Category Archives: Virtual Reality

Sony Online’s SOEmote software provides you with your Everquest II character’s expressions and voice

Sony Online’s SOEmote software provides you with your Everquest II character’s expressions and voice

This really is going to be a bigger deal than it seems right now, yep.

As a collaborative concoction between Sony, Image Metrics, and Vivox, SOEmote captures your voice and facial expressions and pastes them onto your in-game character. It also modulates your words into the pitch appropriate for your race such as the deep baritone of an ogre or the gnome’s tinny squeak. We at GamesBeat recommend turning off this feature when spilling large, expletive-inducing cups of coffee.

 

In the below video, David Georgeson, Everquest II director of development, demonstrates SOEmote’s capabilities with his mighty Froglok warrior, proving anthropomorphic amphibians look terrifyingly creepy when grinning.

Are Virtual Worlds Over?

Are Virtual Worlds Over?

@RaphKoster blog post is very very worth a read. Not going to clip from it, cause no clip could summarize. I remember thinking some of these thoughts back in EQ1 days, but the social aspects of it, the real world connection in it, are much clearer now in the post-facebook world.

A Video Game Designed to Treat Depression Worked Better Than Counseling

RT @EduGamRes #Videogame designed to treat #depression better than #counseling #gamesforhealth#seriousgames #teens #SPARX

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/a-video-game-designed-to-treat-depression-worked-better-than-counseling/256324/

Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand just published promising results of a study comparing a video game they designed to help treat depression in teenage kids against traditional face-to-face counseling. Called SPARX, the game guides the players through a number of challenges that help practice handling various life situations and emotions that come with them.

The study, published in the latest issue of BMJ, has shown that the game was at least as effective as counseling in helping treat depression and anxiety in a study group of kids averaging 15 years old. [Editor’s note: In fact, it worked better, reducing symptoms of depression more than treatment as usual.]

2D Pixel Art competition for Second Life

Kerry commented on my post from last week about Second Life competition with info about FakeTown and CityPixel, and they are interesting enough I certainly wanted to blog about and link to them.

Both are online avatar-based MMO communities based on 2D pixel art, rather than 3D modeling and rendering. I posted about pixel art last year: The funkiest art you’ve never heard of

Both are web-based communities/interfaces which thus require no download, are innately cross-platform, and work on far broader a range of computers than to the 3D-based MMOs. In the upper right corner of each of those home pages you can click to visit/play them directly. How’s that for proof of lightweight and immediate availability?

Faketown seems to have a more open model for users to create their own content and “sell” it to others in the community – and, of course, has to deal with people abusing the open model. CityPixel provides an address to email one’s art for review and inclusion. That’s a tough business model call, really. Very open to user-created content, with problems and lots of activity? Or less open to user-created content, with less problems, and less activity?

Either way, it’s an important point that anyone really can can make interesting 2D pixelated art, avatars and objects – a pixel paintbrush and some patience even allows me to do that, and I’m no artist. So these environments are way easier to add content to than are 3D-model based environments. Faketown specifically includes integrated browser-based tools to: “Draw Anything,” “Create Animation,” “Upload Photo,” “Upload Music,” and “YouTube Video Link.”

CityPixel seems to be more polished and/or better funded, and to have a bit more focus on social networking.

Anyone else have the sense these could be killer apps if they are done well and catch on virally and globally? Will one of them take off as an alternative to Second Life and the other 3D MMOs? I’ve mentioned the compelling reasons why they could – most particularly that 1) any computer on the planet running a reasonably current web browser gives someone access to them, no download/client/3D hardware required. And 2) it’s a lot easier for users to create their own interesting and goodlooking 2D pixelated art than it is for them to make 3D.

Caveat: both seem ‘early’ – CityPixel is specifically still ‘beta.’

Anyone using these have feedback for us?

Kaneva = Second Life + MySpace ?

Sound like a good idea?  Oh yeah – but a hard thing to get just right.  And it’s gotta be a hard thing to peel people away from MySpace and Second Life.  Social networks are ‘sticky’ as a function of their size (and MySpace is HUGE); and Second Life has to also be naturally sticky based on a user’s investment of time and effort and (maybe) real money.  Still, better to try it now than when there is more competition trying it.  There will be.

http://www.kaneva.com/ is in closed beta now – but the site encourages you to:

1) Join: Join Kaneva, create your profile

2) Be Active: Explore, make friends, rave and have fun

3) Get invited: Earn invites to get into the Virtual World of Kaneva

Brilliant piece of community- and buzz-generation there, isn’t it?  I just don’t have time to check it out – and I don’t think it’s really my thing anyway.  Any Kaneva users have comments?

