Games and MUVES– VLENZ Update, No 182, April 22, 2011

Future Forecasts for Games and Virtual Worlds

Is Rod Humble going to take

 SL back to the desert?

 Seriath sees days of Bohemians and pirates reborn…

 The new CEO of Linden Labs CEO Rod Humble just might have something in common with OpenSim blogger and builder, free content distributor and Hypergrid explorer, Vanish Seriath.

Humble, although talking about gaming specifically, commented recently  ‘let’s go back to the desert’ — because we were better off then”.

Earlier at UC Santa Cruz’s Inventing the Future of Games symposium, according to Christian Nutt in “Gamasutra – the art and business of making games”, he had said that video games developers had made it to the “Promised Land”, as video gaming as an artform was spreading across the Globe.

Rod Humble

Seriath, for his part, in his TGIB blog – published within a similar time frame to that of Gamasutra – quoted Neuromancer (1984) author William Gibson, in his only appearance in Second Life in 2007,  as saying the virtual worlds “I cooked up were always in the backroom of something else, like, in my novel Idoru, there are virtual worlds that kids had broken into abandoned corporate or virtual websites and, in the basements, in the back rooms, they created whole universes of stuff, so they don’t have to pay for it. And that’s a much more appealing fantasy (than SL) to me…”

William Gibson

 Seriath said, “I think … it’s already clear which technology fits Gibson’s description today. We don’t even need to break into abandoned networks, we can run  (OpenSim) in our own basements, backrooms, anywhere. And really, it’s not going to be the corporations, the commercial grids, that will define the culture of this our metaverse, but rather the vibrant and living subculture of bohemians, of pirates, of artists, musicians, coders, builders and explorers, who are running this (a MUVE) on their own machines, out of love, and for the thrill of being there.”

In Seriath’s view – and obviously that of Gibson – the future might not belong to Second Life (TM), although if Humble is able to take the bull by horns and  “return (Second Life) to the desert” it might once more become as exciting as it ever was – and home to  Seriath’s real bleeding edge bohemians,  pirates, artists, musicians, coders, builders and explorers.

‘Hard to keep track of’

 “This is the time I’m least certain about the future of games that I’ve ever been in my entire life,” said  Humble at the Santa Cruz conference, as reported  by Gamasutra. “The way our art form is spreading across the Globe, I find it hard to keep track of.”

However, Humble who has created a number of   successful games, including The Marriage, and is well-known from his time working on The Sims series at EA, believes “games can change human behavior”.

Those who rate games, he said, “treat our medium more seriously than we do. I think we in the game industry have this clown nose on, clown nose off attitude.” We want to be recognized as art, but when criticized, we say “but it’s just a game!”

This may, in fact, be disingenuous, he implied, according to Gamsutra. “I think we can do both at the same time … and take responsibility for it.

 “I believe that the structure of the game has a meaning and a message that gets through, and seeps into the player’s subconscious, and gets delivered. And whether it can change human behavior or not? I say it does. I believe games can change human behavior.”

 That is not to say that it’s as blatant as some critics suggest. “I’ve played D&D and war games and shooters all my life and I am not violent,” he said. “But I have played games that have entirely changed my outlook, and how I live my life.”

 That said, “I think it’s extremely important to look at it and say how can we take responsibility as game creators. What games should we ethically build? If you are going to be influencing those [players] you have an enormous weight on your shoulders.”

Vanish Seriath

In Humble’s view, game developers should “follow the tact of art forms before. The most noble art to make is one that celebrates nature and human nature.”

And that is just where Humble and Seriath and Gibson might disagree. And so might the Bohemians and pirates and those on the bleeding edge of the virtual world technology and dare I say it, in the virtual world of pornography, where many  MUVE developments are taking place today.

Lost cool edge

In many ways Second Life is being destroyed by the same popularity that  The Saturday Evening Post was in its heyday. Even though not really mainstream Second Life  has lost its cool edge – as Face Book  is now doing through becoming peopled with wrinklies –  and more and more the  dread hand of  corporate Big Brother  appears to want to make Second Life into an homogeneous world that’s is safe, gentle and very  little  different from real life – a safe place for the kids, or suburban Moms and Dads to play in. Like the Saturday Evening Post,  which died through becoming too popular with its circulation mainly among the  small town folk, typified by Norman Rockwell,  the nostalgic, the retired, the unemployed and the  boring, and “widows” and “orphans” who didn’t have the spending power to attract corporate advertisers,  Second Life is no longer at the cutting edge of virtual technology. It appears to have become mundane.

