Friday, May 09, 2008

Prepare for the Worst - Christian Aid week Machinima

Last year I've written a number of blogentries on NGO's getting into Second Life, such as the Red Cross, Disabled Sports, Flying Doctors, the MacArthur Foundation , Dance 4 Life and a few others. It's fundraising 2.0 time again, as I noticed a nice machinima produced by an organisation called Christian Aid.

At their blog the machinima is introduced:

This year’s Christian Aid Week advert highlights the work we do in helping people prepare for the worst. You can’t stop a hurricane, but you can help save lives by funding stronger buildings and installing early warning alarms. It’s just one of the ways Christian Aid makes a real difference to the lives of millions of vulnerable people across the world. Help us continue our work by supporting us this Christian Aid Week: please donate what you can.
I'm not sure in which virtual world this machinima is shot, but I like the way they've used a virtual world to show the impact of a hurricane, although right now one would probably use shots from Birma / Myanmar suffering from last week's disaster.

To find out more, visit the Christian Aid website / blog.

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Dutch Banker goes Supermodel

Dutch Triple A rated bank Rabobank has been fiddling around with gadgets, widgets and virtual worlds a lot in the past years. Their first metaversal experience came from Why Robbie Rocks and in april 2008 the bank hit the typical avatar-based 'girlworld' goSupermodel targeted at a 12 to 17 year old audience, loosely styled like Habbo Hotel.

goSupermodel has about 250.000 unique visitors a month, which log in about 200 times a month and spend 22 minutes each session. Rabobank has launched a chatbot, called Yvette. Through the chatbot Yvette you can ask questions about finance. This financial coach is also reachable through SMS, MSN, Hyves and Live-spaces.

Actual numbers from the first week of operation are promising:
  • 5.881 mails to Yvette
  • 25.901 chatsessions with the girls
  • 44.305 visits to the Rabobank office

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Civilisation IV - Beyond the Sword

Not feeling in the mood to explore the Metaverse, I've spend some time playing the latest Civilisation game, one of my old time favorites.

The first Civilisation game (which came in a 3 floppy disk edition) was an instant classic when it hit the market in 1991. I remember playing the game untill way past bedtime during college. This first edition was of course pretty basic in graphics and gameplay. You had a world, a number of civilisations you could play and so on. After a little while Civilisation II hit the market, and Sid Meier started exploring new Civilisations. This 2nd edition centered in the near east, primarily adding the Carthagens to the game. I really missed out on the big world map so I was happy when Civ III was released and we were back to normal gameplay again.

Civilisation IV (by Firaxis Games) is the 2005 release of the game and has been severely upgraded, not only in graphics, but also in a number of other areas:

The concept of religion is new to Civilization IV, where in previous games players built generic temples and cathedrals to contribute to happiness and culture. There are now seven distinct religions in the game: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism. Each religion is associated with a specific technology on the tech tree; the first civilization that gains the technology founds the religion. The four later religions (Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, and Taoism) begin with a free Missionary unit for reasons of game balance; missionaries can later be trained at a city that has constructed an associated monastery. Other than this, there are no special traits or bonuses associated with any particular religion
in order to avoid controversy.

Religion factors into a number of existing game mechanics. Civilizations that share a common state religion will find themselves more agreeable in their diplomatic dealings; conversely, civilizations with differing state religions will not be as close diplomatically. The religion's founder may also receive an economic benefit: if that civilization expends a Great Prophet at their religion's holy (founding) city, they will construct that religion's most sacred building, and it will generate 1 gold per turn for every
other city that hosts said religion. Once a religion has spread to a city, there is no way to remove it from said city. Finally, if a civilization has a state religion and owns that religion's holy city, they will receive 'line-of-sight' in every other city hosting that religion.

The new civics model of government also has a strong effect on religion. Players can found a state religion, declare religious freedom, restrict non-state religious adoption, or take other actions that have profound impacts on the religious lives of their subjects. These civics can provide a great incentive to spread a state religion throughout one's empire, as the best bonuses will only be applied to cities in which the religion is present." (Wikipedia)

Another new feature of the game is that you've got more civilisations to chose from, and a number of civilisations have more than one leader to choose from, each with their special traits and special units.

The main concept of the game is to build your nation: explore, found new cities and build them into little paradises for your population. In Civ - IV there are a ton of new buildings to build, like groceries, forges, drydocks etcetera.

An important gamefeature is the ability to build World Wonders. These wonders bring extra happiness, culture, productivity or other benefits to your nation. In Civ IV the number of world wonders has been expanded drastically as well. There are new additions such as the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and a whole range of religious and Asiatic world wonders.

When you work your way through history, it's unavoifable to run into a war at times. In this case I got dragged into a war two times because vassal nations decided to hammer eachother, drawing me in as well. Fortunately, World wonders such as the United Nations, or the Apostolic Palace give you tools to declare worldwide peace soon enough.

In the early Civilisation editions the world was cramped. You had to expand fast to secure your place in history. To speed up your development it's vital to share knowledge with your neigbours before trying to reinvent the wheel everytime yourself. In the old games, you had to have a little luck there, it largely depended on which continent you landed on. Sometimes, the civs on the other content had a faster development rate and you fell behind. In Civ IV every civilisation starts on the same continent, and there's a second continent (If you play world-like map) called "The New World" which has to be discovered and colonised as well.

Not being a big fan of "Shoot 'em up" games, I prefer to win by technological dominance, rather than destroying my opponents. This time I was way ahead of the competition and started building my spaceship when the neighbouring countries were researching how to build Railroads. On earlier occasions, the spacerace was a closely contested project and needed numerous sabotage efforts to stop the competition for achieving this victory before me.