Overview links:

Communities (ReggaeTown, The NASCAR, Medieval Town, etc…)

People (123,000 so far, in closed beta)

Entertainment (Videos, photos, music, games)

And features of the world:

Homes and Hangouts: “Create your own 3D home and decorate it with your unique style.  Explore community hangouts 0 theaters, clubs and more.”

Customized 3D avatars: (TheSchwartz: Looks like lots of human customization, but no SL-style ability to make non-human avatars)

In-World Fun: “Watch (and share) your videos in 3D.  Throw a dance party.  Chat with friends and play games.”

Shopping: “Make a fashion statement. Accessorize your home.  Be the first to show of the latest, cool stuff.”

Key takeaway: you can spend real world $$$ to buy Virtual World credits, and buy lots of stuff for yourself and your house.  All kinds of thoughts in my head about the social, emotional, self-image, economic and commercial implications of that – but I’ll hold my tongue for now.  Whatever the implications, they’ll surely make a boatload of money, if they succeed in a large-scale launch with millions of users.

Last overview point from the site:

Elite Developers

Are you an experienced 3D game developer?

Join our Elite Developer Program – over 10,000 game engine downloads, 600 developers, and 30 games in development

Join Now -> 

It’s an interesting model to get professional-quality content generated for the new virtual world.  And to check out potential future employees of Kaneva.  And again, I don’t have time to dig into this myself (any comments, anyone?), but check out these bits from the page:

The Kaneva Game Platform is designed for end-to-end MMO game (MMOG) development for FPS and RPG genres. The Kaneva Game Platform (KGP) features many of the latest graphic rendering capabilities, while providing backend and networking features required for supporting hundreds of thousands of simultaneous players.

Q: What’s the cost?

A: Currently, the KGP is free to download and use for non-commercial purposes.

Q: What kinds of games can I design with KGP? What types of games are not appropriate for KGP?

A: Some games for custom platforms would not be suitable for development on the KGP.  This would include cell-phones, most consoles, etc.  But the KGP is an excellent development platform for all kinds of PC games.

Interesting, eh?  We shall see what we shall see…

MMOG / Second Life Competitor Pipeline

Raph Koster’s blog listed some fun new stuff that I just had to link to here. He’s at GDC this week – and I’m not, boo hoo!

The march of the branded worlds continues, as Lego taps NetDevil, makers of Auto Assault and Jumpgate, to create a virtual world about, well, Legos.

LEGO MMO! Woot! Quote from the press release:

“As children around the world continue to spend more time online we are developing new and engaging ways for them to interact with our brand,” said Lisbeth Valther Pallesen, Executive Vice President, Community, Education and Direct Division LEGO Group. “The LEGO brand represents construction, creativity and problem solving – values that compliment the MMOG market. By merging the online world of social interaction with physical play, the LEGO brand is providing new experiences for children, as well as fans. NetDevil’s technological capability, openness to work with a large community, and their enthusiasm for the LEGO brand made them a natural partner.”

And for those who can’t wait, Raph pointed out:

It should be interesting to contrast this to Roblox, which is, well, also an online block building environment.

And a second post from Raph: The Second Life competitors materialize?  I recommend clicking and reading the full post, which includes other links, commentary, screenshots and trailers. But to entire you, here’s his summary first paragraph:

So supposedly everyone is trying to clone Second Life. Here’s word via Mobil Avenue on three different takes on the model, each trying to fix what they see as a key issue: HiPiHi in China, which looks like SL with easier tools; Planet Cazmo, which keeps the house decorating aspect but changes it into a browser-based Animal Crossing lookalike; and finally, reviews trickling out of the closed Kaneva beta, which is putting more MySpace peanut butter in your SL chocolate. Are they really SL clones?

Virtual Reality Game Research Uncovers Clues About Depression

Very interesting, if only as a diagnostic tool so far – they don’t have a therapeutic application of this yet.  But the research does suggest there’s a lot more to be discovered out there beyond the horizon of the research we’ve done yet.  And a reliable diagnostic tool may imply or suggest new therapies – as well as be useful for testing the effectiveness of other therapies.  Here’s a link to the CBC news story:

3-D video game uncovers brain dysfunction: Scientists

Clinically depressed people’s performance in a 3-D video game suggests a part of their brain responsible for spatial memory does not function correctly, U.S. researchers have found.

Spatial memory tells the brain where objects are located and their orientation.

Scientists at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health investigating the link between depression and the hippocampus — the centre of memory — found clinically depressed individuals asked to navigate a video game’s 3-D virtual reality environment did poorly when compared to mentally healthy individuals.

The results of the study, led by NIMH researcher Neda Gould and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, indicate the hippocampus does not work normally in a depressed person’s brain.