Its  corporate walled garden sometimes seems sanitized and sterile, even though the reality is rather different.

But there is a place where one can do what one likes in one’s own world as well as visiting other worlds in basements around the Globe. That is the OpenSim environment where there really are countries without borders.

Seriath’s bohemians and pirates, albeit in small but growing numbers, are in this OpenSim universe, hypergating or hypergridding between worlds, even though the OpenSim universe is not as good in a software sense as Second life.

As Seriath says, “I’m excited about the metaverse to come, and I love the company I keep. Let’s make some really cool shit in our basements.”
But read the full stories in Gamasutra and TGIB from the links above. 

OpenSim Grids Growing apace – VLENZ Update, No 180, January 24, 2011

Is SL fading?

The ‘Top 40’ OpenSim grids

gain 529 regions in month

Latest figures from Hypergrid Business

OS builds are now as good as if not better in some cases than SL builds ... Rommena at Rom20 at julpet.ath.cx:9020 (local http://slurl.com/secondlife/Rom20/183/212)/30 (HG 1.0) built over 16 sims by Nick Lassard is a case in point.


The top 40 OpenSim grids gained 529 regions since mid-December, to reach a new high of 15,623 regions on January 15 of this month, according to  Maria Korolov  in her latest article in  Hypergrid Business.

The full Korolov article is a must read for those involved in virtual worlds.

Maria Korolov, editor, Hypergrid Business

The burgeoning growth rate of the OpenSim movement  follows the Second Life Linden Labs’ decision to end discounting of education sims. Other reasons for the growth, in my opinion are that the builds on some OpenSim grids (See pictures) are now as good and as interesting as the best builds in Second Life with build numbers, content creators and residents now reaching a tipping point which will see the OpenSim movement grow even faster.

Although the monthly growth rate, 3.5 percent, was down, possibly for seasonal reasons, Korolov noted that the total downloads of the popular Diva Distribution of OpenSim grew by 18 percent over the previous month to a  new high of  3,707 downloads. The Diva Distro is popular but it is only one of a number of OpenSim distribution channels. The others do not provide statistics.

Borgo Antico ... another example of an OpenSim builder's skill and a great place to visit. (HG 1.5)

Korolov said that  OSGrid, which currently has more regions than all other top-40 grids,  gained almost 500 regions to a new total of 9,009 regions.

In second place in terms of growth was the new role-playing grid Avination, which gained 172 regions in just one month, for a new total of 324 regions.

MyOpenGrid was in third place, gaining 63 regions, giving it a new total of 200 regions. InWorldz came in fourth in growth, gaining 47 regions for a new total of 766 regions, in the Hypergrid Business statistics.

Korolov said, “At Hypergrid Business, we expect to see both closed and open grids continue to grow through 2011. However, new hypergrid security features are currently in development which will allow content creators to lock down content so that it can not be moved off-grid. As these features are rolled out, we expect more grids to turn on hypergrid and allow their users to freely travel around to other grids for events, meetings, shopping, and exploring. She noted also that as the OpenSim world has burgeoned  Second Life, according to data from Grid Survey, continued to hemorrhage regions during the month losing 132 regions, for a new total of 31,413 regions.

The Titanic memorial in OpenSim … the ship, built to scale, covers three sims and is as detailed inside as the famed Bill Stirling-built SS Galaxy of Second Life. (HG 1.5)

... and part of the historically accurate Titanic interior.

NZVWGrid Upgrade – VLENZ Update, No 179, January 24, 2011

NZVWGrid  news

Auckland  U Portal ‘upgrades’

OpenSim  hardware

Will host 30-50 sims

The water-driven sawmill on Avalon (akl.nzvwg.org.8002.Avalon 2)

The  “virtual world team” at the University of Auckland will be “productionising” its  Opensim installation – Hypergrid address: akl.nzvwg.org.8002.aotearoa – over the  the next couple of weeks which should see the university’s portal on the New Zealand Virtual World Grid ready to accept more tertiary institutions.

