Thursday, March 22, 2018

Replacements and Alternatives to Second Life

Second Life is the oldest, biggest, most diverse and most successful virtual world in existence.  But ever since about Day Two of Second Life, people have been predicting The End Of SL.  Despite the Rants of Doom, though, SL continues to soldier on; aging, a bit clunky, and increasingly a collection of old and newer technologies kludged together.  Today, we'll take a brief look at some other virtual worlds that (some people) claim will replace SL.

OpenSim is an open source alternative to Second Life.  You can download the OpenSim software and run it on your local computer, creating a region, or even several regions, that you can access with a number of Second Life viewers.  You can even give other people the address of your little virtual world and they can visit it.

OSGrid is one implementation of OpenSim.  If you set up an account there, you can use OpenSim to create region(s) on your computer, and link them to OSGrid so that they show up on its world Map.  For better performance or reliability, you can rent server space and host your regions on a commercial server.

There are any number of other virtual worlds like OSGrid, based on OpenSim.  You can use an analog of SL's teleportation to travel from one to the other.  Collectively, they're known as the "Hypergrid." Members of the Hypergrid are known as "open worlds"; you can exchange content from one to another of them.  In contrast, SL is a "closed world".  You cannot teleport to it from another Hypergrid location.

There are a few problems however.  For one thing, the software they're based on, OpenSim, is basically a reverse-engineered Second Life.  It contains all of SL's problems, plus a few of its own.  Being open source, it's not updated as often or as comprehensively as SL, and the updates often introduce bugs of their own.  But the biggest problem is the economy.  There is nothing like the Linden Dollar, although some of the grids have their own currencies.  As a result, almost no one is creating content for these virtual worlds.  And so, almost nobody goes there.  I just now looked at the grid stats for OSGrid.  There are a total of 5,980 regions, and a total of 77 people on line.

This virtual world is nearly as big and diverse as SL.  It has its own currency, and you can create and sell content.  Avatars can look as realistic as in SL.  However, it has a number of significant differences, and I see them as deficiencies.  You can't walk or fly in use local teleporting to hop from one pose spot to another.  There is no actual "land"...there are only "rooms".  While a "room" may be set up to resemble an outdoor space, it's not connected to any other space or room in a physical sense.  You go from one room to another by teleporting only.  IMVU doesn't have the age limitations of SL, so there are a lot of kids, pre-teens, and teenagers there.  It's largely advertising-supported, so if you create an account, expect to receive a ton of email ads.

Red Light Center.
This world is very similar to SL, but is even more focused on Adult content.  In fact, one might say that it's All About the Pronz.  Red Light Center has a virtual currency, and a creator community.  It has also adopted VR technology, unlike SL.  I've met people who owned and operated clubs there.  If your focus is on virtual sex, this may be the world for you, but a constant diet of porn quickly becomes old, at least for me.  (CAUTION:  Link is NSFW.)

Blue Mars.
This was widely touted as the "next Second Life."  But it never really got off the ground, and has been dead and gone for years.

High Fidelity.
This replacement virtual world was created by Philip Rosedale, the inventor of Second Life.  The idea was to make a virtual reality that was much more "real" than SL, and to make your avatar within it much more like the "real you."  While I have seen videos of people using VR equipment like Oculus Rift headsets and hand controllers, and watched their on-screen avatars moving in response to their Real World motions, I think the avatars themselves, and the world around them, are anything BUT "high fidelity."  The world and the people in it look closer to Minecraft than to reality.  It's currently in beta, and you can try it out.

This is a new virtual world, or more precisely, a network of virtual worlds, created by Linden Lab itself.  Like High Fidelity, it's designed from the outset to make use of VR technology.  The content is all Mesh...none of those clunky Second Life prims.  While some of the environments created by users are fascinating and highly detailed, Sansar is still very buggy and has a LONG way to go before it contains even a fraction of the content and variety of Second Life.  In addition, Sansar is not really aimed at the SL community of users.  It's more for people who want to build a VR environment as a part of, or a supplement to, a web site.  It's unclear, still, how its business model and internal economy will ultimately work.  It will probably never have the huge community of anonymous users that SL enjoys.  You can explore Sansar here:

Once the kinks in VR get worked out, and we figure out how to use it to interact with our online simulations in a really effective way, something like High Fidelity or Sansar may replace Second Life.  But I think we still have a LONG way to go before we really get there.  In the meantime, enjoy your Second Life!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Look Ahead, from Linden Lab

Recently, I've been talking about the many improvements Linden Lab has been making to Second Life.  Things have gotten cheaper, faster, and prettier.

Today, LL set out their plans for this year, which marks the 15th year of Second Life.  Some of the improvements, like the decreased tier cost of Mainland and the increase in the tier-free mainland allotment for Premium members, are already here.  Others we'll see in the months ahead.