Earlier studies have shown the hippocampus was smaller in depressed people than those without a mood disorder, and that depressed people have memory problems.

The new study, which looked at 30 depressed patients and 19 people without a mood disorder, found the 3-D game was a better way to measure the performance of test subjects than more traditional means.

The scientists had previously given the same people a two-dimensional memory test that is normally used in studies of this kind. They found that when they asked subjects to remember the location of objects on a computer screen, the two-dimensional test couldn’t show the differences in spatial memory that were captured by the 3-D video game.

Gould said the reason for this is likely that to play the 3-D game, people must use parts of their hippocampus that are not engaged by the two-dimensional test.

The results suggest the game is a superior tool to provide “a consistent, sensitive measure of cognitive deficits in patients with affective disorders,” Gould wrote in the study.

The game they used was developed by scientists at the University College of London in England.

Recruiting Employees – in Second Life!

My wife is a recruiter and sent me this one – it’s an article on ere.net, a news and resources and community site for the recruiting community. The article is by Dr. Charles Handler:

Employee Selection in the Second Life

Your company should be the first to recruit using virtual reality

Note that Dr. Handler is a PhD and expert in the field of recruiting and human resource issues – he is making these predictions based on that, not on being a gamer himself.  It’s a substantial article worth a complete read, but here are some highlights:

It is not a stretch to imagine that smart organizations will begin to realize that such virtual brick-and-mortar presence can also be used to help create and reinforce an employment brand. This will provide a key link that will open the floodgates to all kinds of potential ways that a virtual world can be used as a portal and means of information exchange related to the hiring process.

I believe this because Second Life provides some of the essential building blocks that will make up the job simulation tools of the future. These include:

  • Accessibility to a wide range of individuals who are geographically dispersed, and the ability to bring these persons together on common ground.
  • The creation of virtual worlds that go beyond just simple cause-and-effect interactions (i.e., shoot a gun, kill a monster).
  • The use of avatars that represent individuals and can manifest one’s own unique personalities and tastes.
  • An increased ability for intercultural interaction and the ability to gain experience interacting with those different from oneself.
  • The ability to facilitate growth within the avatar such that their experiences accrue and can be measured.
  • The ability to share information with other members of the virtual world.
  • The ability to evaluate interactions and collect meaningful data from them.
  • The ability to create a virtual economy that is driven by many of the same laws and rules that our real economies are bound by.
  • The power of branding, using the virtual world to promote real-world experiences and products.

The results of this process will provide a much richer picture to both applicants and employers about the job and how well an individual will fit with it. Within the next decade, I think we’ll see some of the following occur:

  • Individuals will be able to find employment opportunities via their existence in virtual worlds.
  • These will be publicized by organizations who have a virtual presence and who use this presence to promote their brands, employment brands included.
  • Individuals will be able to express interest in these opportunities and exchange information that can be used to examine basic qualifications for the job.
  • Individuals will be able to participate in virtual job tryouts in which they are asked to complete specific tasks required of them while on the job.
  • Individuals will be evaluated based on their task-based and interpersonal-based interactions within virtual worlds.
  • Individuals will be able to create and maintain virtual resumes that they can use to help them when looking for jobs within a virtual world.

While simulations already exist that can accomplish some of the above things, the key difference will arise via the following aspects of virtual worlds:

  • Increased ability to use artificial intelligence and natural-language processing to evaluate applicant responses and interaction.
  • The ability to infer meaning from complex interactions and to use results as part of a decision-making process.
  • The ability to simulate real-world work environments and complex tasks with extreme realism.
  • Increased interest from candidates such that people will actually enjoy applying for jobs and can be directed more quickly to jobs that pique their interest.
  • The ability to use the avatar as a vessel to manifest feelings and emotions.
  • The ability for an avatar to grow and learn, and the ability to keep track of this growth and learning so that it can be objectively evaluated.

IBM accelerates push into 3D virtual worlds

Here’s the Reuters story, as published by CNET: IBM accelerates push into 3D virtual worlds

It’s from 9 November – I’m catching up a bit after getting back from my Brazil trip.  But it’s important enough to the Second Life story I’ve been watching and reporting here that I wanted to blog about it.

The abstract:

IBM is ramping up its push into virtual worlds with an investment of roughly $10 million over the next 12 months, including an expanded presence within the popular 3D online universe Second Life .

I highly recommend clicking and reading the article, but as usual want to clip some important quotes from it:

Second Life, where Reuters opened a bureau last month, is one of the best-known virtual worlds, with more than 1 million registered users and a well-established economy and currency. The equivalent of more than half a million U.S. dollars change hands there every day.

