Thursday, 28 June 2007

A Bit of Downtime

As I am taking a holiday, I will not be blogging for a week or so...
However, when I get back I will have some really interesting stuff to impart (though it will almost certainly have hit the blogosphere by then). In the meantime, keep an eye on the excellent Ugotrade blog.

Thanks for your patience. Al

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

China and Virtual Worlds

I came across an article in the Asia Times, that you might find interesting. It concerns the burgeoning appetite - and market - for 3D virtual worlds in China. Rather than focusing on the Mindark deal, which will see Entropia entering the marketplace, it looks in more detail at the (for me) more intriguing prospect of HiPiHi. This is a "home grown" Chinese virtual world, still in Beta test, that apparently bears uncanny similarities to Second Life (although no decision has yet been taken concerning the implementation of an inworld currency).

In the article Ken Brady, a director of international strategies at Centric, is quoted as saying: "China's the No 2 market now, with Blizzard and Shanda Entertainment just two of the major players. HiPiHi will launch this autumn, Entropia Universe is moving in soon, and Shanda has announced plans to create another Chinese virtual world. There are, of course, more out there, and many more coming. It's a busy time in China's online 3D landscape."

HiPiHi will face fierce competition. For example, Shanda Interactive Entertainment,China's leading online gaming company, has been developing a virtual-world game similar to Second Life. Meanwhile, UOneNet Technology have been developing their virtual world, called "uWorld." Yet another new virtual world in development for China is Frenzoo, which is aimed squarely at the youth market.

These will need to slug it out with highly successful Far East virtual worlds, like South Korea's Cyworld, which launched in China in 2005. It boasts 19 million residents in South Korea alone - some 40% of the population - and now has more that 3 million residents in China.

All in all, an interesting 12 months in prospect in China! And where will this leave Linden Lab, who have signally failed to break into this market so far?

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Melting Dots and Hot Suits

A few sites you might want to keep any eye on here. Nothing open to the general public yet, but Japanese virtual worlds construction company Melting Dots are building:

  • 2 x island site for Fujitsu, the global ITC company, headquartered in Tokyo.
  • 4 x island site for Kadokawa, a publishing and movie company.
And not so far away is the (closed) island of "ARMANI via Manzoni". I wasn't too sure how to interpret the "via" in this, but a bit of digging turned up this snippet from the New York Times travel section, on shopping in Milan: "Armani/Via Manzoni 31...This is Giorgio Armani’s personal mall, which fills an entire block. In addition to the requisite Armani clothing stores, look for Armani Libri (books), Armani Dolci (chocolates), Armani Nobu (Japanese food) and, for an unforgettable lunch, Caffè Emporio Armani."

Evidently a virtual shopping mall is coming to Second Life for people like me, who are never likely to stump up hard currency in the real shopping mall.


Oh, if you are twitter user, you might be interested to know there is a twitter group for SecondFest, which kicks off this coming weekend.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Al at Ali - A Floating Platform

I don't really know anything about this sim - I was passing by and thought I should have a look. The sim is called "Ali" and looks to be a private build. I rather like the rocks and hanging foliage, and the general quality of the texture. The overall effect reminds me of Studio Ghibli's Laputa - Castle in The Sky.

High above sits a platform and a large airship called "Prometheus".

And that's about all I can tell you! if you know more, please drop me a comment.

Second Life Comic Book

On returning from the mayhem of Glasto, and after a good night's sleep, I checked my mail and found a request from Patou Dumont to spread the word concerning a new Second Life comic book that might appeal to your jaded palates:

The comic has been put together with much more care than I'd ever manage to devote - with much use of poses and camera controls. Take a look, and let me have your views.

A Peek into Princeton

This post first appeared at 3pointD... but here you get full set of pictures.

The number of universities entering the virtual world of Second Life never ceases to amaze me. One that I have been keeping an eye on for some time is Princeton. It has been closed to casual strollers while construction proceeds, but following a bit of string-pulling, I was able to get an advance preview earlier this week. I have only one small problem: the amount of information I now have is so huge it is going to take all of my ingenuity -- and there’s precious little of that -- to prune it down to the bare essentials. The sim will not formally open to the public until the next academic year, but much of the work is now complete.

Incidentally, aware that I over-use the term "iconic" I have opted in this post to go with "signature" instead. Time will tell whether this is a sensible move.

