Research Strategy

Paper (PDF): Virtual Worlds for Virtual Lives

A Feasibility Study to Determine the Suitability of Three Different Virtual Environments for Creating an A-Life Art Project using a Virtual Ecosystem and Real-World Environmental Data


Summary

This has been the most useful piece of research I have done so far towards my main project. Until now, I have found it difficult to proceed with my main project because I have not known what medium I would be using - I haven't really had a starting point. While there are still a few small pieces of technical information to slot into place, and a lot of interesting stuff I still need to document properly on this wiki, I have been able to reach a reasonably well-researched and informed decision about the best environment to build my ecosystem out of these three. I'll let the cat out of the bag now, before I hand in my text, and say that Second Life has won the comparison study. In some ways this was a disappointing result for me. I was hoping that OpenSim would be the most suitable, because it is new and exciting, and because it embodies the open-source philosophy so beautifully. However, because of the short timescale of this project I can't let idealism win out over practicalities. The Unreal games engine also looked very promising in terms of modelling potential, but trying to compare this to the other two is like comparing apples to oranges. It represents an entirely different way of working, which would involve doing a lot of modelling beforehand. Because of this it lacks a lot of the dynamic potential of Second Life, where I can let my creatures evolve, rather than calling on a predefined set of models and behaviours. If I were to use UT, my project would turn out conceptually very different. It has been an odd, but necessary experience documenting failure, especially as regards OSGrid, where I spent most of my time either crashing or trying to relog.

One thing that has become very clear during this study is that if I am to use Second Life as an environment to make work, I must address and work with its culture, just as if I was making work in any other "foreign" land. It does have its own set of unspoken societal rules, norms and customs, quite distinct from those of any of the geographically based nations which make up its user-base. If I can embrace these effectively I can use them to my advantage by introducing a social aspect to the work. This will be helpful because I am aware that my thinking can be a bit abstract and ungrounded at times.

I have discovered that I really enjoy making machinima as a documentary tool, hence the DVD format for this presentation. I have been greatly inspired by the work of Gazira Babeli and Evo Szuyuan in this area. I have had quite a few technical problems with video editing (I have been limping along with a rather ancient version of Adobe Premiere), and I can see a huge number of faults in the finished videos, which has led me to think that it's about time I got over my deep aversion to Macs and learnt to use Final Cut Pro properly.

My literature review has encompassed philosophical discussions on the nature of life, A-Life and A-Life art, which has forced me to come to some precise definitions; the pitfalls of most postmodernist thought on "reality" versus some much more useful materialist (but non-essentialist) ideas; technical papers on working in virtual environments; discussions with artists working in Second Life as well as an overview of actual artworks using these and other media. In particular, I have enjoyed reading parts of Deleuze & Guattari's "A Thousand Plateaus" and DeLanda's "Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy", as well as Steve Grand's "Creation: Life and How to Make It", which, while a very practical (if hubristic) book, does encompass a fair amount of philosophical discussion on life as a persistent phenomena and takes a very similar stance on the nature of things as do the previous two works. Richard Dawkins' various works I have found to be very informative and entertainingly blunt, and it has been wonderful to revisit some of Darwin's beautiful prose.

It is a relief to get this study behind me now - I feel I can at last start work on this ecosystem now that I have decided on the most appropriate tools to use.


Notes towards my individually researched text …

- a feasibility study comparing Second Life, Unreal Games engine and one or more OpenSimulator grids, and their suitability as places to make my project.

the study will investigate and compare …

modelling and visual potential
scripting potential
connectivity
cost
learning time
precedents
online audience potential
any other advantages
any potential problems

Aim: to find out which of several virtual environments would be most suitable for me to build an ecosystem.

The environments I am looking at are Second Life, some of the open-sourced grids and the Unreal games engine.

where does this research fit in my main project?

- ref. main proj diagramme (complicated one).
- Talk about connectivity and also advantages of using a VE - much of the work is already done - physics engines and stuff.
- talk about postmodernism's versions of reality v's deleuze/delanda assemblages/abstract machines

what will the research consist of? what will be the end result?


modelling and visual potential

UT
- can I do parametric modelling?
-additive/subtractive V's meshes … are meshes just static? (can I make animated meshes? - i.e. import things from 3DSMax and change the shape dynamically/parametrically during play?)
- need to build everything from scratch - no native sky, water etc.
- Graphically generally the best of the three - will support higher polygon shapes and proper bumpmapping
- what are the limitations re lights, alpha textures etc.

SL/OSGRID
- parametric, primitive based modelling system with limited features.
- dirty, sketchy, quick and very dynamic. I can build in realtime in front of a real audience.


scripting potential

SL/OSGRID
- LSL - a well documented OOP scripting language similar to Java
- scripts can only communicate up to 96m (I think)
- Wide range of prim properties can be changed dynamically via script

OSGRID
- loops not yet implemented - this could be a major problem, or I might just need to find the right person and discover the workarounds.

