I may post only when I find something to post about.  Hopefully there will be enough to keep me busy.

The Potential of the Open Sim Paradigm

This is a detailed follow up to my earlier “comic” post about Open Sim.

The Paradigm:  The Open Grid

For those who do not know, Open Sim is an open source clone of Second Life. The Second Life download client, itself an open source program, can connect to an Open Sim almost as easy as it can to Second Life.

Open Sim networks run the same way as Second Life runs. You set up an account with a first and last name, log into the grid, decorate your avatar, possibly buy some land to build on, attend events, make stuff, sell stuff, etc.  So far there is little difference between OS grids and the SL grids.

Except there are differences. SL runs SL server software, OS grids run OS server software. OS has some advantages over SL, generally less lag, megaprim support, etc. But, as of right now, SL is the superior and more fully supported system. For example LSL scripting is not fully supported in OS yet.

The first thing you notice when you go to an open sim is that you are starting from scratch again. There are legitimate ways to get some of the SL stuff over to Open Sim, but it is time consuming.

Within a year, the OS project hopes to be at parity with Second Life, meaning if you can do it in SL, you can do it in OS. Soon after that, it is hoped the pattern will be reversed and it will be Second Life playing catch up. Among the things being worked on:

  • “Mesh” imports made from 3rd party 3D models (Maya, 3DMax, Blender, GMAX, Lightwave, Cararra, etc.). Complicated models would generate serious lag, but simple models could do more than the current “prim” system with even fewer resources. This is what There uses.
  • New avatar meshes, allowing more detailed form fitting clothing, or  even non humanoid avatars.

The Paradigm: Region Archives

I mentioned before that Second Life’s fatal flaw is the lack of virtualization of real estate. Open Sim has an archive system (so does Second Life, but the Open Sim one is better). With some improvements, it could be used to store unused regions in storage, instead of taking up server power.

A system could be designed to work as follows:

  1. Player picks a region they want to travel to. System looks to see if the region is active, if so, player is sent to a server running the region, unless region exceeds maximum occupancy, in which case proceed to step 2.
  2. An inactive server is activated, as soon as possible, player is moved to the server. Items are loaded from archive file while simultaneously “data” is streamed to player’s client. If this is an “instance” copy, player may be prompted to move to original once room is available.
  3. When the last person leaves a region, temp items are deleted, foreign items are returned to owners, the region data is backed up (if changed by an authorized person), and sever is freed for later use.

Such a system would eliminate the need for so many servers, and would make expansion easier and less expensive, and also allow events to run across multiple servers with potentially thousands of players.

There is also the potential of people to run their own private servers on their own hard drives. People could build their region privately without needing to use web resources. People could share region archive files with one another allowing another method of group cooperation. Maybe people could even participate in certain events (concerts, lectures) on private sims by downloading copies of event venues and NPC data.

The Paradigm: The Multi Grid Marketplace

Under the Open Sim paradigm, there are multiple networks acting independently. Second Life could be like AOL of the early 90’s, and all the other networks like other web sites.

Under such a scheme there needs to be trade channels set up between networks, so stuff I make can be sold for use in any other network. In the 3D market place today there are web sites that sell 3D models for use in various 3D programs. Daz3d and Renderosity are ones I have used for my Poser work, but there are other big ones used by 3D artists using more professional programs (3DMax, Maya,  etc.). Artists can sell their original works for commercial and/or non-commercial use, via “brokering” arrangements. It wouldn’t be difficult to change XStreetSL into a multiple network market site.

Moving the SL model into the wider Open Sim model requires a lot of work, and involves a lot of hammering out of issues, chief among them being copyrights.

In future posts, I’ll discuss some of these issues, as well as an even broader 3D web paradigms (who says there has to be only one standard?).