Blood Letters

Blood Letters, the first adult-themed game by MadPea Games. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

On Sunday, I received word from Kess Crystal, Marketing Director of the innovative in-world game development outfit MadPea Games, about their new game / hunt entitled Blood Letters, which will be their first foray in adult-themed games. This is a change from what we’ve been used to seeing from MadPea Games, because their offerings so far have been designed in such a manner that they could remain PG.

R3VOLT

R3VOLT, the region where MadPea Games’ Blood Letters hunt will be held from November 1st to November 30th. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

Even so, MadPea Games have been known for their affinity with darker themes; for instance, Mad City wouldn’t look out of place if it was used as the setting for a film noir. Now, Blood Letters (I’m sure the pun won’t be lost on too many people), which will launch on November 1st and will run until the end of the month, is billed as an erotic thriller.

R3VOLT

R3VOLT, the region where MadPea Games’ Blood Letters hunt will be held from November 1st to November 30th. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

The plot was described by Kess on MadPea Games’ official blog:

Samantha “The Mantis” Mason, is an internationally infamous serial killer due to her particularly gruesome hobby. Seducing men and women alike, she lured them with the promise of fulfilling their lust, only to appease her own thirst for blood with these hapless pleasure-seekers.

Society breathed a collective sigh of relief when, after 8 brutal murders she was finally apprehended and brought to justice. However, a year after The Mantis was put behind bars murders have started occurring again, and the sadistic killer operates in a way that keeps everyone in fear.

The players will take on the role of a Private Detective and get prepared to solve a grisly series of shocking murders to test the boundaries where eroticism meets morality.

R3VOLT

R3VOLT, the region where MadPea Games’ Blood Letters hunt will be held from November 1st to November 30th. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

I think MadPea founder Kiana Writer’s description of this scenario as “the most twisted storyline I’ve ever written” is very fitting. The dark and decadent theme of the game’s plot dictates, of course, that it take place on an appropriately-themed region. So, it will be hosted on the post-apocalyptic R3VOLT region. In the press release, Kess points out that Blood Letters is more than a simple “find an object” hunt. It involves solving puzzles over a 25-day period; completing these puzzles successfully will result in the player being rewarded with prizes by the stores participating in the game. Also, additional prizes will be offered on a daily basis.

The full and verbatim press release follows after the cut.

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The advent of materials processing (normal and specular maps) in Second Life brought about a number of changes to the way things are rendered, compared to how they used to be – at least for those of us whose graphics cards allow us to enable the Advanced Lighting Model (formerly known as “deferred rendering”. For a detailed coverage of this capability, please go over to Inara Pey’s excellent blog. Now, when this new capability was added, many people started jumping up and down about how “irrelevant” or “useless” it was, about how only… twenty users in total would be able to see materials, how it would really kill the performance of everyone’s viewer, etc.

I’m going to speak from my own experience. Up until this month, my main machine for using Second Life was a laptop. A 2009 midrange model, with a dual-core Intel T4300 CPU, 4GB of main RAM, and an ATI (now known as AMD) Mobility Radeon HD4500 graphics card. Those in the know understand that this was hardly “high end” even then, and it became antiquated relatively fast. I can’t vouch for how other people with older, and probably lower-spec, dedicated graphics cards, or with integrated Intel chipsets, would fare, but, ever since the 2012 updates to the rendering pipeline were made, I was able to run in deferred (ALM) practically all the time – without shadows and ambient occlusion. Yes, I know my computer’s performance wasn’t much. It was usable, though, and the in-world pictures I once envied so much were now within my reach. So, I believe that ALM, which is a prerequisite for viewing materials, is within the reach of more people than was believed back then.

Nowadays, I’m the happy owner of a laptop with a fourth-generation dual-core i7, 8GB RAM and an NVidia GeForce GT840M, as well as a desktop with an i7-4770K CPU, 16GB RAM and an ASUS ROG Poseidon GTX780 graphics card. As one would expect, my machines’ performance in SL is a few orders of magnitude above what I once was used to. Still, I have the feeling that, as beautiful as SL looks right now, it could be even more spectacular, had some rendering capabilities (i) not been removed with the advent of materials processing, (ii) been added.

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Bryn Oh

Bryn Oh, who provided the heads-up for the Bread and Roses Strike exhibit. Please click on the picture for a larger version.

