Saturday 30 June 2012

Opensim Can Do Anything That Minecraft Can Do

Presently, the only real money being made out of Opensim is by those who host regions for other people. These are either fully fledged grids with community and economy that lease land to be bought and sold within the confines of their respective virtual environments, or basic server companies who will host full grids on behalf of their customers or host standalones and regions connected to open grids like OSgrid. There is no serious money being made by content sellers yet or from in-world services and uploads. In deed, some grids like Inworldz don't charge for uploads anyway. So, the thing is if money can only be made from hosting, how will Opensim break out of the wilderness of vast tracts of virtual land that is well enough built but is also very empty?

The owners of Inworldz have done a lot of work to build community over the past few years and, while it has grown to be the largest and most populated individual grid on the open Metaverse, it can hardly be sighted as an example of meteoric growth. In the same time that Inworldz has existed Minecraft has grown to in excess of 33 million registered users and that includes some 7.5 million since the start of the 2012 alone. Both worlds can be described as open-ended build, share and connect with friends type platforms and when comparing their graphics, well, there really is nothing in it! Minecraft is out of the 8-bit world of NES for blocky graphics while Inworldz is as good as state of the art. Minecraft is old school while Opensim is up to date. And yet Minecraft pulls in the gamers like tomorrow is the end of the world!
I know, the graphics are awful but the kids love Minecraft and perhaps it's not the graphics they love but the game play itself. There is a whole bunch of monsters to kill and they give you things when defeated. Spiders give you string to make bows and Zombies will drop feathers that can be used in arrow making. With 33 million users it must have some pretty powerful magic!

Minecraft has got something that is not particularly special or that unique but it works. It works to such an extent that the owners, Mojang are now rolling in money. The blocky graphics have even worked in their favour to secure a deal with LEGO. So what is it with Opensim worlds that they can't pull in more users quickly even though Second Life is flat-lining?

I am sure brighter people than I can offer better answers to these question than I can but I am just looking at the way it is and wondering how an Opensim world could steal some of Minecraft's magic. I mean, what is that something that is not particularly special that works for Minecraft and can it be made to work in an Opensim world?

Actually, the more I look at it the more I realize it has all been done before in Second Life. In fact, I did very similar when I scripted the Barbary coast combat meter. Minecraft has several modes of play but Survival is the mode that best highlights it's specialness - if you can call it that. In Survival mode you enter a random world and you own nothing but you can wonder around gathering resources including food, materials and tools with which to construct a house for example or even a small fortress. Creating the stuff you need is the most important thing to do in Minecraft and you do this by basically converting the resources you find to the items you need. How it is done is explained on the various forums and Wiki pages. It's not very well explained actually and takes a lot of effort to learn everything. There are a lot of recipes and items you work with in the game and it can be quite intimidating and time consuming to learn yet people dedicate countless hours to it.

Here, Air Buccaneers from LudoCraft on Unity3D
demonstrates exciting game play in a Steampunk
inspired world with all the action of battling air ships.
Imagine the fun of finding the meterials to build
such an ship then using it to dominate the skies

Minecraft dose actually have quite a steep learning curve but once you gain mastery over the system there is a great sense of fulfillment and it's all very addictive anyway. It gets mildly scary too when night falls and the monsters come out to play! This is when all that work gathering and learning to make stuff pays off. You need simple things like a torch to light your way and a sword to kill the monsters with. Indeed, you are by and large the master of your fate by what you can make.

Opensim worlds are rich in features that can simulate pretty much anything that Minecraft dose except perhaps mining down through the blocky landscape. Opensim has NPC bots now and they are getting quite sophisticated in what they can be programmed to do so what is to stop a nifty script that turns a bot into a monster? An NPC can be given purpose just like monsters in Minecraft which can be found inhabiting deep dark mines where the most precious resources are to be found. Surely this can be done in an Opensim world one way or another. Why not?

