So, how does SL Go measure up in the field?

Last month, cloud gaming company OnLive introduced, in collaboration with Linden Lab, a new service named SL Go in the form of a public beta. The launch was announced through LL’s official blog and (sadly and unsurprisingly) caused a lot of drama that had to do with certain misconceptions about its pricing that should not have been there, but I guess this sort of thing comes as “standard equipment” with a frustratingly large portion of SL’s user base.

The SL Go website

The SL Go website

What is SL Go?

Essentially, SL Go is a third-party viewer (TPV) running on high-end machines in the cloud, with the resulting visuals and responses streamed back to your machine, whether it is a tablet or a computer. Right now, you can only use it on the following hardware/OS combinations:

  • Smartphones with Android 4.0 or newer
  • Tablets with Android 3.2 or newer
  • Windows PCs
  • Macs

I’m saying it’s a TPV, because it actually is: it involves a dedicated client that allows you to remotely access the viewer running on OnLive’s servers; this viewer may be essentially SL’s own bog-standard viewer, but there have been modifications to fit the usage model: For instance, you don’t get the “Advanced” and “Develop” menus at all and, for tablets and smartphones, you get some extra UI overlays for movement, camera controls and a few other options.

Sadly, iOS users will have to wait a bit, and I don’t know if a Linux version is in OnLive’s plans at all.

What it aims to do is to enable those who are on obsolete hardware to enjoy SL with all of its visuals, at proper speeds and everywhere. This, of course, places it in a completely different market segment from my “go to” mobile SL viewer, Alina Lyvette’s Lumiya.

Why is it different from Lumiya?

Let’s handle Lumiya first: Lumiya is strictly for Android smartphones and tablets (and can actually run even on Android 2.3) and there is no desktop (Windows, Linux or Mac) version, at least for the time being. It runs locally, i.e. relying on your smartphone’s or tablet’s processing power, with all the limitations this imposes on your SL on the go experience. Finally, its entire UI has been designed from the ground up to support a text-only mode and to make things sensible for users of mobile devices.

On the other hand, SL Go is a client that allows you to access a slightly modified version of the official, “vanilla” viewer running on a remote server and streamed back to your mobile or desktop device – it’s not a million miles away from what you’d get if you were using a remote desktop access application to run SL on a high-spec machine while you’re on a tablet or a low-spec laptop far away from home.

What’s it cost?

As announced by LL and OnLive, the pricing structure (which should address the initial criticism with which the service was met) is as follows:

Since launching the beta of SL Go about a month ago, OnLive reports they’ve seen a very positive response to the Second Life® Viewer for Android™ that allows users to access Second Life over wifi or 4G LTE on tablets and laptops.Today, OnLive has updated the SL Go beta with new pricing:

  • Monthly unlimited-use subscription for $9.95 (USD) / £6.95 (GBP). No contract and no commitment
  • Reduced hourly rate: $1 / £0.70 per hour.

The previously available offer of a 20-minute free trial still stands.

Is it worth it? You’ll be the judge of that. Personally, I’ve opted for the monthly subscription.

What’s it like to use?

1. Desktop

On both a desktop machine and on tablet it’s visually stunning. You’re essentially running the official viewer with almost everything enabled and there’s margin for you to enable all bells and whistles and still get very, very good performance. But here’s where the good bits stop and the bad ones start:

  • Controlling things via the mouse is not as smooth as I’d like, due to latency.
  • You’re saddled with the horribly designed CHUI.
  • You have no access to the “Advanced” and “Develop” menus (but I think I can understand why).

2. Tablet

I gave SL Go a go on my Lenovo A3000 tablet, on Wi-Fi networks at home and various other venues (cafés, hotels, restaurants) and using my prepaid mobile internet card where Wi-Fi was not available. Also, I don’t have an external keyboard, so I had to rely on the on-screen virttual keyboard.

Here, you control your avatar’s movement and camera through the UI overlays seen below.