Announcing the move,  Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga),  the Associate Director, IT Services,  at the University of Auckland, said the university  would now have separate servers for Development, Test and Production.

“The system will have four grunty production servers, which should host 30-50 sims, along with a separate database server for it all,” Dr Diener said. This  would add further stability to the user experience on the opensource OpenSim Version 7, HG 1.5 portal, he added/

The Auckland Portal now has voice working with Freeswitch, but the team is investigating licenses for Vivox as well. It also is investigating the use of the Havok physics engine which when and if implemented should further enhance the NZVWGrid experience, making  it near if not eqaul to the Second Life experience.

Dr Diener said  it  planned to subdivide  sims and “sell for $0 of course” the parcels to individuals  on the Auckland portal, which already includes Auckland University  and Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology sites as well as a SLENZ site  which will include the SLENZ Project builds from Second Life. There are also plans for a Virtual Life Education New Zealand  entry point.

The gateway point for Auckland Portal will become the Aotearoa sim which  also includes a Hypergate point to the hundreds of virtual world OpenSim  grids already mounted around the world.

Scott Diener, on Aotearoa, with Combat System sword

Dr Diener has written a gaming system that includes a battle meter and weapons scripts that works well  in Second Life (0n sale at Academe), and appears to work  in the Opensim environment “….not great…but okay,” he said.

“I will be refining that as well, and intend to use it with some of the projects I laid out last year (eg involvement in the Life Games Project), he said, adding he was seeking other interested participants for this project.

Meanwhile the SLENZ project developer and wellknown Second Life builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) has been given a commission to build some facilities for the University of Otago on the Otago portal (www. nzvwg.org) and he has also secured design work with the Manukau Institute of Technology, an orginal participant in the SLENZ Project, which is still determining whether to go with  Second Life, JokadyiaGrid or  the NZVWGrid for its current year foundation education work.

At

 

Academe in SL ... where the Falcon gaming system was developed and is on sale. The Falcon system sale site in SL pictured above.

‘Full Perms?’ – VLENZ Update, No 178, January 18, 2011

p

Arcadia Asylum's Mission ... "free" to do anything with except sell.

Virtual World Commerce and transport

Second Life: where you can

pay through the nose  but

never ‘own’ your skin …

I have never had a real problem with individual creatives who protect the intellectual property in their product: Just with  those who want to regionalise the real world and the virtual worlds so  they can force me to buy things twice or pay through the nose for it a second time in another place.

In the real world this goes for software developers,  record and book publishers, and film producers who have “regionalised” the world and licensed different markets even though with the internet there are no actual trade boundaries any more  … or at least there shouldnt be. I should be able to buy a product (Film, CD.  recording, e.book) anywhere and use it anywhere, without the problem of “regionalised”  playback technologyor other manmade hindrances.  In fact I feel the world’s consumers should boycott anything that prevents  free use creative products  once purchased … but,  by that, I don’t mean illegal “replication” for sale.

I know it is a hobby-horse of mine, but as a writer and a journalist of almost 40 years, I’ve written/worked  so that people will read my work – and hopefully appreciate it  – rather than to make money.  I don’t mind even if  others  use parts of it as their own – in fact,  I would consider it a compliment, in much the same way  16th and 17th Cenutry artists, writers and musicians did.  For me immitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If someone can further an idea I have they  should go for it.  The same goes for my builds in Second Life and other virtual worlds, as meagre as they are. They are free to anyone who asks for them, but they cannot be sold. If I had wanted to be a scam artist selling the same thing over and over again to the same person I could have become a banker.

A number of Second Life residents include in their profiles a parody of the Credit Card ( which shall be nameless) “Priceless” promotion. It goes something like this: Your membership  of Second Life ,  Free;  Your avatar skin and shape, $L5000; Your hair, $L1200; Your shoes, $L1000;  Your avatar’s clothes, houses, boats, planes, animations etc, $L50,000;  Linden Labs and Second Life own all your assets – you own nothing, Priceless!