You just need a combat meter that enables certain functions related to the game system you want to make. Your NPC monsters need to suffer damage from your sword and your character needs to suffer damage from the horrid actions of the monsters. Moreover, you need to gather food resources that can be eaten or converted into consumables to maintain your avatar's health. You should be able to grow food or hunt meat and net fish. It should also be possible to fight other avatars and even capture them too. It should even be possible to force a captive to work in a mine or in fields getting resources for you.

The drawback with Opensim is that if you run your sim on, say, OSgrid where content can easily be copied at present then the combat meter is wide open to hacking and cheating which rather undermines the game experience. In a closed world like one of the commercial grids this is not a problem but if you are like me and would prefer to be connected with the rest of the open Metaverse then  a security solution is required. It is one thing to develop features that resemble Minecraft but, in my view, it makes no sense to then shut yourself off from the potentially huge market Hypergrid is likely to make possible. Absolutely not. But no worry, Hypergrid II promises to offer new solutions to the content security issue that can work for us.

Here an Amazon warrioress at Barbary coast in Second Life. Over her head you can make out the meter tag with her name, role, status, health level, skill level and the balance of her money.

HG2 is expected to uphold the permissions set by the content creator rather than leaving it to the region owner to set the OutwardBounds permission to allow all content to leave, or not leave, the grid or standalone. Once we have this method for setting permissions then the grid can remain open to Hypergrid travel and the free flow of perm-allowed content while keeping our combat meter safely locked into our world no mater who gets to own a copy. What's more, it is perfectly feasible for the meter to be supplied on other HG2 grids that have been approved trust worthy. And the meter, provided it uses data storage on a http server independently of the virtual world we are active in, it should have no problem recognizing individual avatar names across worlds.

As mentioned already, in Minecraft you have to master the art of making what you need from the resources you gather or mine. Nothing is infinitely durable in Minecraft either. It will wear out, get consumed or perish eventually. Thus, there is constant demand and it is the job of meeting this demand that takes up a good deal of your time. In Opensim and Second Life we don't have resources in the form bricks, fire or wooden doors like Minecraft has but we do have a supply of prim's that can be shaped, linked together and textured to look like all kinds of items from clothes to sail boats. We have token currencies too and people create items that never wear out and sell them on the open market. There is no real sense of value until we consider leaving Second Life and find we can't take all that stuff we paid for with us. Then we suddenly realize it has value but it's a real world value and it is the ability to use real world money to buy your way through Second Life or Opensim that actually undermines some of the functionality that should be enriching your experience and sense of immersion.

Here a store room at the Port of Moresh in OSgrid
holds some innocent looking crates and barrels.
Sure enough the barrels hold ale that was brewed
in the port using grain gathered locally by slaves.
The barrel can dispense tankards of ale but it
could just as easily be a powder keg made from
saltpeter mined near by. It can be used to

blow a scripted door open no less!
To take an example consider a role play game in Second Life where warriors slog it out in countless fights using swords, bow and arrows or guns even. To register hits from the weapons some kind of combat meter must be worn by the combatants and, where the meter will probably be supplied for a particular RPG theme, most often the weapons themselves are bought on the open market. No one has to do anything but spend some Linden dollars or local currency (perhaps OMC or Paypal) which they buy with real world money. So there is little or no regulation as to what the weapons can do or how fast they do it come to that. There may be something in the rules of the RPG that forbid certain types of weapon but I have never heard of a role play game were the rules require you to find or use up resources to justify the use of a particular weapon. Indeed, I doubt if it could be enforced even if there were such rules without doing the actual scripting one's self as I did.

Another example might be the use of a ship with an array of cannons on either side. Who is to say what kind of ship you can own? Here again some venues list a selection of acceptable ship types but I don't know of any that basically say in their rules, if they have any, that you have to justify using a particular ship for reasons such as the resources you spent or the training you can prove to have received. For Second Life and even Opensim it basically comes down to what you can afford to spend which is really quite unfair on the guy who can't afford it. There are few games that do sell their own weapons which depend on the dedicated meter the game developer has made available to work. We have this in Barbary Coast RPG but it is still just part of the solution I would want in order to get anywhere near that model on which Minecraft functions. Generally, however, most combat meters in Second Life don't require resource gathering, no weapons making, no skill earned and really no work involved at all other than the speed of your connection and your quickness to hit the buttons. You buy your ship or sword or gun and do your worst and S/he that owns the best kick-ass-kit stands to win the day.

