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Jun 14, 2006



Random thoughts...

1) Scale doesn't really pay off if your MMORPG has a max of 3000 users per shard. Something like Eve Online and SL, in one monolithic world, might be interested in a very-large centralized server cluster.

2) A different approach would be to have one MMORPG server/shard per city. That way (a) network lag is minimized, (b) minimize problems from a power/network outage, and (c) players on the shard can easily meet one another in real life, if they choose. See http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/DatingGame.htm.


Nate, love "the MMO unseen" idea. I see the metaverse (MMO web) pieces coming together from different quarters still largely unseen by those only looking at the traditionally defined virtual worlds space. I include here video games, virtual worlds, CAD, geo, and the web services that will bind them.

I just got back to New York from the O'Reilly Where 2.0 conference all about geospatial technologies where I gave a talk relating Second Life and Google Earth. Tim O'Reilly references it in an interesting post called Google Earth, Sketchup, and Second Life about the platform for user-created content he sees Google Earth becoming. Looks like he definitely sees Google going into the metaverse space.

I spent Monday at Google for their Geo Developer Day where they announced a bunch of new updates to Google Earth and Maps. Google Earth GM John Hanke (a former Meridian 59 man) spoke about GE as a "geo browser" and I had a chance to ask about avatars in GE which the team was obviously excited about down the road but very (understandably if frustratingly!) tight-lipped on plans.

After my talk I received an unsigned email (fun stuff!) riffing and speculating on their newly supported open 3D format that I think you'll find interesting:


I thought you might be interested in some Google Earth and KML 2.1 news that was pretty significant but seems to have been missed by most of the press.

Google Earth and KML 2.1 now use the COLLADA interchange format for 3D geometry and textures.

COLLADA is an open standard for that defines an XML-based schema for 3D authoring applications to freely exchange digital assets without loss of information. http://www.khronos.org/collada

If you check out the textured 3D sample file in their KML 2.1 tutorials http://earth.google.com/kml/kml_21tutorial.html
you will see that they include both the COLLADA .dae file and the textures in a compressed zip file. They add the geospecific data in their own xml file.

Why this is so interesting is this means you can use any of the popular 3D modeling applications including Maya, SoftImage|XSI, 3ds Max, Blender, and Sketchup of course, to create sophisticated models with textures, export them as COLLADA, and then import or drag and drop them into Google Earth.

Combined with the new KML support for LOD and streaming, you have some pretty high performance 3D visualization capabilities.

What is also interesting is that this means game developers can now start using their assets in Google Earth (the Sony PS3 will actually be based on Collada).

IMHO it does not seem far off when this will enable Google Earth to become the real Metaverse but with true geospatial capabilities. I wonder if Second Life will soon support Collada? In that case assets would be fully interchangeable between different virtual 3D world solutions!

At this point, Google Earth has not implemented support for animation, shaders or physics. But these are supported in the COLLADA format, so it is likely only a matter of time.

Hope this is interesting news for you. I'm pretty excited about the whole thing."

So PS3 content ported to GE? lol Sony's interestingly positioned the PS3 not as a game machine, but a computer. They're very controlling, but I wonder if they have some wider metaversal aspirations here.

When I think about Google and their mission to make the world's information universally accessible and useful, it's obvious they'll have to start indexing information within open virtual worlds. When, where and how is an interesting question. User activity within GE would be an easy start.

Thinking about Google and Microsoft, MS has the Xbox as an obvious metaverse/MMO web gateway (an MS rep speaking about MS Virtual Earth said, 'We're the company with the Xbox. We're going to make our maps look great and move fast'). It would seem very "Googley" for Google to stay away from a console box and single-title game publishers and instead support a user-created graphical space that people can bring their own content into and build from the inside out. I've thought of SL as becoming a "metaverse browser" for a long time, and I can see the reasons why Google would go that road.

Right now the state of recognizably virtual worldsy moves by the big three web companies breaks down like this:

Microsoft: Xbox and Virtual Earth
Google: Google Earth
Yahoo: Yahoo avatars

And you can also throw in parent company eBay's Skype avatars which might get interesting if synched up with the Logitech mixed-reality camera (Phillip Torrone has a great demo video).

Just some thoughts from around the space that were in my head on the flight home. At the Geo Dev day John Hanke announced that Google Earth has had 100 million(!) downloads. Imagine everyone in there at once. The MMO unseen indeed.