Yes  that’s right, even though you make use of the pixels in your assets, and have bought and paid for them, you cannot legally take them out of Second Life or do what you like with them, even if they are labelled “full permissions”. You cannot even back them up on your own computer, so you won’t lose them  if Second Life closes down or there are glitches in the Second Life software… and there are plenty of those.

There have been those in Second Life who have fought against  the Linden Terms of Service strictures over the years but most of them have come off second best or worse.

Arcadia Asylum’s credo

The first I knew of was Arcadia Asylum, a clever builder,  now possibly dead in real life, whose works are remembered, adored and used and altered throughout Second Life and a myriad of OpenSim virtual worlds. The have possibly been exported/transported illegally – in the eyes of the Lindens – from Second Life via the reviled SL Copybot or viewers which at one time  allowed export of legally bought full permissions assets. The Lindens have since made sure they have closed these loopholes.

In everything she created  Arcadia Asylum included the note card (see picture above): “All Objects created by me (Arcadia Asylum) are FREE and opensource. you can coppy(sic) and modify and pass around to anyone anywhere, the ONLY stipulation is:  *YOU CAN NOT RESELL ANYTHING WITH MY NAME ON IT FOR EVEN ONE LINDEN DOLLAR* That sed (sic), you may distribute in any way you like, you may use the things anywhere and even blow them to bits if thats your thing. I only don’t want the stuff sold.  As FREEBIES theres no warentees (sic) or product suport (sic).  Thats it, KIS (Keep It Simple) :D

Her  credo lives on in many virtual worlds. In Osgrid for instance Fred Huffhines, of   wardrobe, wardrobe (131, 60, 48), has an enviable collection of Arcadia Asylum works among  his magnificent.multi-storey Freebie Collection. His is  one of the best Arcadia Asylum collections I’ve seen in any virtual world. Others in Osgrid who follow the  Arcadia Asyulum credo, sometimes less, sometimes more, are  those who distribute their wares at Wright Freebie Plaza under Creative Commons license, something I think all virtual world builders should use. There are too many of them to name here.

Klarabella Karamell’s notice at Freebie-Heaven in Dorena’s World

Another who follows the Arcadia Asylum credo is Klarabella Karamell, of Freebie-Heaven, on Dorena’s World (OS vers 7, HG 1.5), who is putting together  what is a burgeoning collection of “orginal” freebies for all virtual world users (picture of sign left) and seeking “original contributions from virtual world builders.

There are others in Second Life today  who  stick  with the Arcadia Asylum credo,  like skin designer Eloh Elliott, who allowed her “$L6 million” products to be “uplifted” via LoL-Iota Heavy Industries, GmbH from the SL online shopping mall and used in any virtual world.  The Lindens, however, have now curbed this activity – the “samples” are no longer freely available for evaluation – and made the task of  distributing full perms freebies  increasingly difficult. I have no doubt they will continue to do so as they attempt to close off their world from competition, particularly now  Blue  Mars looks to be going down the gurgler, and OpenSim activities are surging.

The latest to recognise the inevitably of a myriad of virtual worlds needing transportable creative products that an avatar doesn’t want to buy twice is  longtime, period piece and whimsical  furniture builder and texture creator, Aamiene Despres (she is in the process of setting up websites, http://www.Purplepixiedesigns.com/ for  SL stuff; and http://www. blackcatsgraphics.com/ for her freelance/contract graphic work) of Purple Pixie Designs (formerly known as XoticKreationS).

Aamiene Despres … her textures will travel.

Recognising a “buy once” credo she recently adjusted her Terms of Use for her textures to allow them to be used “in any world or platform you choose … this includes any virtual world and the real world.” She, however, wisely retained her restriction on reselling or giving away or distributing the textures as is, either packaged or separated in any virtual world or platform or in the real world. “They are only to be used in your creations and not sold, given away or distributed in any full perm form as textures,” she said.

My hope is that one day it will be normal  to transport one’s assets between Grids. As I’ve said before I don’t mind paying once. I do mind paying twice or three times for the same item.

OpenSim Worlds– VLENZ Update, No 177, January 09, 2011

OpenSim Grid worlds are spreading

But do you want to pay

‘twice’ for your skin?

