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I’d love a virtual world/MMORPG mashup

Second Life isn’t a place I spend much time now, though my posts about SL continue to be get the most traffic and my daily companions also have unused, long time SL avatars. I’m more active in ArcheAge than ever. I left my drama-filled guild and now spend most of my time with my game family and a few friends, caring for our land, transporting trade packs for cash, running dungeons, hijacking enemy vehicles, and poking at enemies who are too highly geared for us to do more than annoy. One couple I know from AA met in SL and now live together and others were active SL residents for years.

One of those friends recently remarked that a mashup of AA and SL would be fantastic. He was thinking about the houses in AA, which are little more than storage locations with very limited opportunities for self-expression, but I think there’s a bigger point to pull from that. MMORPGs could benefit from the sort of interpersonal expression and connection that SL enables. I’m not just talking about sex (though if it’s an adult game, why not?), but the ability to dance with friends, stream your own music in your home, cuddle on a couch, etc.

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From a game standpoint, SL suffers from a lack of things to do. I know some of you will be tempted to jump in here and lecture me about the fine clubs, performances, creative opportunities, experimental game areas, etc. Believe me, I know!  I love those things. Yet most of the time I’m in SL, what am I doing? Remaining relatively stationary in my surroundings and talking with one person or a small group of people. Exploring areas together is difficult without using voice chat to coordinate. We could play a short game, but those are rudimentary at best even if the graphics are jaw-dropping. However, I can move my avatar in ways I’ve designed, have whatever appearance I like, invite people to my completely customized home, and have a visual replication of real human interaction.

Every MMORPG I’ve played offered limited expression and interaction. While Second Life puts creation in the hands of the residents, so each avatar and home can be unique, MMORPGs tend to be stingy with customization: putting costume dyes in a cash shop, requiring multiple purchases or crafting steps to add a graphic overlay to a small number of items, and building up demand (and therefore cash flow) by releasing some items as untradeable rare drops from cash shop chests. As far as interaction, some have interpersonal emotes and allow families/marriages/partnerships. But really, they are games and designed around activities, not social life. When I’m in AA, I might be talking with friends just as I would be in SL, but we’re simultaneously doing something, even if we’re in transit to an island on a ship, planting ginseng seedlings, or laying in wait to ambush enemies.  It’s possible to run out of things you want to do, but there are always more things you could.

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Can you imagine how exciting a combination of the two world types could be, though? Strong game mechanics, with daily events, quests strings, dungeons and raids, crafting/farming/fishing/etc, PVE and PVP, accompanied by rich personalization and interaction? A player-driven economy that also includes items created by those players? A multitude of things to do at any hour of the day, plus all the tools needed to make a comfortable sanctuary if you don’t want to leave your virtual home? When I was a solo player, I would have appreciated more choices to have a unique appearance. Now that I’m more social, the limitations of rigid furniture poses and car radios that play the same loops of music really bug me. I suppose I’ll keep dreaming of an open platform MMORPG that is truly the best of both worlds.

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Posted by on February 25, 2016 in Gaming

 

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Second Life: conference, land sale

I’m happy to say that I’ll be volunteering at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference again this year. It takes place from March 9-12 in SL and OpenGrid and everyone is welcome to attend, no charge. Some of the sessions are also streamed live and recorded to watch later.

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And that’s where I come in. Last year I volunteered as a greeter and a mentor: before the event I helped presenters get set up with the technology they needed, I served as on-site tech support during their events, and for a few hours, I stood at a landing point and welcomed attendees. Those weren’t the best assignments for someone who is terribly shy around strangers. Interactions are easier in a virtual world but I still get tongue-tied (finger-tied?) and uncomfortable.

So, this year I volunteered to be part of the streaming team. Not only is there less personal interaction, but I get to have the fun of working the camera and producing video content from the conference. Yesterday I attended a training meeting with other members of the streaming team and I’m excited by the possibility of creating professional grade recordings of an SL live event. I’m looking forward to learning more and playing with the tools in my spare time.