At the Bar Moderna, on Becky and Harvey's Basilique sim. The UI overlays for movement and camera control are visible.

At the Bar Moderna, on Becky and Harvey’s Basilique sim. The UI overlays for movement and camera control are visible.

The controls take a bit of getting used to, but I don’t think they should pose too great a difficulty for most users. And, thankfully, you don’t get the mouse cursor latency you get on a desktop. There are, however, other problems with using SL Go on a mobile device:

  • Using the menus can be a chore, even with pinch-zooming on them. This is an area where Lumiya trumps SL Go, because Alina had the freedom to redesign the entire UI to fit the ergonomic idiosyncracies of tablets and smartphones, and I don’t think OnLive’s developers enjoyed such liberties.
  • Data usage is HIGH. With about four hours of usage on a mobile internet service over a weekend, I used 1.36GB of traffic. So, given the fact that mobile carriers don’t offer anything close to net neutrality (even if it wouldn’t really cost them anything), you’d best use it on a Wi-Fi connection.
  • On a mobile connection that staggers between HSDPA and 3G (mind you, a bad 3G connection might not allow you to connect to the OnLive client at all) causes hiccups and severe artifacting, with the screen appearing as a garbled mess.

Issues common to both desktop and mobile devices:

  • I was unable to attach really high-resolution snapshots to emails.
  • Media autoplay – this is a serious privacy concern, as the RedZone debacle has shown in the past.
  • CHUI – I loathe it; it’s counter-intuitive and a real pain to use on a normal desktop. Twice so on SL Go (desktop); thrice on SL Go (mobile).
  • CAMERA SETTINGS. Seriously, they are even worse than those of the official viewer’s. Or the small screen of a tablet exacerbates the issue. Things that are behind and above (or simply behind) your avatar get in the way, obstructing your view of your avatar, and navigating a region becomes problematic. Plus, you don’t get the immersive feeling you’d like (see below).
SL Go's default camera position.

SL Go’s default camera position.

Yes… As you can see, it’s not exactly like my own camera settings suggestions, or Penny Patton’s (which were my starting point). Inara Pey also has a very concise review of SL Go.

Any ideas on how SL Go can be improved?

Actually, OnLive themselves want our opinions, and Jo Yardley has blogged about it. Although there are considerations that Trinity Dejavu raised w.r.t. code licences for TPVs’ work in that post’s discussions, I believe there is room for OnLive and the Lab to work more closely with TPVs – and I do believe TPV devs could (and should) get some recompense for their hard work. Here’s my wish list:

  1. Improve the camera settings. I’ve offered-up a link to my latest pertinent post, and I do believe a floater providing adjusters and “factory” and user presets would be very appreciated.
  2. Adopt some bits from Firestorm: the Media Filter (very important for privacy protection), the Quick Prefs floater and the Phototools floater.
  3. Incorporate RLV support. SL Go would be an excellent choice for enjoying in-world artistic productions like the Basilique Performing Arts Company’s Paradise Lost in Second Life and, since RLV can be used for enhancing the interactive element, I don’t see why SL Go couldn’t or shouldn’t benefit from this functionality.

So, is SL Go worth it?

In my eyes, it is. It will not replace Lumiya for me, but I do use it to great effect and it’s a great way of bringing the best visual quality that SL can offer to people whose machines are on the lower end of the market. And – for the last time: No. LL is not asking you to pay to use SL. SL Go is a product from a third party, however this third party has worked closely with the Lab to ensure its product works well. That said, whether you’ll adopt it or not is entirely up to you.

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Mona

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-uu

Paradise Lost in Second Life: Pushing the artistic and technical envelope

paradise-lost-poster-3-rework-1

Having already covered the dress rehearsal and the press preview of the Basilique Performing Arts Company’s adaptation of John Milton’s famous epic poem “Paradise Lost“, I am now in a position to review it in as much depth as I can, given my own limited knowledge and understanding of the Arts and of the historical, political and religious context that influenced Milton to write his epic. Before I proceed any further, though, I could offer a single-sentence summary of the performance: You cannot afford to miss it.