… and  everything else just because you

want to ‘travel’ the worlds

The Hypergate …one simple way of “jaunting”* around a myriad of Virtual Worlds.

Well it’s the New Year and everything is well in Virtual Worlds? Or is it?

Anyway before I start griping. Happy New Year to everyone, in every world and every universe.

And sorry for the four-month hiatus between blogs. It’s not that I havent been looking at virtual worlds or even living in them – its just that doing things in those worlds and “jaunting*” by any method – hypergridding or hypergating (www.thehypergates.com) – has taken precedence over writing.

There is no doubt that the OpenSource Universe/s is/are rapidly expanding, propelled not only by the Linden Labs’ withdrawal of its discounts  for educational institutions operating within Second Life and its “closed shop” mentality,  but also by the fact, that according to some women I know in Second Life, the male sex idiots seem to have taken over many regions, despite adult activities being limited to specific zones. One only has to look at the Welcome Areas, particularly Ahern, to watch and listen to males behaving like teenage, test0sterone-driven, predatory lunatics, in voice and text.  The Linden’s should take note that for most women and for many men these sort of crass advances outside “adult” zones -and often even in adult zones – are totally unwelcome, and probably result in a large portion of the estimated 80 percent plus female noobie drop-out rate. Once they are lost they wont come back.

Those aspects aside Second Life is still the virtual world of choice – even beyond the great graphics and effects of Blue Mars, the quest and teambuilding addictiveness  of World of Warcraft and the advantages of Playstation Home or Kinect Xbox 360 ( Microsoft has plans to make the system avaiable on PCs) –   along with the Opensource OpenSim lookalike worlds which are burgeoning and  fast catching up to Second Life, especially with the Havoc physics engine reportedly becoming freely available to educational insitutions.

Second Life still has the people!  That’s the fact, however.  It’s people who matter in the long run. And its a wonderful place to relax or  virtually network.

But the OpenSim growth (Especially OpenSim Version 7 and HG 1.5 and V6.9  with HG 1.0),  alongside the development of Hypergating has created new excitement for virtual world tourists akin to the early days of Second life. This  has led me to the conclusion that if Linden Labs don’t allow “jaunting”* – hypergating or hypergridding – from Second Life into other similar, compatible worlds  in the not-too-distant future  the Linden Grid is going to stagnate and then eventually fade if not die.

And then the mainstream users will start to leave as many of the first adopters already have.

Arrival point in Avination - all you need at at a cost ... for the second time.

The Lindens have rightly been concerned about guaranteeing intellectual property creator rights and Second Life’s place in the sun (Let’s lock in the users to a closed world by not letting them take their purchases/creations elsewhere), but it is possible that “legal” Linden Lab-approved  inter-world “jaunting” with the right safeguards is the only way for Linden Labs to prevent an exodus of core-recreational users, through allowing people  to move  freely between virtual worlds with all their legally-purchased assets and inventory, with all the permissions/limitations intact.

This is the only way to keep Second Life as the core – the home world, the New York, the Rome – of the burgeoning Second Life-style OpenSource environment – a  world which one visits, no matter where one lives virtually, to buy products, to exchange ideas, and to meet  avatars from the next suburb or the world.

I’m a roleplayer in all worlds, and I  am not happy when I have to purchase the same skins, clothes, equipment I  have bought and live with in one world, when I visit another world, be it a Linden World or an OpenSim World. I feel the same travelling in the real world. I don’t wish to buy new clothes, hair, spectacles, toothbrush, deodorant, every time  I visit a new real-world city. The same goes for the things I build. Over the years I’ve paid $US10s for the assets in my Second Life inventory. I wish to carry them with me or  at least be able to access them freely when I travel virtually.

This was brought to mind recently on a visit to  www.avination.com at the invitation of  Jayalli Hawthorn, a consumate  Second Life roleplayer, builder and writer, who is now moving her operations to this world.
On arrival one is given a default  avatar, which in some ways harks backs to the bad old days of SL noobs (one cannot change the size of the hair or move it on one’s skull,  if one wants to alter the shape of one’s head) and is immediately confronted by a Redgrave store selling that  group’s excellent skins  for the local currency ($L999) which one can exchange one’s Lindens to obtain. This is not a world where there are any real freebies except for the default avatar which is limited in both appearance and assets.