I haven’t been in SL much at all lately, which leads me to my next topic: my parcel on the Heterocera Atoll mainland. If any of you are looking for a quiet, low-lag place to drop a skybox or build on the uneven terrain, ping me (in SL as Kay Jiersen or with that same name – no spaces – at gmail). I’ve already abandoned a couple sections of my land, but I plan to give up another 3000 m² and limit myself to the land allowance on my premium accounts. The region I’m in is almost empty, just two long-term SL residents and abandoned land.  I’d happily chop off a section for one of my blog readers and sell it for L$ pocket change rather than abandoning it to be wasteland. In a perfect world, Linden Lab would say, “Oh, Kay! We’d really prefer you to just keep the land, because you landscape it nicely and don’t run idiotic scripts or put up ban lines, so we’ll waive your tier!”, but let’s not talk crazy.

Yesterday I was discussing my SL land with a new companion. I told him that honestly, part of the difficulty in downsizing is getting rid of things that belonged to Jakob that are rezzed on the parcel: bouquets of flowers, wind chimes, a lotus pond. “Take photos of them, then return them,” was his practical response. “Either way, it’s all just pixels.” True, but that doesn’t make it much easier.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Learning, Relationships

 

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Multilayered communications in an MMORPG

When I was in my mid-20s, if I wanted to talk with another person while we were gaming together, we needed to be in the same room. Fast forward a couple decades and I find myself in an MMORPG, communicating with dozens of other players over numerous simultaneous text channels and on voice in TeamSpeak. At the same time, I can talk to my husband across the room and to friends in Skype and Facebook Messenger. Heaven help me if my phone rings!

This got me thinking about how people use those available communication layers and I started paying more attention while playing ArcheAge. What options are available and frequently used? How do players decide which channel to use for which message? Are there norms that have arisen and if so, what happens when someone transgresses them? Gratuitous sea battle photo below, simply because sea battles in AA can be crazy fun.

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Since ArcheAge is the example I’m working with, these are the primary ways I’ve observed people communicating:

  • In-game multiplayer text chat channels – A player can choose to watch all of these simultaneously, in which case the channel messages are interspersed and in different colors, or organize channels with tabs. The channels that can be seen in ArcheAge are:
    • Local – close communication only
    • Shout – wider range, but still in the vicinity
    • Trade – intended for commerce, want to buy/want to sell
    • Party – limited to up to 5 people in the same party (will also work for raid members)
    • Raid – limited to 50 people in the same raid
    • Guild – limited to members of registered guild, up to 100 people
    • Family – limited to 8 affiliated members
    • Trial – chat limited to the Defendant, Jury, and Judgebot, but broadcast to entire Faction
    • Faction – there are 2 Faction channels and which one you can see/chat in depends on your avatar’s race. One is open to all of the East (Harani and Firran races) and the other is open to all of the West (Nuian and Elf races). I should add that East and West speak different languages, but it is possible to gain skills to read/write the other Faction’s language.
    • Nation – there are 3 Nation chat channels that are exclusive of each other, like Faction chat: East, West, and Pirate.
  • In-game private chat – though it has been requested many times, it’s not yet possible to set up a custom channel for any group of invited members, so conversations are limited to the privacy afforded by the groupings above, or
    • Whisper – one on one communication
  • Voice chat – there is no voice option in the game, but voice communication is still important
    • TeamSpeak – people host TS servers for their guild, public use, raids, or just to talk with friends. A TS server can have multiple chat rooms, keeping some rooms private and others open to anyone with the login info.
    • Skype – best for one-on-one or small group, some players use Skype with friends while playing
    • In the same room – some players I know are cohabitating (as a couple or roommates) or get together with nearby friends to play
  • Broadcast – nowadays in a virtual space, someone could be recording or live broadcasting at any time
    • Twitch – some players live stream their gaming sessions
    • YouTube – quite a few players share videos of gameplay, informative videos (walkthrough, how-to), or AA machinima
    • Screenshot saved and shared in any of the places below
  • Game forums – not immediate communication, but regularly used
    • Official ArcheAge forums
    • ArcheAge subreddit
  • Guild websites/blogs/social media
  • Player websites/blogs/social media

Needless to say, if you want to get a message across to other ArcheAge players, you have plenty of ways to do it. I’m sure I’ve missed some. So, what sort of messages are being conveyed?