In my previous posts, I described it as the most ambitious and perhaps the most important artistic event in Second Life and virtual worlds for 2014. Having watched the dress rehearsal, the press preview and the official premiere, my assessment still stands and I believe it to be strengthened even further.

Paradise Lost

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagonist of John Milton’s Paradise Lost c. 1866. Image: Wikipedia

Such is the extent to which Paradise Lost, John Milton’s epic poem (first published in 1667), has become ingrained not only in English culture, but also in the English language itself. It has become a phrase that practically everyone who can speak and read English has encountered at one point or another, even if they are unaware of its origins. For its time, it expressed forward-looking, novel ideas and concepts that led many of Milton’s contemporaries to label him a radical: The ideas he expressed w.r.t. marriage, for instance, as shown in his depiction of Adam and Eve’s relationship; or his extremely strict views on idolatry, which led him to also reject the idea of Dei Gratia monarchy.

John Milton’s Satan

But the impact of Paradise Lost on English, American and Western culture goes much further than that; Milton’s depiction of the poem’s characters has also influenced English, American and Western storytelling: Satan, the first major character that the poem introduces to the reader, was the most beautiful of all Heaven’s angels and is portrayed as a tragic figure who describes himself with the famous line “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” His failed rebellion against God for control of Heaven, stemming from his unwillingness to be a subordinate to God and his Son, claiming that angels are “self-begot, self-raised” and thus God is not entitled to rule over them as their creator. Milton portrays Satan as a very arrogant, but also powerful and charismatic character, with a formidable ability to persuade others to do his bidding. Besides his (true to the religious description) cunning and deceptive character, he is able to persuade the angels that followed him to continue their rebellion against God, despite their defeat in the Angelic War. According to Satan, God is a tyrannic ruler and angels ought to rule as gods.

There are parallels that can be drawn between Milton’s Satan and the tragic heroes of ancient Greek drama, but Satan’s hubris makes the behaviours of Greek tragic heroes that trigger the dramatic events pale in comparison. On some occasions in the poem, he seems to play the narrative role of the anti-hero, but it is always clear, at least to me, that he is really the narration’s antagonist. Regardless of this, though, his role has been discussed quite vigorously. For instance, C.S. Lewis sees Paradise Lost as a genuine Christian morality tale, while William Empson and other critics see an ambiguity in Milton’s complex characterisation of Satan.

The way later works portray their antagonists has been heavily influenced by Milton’s “heroic evil” – as Laskya Claren describes him – Satan. He has certain elements seen in the “anti-hero” characters of modern works, and, beyond that, he has all the twisted, catastrophic and fatal charm of a sociopath. I would dare say that the portrayal of Morgoth (initially Melkor) from John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s Silmarillion is practically lifted from Paradise Lost. He deceives Men and Elves alike to do his bidding against the will of Eru Ilúvatar, the demiurge of Tolkien’s universe, against whom Melkor/Morgoth rebelled in Ainulindalë, by successfully disguising and presenting himself as a charming, charismatic bringer of gifts and arcane knowledge. Another author whose work has been influenced by Paradise Lost is Salman Rushdie, whose controversial novel The Satanic Verses adapted important motifs and plot elements from Milton’s poem, including a “fall”, followed by a transformation.

Adam and Eve as seen by John Milton

Milton departs from the biblical account of Adam and Eve’s relationship, temptation and fall; their tale is a domestic one and differs dramatically (for its time) from the “dictated by God” views of womanhood that are seen in all three Abrahamic religions. According to the biblical narration, Adam was innocent and goaded into sinning against God by Eve, who had been deceived by Satan. Ever since then, all three Abrahamic religions viewed women as inherently wicked, foolish and inferior to men in every way – thus, they must be kept under the rule of the Man, to whom they must belong as property. Of course, Judaism was hardly original in this, as the Torah’s unknown authors were merely reflecting and sanctifying the predominant views of patriarchal societies. And, of course, sexuality itself is condemned as evil.