Klarabella Karamell's notice at Freebie Heaven, in Dorena's World - a must visit for Virtual World travellers.

I’m not criticising the Redgrave attempt to make money from people who have never bought a Redgrave skin before but I was peeved by the fact that  I have three or four Redgrave skins, among the 60,000 items in my inventories in Second Life , which I will never be able to use in this world.  As a result I wont buy Redgave in Avination  or in any other world for that matter. The same goes for any other vendor who tries to rip me off twice for the same item.

In other OpenSim worlds ( currently excluding OsGrid because of a software glitch) one can step through a hypergate between world’s with one’s avatar and inventory intact. In fact, I can step from my own virtual world on my own home computer through a Hypergate to a MUVE virtually anywhere in the world, and possibly on  a distant friend’s home computer, wearing my skin, my hair, my shape, my AO  and with all my assets in my inventory.

Despite  my experience with avination  I have found through “jaunting”  that there are now a number of competent builders operating in OpenSource MUVEs  who are both selling their products courtesy the Virtex  money exchange system and others, particularly Klarabella Karamel, of Freebie Heaven, on Dorena’s World (HG 1.5), and Eppilonia (HG 1.0), who are giving things away which they are constructing themselves  and guaranteeing that they are the orginators.

And there  are already great virtual world avatar skins in the wild – and on lots of  OpenSim grids – based on Eloh Elliot’s splendid OpenSource, Creative Commons, freebie  works of art as well as many other items which have been created by OpenSource builders like the much venerated but late Arcadia Asylum, of Second life, who was renowned for her run-ins with the Lindens over the OpenSource issue.

The popularity of “jaunting” can be gauged from  the growth  in membership of John (Pathfinder) Lester’s (formerly Pathfinder Linden and education guru for Second Life) Hypergrid Adventurers’ Club based on Pathlandia, in the blossoming http://www.jokaydia.com/, which is attached to http://reactiongrid.com/.

He runs twice -weekly tours (http://becunningandfulloftricks.com/) which are drawing more and more  Second Life refugees who crave the bleeding edge excitement of the early days of Second Life. Check him out. It’s well worth taking one of his tours.

* Jaunting – The method of  travel/teleportation discovered by Charles Fort Jaunte, in Alfred Bester’s 1956 sci-fi novel, Tiger!Tiger!, later published as, The Stars my Destination.

Pathfinder Lester's HGAC members are briefed for a hypergrid tour.

NZVWG – VLENZ Update, No 172, June 03, 2010

Does the Emperor have any clothes?

New Zealand’s NZVWGrid  ‘newbies’ get

free avatar skins, hair, eyes and clothing

A ‘noobie’ appearance is no longer necessary in the  NZVWGrid …
free avatarskins, eyes and hair have been made available for users  …

New Zealand academics, researchers and  virtual world builders,  using and testing the alpha phase of the New Zealand Virtual Grid (NZVWG), no longer have to look like ‘noobs’ even though given some of the vagaries of the OpenSim environment they might sometimes feel like that.

Open source  avatar skins,  eyes, hair and clothing  have  now been made freely available on the Auckland  portal of  NZVWG at Kapua 6  (NZVWG  Kapua 6/88/116/34), and are  likely to be made  available  near the Auckland entry point to the MUVE on Kapua 3  as well as at other Portal entry points.

The full permissions skins have been created by the likes of Eloh Eliot,  Ziah Li,  Greybeard Thinker and others, with  the clothing obtained  from a variety of sources outside  the Second Life environment, such as free, full permission listings of clothing textures.

All are being made available under   “Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported” Creative Commons licenses.

The  NZVWG Project which grew out of  Otago University’s ONGENS programme is a joint venture of the University of Auckland,  the University of  Otago the University of Canterbury and  the Wellington Institute of Technology, Weltech.  A number of other institutions both in New Zealand and oversea have expressed interest in the project which is supported by New Zealand Telecom.

It is an open access national virtual world grid based on open source software. It operates on NZ-based servers hosted at Otago, Auckland and Canterbury Universities, and leverages other national investments in IT infrastructure through deployment on the high-speed KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network).