One of the announcements that I am MOST excited about is that we will be able to wear clothing layers...the old style baked on avatar skins, tattoos, and clothing...on mesh avatars!  I am SO glad I didn't purge all my old clothes from my inventory.

And last names are returning!  I don't know how LL plans to implement this.  I do hope it's not as clumsy as the Display Name system, though.

One that scares me a little is that Experiences will be made active grid-wide.  That is, if someone creates an Experience (maybe some form of role play scenario, or a hunt game), it can be active everywhere, not just on one land parcel or region.  Depending on the Experience, this could be a problem for a lot of landowners...but LL says that individual land owners can disable such things on their own land, so perhaps it'll be OK.

There's lots of other stuff.  I'm not going to list them all here.  Go read Ebbe Linden's official blog post for yourself!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Virtual Land Just Got Cheaper

Hello, gentle readers!

A few posts back, I mentioned that Linden Lab has been gradually increasing the attractiveness of a Premium membership by adding more benefits.

This week, they went farther.  For all the time I've been in Second Life, the price of Mainland has not changed, and people have always complained about how it's too expensive.  LL has finally responded, in two important ways.

First, they've dropped the monthly tier fees by about 10%.  Here's the new table:

So now, Mainland is less expensive.  When you combine that with the increased ability of land to support objects, it's now a LOT more affordable to have nice things in SL.  This should make creators, and those who just like to have a nice place to live in Second Life, very happy!

But that's not all.  LL also increased the amount of Mainland that you can own BEFORE you have to pay any tier.  Up until now, you could own 512 square meters, and not pay any monthly fee for it (aside from Premium dues, of course).  That figure has now doubled; you can own up to 1,024 square meters, tier-free!  That will give you a prim limit of 350.

The size of the parcels that the free Linden Homes are on appears to be unchanged.  At least for now, those homes will still be on 512 sq. m. parcels, with a prim limit of 175.

The new limits also mean that if you want a Horizons Home, you won't have to pay tier on it.

The only downside to this that I can see is for us landlords.  While we will pay about 10% less for our land (yay!) we will also be faced with an increased number of residents who are happy with a 1024 sq. m. parcel and 350 prims.  This may lead to a decrease in demand for rental property.

See the official announcement here:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Those Ultrawide Monitors

You might have seen ads or reviews for them...ultrawide monitors with an aspect ratio of 21:9.  These are touted as being superior in some ways to a multi-monitor setup.  For one thing, there are no monitor bezels breaking up the scene.  And some of them are curved, to produce a more "immersive" experience.

Dual Monitor Set-up
Ultrawide Curved Monitor
I recently got one of these puppies...a Dell 38" Ultrasharp monitor.  It's big, and it's lovely.  It has about 3/4 of the actual screen real estate of my previous 27" dual monitor set-up, and it's the same screen height and pixel size as the 27" monitors.  I don't miss the small piece of real estate that I gave up, because it was outside my peripheral vision anyway, whereas I can see ALL of the 38" monitor.  The curved screen does not appear to introduce any distortion, and it does make for a bit more of an immersive effect.  Not only that, but I get a lot more effective screen real estate in SL, because I always kept SL on my primary monitor only...both because of the bezels, and because SL can produce some strange glitches when you try to extend it onto a second monitor.

But, I have to tell you, gentle readers, that there is one big gotcha that none of the reviewers seem to mention.  A lot of games, including Second Life, have a built-in edge distortion.  That is, things at the edges of your screen are stretched horizontally, at any aspect ratio other than 1:1, a square image.  You can actually see this on your regular old 16:9 monitor, although I had never been bothered by it before.

But on the ultrawide monitor, it's much more apparent.  Circles become definite ovals if they're off to either side of the screen. as shown by the screenshot below.  All of those prims are identical spheres!
I tried looking at SL using different resolutions and aspect ratios.  While a less-wide image shows less edge distortion, it is still present...and it's present, also, on "regular" monitors.  UI windows and buttons,menu bars and HUD controls on the screen are not affected.  It's only the view of the Second Life world itself that's distorted.  It's not the ultrawide monitor that is to blame, it's the design of the SL viewer itself...and other similar games that exhibit the same distortion.

It's time to write to your viewer developers and tell them it's time they took a...wider view.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Premium Benefits Creep

Happy New Year, gentle readers!  Today's post is on an upbeat note.  Usually, when one talks about "creep" in a program, it's bad.  For example, "requirements creep"...the continuing changing and adding of new performance requirements to a design project...can lead to enormous cost growth.  "Schedule creep" is another bad thing in projects; it's the tendency of things to always take longer than planned.

But today I want to talk about the almost-unnoticed "benefits creep" that's been taking place in the Second Life Premium membership program.  Bit by bit, Linden Lab has been adding new benefits for Premium members.  I'll review them in a moment, but first let's talk about cost.