Last week, celebrated SL and RL artist Bryn Oh notified us members of her Immersiva in-world group about an academic / historic exhibit titled The Bread and Roses Strike at LEA13. The exhibit started out as an exercise for Dr. Sharon Collingwood’s Women’s Studies 110 distance class at The Ohio State University in the winter of 2013, spawned by the centennial of the Bread and Roses Strike which took place in January 1912 in Lawrence, Massachussets, USA.

The exercise itself grew over successive courses, and continues to grow and evolve even now. It is now available to the public, hosted at LEA13, one of the regions provided by the Linden Endowment for the Arts. As is admitted in the informational notecard provided by the exhibit’s team, the exhibit is not complete. It will continue to evolve while it is on display at LEA13, and the students involved will continue adding their projects in the meantime, hopefully providing further historical depth and more perspectives.

The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13

A workers’ dwelling as shown at The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

The exhibit, which will run until December 31st, 2014, does not aim to analyse the strike in detail, but rather examine a point in history. Students and other visitors are asked to think about the similarities between 1912 and or own time, and to think about the conflicts of gender, class, race and culture that arise in this and any historical period.

The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13.

The “better” part of Lawrence at The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

To achieve this, the exhibit recreates the atmosphere of Lawrence as it was in 1912, and juxtaposes the workers’ tenements with those of the higher classes, as well as with the texture mill owned the American Woolen Company. It also makes extensive use of Second Life’s interactive and immersive capabilities, by providing the visitors with four types of avatars they can wear in order to “fit in” with their role in the era’s social and political context, and also by assigning them with tasks that need to be done during their visit. Furthermore, almost ghost-like black & white cutout figures provide insights into the opinions that were expressed back then by various members of the society of Lawrence.

The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13

An upper-class house in Lawrence, as shown at The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13. “My dear, if your husband strikes you, it means that he cares about you. Try not to make him jealous.” – “Patience, dear. Your own peaceful demeanor and moderation should help him model his behavior.”: Words women were supposed to live by at the time. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

While the exhibit may seem “old school”, to compare it with the professionally-made houses and pieces of décor provided by various content creators would be unfair; it is an educational project, which touches upon issues of income and gender inequality, workers’ rights, child labour. All of these issues have reared their ugly heads again in recent years thanks to our complacency and – silent or vocal – acceptance of ideas like Murray Rothbard’s “free baby market”.

The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13

The proclamation of the striking workers: “We, the 20,000 textile workers of Lawrence, are out on strike for the right to live free from slavery and starvation; free from overwork and underpay; free from a state of affairs that had become so unbearable and beyond our control, that we were compelled to march out of the slave pens of Lawrence in united resistance against the wrongs and injustice of years and years of wage slavery.” Source: Proclamation of the Striking Textile Workers of Lawrence (1912). The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

In all, it is a very thought-provoking, important and politically challenging exhibit, which should remind us of a landmark in the history of the worldwide labour movement, and of the inconvenient fact that these rights we now take for granted (and which are being taken away day by day) have been won through hard, bloody struggles by unionised workers and not through the non-existent “trickle-down” effect.

The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13

The textile processing machinery of the textile mill at the Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

As said earlier, the exhibit is of an educational nature. It was designed mostly for university classes that will complete assignments there, and the informative notecard provided not only helps the visitor get their bearings around SL and the exhibit, but also offers a number of questions as a test; further questions are provided by the blue buttons placed on various walls of the exhibit’s buildings.

The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13

Child labour was extensively used in the American Woolen Company’s textile mill in Lawrence, MA. The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

Although the workers won their fight, it is noted in the Wikipedia article that they “lost nearly all of the gains they had won in the next few years. The IWW disdained written contracts, holding that such contracts encouraged workers to abandon the daily class struggle. The mill owners proved more persistent, slowly chiseling away at the improvements in wages and working conditions, while firing union activists and installing labor spies to keep an eye on workers. A depression in the industry, followed by another speedup, led to further layoffs.”

A private classroom for school groups is also available, and can be booked by contacting Ellie Brewster in-world.