Here we need to reconsider what content really means and what value to place on it in our Opensim worlds if we want to have better, fairer and more impressive gaming. We need to engage players in the way Minecraft dose. We want to make their experience enjoyable whether they content themselves some days to gather or mine resources, another day to turn those resources into products useful to anyone in the game, or yet another day in which they battle with enemies, capture slaves of just kill monsters and vermin that infest the world.

The game builder needs to design a combat meter that can handle a fair few interactions including regulating the state of health of the avatar both in terms of nutrition as well as combat injury. Healing must be possible and the ability to eat food and take drink. The meter must have a skill level determined by winning and losing fights at least. There must be token money as well (not money that can be bought with real world money) to buy some of the goods being produced (you can't make everything). Players need to be able to trade goods, resources and make token money. For that the system must be able to deliver finished freebie goods that can only be bought and traded in the game. The same goods must have resource value and a life expectancy attached to them in a way the meter and world understands. They should perish or become unusable once they reach the end of their service life. And, above all, the freebies must be quality products that are locked into your game world even if the region is open to Hypergrid travel.

So the developer needs to get content made that is in theme or serves special purpose in the game such as food products. They need a meter and a well built region or set of regions that accurately represent their game world. They also need some rules - not necessarily intensive rules but enough to set the player on the right course quickly. This is especially needed for those players - probably more than you might think - that don't bother or skip over the material and prefer to rush off and learn by trial and error (just the sort that get it wrong, upset others and cause much of the angry exchanges in role play worlds). There should be a well written bio as well from which to gain a sense of the world the player will inhabit. Preferably, write a short novel in an ebook or PDF file for those who do take the trouble to read and are likely to be your most stable long term players. They would appreciate a story centered in your world and it would convey a lot more meaning to it which can place the gamer in the right mind set to begin their adventure.

Minecraft has something special that works for a lot of people but Opensim has huge potential to do some of what Minecraft dose. It can create a more realistic environment too. Minecraft's blocky graphics are part of it's unique character and it appeals to the very young and not so young alike. It can't do anything that is more suited to a mature user base and certainly not adult stuff. In contrast the Opensim platform is powerful, sophisticated and you can script for it. It can be used to develop most types of game both interactive and graphically realistic. The game we want to build and sell is not meant to be anything like Minecraft but it should exploit some of the features that work for Minecraft but done in a totally Opensim way. 

Here a somewhat bow legged Gaga visits the all new Cloud Party to check it out. My real interest of course is if webGL -  which puts this viewer in a web page (no download!) - holds out any hope it may become a usable application for Opensim. Certainly, with such ease of use it would be ideal for role playing on a web page while doing all the hard work and building in a full viewer. I must admit though is was quite good and I didn't need to use Facebook to get in. Just use Mind you I couldn't gain any land without a real login but, hey!

Opensim has clear advantages over Second Life. For one, you as owner, can decide what terms of use to impose. You don't have to allow the kind of pornography allowed in Second Life. But you might want to allow the kind of adult behavior that is erotic but not vile beyond reason or involving child avatars. You, as owner, can also control much of what happens in your sims unlike SL and while it is true many people stay with SL for the sake of their personal inventory or the traffic that affords them some income from sales it remains a closed world and basically a dead end street. Opensim continues to develop all the time. It's free and open source but yes it still has bugs and short comings which give Second Life that vital edge for now. But Hypergrid is developing too and soon it will offer new avenues to a greater market. We may even be able to experience Opensim via webGL before long similar to the new Cloud Party viewer in a web browser. The bottom line is there is everything to play for and Opensim really is a fantastic tool for creating virtual worlds by just about any body.