  • Current events – arranging groups for raids and dungeons, sharing news about enemy movements, asking for help
  • Trash talking and dramatics – taunting, whining, stirring things up, gossiping, raging, threats, etc.
  • Coordination – essential communication when working together
  • Commerce – buying and selling
  • Information – discussing new elements in the game, providing details about gear/dungeons/quests
  • Companionship – chatting among friends/acquaintances/romantic partners, or just goofing around with strangers

I generally keep all possible channels enabled when I’m playing, though my attention isn’t always fixed on chat. I also have a few chat tabs with filters applied so that I can focus on, say, guild chat and whispers or raid and guild chat. I almost never join in, but I observe the public drama when I’m online (and honestly, at least one of my guild mates is usually in the thick of it). I also sign onto my guild’s TeamSpeak sometimes, to hang out and hear if anything interesting is happening or for coordination during guild activities.

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Considering just the two dimensions of conversation medium and content creates a vast matrix of possibilities. The complexity increases when we consider that one conversation might have simultaneous overlapping threads. For example, it’s not uncommon for someone in another guild to talk trash about my guild’s leader. This usually takes place in Faction chat, where everyone on our half (more or less) of the player base can see it. That may trigger simultaneous discussions in our private guild chat channel and on TeamSpeak, of the “hey, did you see that?” and “who the hell is that guy?” variety. My guild leader lacks restraint sometimes and may reply in Faction chat, which shakes the hornet nest. People begin sending private Whispers back and forth.  I have to assume that side conversations about the trolling are also occurring in other private and guild channels. Guild mates and allies jump into the fray, which might get shifted to the Nation channel to avoid pirates. Last week, one exchange like this moved to the Trade channel. People may start broadcasting on Twitch or recording video or taking snapshots to share later.  So, instead of a conversation having one set of participants and being limited in time and location, it can branch into multiple lanes that have exclusive or overlapping participants, and through sharing can be continued in another venue — YouTube or forums — with a new group of players. On our half of this particular server, those conversations are usually in English with some Spanish, though the participants are from (at least) four continents.

Generalizing about how players decide which channel to use is out of my depth, but I’ve observed a few specific instances. A player may choose to listen in TeamSpeak but not activate a microphone, which means that in order to add to the audible conversation, he has to type in the Raid or Guild channel. This often leads to confusion as not everyone is watching the text. During public drama in Faction chat, players may discuss their plans to jump into the fray in another channel first. On the other hand, a player’s friends may use private channels to try to keep him from amping up the rhetoric.

When someone uses an inappropriate channel for his message, others are quick to correct him. This could be a gentle nudge but often, the rebukes are fast and rude. I found that very intimidating during the months when I was a solo player, because the last thing a shy person wants is to extend herself in public and be hammered down for asking a n00b question.

In a typical evening, I’ll be on TeamSpeak with other members of my guild (and an occasional guest). Those of us who are working together might also use the text Raid channel to include those who aren’t in TS. We’ll comment in TS about things that scroll by in Faction or Nation chat and we’ll recruit others to join our shenanigans in Guild chat.  When things are quiet, I’ll lift off my headset and check in with my husband, who may be on another TS server with guys from World of Tanks or chatting with people in Second Life. And, at some point, my Skype icon will light up and I’ll start text chatting with a friend I first met in SL, switching back and forth between that and my game until I sign off, and then maybe flipping open a video chat. None of this feels disconnected or strange, though I can’t imagine trying to explain it to my parents. They have a hard enough time when I call their house and each of them picks up a different phone extension.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2016 in Culture, Gaming

 

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Small update: Gear VR, ArcheAge, SL

Sorry for neglecting this blog. I have two half-written posts but I ran out of steam and interest before they were done. So, a small update to get back in the swing of things:

I’ll have more coming about the Samsung Gear VR soon, but I haven’t picked it up again after the first day I tried. Why? Mainly because I’m doing other things in my free time and a VR headset doesn’t allow for multitasking. I’ve also been having headaches; wearing a headset that might make them worse is unappealing. But, I’ll confess, it’s also because I was underwhelmed with my first experiences. 360 degree photos didn’t seem more interesting just because I could move my head rather than my mouse to look around. The few short videos were unimpressive and overall, the things I viewed were low resolution and sometimes blurry. My phone overheated before I was able to try more. I’ve downloaded a few free apps and I’ll try a game or two soon.