IBM has already established the biggest Second Life presence of any Fortune 500 company. It uses the world primarily for training and meetings but has also built a simulation of the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

The company is also looking to build a private 3D intranet where it will be able to discuss sensitive business information. It is moving to champion what it calls “v-business”–short for virtual business–just as it championed “e-business,” or electronic business, during the dot-com boom.

“We always ask the question, ‘if you knew 20 years ago what you know about the Web today, what would you do differently?'” said Sandy Kearney, IBM’s director of emerging 3-D Internet and virtual business. “The Web took decades. This will likely take half that time.”

Don’t miss that link to the Reuters story about opening up a news bureau office in Second Life: Newsmaker:  Reuters’ ‘Second Life’ reporter talks shop.  Second Life is first in the space of virtual worlds that parallel and connect to our own – and the world has no real clue yet how important and vast that space is going to be.  The Web’s been hot for 15 years now.  Would you believe me if I said that these virtual worlds are going to be much bigger and more important than the Web?  I doubt you would, now.   Putting this on my blog puts it in writing – let’s check my prediction in 15 years, shall we?

A spokesman for IBM said its goals go far beyond Second Life, although it currently has its largest virtual world presence there, and that the company eventually wants to see all multiverses integrated into a seamless whole.

“In addition to our desire to work more closely with Linden Labs, we’re exploring how we can work with many virtual world players, including companies like Multiverse and Bigworld Technology, as well as open source platforms like Uni-Verse.org,” the spokesman said in an email.

“IBM’s ultimate aim is for inter-world integration, instead of separate islands of virtual worlds, where you cannot cross over from one to the other in a consistent way,” he said.

This gets to things I have been thinking and talking about with friends, but have yet to blog about.  I’ll find time to do that next month.  Let me plant this seed: the inter-world integration IBM is looking toward and working on could be considered a 3D version of the Web – will it be Web 3.0? It will ideally also integrate with and be consistent with 3D modeling of actual reality (ala Google Earth and Flight Sim X) as well as with 3D gaming realities (ala WoW and EQ2 and all the others).

Paying attention to Second Life yet?

New York Times is:

A Virtual World but Real Money

It has a population of a million. The “people” there make friends, build homes and run businesses. They also play sports, watch movies and do a lot of other familiar things. They even have their own currency, convertible into American dollars.

But residents also fly around, walk underwater and make themselves look beautiful, or like furry animals, dragons, or practically anything — or anyone — they wish.

But now, the budding fake world is not only attracting a lot more people, it is taking on a real world twist: big business interests are intruding on digital utopia. The Second Life online service is fast becoming a three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost.

Already, the Internet is the fastest-growing advertising medium, as traditional forms of marketing like television commercials and print advertising slow. For businesses, these early forays into virtual worlds could be the next frontier in the blurring of advertising and entertainment.

Unlike other popular online video games like World of Warcraft that are competitive fantasy games, these sites meld elements of the most popular forms of new media: chat rooms, video games, online stores, user-generated content sites like YouTube.com and social networking sites like MySpace.com.

I  highly recommend you click and read – there’s much more there about the real companies actually beginning to do real business there, about the model Second Life uses to make money, and about the tax implications of buying and selling virtual assets.  It’s been around for years, but clearly it’s going mainstream now.

Book recommendation: Snowcrash – Neal described all this over a decade ago, in a more real and practical and way than anyone else has, including the model of how VR real estate and VR business and VR lifestyle will be making gigabucks.  And if you don’t grok how and why that’s happening, and how soon it will – well, log on.  Start with WoW and Second Life and EQ2.  🙂
As if NYT yesterday wasn’t enough, there was also Wired:

Second Life’s Must-Have Stuff

Second Life residents are spending $7 million a month on digital goods and services. If you’re wondering what people do in a world with no levels, no score, no set challenges or quests, perhaps a clue may be found in some of the 15 terabytes of user-created content being bought and sold within the virtual world.

Linden Lab, Second Life‘s publisher, estimates that the total amount of content being created by its users is equivalent to the output of 5,100 full-time programmers. And it doesn’t pay them. Rather, these content creators pay Linden Lab, for the land needed to build their creations and for the stores or islands where they display their goods.

Have you seen my previous blog post about user-created content? Remember megatrends?  This is a gigatrend. And it’s just getting started.

The article presents a bunch of that user-created content – and includes YouTube (user-created again) videos of them in action – including a real-time chat translator that currently supports 10 languages!!!  The article also features a new bit of technology for us to cogitate on: SLURLS which can teleport you directory to that content in the game.  So you can buy it, of course.  And if you have a Second Life, of course.

So: paying attention to Second Life yet?