My tour guide was the charming and ridiculously well-informed (not to mention often downright hilarious) Persis Trilling, who, apart from heading up the Princeton in-house IT education support services, is something of an expert on the History of Architecture and is overseeing the build in Second Life.

There is a strong architectural spine running at 45 degrees across the island, along which several of Princeton’s signature buildings are situated. On arrival you find yourself facing a simulation of Nassau Hall. The original was, at the time of its completion in 1756, the largest stone building in the colonies. However, a couple of fires in the 19th century put paid to that, and the building now standing -- and reflected in this Second Life build -- dates from the 1850’s, though the college continued to tinker with it for many years. Clearly some compromises have to be made when looking to reproduce buildings in Second Life, and in the case of Nassau Hall there is a great simplification of the interior -- with 2 large rooms set up for seminar groups of around a dozen participants, and what appears to be a debating chamber. The texturing of the building, indeed, of all the buildings in this sim, is excellent.

Behind you as you arrive is a simulation of Chancellor Green Student Center, which was originally the college library building and dates from the 1870s. It reeks of Victorian Gothic. Inside is a library (surprise!), which the college plans to build into a Second Life-based online resource, together with a couple of informal meeting rooms that would house around 6 people.

The third major building along the spine is Alexander Hall. Following some hiccups with construction of the simulation, this has been taken on by CJ Carnot of New Media Consortium and is currently being reworked, but even the version I saw was most impressive. Again, as with the other buildings, the texturing brings out a great sense of physical presence. The actual building, built in 1892, was designed (and still serves) as a convocation hall for commencement exercises and other large gatherings. It therefore made sense to preserve this function in Second Life. This is where concerts and many meetings will be held. [Given the current state of reconstuction, I don't have any good pictures of this building]

Off to one side of this trio of signature Princeton buildings lies another jewel -- but this time there is no Real World counterpart. The Art Gallery is the work of Canadian master-builder Scope Cleaver, and anyone who knows his work will spot the style immediately. Persis was full of praise for the way in which Mr. Cleaver has gone about fulfilling his brief: "If Chancellor Green is about Ruskin's seven lamps, Scope’s building has them in spades too. He is just using a different architectural vocabulary.The sense of craft; of expression of essential human qualities and the emotive use of light and space is a lot like the more modest drama of Chancellor Green." She went on: "It's a very nice build, and I think reflects well on the existing major buildings -- each one perfectly modern in its day, in fact, forward-looking. I showed him a lot of spaces that I admired. He did not copy anyone but respected an element of each design. I told him what I liked about each -- so a little Carlo Scarpa; a little Gehry; a little James Stirling."

So what is the aim of the Princeton island? Is it just an architectural display? The current aim is to offer classroom sessions and writing seminars for the Schools of Architecture and Visual Arts. There is also a human behaviour experiment being designed for the island. They will also be offering performances, "cocktail parties" and conferences, recognizing that in Second Life an island needs people if it is to be of any value. As for information, the plan is to offer a rich set of resources, including RSS feeds, podcasts and vodcasts. There is already a shop offering free Princeton shirts (the closest I'm ever likely to having one!) and a number of training notecards for would-be builders.

There is more on this island that I have not covered -- for example, the Prospect Garden,
and the debating society buildings -- but hopefully this gives you a feel for what to expect in September, when we may all get a chance to visit. Thanks to Persis for giving me far more information than I could ever hope to include in this posting, and for being such a gracious host.

Muddy Glastonbury 2007

I've not been in Second Life for a few days while I wallowed in the mud and overflowing toilets of Glasto 2007. Bizarrely, in a crowd of 170,000 people I bumped into my old friend Alan on each of 3 consecutive days. I have no idea on what the odds are for that... but they're not great.

I won't bore you with a rundown of who I saw, and who I liked (unless pushed)*. I'm only really sticking up this post to publish a few pictures to share with the band of elder geeks I went with.

First some general scenes - including the all-important Brothers' Bar - home to the mind-melting festival strength pear cider.

And here are the elder geeks during a lull in proceedings:

In the interest of decorum, I thought it best to conceal identities a bit. We didn't really spend the weekend with Elastoplasts gummed over our eyeballs - though somewhere amid that 175,000 there's bound to have been at least one nutter who did.