Reading some forums about the Gear VR made me wonder if I might be jaded by more than a decade in Second Life. I often wander SL in mouselook (first person) view, where I can scan a full 360 degrees. Moving through a 3D environment and looking around is second nature to me and maybe I don’t feel much of a difference between turning my head and using a mouse. Earlier, when I saw videos of people freaking out because they could look all around a VR scene, I wondered if there was some magical mind-body integration that I couldn’t yet imagine. So far, I haven’t seen one. I’m certainly leaving the possibility open and hoping to be wowed soon. Anyone else have an experience to share?

During the holidays I got more swept up in ArcheAge and even gave up my solitary ways to spend time causing mischief with guildmates and chatting in TeamSpeak. There is so much drama, soap opera writers would roll their eyes! I’m trying to keep some separation between myself and the worst of it, but I’m in a divisive guild with a polarizing leader. I’m stunned by how much time and money others pump into this MMORPG. I’m limited in both, which keeps me out of the upper tier of players and under the radar for a lot of trouble. However, my gaming/virtual world time being spent more in that world than any other… for now, until I get bored or the drama gets to be too much.

I’ve been trying to divide the mainland parcel I own in Second Life to get down to a lower tier payment, but since I’m dealing with a couple of premium accounts and a group land bonus, the math is complicated and I’m trying to find a last ~100 m² to cut off. It’s been almost a month since Jakob died and spending too much time at that parcel still makes me melancholy. At least his sister has stopped sending me photos of his coffin and grave. It was kind that she included me and recognized that we had been important to each other, but those photos were very hard.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Digital Devices, Gaming, Side Topics

 

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All the warnings on the Samsung Gear VR headset

First of all, lots of Christmas thanks to my husband:

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Expect a review in coming days, after I’ve had a chance to play with it. My first experience has been reading all of the warnings in the Getting Started Guide and the thicker Health & Safety and Warranty Guide included with the headset. My heavens. Page through and you’ll see bold lettering, “Warning!”, “Caution!”, “Important!” and sections with larger fonts. The contents include choice quotes such as these:

  • “The foam cushioning may get dirty if your face is sweating while wearing the Gear VR. … Ensure that you keep your face clean and dry when wearing the Gear VR.”
  • “Take special care to ensure that you are not near other people, objects, stairs, balconies, windows, furniture, or other items that you can bump into or knock down when using, or immediately after using, the Gear VR. Do not handle sharp or otherwise dangerous objects while using the Gear VR.”
  • “Never wear the Gear VR in situations that require attention, such as walking, bicycling, or driving.”
  • “Watching videos or playing games with the Gear VR may affect the visual development of children.”
  • “We recommend consulting with a doctor before using the Gear VR if you are pregnant, elderly, have psychiatric disorders, suffer from a heart condition, have pre-existing binocular vision abnormalities or suffer from a heart condition or other serious medical condition.”
  • “Just as with the symptoms people can experience after they disembark a cruise ship, symptoms of virtual reality exposure can persist and become more apparent hours after use.”
  • “Ease into the use of the Gear VR to allow your body to adjust; use for only a few minutes at a time at first, and only increase the amount of time using the Gear VR gradually as you become accustomed to virtual reality.”
  • “These post-use symptoms can include … excessive drowsiness and decreased ability to multi-task. These symptoms put you at an increased risk of injury when engaging in normal activities in the real world.”
  • “A comfortable virtual reality experience requires an unimpaired sense of motion and balance.”
  • “Take at least a 10 to 15 minute break every 30 minutes, even if you don’t think you need it.”
  • “Do not use the Gear VR when you are tired, need sleep, are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, are hung-over, have digestive problems, are under emotional stress or anxiety, or when suffering from cold, flu, headaches, migraines, or earaches, as this can increase your susceptibility to adverse symptoms.”
  • “Do not use the Gear VR while in a moving vehicle such as a car, bus, or train, as this can increase your susceptibility to adverse symptoms.”
  • “The Gear VR may be equipped with a ‘passthrough’ feature which permits you to temporarily see your surroundings for brief real world interaction. You should always remove the Gear VR for any situation that requires attention or coordination.