In Paradise Lost, on the other hand, Adam and Eve are seen to be having a complete relationship while still being without sin. They are also portrayed as having their own personalities and passions. Adam and Eve are God’s prized creations and, unlike what we see in the Bible, their relationship is one of mutual dependence rather than one of domination or hierarchy. Furthermore, while Adam is shown to be more gregarious than Eve and possessing higher intellectual knowledge than her, she longs for knowledge, is intelligent herself and thirsts for knowledge – and, more specifically, self-knowledge. Also, while deeply in love with Adam, she sometimes seems to feel suffocated by his constant presence. So, one day she convinces Adam that they should split up and work in different parts of the Garden, which is when Satan, determined to exact revenge upon God by corrupting his prized creation, tempts her.

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You Wear That Face: Exploring identity at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

After the excellent premiere of Paradise Lost last night at The Basilique (review coming soon and suffice it for me to say for now that you really cannot afford to miss it), I had the pleasure today to catch up with Inara Pey at the Assis Art Gallery, which is hosted by Joaopedro Oh. There, four exhibitions are hosted for April. Three of them are 2D exhibitions; the other one, which caught my attention more, is an interactive 3D exhibit.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Nothing wrong with in-world photographic exhibitions. I love them, and have covered a few in the past. The truth is, however, that I’m a sucker for interactive 3D installations that aim to tell a story or make the spectator think. So, the installation I’m talking about is Blue Tsuki’s You Wear That Face. It is a simple and very effective exploration of identity. Blue describes the installation as follows:

We all wear masks. In SL we present ourselves with a mask every day. In this landscape find a hole in the ocean, armillary spheres of orbiting electrons, shafts of memory and our masks. “You Wear That Face” is a nexus, a vortex, an analogue of neurons and a self-reflexive look at our mask in a sideways dream.

Inara and me at Blue Tsuki's You Wear That Face installation at the Assis Art Gallery

Inara and me at Blue Tsuki’s You Wear That Face installation at the Assis Art Gallery

Blue combines physical elements (primwork) with a particle show that, at least to me, brings back memories of Nino Vichan’s exquisite “When the Mind’s Eye Listens” that I had covered last year. Blue creates a dream-like mini-universe, with you standing above a lavender-coloured ocean that flows into a central vortex, above which you stand when you teleport to the installation. The black sky above is lined with golden armillary spheres of electrons, each one orbited by numerous particles.

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

Underneath you, there is a spiral of golden prims, flickering with pieces of a mask. Perhaps, as Inara says, they represent the masks we wear in SL and even in RL – and I wonder if the fragmentation of the mask symbolises our attempt to only show others parts of the masks we wear in order to further our interests and protect ourselves. Around the spiral, there are four rectangular shafts (the “shafts of memory”) and four masks. Each mask is surrounded by swirling, almost fiery particles. These elements of the installation are interactive; you only need to click on them to sit.

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

Once you do, you find yourself either placed behind the masks (Blue’s reference to the identity theme) or at the mouth of the shafts, being sucked into a tunnel of memory towards old photographs at the other end. Adding to the atmosphere is a looping song encouraging the visitor to wear that face he wears “when no one is watching.”

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

You Wear That Face, at the Assis Art Gallery

Personally, I really enjoyed this installation. It strikes a nice balance between sparsity and complexity, and makes very effective use of symbolism to convey the artist’s desired message. I strongly recommend that you visit it and have a play with it. Should you also wish to visit the other three exhibitions, the teleporter is a small, upside-down red pyramid at the centre of the vortex of golden mask fragments.

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Mona

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-tX

Paradise Lost in Second Life: First Impressions

Last Saturday (March 29th), I was one of the SL bloggers that had the privilege of attending the press preview of Paradise Lost in Second Life, the adaptation of John Milton’s famous epic poem “Paradise Lost” by the Basilique Performing Arts Company. I was already familiar with the way Becky and Harvey approached the poem’s plot, but I’m not going to describe it to you in this post; it would be giving away too many spoilers. After all, in my previous post I gave away some crucial plot elements and a brief look into John Milton’s political and religious views that influenced him to compose this poem.