* Actually - I think I will. The mud - and the huge crowds - made getting about much harder than one'd care to think, but I really enjoyed - in no particular order:

  • Holy F*ck
  • CSS
  • Klaxons
  • Squarepusher
  • Ozrics
  • Arcade Fire
  • Chemical Brothers
  • Seth Lakeman
  • Bjork was pretty good too, but only caught the tail-end of her set.
Any others have been lost in a blur of Irish Whiskey and pear cider. Did we see New P0rnographers? I forget.

I did not enjoy standing behind the sound desk thingy, watching Amy Winehouse on a giant TV, in the hissing rain.

PS: Next time I even hint at going again, will someone please slap me and tell me to behave?

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Capgemini By Night and Japanese Delights

I have just completed what is, by my standards, something of a mega-post. Sadly, owing to a "gentleman's agreement", I will not be posting it to this blog until after the weekend - so you will need to check out 3pointD to see what I've been up to. By way of light relief, and picking up on a comment on my last post from Trojan Bade - about Capgemini - I thought I would share with you some "Capgemini by Night" images:

Right... and now I promise that's it for that subject.

On a different tack, and more because I found myself there and took the pictures than for any other reason, here are a couple of Japanese commercial sites. The first is H.I.S - from the content of the main office this must be a travel agency. While here you can watch a video which appears to be the making of the video. It's all a bit post-modern for me! Anyway, here are some night time views (I will go back again at some point and derive something more meaningful):

On the adjacent sim of "Mirai" you will find this marvellous, as-yet unpopulated palace, which describes itself as a "castle for shopping magSL Tokyo Japan". I can only suggest you go figure:

No deep analysis - I just thought you might like to see these. They are near "Suntory" blogged by my chum VeeJay at Mindblizzard.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Capgemini France Recruitment Hall

Building on yesterday's post, I thought I should pop in to see what the Capgemini France recruitment hall on the island TMP3 actually looked like. By the time I got there it was past midnight in the UK, and long past any sensible French person's bedtime. But I took a few snaps, just to prove I had been there:

The more eagle-eyed of you might recognise the conference table and chairs. Yes... it's evidently my riff of the week: the work of Scope Cleaver - again!

I may be biased - but I think the facility looks pretty neat.

BTW - for the really avid reader - you may have noticed that this is NOT the mega-post currently in gestation!

UPDATE 21-06-07: The mega-post is now available at 3pointD.

Synchronicity in The Blast Machine

Having read in the Mindblizzard blog that the BNP Paribas island in Second Life was not yet fully open I thought I would take a look on the map, to see what else in the area might be of interest - and my eyes alighted on The Blast Machine. Since the name could mean just about anything in the context of Second Life I thought I should drop in for a look.

It turns out that The Blast Machine in question is an initiative by l'Atelier, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, that sports the strapline: "the high tech studio for a changing world." For 25 years they "have been identifying, breaking down, analyzing and delivering critical information about emerging technologies from around the globe." Founded in France in 1978, they have had offices in the USA since 2005. They deliver technology news through a wide range of channels, including: podcasts; streamed video; webinars and live events.

Now... every couple of weeks I seem to experience an odd moment of synchronicity, where a number of apparently random and disparate threads come together in one place. This short trip proved to be one of these occasions...

I gather that The Blast Machine is an Ideas Workshop, and is housed in a prefab office bought from Scope Cleaver. Regular readers will be aware that I covered Scope's new sim in my last past and, even more spookily, I came to The Blast Machine from another island where I had been looking at the latest of his bespoke builds (which is the subject of another blog entry, currently in gestation).

The l'Atelier build - which I believe has been inworld since January, 2007 - is simple and straightforward, relying on the use of pre-built houses and furniture, As well as Scope's prefab office and furniture they also employ the same (freebie) beach-house that I have in New Alville (a rather less spooky coincidence). At the moment, the build is generally unremarkable in itself, although a closed portion of the island had been used in connection with the recent French presidential elections. Aside from a link to their (French) website at their landing zone, there is no real interactivity.
In other sites, this might attract a fair amount of criticism from me, but I do not believe the purpose of this site is to attract casual SL visitors (like me). Rather it seems to be there primarily to provide a location for teams to work on ideas. If this is a correct assertion, then it is faintly surprising to find that it is open to the general public. But then, it is divided in such a way that it would be easy to close off the workshop area, while leaving the public landing site (and information) available.