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With thanks to Bryn Oh

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-G6

Blizzard Entertainment logoIn a recent blog post, Ciaran Laval wrote about Blizzard’s cancellation of its extremely ambitious project Titan, and opined that it could affect the fate of the new virtual world platform that Linden Lab is working on. What makes the cancellation of this project important is that it’s been in the works for about seven years now, and what makes it seem relevant to Linden Lab’s actions and product portfolio management is that Blizzard and Linden Lab both have MMOs as their main source of income, and that Titan was touted as the “next big thing”.

In comments to Polygon, Blizzard co-founder and CEO Mark Mohaime and Chris Metzen, Blizzard’s senior vice president of story and franchise development, offer partially useful insights into their decision to axe this big-budget project. Note that I say “partially”, because at least some of the real reasons will remain for a considerable amount of time with the people involved. Truth be told, it’s rare for any company to cancel without very serious reasons a large project it’s been working on for years.

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OK, I’ll admit it; the default SL avatar has a lot of problems, many of which have been pointed out in the past. For instance, see STORM-1800 in Second Life’s JIRA, or this post by Firestorm developer Tonya Souther. We’re all painfully familiar with several of these problems. The deformation in the shoulder-blade area is horrendous, the elbows and shoulders bend really badly, your legs look like they were nearly severed from the waist when your avatar kneels or is put in the lotus position, and, when your avatar spreads its legs, it looks like you’ve lost control of your bladder and / or large intestine. You can thank me later for the mental images.

With 10-cm heels on.

My avatar, wearing 10-cm (4″) heels. I typically wear Slink’s AvEnhance Mid Female Feet. As you can see, the foot appears as it should in RL. But there’s more at work right here… Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

But let’s get back to the matter at hand, shall we? Besides the fact that, even in 2003, the SL avatar was already horrendously sub-par, it has a glaring anatomical error, which affects the way animations make the avatar look. The error is, as you’ll have guessed from the article’s title, the ankles and the way the foot shaper for high-heeled shoes is created by the system.

foot-shaper

I took off the mesh feet, the shoes, and the alpha layer to show you the “foot shaper” for the shoes I wore for this example. You’d think the avatar’s ankle articulation rotated for this look to be achieved, but that’s not the case. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.

We all know that, in real life, when we want to wear a shoe that isn’t flat, our ankle flexes downwards and is at an angle compared to its flat position. This is, of course, more obvious when we want to wear a shoe with a 10-cm (4″) heel, or a 12-cm (approx. 5″) heel, and don’t even get me started on the extremely challenging ballet heels.

foot-shaper-ankle-downwards

As I said earlier, the ankle was not rotated to create the foot shaper. Instead, the foot was simply stretched downwards, while the articulation remained flat. Please click on the image for the full-size version.

Now, the ankle can only bend downwards so much. Already when wearing a 10-cm (4″) heel (in in-world terms, this corresponds immediately with Slink’s AvEnhance Mid rigged mesh female feet). And when we wear a 12-cm (5″) heel (an in-world example of this is Slink’s AvEnhance High rigged mesh female feet), it maxes out. It’s gone as far as it can, and there’s no way it’ll bend downwards (or backwards – perhaps this would be a more appropriate term) any further. Period.

foot-bent-badly-backwards

And here, you see how bad certain poses and animations look when you’re wearing high heels, because of the anatomical error I described. It looks as if someone’s broken your ankles (perhaps using “enhanced interrogation techniques”). Please click the picture for the full-size version.

Yet, several animations have the avatar bend its ankles much further, making it look like the articulation has been broken. This looks really bad, and it’s terribly unrealistic. As I wrote earlier, I believe this has to do with the way the “foot shaper” is created by the system. When the “foot shaper” is created, what’s performed is not a downwards (i.e. around the transverse axis of the avatar) rotation of  the ankle, but a stretch of the foot. So, to the system, your avatar still has its feet lying flat, which in turn allows it to take these unrealistic angles.

Also, a degree of freedom is missing: In RL, we can flex our ankles on the longitudinal axis (how many times have you twisted your ankles because you misstepped?). In SL, we can’t. So, when we spread our avatar’s legs apart, our ankles don’t twist inwards to maintain proper contact with the ground.

I really hope LL will address this issue (and all the other issues with the default human avatar) in its next-generation virtual world platform. For SL, I think it’s just too late, because there’s too much content for the default avatar, so making significant changes now, after 11 years is pointless. To help you see what I’m talking about, I took a few snapshots using my trusty AnyPose BVH Pose Stand, and you can see them accompanying the text.

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