So, as soon as I’m sitting perfectly still, with a freshly washed face, no headache or cold or alcohol, I should be ready to give this a very brief try.

I still think it’s going to be very, very cool. Merry Christmas, everyone!

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2015 in Digital Devices

 

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Retrofuturism: 20th century Paris?

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Isn’t that a lovely image? It’s from a book published in 1883 entitled The Twentieth Century. You can find more resolutions and information here, on the useful Old Book Illustrations site. I’m still waiting for my personal flying machine, future!

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2015 in Side Topics

 

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A day in the life of our Amazon Echo

After I mentioned that I use my Amazon Echo daily in the last post, I got an email asking, “for what?”. Well, let’s see.

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Our Echo lives on a side table in the family room, near artwork of a robot and his girlfriend by Jason Sho Green. Appropriate, right? Our home has an open layout and we can speak commands to her in a normal tone of voice from anywhere on the first floor or, with a slightly raised voice, from the second floor at the top of the stairs. It’s both creepy and useful that her microphone is that sensitive.

Though Alexa can do little news summaries called Daily Briefings, I don’t listen to those each morning. I do, however, ask Alexa to tell me the weather. “Alexa, what’s today’s weather?” triggers a nice summary of the forecast and current conditions.

I meditate almost every day and I’ve been using a mantra style lately. I usually settle into a comfortable seated position and ask Alexa to play Mantras for Precarious Times by Deva Premal from my Amazon Prime Music Library. The audio quality is good and I know the first three mantras total 20 minutes, so that’s my minimum goal. When I’m done, I can simply tell Alexa to stop playing.

Throughout the day, if I’m working on the first floor of the house I often tell Alexa to stream music or podcasts. She can play radio stations and shows from TuneIn Radio as well as all of the Prime stations, albums, and playlists. Usually I use voice controls, but sometimes I’ll open the Echo app on my laptop or phone to choose a specific album.

I also use her for tiny things that she just makes faster and easier. Today when I was making a pot of minestrone, I noticed that I was low on garlic. No problem. “Alexa, add garlic to my shopping list.” I didn’t need to stop what I was doing to jot down a note. I use her timer and alarm functions every day. Is it life changing to be able to ask, “Alexa, what’s today’s date?” when I’m writing a check? Of course not. But she takes care of little things like that which would break the flow of what I’m doing.

We also have her connected to three WeMo outlets, powering lights. Again, it’s not a huge effort to flip a light switch, so voice control is far from a necessity! It’s nice to have her turn on a light before I walk into a dark room in the middle of the night. It’s easier to ask her to take care of the lights when I’m heading upstairs with my hands full. When I was recovering from my broken leg, the light control was much more important. It’s simply convenient now.

I don’t know if our use is typical. People who have more home automation or want to play with IFTTT have many more applications for the Echo than we do; the Echo forums are full of people committed to finding new applications, but that’s not a hobby I enjoy. I still think Alexa is stupid compared to Google Now, which I prefer for information retrieval. However, since I’m very interested in digital devices and assistants, I’m glad we had the Echo in the house for a while before JIBO arrives (current shipping estimate is March/April 2016). It takes a while to get used to using voice commands for daily activities instead of just novelty, like asking Alexa to tell jokes, etc.

One useful question might be, “If the Echo died, would we replace it?” I have my doubts.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Digital Devices

 

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