And now to my final piece of synchronicity. While I was pottering about, seeing what's what - a task of only a few minutes, given the straigthforward content - I was joined by another visitor. It transpired that she, and 2 further colleagues, worked for Capgemini France who, as I mentioned recently, are carrying out a first round of interviews in Second Life this week. This may seem a bit "so what?" to you - but I draw your attention to the question I posed in the earlier blog. :-)

They were there to locate and review materials for the recruitment fair, prepared by L'Atelier - but were a bit hampered by a lack of experience in SL (learning to fly is not that easy!) and could not find it. Being the chivalrous chap that I am, I cruised the island and within a couple of minutes had located their lost items. [ They didn't offer me a job though ]
All in all, an unusual sequence of events, methinks.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Scoping Out Scope Cleaver

I've mentioned Scope Cleaver a number of times in the pages of this blog. A master-builder, possibly best-known for his amazingly detailed office furniture and his high-tech bespoke buildings, Scope has now joined forces with another of SL's top designers, Maximilian Milosz, to bring the SL buying public a one-stop-shop for quality furniture and prefabs. They also have plans to develop a community of rentals, and provide a range of SL consulting services.

The twinned sims of SCDA and Maximum Minimum officially opened their doors yesterday. I was my usual, fashionably(?) late self, having been delayed in getting inworld thanks to the excess of basques and suspenders alluded to in my previous post. I met with Scope, who kindly took me on a tour of his sim - though I need to go back, as I ran out of time to look at Maximum Minimum.

Scope has split the construction on his sim into 3 components - office furniture; residential furniture and his offices. The residential stuff is a relatively new area for him, and there's not a great deal there at the moment, but this will grow in due course. The office furniture is more established, with a more extensive selection. I seem to see it everywhere, but Scope told me that, although it sells well, he does not have a wide enough selection to make that much from it.

What impresses me about Scope's work is the exquisite and meticulous detailing. There is also a indefinable "something" that makes his work easily(?) recognisable. He was a bit surprised to hear this observation (again) as he doesn't see it himself. We spoke about his approach to construction: I don't know if this is rare, but he likes the building tools supplied by Linden Lab, as they both challenge creativity and enforce rigour, and are thus ultimately more satisfying to use than fancy 3D tools. I guess it's like an artisan or craftsman in RL, who would rather use basic tools well, than sophisticated tools badly.

We also touched on sculpted prims, and it comes as no surprise that Scope is not a fan, at least not when it comes to using them in his own work. He was happy to oblige with with a quote: "The answer you are looking for is: They look good as mushrooms...[but] I think the main problem I have about them is precision."

It will be interesting to see what sort of community emerges out of this union of 2 leading designers. I only wish I had a fraction of the talent these guys have... b*stards! :-)

Here's some info from their Press Release:

What's new:
Scope will open his sim to the public for the first time and unveil his magnificent new store. A sleek new line of furniture will also be made available for the first time. Maximilian will be releasing a whole new range of various furniture, home accessories and the first release in a line of new products.

The future plans:
As a result of outstanding support, positive feedback and accelerating demand from their loyal customers, Maximilian and Scope will reveal more details regarding their joint effort in the time to come: A Modern Virtual Lifestyle Community. Six additional sims have been reserved that will be able to expand up to at least 44 regions. Maximilian and Scope want to meet, engage and stimulate the people in Second Life who are ready to live and lead this world in design. Collectors and enthusiasts will also have the opportunity to acquire limited editions and exclusive content.

As full-time designers in Second Life, Maximilian and Scope's motivation lays in the need to create something truly exceptional. Unlike many others, both Maximilian and Scope are _purely_ children of the virtual community, for the virtual community. They utilize their experience, skill and design integrity to create stunning, meticulously-crafted buildings, and the distinctive quality is evident to connoisseurs and casual design fans alike.

In what way will this benefit the community?
Both SCDA and MM will remain separate entities. While they will be competing within the same market offering similar products and services, there is more than enough room for both, and a lot of room for synergy that will benefit their audience. Learning from each other, improving product and service quality. The joined Modern Virtual Lifestyle Community will benefit its residents by concentrating like-minded, sophisticated, design consioucious people.