UT
- has a OOP scripting language similar to Java
- can't find documentation that I can access without a license


connectivity

SL
- There are ways of connecting via server code (python). I found a couple of examples using arduino but am not sure whether they use SL or OpenSim.


cost

SL
- decide what I need - approx 1/2 sim or perhaps even openspace sim depending on scripting limits. Research this, look at prices from reputable estate owners. Not a good idea to buy - could get stuck w land.
- look at any sponsorship opportunities - Odyssey, NMC etc., educational sims.
- start small - I have 117 prims to play with on my own land if I delete my stuff.


learning time

UT
- very high. Need to learn completely everything from scratch - 3D modelling in Max, environment design in UT and scripting.

SL
- This would be the quickest. I have done a fair amount of building in SL before, and a very few bits of scripting.

The flip-side of learning time is learning opportunity …

do I want to learn a completely new set of tools, in which case the final project might have a raw, experimental feel (or might just be not very good), or do I want to consolidate and deepen my knowledge of a set of tools I already have a bit of a grounding in? The focus of this course seems to be on exploring new things but I also need to develop some core skills. I can't be forever a good beginner at things.


precedents

SL
- juria - http://vimeo.com/2664482
- Nonnatus
- Adam Ramona
- Svarga


online audience potential

UT
- small to non-existent. UT players do not seem to be very focussed on the arts. Anybody else would have to buy UT to see the work.

SL
- huge. There is a very active arts community in SL with a good publicity machine in place. I have some good experience in this area through the PgUp exhibition. Building in SL would expose my work to an international audience, including some eminent arts professionals and academics.


any other advantages

SL
- this is the most intangible thing, but I know the culture. I have been in SL long enough to know what goes down well and what bombs. I understand the demographic much more than that of Unreal Tournament.

OSGRID
- I can build and test everything offline.


any potential problems

SL
- lag
- distractions (shoes etc.)

OSGRID
- lag
- instability
- disappearing grids - this technology is very very new and tiny businesses are starting up and folding daily. In the current economic climate there is no guarantee that the grid I invest in will still be there when the project comes to fruition.

UT
- big cultural differences - I don't really understand the gaming community - they are not my natural audience. I don't know how to sell this work to people whose primary interest is in shooting games.


who and what will I refer to? what are my primary and secondary sources?

PRIMARY SOURCES

- a-life scripters, artists, exhibitions and curators in Second Life
- a-life scripters, artists, exhibitions and curators on OpenSimulator grids
- a-life scripters and artists using the Unreal Games engine to make work

SECONDARY SOURCES

- reviews of work
- blogs and forums

TECHNICAL HELP

- tutorials, script libraries, forums

UT

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UnrealEd
http://www.wonderhowto.com/how-to/video/how-to-use-the-unreal-tournament-3-level-editor-146658_4/
http://udn.epicgames.com/Three/UT3ModHome.html

- open source content
- books
- Jared and Martin


how will I conduct, record and analyse the research?

- visit exhibitions and attend in-world lectures and classes
- interviews recorded using chat logs
- screenshots and machinima
- reading, especially technical manuals, tutorials and forums
- practical experimentation

I will make a chart of the results as well as doing a more in-depth qualitative
write-up, illustrated with examples and code snippets. I will analyse the findings
and make a choice about which virtual environment is best for this project,
taking all the factors into consideration.


My Research Strategy

and how it relates to the final five weeks' research for this semester …


21 October 2008 - Numbers: Myth & Fantasy

A discussion of numbers and statistics referencing Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot's book, The Tiger That Isn't. What is a big number? A number's size depends on the context. Discussion of human scale and how numbers quickly become incomprehensible when the exceed this (in either direction). What does "instantly" actually mean? one second? five seconds? … Discussion of clock time (objective) V's lived time (subjective). A book was mentioned: Ten Thoughts about Time. What is the basis for statistics such as that reported recently - the gap between rich and poor is apparently getting smaller? The importance of questioning these things and not just taking it all on trust. Also the importance of developing common-sense rules-of-thumb, so that we can tell at a glance if our quantitative research results are hopelessly nonsensical. I doubt I will be using quantitative research methods for my project, however I love numbers and will be reading the source text because of this.

We also had a group activity examining some myths and truths around research and had a chance to submit our own questions regarding things we were not sure about, for discussion next week.


14 October 2008 - Action Research

Jeremy talked about what we mean by various words such as "sustainability", "iconic", "innovation", "cutting edge", "crisis" and "revolution". There is a danger in using certain words without thinking about what we mean by them - because the words are over-used they can lose their meaning.


7 October 2008 - The Literature Review

Jeremy gave some feedback on our "Big Idea"s and identified some common threads, the strongest of which was connecting. He also mentioned loneliness, identity and regeneration. I think my own idea definiely relates to the connecting theme, but not really to the loneliness and identity theme … it's not particularly about people - well, only indirectly.

He mentioned my project in relation to the current economic crisis and I am now wondering whether I could use data from the world markets to feed my system. It would be great to build something that documented and visualised all the volatility going on.

Literature Review slideshow


Add a New Comment
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License