The grid has been set up with an academic focus and will be used for research and education, as well as for proof-of-concept application deployments and testing.

The project, based on opensource OpenSim  technology, is being led by one of New Zealand’s foremost virtual world education   champions, Dr Scott Diener,  an academic and  Associate Director, AC Tech, Information Technology Services,  at the  University of Auckland. Diener is well-known, both  as himself and as his Second Life personna, Professor Noarlunga, in MUVE  education circles around the world for his development of medical simulations and teaching programmes within Second Life.

Although little educational research is currently being done  in the alpha test phase of  the NZVWGrid there are opportunities once testing is completed. Besides  Diener’s Second Life University of Auckland virtual medical centre project in Second Life, which  may migrate to the NZVWG,  Otago University  has set up  the Otago Virtual Hospital in NZVWG (OtagoMedicalSchool/162/99/2800)  and is also hosting scenarios for medical students to gain experience practicing as doctors.   Some members of the now completed SLENZ Project are also active in the NZVWG although  there are no plans at this stage for a sequel to that successful research project.

… as well as  both men’s and women’s avatar clothing
and a limited range of footwear.

NZVWG Update, VLENZ No 166, March 14, 2010

NZ Virtual World Grid hosts

international  guests

NZVWG Auckland portal now accepting

‘resident’ avatar applications …

Educause Roundtable meeting on New Zealand Virtual World Grid

The  University of Auckland portal of the New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG)  has successfully hosted its  first international seminar, attracting  a number of leading MUVE educators and researchers from  around the world.

The meeting coincided with the announcement by Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), the virtual meeting host,  that the University of Auckland portal of the grid, although  still in a trial phase,  was now open for  virtual-world users to apply for ‘free’ registration from the Auckland portal.

Dr Scott Diener.

It also coincided with a ‘demonstration’ of just how easy it is to teleport an avatar from the University of Auckland portal MUVE on the NZVWG ‘Hypergrid’ to the MUVE of   the University of Otago and return with inventory intact and retention of all abilities.

The NZVW Grid based on OpenSim software has grown out of the original ONGENS  grid, developed by the University of Otago in concert with the University of Canterbury, and the University of Auckland.   Weltec has also developed a portal for the grid and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology has associate status.

Welcoming the 20 plus guests from Educause’s Virtual World Roundtable  to the meeting in the Great Hall of “Kapua Castle” on the island of Kapua 3 in the New Zealand Virtual World Dr Diener said, “This is a really exciting development for us.

“We are stand-alone…we run our own asset server (database) with  the University of  Otago and Canterbury University having  similar setups, which have been linked together.”

Members of the Virtual Worlds Roundtable, who have previously visited a number of other Virtual Worlds  as a group for their meetings to assess and monitor MUVE development around the world praised the  apparent stability of the University of Auckland portal MUVE, the ease of entry, the fact  that it was open source and free, and  the  use of the Hypergrid, which opens up possibilities for easy, transparent connections to tertiary institution   MUVEs around the real world.

“We have found the Hypergrid does work, albeit with problems, “Dr Diener said, explaining that the goal of NZVWG was first to experiment and eventually to link to other grids.

Detailing the  setup of the MUVE, he said, the Auckland University portal is running on two virtual servers (VMware), and has a total capital investment of some $NZ10,000 ($US7000). This compared to an investment of say $US55,000 for signing up for SL Enterprise (previously Nebraska), the Linden Labs’ “behind the firewall” solution for standalone virtual worlds.

The Auckland MUVE is running on two dedicated, virtual machines with one server running a database and six sims. CPU usage has never got above five percent. Freeswitch voice is available on the MUVE but not yet completely activated.

“We can duplicate them (the virtual machines) in about 30 minutes – to scale if necessary,” he said in answer to a question, adding that OAR content was backed up automatically.

A  University of Auckland staff member is assigned one day a week to the MUVE , he said, with most of the work involved with things like getting voice working, and getting the Hypergrid fully functional.

He said the portal had been created out of his own budget as associate director of IT Services at the University of Auckland.

Dr Diener's Kapua Castle where the Roundtable meeting was held in the Geat Hall.

The portal, Dr Diener said, “is focused mostly on proving the concept of Hypergrid.”