A Premium membership can be paid for on a monthly basis, or you can save money by paying quarterly or annually.  The costs are:

  • Monthly:  $9.50 per month (down from $9.95/mo.)
  • Quarterly: $22.50 per quarter.  LL often puts this plan on sale for half price for the first quarter.
  • Annually: $72.00 per year.
You save money on the quarterly plan, and even more on the annual plan.  However, if you think you will want to cancel your Premium membership any time soon, stick to the monthly plan; Linden Lab will not issue you a refund for any unused time.

Also, keep track of your payment due dates.  LL will bill your payment method automatically to renew your membership, unless you step in and cancel your membership before the due date.

And make sure your payment method is still good.  If your credit card expires and LL can't charge it, you could find yourself in a delinquent status.  If that goes on too long, your account may be canceled.

Now, on to the benefits!
  • $L300 weekly stipend, paid every Tuesday.
  • $L1,000 one-time bonus, paid after you've been a Premium member for 45 consecutive days.
  • A free Linden Home.  These are located in Mainland "subdivisions".  Maturity rating is M.  Homes are on 512 m2 parcels, and have a land impact capacity ("prim count" for you old-timers) of 175.  (The prims of the house don't count against the parcel's capacity, a nice little bonus.)
  • Or if you don't care for a Linden Home, you get free tier on the first 512 m2 of Mainland you purchase.
  • Access to a higher level of technical support.  If you have inventory issues that you can't fix yourself with the usual procedures, this can be very useful.
  • Access to Live Chat for faster response to support requests.
  • Premium gift items.  LL issues these on an irregular schedule.  The latest is the "Glytch Bus", LL's take on the 1960's Volkswagen Van.
  • Access to Premium-only sandboxes.  This cuts way down on the chances of griefers bothering you when you are building.
  • Access to certain Premium-only regions, such as the Premium Wilderness adventure, Magellan's Grid Hunt, and Racer's Gulch.
  • Free voice morphing.  (Basic members pay a subscription fee for this service)
  • Increased number of groups.  You can belong to as many as 60 groups, vs. 42 for Basic members.
  • Better access to crowded events.  Basic members are told that "the region is full" if it has 100 people there...but Premium members can get in until the region reaches 110 avatars.
  • Better $L Transaction History.  Basic members can see transactions for the last 30 days.  Premium members can see up to 90 days of their transactions.
  • Higher "cap" on offline messages.  Basic members' IMs are capped at 25.  Premium members get 50 IMs and notices before they're capped.
In my view, the annual Premium subscription is a stone bargain.  You get all the above for $72.00 per year...that's just $6.00 per month.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Facelights, Revisited

Long ago, I wrote a tutorial about facelights.  It's still valid, but since Second Life implemented the Advanced Lighting Model*, there are three things to add about facelights:

1) The new lighting model makes most facelights look a LOT brighter than they used to.  If you are using an old-style facelight, there's a good chance that you look like a walking supernova to anyone using the new and improved lighting model.

2) The new lighting model improves the look of avatars even without facelights, to the point that many people think they're totally unnecessary.  They have a point, but I take a more middle of the road view; I think that a modest facelight still has a place.  The key word here is "modest"!

3) The new lighting model introduces a new type of light, projectors.  Projectors can throw light in a specific direction, like a spotlight, instead of spreading it in all directions.  Plus, projectors can use a texture to act as a "virtual gobo".  A gobo is the term lighting technicians use for an opaque sheet placed in front of a light, with various cutouts in the sheet to cause the light to form a desired pattern.

My friend and fellow blogger Nalates Urriah created a facelight using the new projector light.  She both sells a ready-made and very inexpensive one, and shows you how to make your own in this post on her blog: 

*Find the control to turn on the Advanced Lighting Model in your viewer's Preferences, in the Graphics tab.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Christmas Surprise

Merry Christmas, gentle readers!

If you read these pathetic little offerings of mine about Second Life you may also be a fan, as I am, of the incredibly talented and prolific SL blogger Strawberry Singh.  She offers a continual stream of informative reviews and videos of Second Life products, especially mesh heads and bodies.

A short time ago, Linden Lab informed her that she was in violation of their trademark policy and demanded the removal of some material showing part of the Second Life sign-up process.

She, and a lot of fans of both her blog and Second Life, thought that this was an extremely heavy-handed application of LL's policy.

Well, as we all know, Linden Lab seldom communicates...and when they do, they usually manage to further confuse the issue.  But this time, the Lab surprised all of us with a little Christmas present...they admitted they were wrong, and publicly apologized!

Here's a link to their post:

And here's a link to Strawberry's blog.  If you aren't a reader already, you should be!

Kudos to the folks at Linden Lab for handling this in absolutely the right way.