>Why this is so interesting is this means you can use any of the popular 3D modeling applications including Maya, SoftImage|XSI, 3ds Max, Blender, and Sketchup of course, to create sophisticated models with textures, export them as COLLADA, and then import or drag and drop them into Google Earth.


Well, Jerry, who needs avatars? They just get in the way, as you have to follow around their behinds, and have you ever tried to build stuff with them bobbing around in the way?

Just make a good UI and have inventory and stuff. I don't even need a spaceship metaphor. My desk and my computer at home are my spaceship. Get over worrying about the avatar, and you then don't have to worry about anything else. I mean, if you have all that stuff to look at and build and whatnot, you may not have a desire to dress your dolls.



You are missing the point.

This is one more way of overlaying different networks of data/content. Nothing but good can come of it for people (such as yourself) who frequent virtual worlds. It is a way of bridging more of the gaps between data and objects that currently are more meaningful in other areas, and objects that might be useful in VWs.

For example; right now, if I create a 3D, virtual object for Second Life, that's where it lives. Plunk. One place, and it's virtual. The only other way I can "instance" it is by snapping a pic of it and posting it on the Web or printing it out or emailing it to someone. There are some very few extra-SL communications and transaction methodologies available to players/avatars... but mostly it all has to happen in-game.

You want more freedom for your avatar, right? Well, how about the freedom to shop for stuff out-of-game? Or visit locations that are not instanced within SL, but in other locales/shards/servers entirely? You may or may not need the presence of your avatar, depending on the "metaphor" of the specific event... but that's your choice, isn't it? Or... your avatar's? You can retract your view in SL so that you don't see your avie... you can be in a spot so that others can't see you... is the visual rep of your character the be-all-end-all of the experience in every situation?

Even if it is... what about the simple ability to port assets for other uses. SL doesn't support in-game metadata of any really robust sort. If I wanted to make an "SL-version" model of a sim for one use (let's say, more entertainment oriented), but use all that work for a more educational reason... it would be great to have it available on Google Earth for that use.

Also ... some people might want, at some point, to model an entire set of SL assets with RL-linked data. I'm not saying it will happen this year, but a mash-up of Google Earth with SL where folks (who wanted to, of course) could relate real life activities to SL stuff could be very cool.

3D modeling in Google Earth isn't meant to be better or worse than SL. It's different. It's like tagging vs. searching. Different tools, different games, different aps for different jobs.


Um, you're missing the point there, champ. I don't need this little hortatory lecture about layers of data, geez.

My point is that when you look around Google Earth and Sketch-up and all the rest as Jerry is doing, and you don't see any avatar, and you begin urging the Google people to make avatars and put them in...well, you could also open up an inquiry in another direction and say: why avatars? Why indeed? Why not just make the whole thing like a space-ship? Why make a doll and dress him? Invest consciousness in a puppet? Have mechanical arms, or an inventory and a zoom camera. And that's it. The avatar is almost a kind of affectation. Here we are, disembodied spirits, and we can remain so. We have a chance in something new to do without the avatar. Isn't "avatar" just a hopeless meat-world cliche? And so on. You're just not following the riff I was doing here, so eager are you to "set me straight" about this or that technical feature.

Yeah, more freedom for the avatar...and get rid of him altogether. We're in cyberspace. Let's just explore it than, shall we? Without all this fussing with avatars.

As for moving objects from world to world, I don't think that's ever as fascinating as it's cracked up to be. I remember when various people tried to recreate the Moroccan armchair from TSO into SL. Well, it doesn't work. It doesn't fit. You could copy it...but would you want to? There are objects and relationships to objects and objects/avatars/scenes that are all just specific to those worlds. Sure, there's all kinds of "mash-up" possibilities...but it's also nice to keep the integrity of a world. It's not a priority for some as you might imagine. That doesn't mean they are horribly benighted creatures who don't appreciate all the wonders of mash-ups and shipping stuff from world to world like Fedex on crack, it's just that they like worlds, and like their integrity, *too*.

Retracting your view in SL so you don't see the av is rather awkward. You get put in this really bouncy, stupid, hard-to-control mouselook. It really sucks, and your experience suffers. Few people do that. And the avatar, you're stuck with, due to the nature of the world. Everyone is looking at him. In fact, without avatars, how do you know a consciousness is present? Another? A point of light? A wavery blue line?