“This is how our Writing Center began,” Iggy  Strangeland, of the University of Richmond, observed. “I bought a server out of budget, and then eventually got it supported by our data center. Now they maintain it and I just design content.

“We proved the concept. If it works for 2D Web, it can work for Virtual Worlds,” Strangeland said.

The major current problem with using the NZVWG MUVE for education purposes was the fact that there were as yet few resources “in world” … “all scripts have to be brought in,” Dr Diener said.

Given success for the NZVWG, however,  Dr Diener said, he would be excited to work on connecting  the that portal  with any other university  grid in the world.

Commenting on this, Lindy McKeown, of the University of Southern Queensland, said education.au in Australia was trying to set up a Hypergrid for all Australian universities to join.

Dr Diener, who is also a Lecturer at the University of Auckland, is well-known in Second Life and virtual world education circles around the globe for his and his associates’ creation of successful medicine/nursing/architecture simulations on the three University of Auckland Second Life islands in Second Life, the first of which was “Long White Cloud”.

Dr Diener mentioned that the “very active” New Zealand virtual world  group  VLENZ was represented at the meeting by Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology  and Second Life Education New Zealand Project founder and joint leader,  Dr Clare Atkins (SL and NZVWG: Arwenna Stardust). Dr Atkins, on behalf of SLENZ and NMIT, operates two islands in Second Life, Koru and Kowhai.

“I think it WILL be a viable alternative (to Second Life) soon,” Dr Atkins said.

Other speakers agreed with Dr Atkins’ view that NZVWG and OpenSim were a good replacement for Second Life: “for me (as an educator) one of the huge benefits to OpenSim is that we can use it with under 18s,” she said.

Visitor Margaret Czart, of the University of Illinois,  said that all of the virtual worlds the Virtual Worlds Roundtable group had visited over time had provided good alternatives to Second Life but, “it is not so much the place but how you run it.”


A sitting room in Kapua Castle.

Dr Atkins’ and Czart’s comments about possible replacements for Second Life followed a remark that the Linden Labs’ position of Second Life education guru Pathfinder Linden had been disestablished and that the Lindens appeared to be showing  less interest in education.

Lindy McKeown foresaw the development of a “Hypergridded federation universe of locally-hosted worlds with some access by others but some private spaces” as appearing to be “a great education alternative for many reasons.”

But, she added, that for these alternative worlds to be successful “we need an SLexchange type (virtual worlds sales) system for other grids since Linden Labs had bought out virtual world goods sales competitors.

Iggy Strangeland replied that http://imnotgoingsideways.blogspot.com/2009/11/alternatives-to-xstreetsl.html was a good source for other sales portals. Lindy McKeown added that one also could buy OAR files full of content one  the net and there were lots of free ones too.

James Abraham (SL: Calisto Encinal  and http://calistoencinal.spaces.live.com/) said he was writing a grant to  “roll out a 10 college zero-cost OpenSim virtual world program for the Maricopa Community College District [James Abraham’s Mi Casa Es Su Casa won a prize for full sim builds at the recent SLPro! Conference sponsored by Linden Labs for Second Life content creators.]

On this point AJ Kelton, director of Emerging Instructional Technology at Montclair State University, founder and current leader of the EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds Constituent Group and Roundtable moderator, agreed with Mirt Tenk who suggested that it would be good for tertiary education providers to share the “stuff  WE have built in Second Life as  open source for OpenSim users. Others agreed with this view, including Dr Atkins who noted that all SLENZ Project builds were free and open source.

Asked how close he thought tertiary educators were to replacing Second Life with other virtual worlds, Dr Diener said, “ I don’t think we ARE close … and in fact, I don’t think that is even the question…I think we need to ask how we can augment our Second Life resources with Virtual World like this.”

There was also a question, raised by Liz Dorland, of Washington University, in St Louis,  and others, of the importance of virtual world students and educators being able to connect with the rest of the world community as they could in Second Life.

Dr Atkins said that she thought the “richness of Second Life and its diversity” would be hard to grow in an OpenSim environment although other speakers noted interoperability between all MUVEs, including Second Life, to get the best of all virtual worlds, was a possibility.

Another "resident's' Castle on the NZVWG portal grid.