So, this is going to be only a short review and not a full-featured one. Fittingly enough for the poem’s theme, the theatre for this show is a church – a basilica (hence the “Basilique” name chosen by Becky and Harvey for their art group). For a more technical overview, I think you’d do well to read Inara Pey’s excellent post, as it explains the way Becky and Harvey applied RL theatrical direction techniques to the show. The action takes place not only in front of the audience, but also to the right, to the left and even above the spectators. Harvey said they’re planning to control the audience’s camera (like Tyrehl Byk does in his great particle show Catharsis) and I hope they’ll have the necessary scripts ready by the time of the official premiere, as the show will benefit greatly from this.

God creates Adam. Image courtesy of Canary Beck.

I have gone on record for saying that Paradise Lost is the most ambitious, and probably the most important, artistic event in Second Life for 2014. Everything about it pushes the technical envelope: on-the-fly costume changes (who said RLV is only for BDSM?), choreographed participation of the audience’s custom avatars that also switch between angel and demon, again via RLV, careful coordination of the animations of multiple avatars, scripted windlight changes… And that’s not even taking into account the extremely tasteful rendition of the poem and its characters. The avatars are gorgeously crafted and shaped, perfectly fitting their roles, the eras described in the narration and also their characterisation in the poem. The scenery is very well-designed, and the fade-outs between different sceneries are perfectly timed and executed (to the extent, of course, that each individual user’s computer can handle things). Furthermore, the decision to set the performance against Mozart’s Requiem in D minor proved to fit the atmosphere and the mood of Milton’s poem perfectly.

In all, I highly recommend that you watch this performance, even if it’s the only artistic event you’ll attend in Second Life this year. Even if you’re not artistically inclined. Even if you hear about classical works and turn away. The sensitivity, care, attention to detail, and love that has gone in this production has to be witnessed to be fathomed.

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Mona

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Full disclosure statement: I have been selected to be among the official bloggers for the Paradise Lost in Second Life production. I receive no recompense whatsoever for my blogging work; I cover the event because I believe in the talents and skills of everyone at the Basilique Performing Arts Company, because I liked the concept and because I want to help, with whatever powers I have, to show the creative and artistic potential of virtual worlds.

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-tG

“Creating Illusions” by Maloe Vansant at LX Gallery

On Saturday, March 24, 2014, SL photographer Maloe Vansant opened her exhibition titled “Creating Illusions” at the LX Gallery. Sadly, I couldn’t be in two places at once – I was already at the press premiere of Paradise Lost in Second Life (perhaps the most ambitious and significant artistic production in Second Life for this year) and at the reception that followed, so I regrettably missed the opening of the Maloe’s exhibition.

Maloe Vansant's "Creating Illusions" exhibition at LX Gallery.

Maloe Vansant’s “Creating Illusions” exhibition at LX Gallery.

I’ve been following Maloe’s uploads on Flickr for quite some time now and I must say she never fails to impress with her artistry, her skills and her approach to her subjects. Her SL photographs, dream-like, evocative and even eerie in equal measures, conjure images of eroticism, deep emotions and even dark thoughts – desires, fears, anxieties, always with impeccable aesthetics and great sensitivity, through a masterful interplay of light and shadow, selective focusing, tight framing and, where appropriate, judicious application of film grain effect. The exhibition features relatively few photographs, but they do provide a useful glimpse into Maloe’s portfolio and artistic and emotional world.

You can also read an e-booklet with some information on Maloe and what inspires her on Calaméo and, of course, you can purchase her art. I could find no mention, however, as to how long the exhibition will run. I recommend that you visit this beautiful exhibition and also keep an eye on Maloe’s work, past, present and future.

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Mona

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-tw