As for porting the assets, it seems to me that Google Earth, with its powers and backing and bigness and such, by contrast to LL, could very well do all that preserving of educational data or whatever 100 times better, and it would be folly to chase after it. I continue to think that LL's best product is the world, and the one they step on the most in their unseemly haste to make a platform to hook up to the Internet -- where it will be just one more thing among a gadzilloni other things.

People mashing up Google and SL get all giddy and excited about themselves. I question it. We're not here doing neurosurgery with it yet, hmmm? Let's get a grip here.

I actually, with my comment here, didn't start up a debate about "world or web" or "platform or country" but you seem to want one. All I was trying to do was to push the imagination to conceive of 3-d worlds without avatars in the conventional sense of a human or humanoid or animal or body-like character. That was it.

Tagging is something that leaves me particularly unimpressed, and like PowerPoint, contributes a great deal to the dumbing-down of the world.


@Prokofy: Sometimes it's hard to tell when you're starting a discussion, a debate, "pushing the imagination," or just being sarcastic. I took your comment to be the last of those (sarcastic), as you have recently, and often, championed avatar rights.

My point was simply that the ability to port or associate aspects of any 3D world to other arenas of data/communication can be, in many instances, helpful, efficient, economic, fun, creative, useful, etc.

I have been, on other topics here, a very loud proponent of the "integrity" of worlds and characters. The idea of "meeting" a Jedi in WoW is, to me, offensive in the extreme. It breaks the 4th wall over my head and ruins one of the main reasons, for me, to engage in a game. Out-of-character chat in open channels on an RP server is, I think, the height of rudeness. But the *option* or *ability* to move characters, money, objects, events, metadata, etc. from world-to-world is not the same thing as the *necessity* to do so or the *requirement.* More options and more ways for more people to interact with a vibrant, 3D, interesting and connected virtual universe will be "good business" for all the worlds connected to it, I think.

Question: lots of people seem to spend quite a lot of time blogging about SL and posting/replying to bulletin boards about what goes on there. How does that not count as "breaking the integrity of the world?" If you are communicating about the world, outside of it... isn't that just using text and web pages -- the currently avaialble, cross-world media -- to do exactly what I'm suggesting? If other media become available, why should those who prefer to create in those arenas, instead of text and web pages, not have those options? You blog about Second Life. OK. I think that's great. Why shouldn't someone else be allowed to Google Earth or eBay or Amazon or Facebook or MySpace or del.icio.us or Flickr or TrueSpace or... whatever... their Second Life experience.

If you want integrity of world, shut down your blog, don't comment on the forums, and communicate only in-game.

I'm not saying "every option will always be good," just that "more options are good."


Andy, I agree with your point about disruption involved in having the Jedi show up. I find them unsettling even in SL.

But if there isn't a necessity or requirement, why pursue the ability? Why is it never good enough to make the world itself, there must always be this endless erosion of the world to make the world hook up to something else?

The forums of SL are part of the integrated world of SL. But all those other social software type of sites begin to take it farther afield. Sites like slprofiles.com that have people's RL pictures are about as destructive of the fourth wall as you can get. I find that I really do not want to go look at somebody's blurry picture of them nakey with their cats.

People itube and Flikr and do all that, but for different purposes. For some, it's just a more rapid extension of their game play, their websites are as elaborate an RP as their ingame activity. Even Yahoo Messenger for me is a continuation of the world because you're talking about the issues of Sl pretty much. Of course, most people want to carry these virtual experiences over to real. Who could stop them?
That wasn't the point of my post though originally, I was just trying to figure out what are the ramifications of dispensing with the avatar altogether.


"I was just trying to figure out what are the ramifications of dispensing with the avatar altogether."

The avatars help us communicate. They show who is around, and give us non-verbal means of expressing ourselves. I think some form of representation of the users (even if it is only their name) is necessary for communication in-world.


The avatar represents the most obvious metaphor for conveying the idea of 'presence'; but I'd be more interested in seeing work done to distinguish activity in an intuitive way. It's all too difficulty currently to look at a virtual object, be it a website or a video or virtual world, and gauge how long it has been there and how recently it's been since anyone else passed through here.

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