And victory is there... We've gone where no man has gone before and started a colony. Here ends the 'Normal' Civilisation game, now let's have a look at the "Beyond the Sword" expansion pack.

This release of Civilisation comes with a number of expansion packs, such as "Warlords" and "Beyond the Sword" which bring a number of new features to the game as well as a range of scenario's to play.

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Me the Media - about me as well

Mid april the Sogeti Vint Institute released its latest book, called "Me the Media. Past, Present and Future of the Third Media Revolution".

VINT is Sogeti Group's New Technology Research Institute, founded as the Verkennings Instituut Nieuwe Technologie in the Netherlands in 1994. Currently VINT has offices in Amsterdam, Paris, Stockholm and Washington.

"Me the Media " investigates the exciting development of web media. It envisages a future of hyper-individualization, of ICTainment on top of ICTechnology, and of meaningful web conversations between organizations, customers and employees. Somewhere in the book you run into a picture of yours truly, both avatar and Real Life and referral to the MindBlizzard blog. On the Me The Media website you'll find a short outline of the book in English as well.

To get more info on the novel, sign up for the book presentation at the Vint Quarterly Technology Update in 't Spant in Bussum on May 13th.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

SEAT Auto Emoción

VeeJay's time has been taken up with more pressing matters, and as a result he was not able to get to this sim yet - so he has asked me to cross-post this article from my Ambling in Second Life blog...

I almost forgot about this one, but a piece of tumbleweed blowing through my otherwise vacant mind dislodged a memory that I had forgotten about. Around a week or so ago I got an email from Barrabas Zabaleta of virtual worlds builders, Mosi Mosi (who produced the entertainingly fun Prados Azules sim). The mail contained an offer of a pre-launch walkabout of a new sim. I had meant to take up the offer, got sidetracked and ended up forgetting about it... until today. Why today? Well today was when the sim actually opened, and this (or the tumbleweed) triggered my memory. I was a little surprised when I checked the map, though. The sim was empty. Had I got the dates muddled up? Had I missed it? Was I too early? The answers are (in order): 'No'; 'Dunno' and 'Dunno'.

But before further ponderings on this, it would be a good idea to tell you about SEAT. The company name is an acronym for Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo; in English, Spanish Saloon Car Company. Founded in 1950, it used to make re-badged Fiat cars for the Spanish domestic market. It has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen since 1990, producing a popular range of cars for both the domestic and international marketplace. As for the 'auto emoción' strapline, I can't find a really good reference for this, but I take it to mean that the SEAT design philosophy is to produce exciting vehicles that are enjoyable, even thrilling, to drive. Perhaps The Guardian had it right in 2006, when reviewing the Leon:

"SEAT is not the world's most popular brand, but it is trying. Its recent products have been supported by splashy advertising campaigns, pressing home the slogan "auto emocion", which, it would appear, is to be said where possible in a smoky, post-coital whisper. By this means the company hopes to persuade us that it is an A-grade manufacturer of pulse-quickening automobiles, rather than a
low-maintenance corporate outcrop of the VW group and a budget car builder from Spain - Spain being about as famous for car production as Italy is for golfing holidays

The car got a good review, by the way... but now let's move on to the sim.

The first thing that struck me was just how much Mosi Mosi have been able to fit into the sim, yet without it feeling cramped. I honestly had to check the Map a couple of times, to reassure myself that it was just the one sim! There's a lot to see and do, as you might expect. One nice idea is a series of computer screens showing some "html-on-a-prim" webpages you should explore. By way of an example, in the attached photoset, I've included Torley's YouTube page. If you are new to SL, there's a number of orientation displays and there's also a HUD you can pick up, giving you information on cool sites to visit in SL.

The cars are displayed in an elegant showroom, all sweeping curves and open space. Here you can pick up a range of freebies, ranging from drivers' helmets to scuba diving gear. While the latter seems bizarre - as if shoe-horned into the sim - there does seem to be some logic, since you are able to use your newly-gained equipment at the Beach Club. Here, you can also indulge in dancing and generally carousing. The biggest freebie is a car - but you have to win this by completing a series of challenges, at the end of which you receive your license and vehicle. Being totally rubbish at driving in SL, I did not give it a go. Finally there's a sandbox - which is nice to see.

Here's a few photos to give you the flavour:

How this sim will fare with those who are professional marketing folk, I do not know. However, I liked the sim. It had handy hints for newcomers, lots of freebies, a sandbox (not that common these days) and some interesting, interactive challenges. It is also well constructed, coherent and adheres well to SEAT's branding.

My only note of concern is about the promotion of the sim. I had expected some indications of a launch party, and perhaps a series of events to get the sim off to a good start. Promotion through SEAT's existing websites too - if it's there, I've not spotted it. So it appears to be something of a soft launch. If so, then all well and good. But for the company to extract more from the site, it will need a bigger, louder launch at some point - and a schedule of events and competitions might be an idea, too. To be honest, in promotional terms, I'm not sure how much good these actually do - but they're better than comatose sims.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Taking it Slow - Living the Life

Taking it Slow

It's been about a month since I last posted here at the MindBlizzard blog. Some havhave thought it for audacious reasons, like 'banning Second Life' because of the new Trademark Regulations, and I wish it were true.

Prime reason for my absense is that Real Life needed a lot of attention. My mother has been diagnosed cancer and has been on and off into the hospital. It puts a little strain on my family as well as we have to go over regularly and help out. Since winter has been long, and we're all dying to get some warmer, sunny weather, my own health has been failing a little as well, being floored by the flu twice in a month.

Live the Life

What spare time I had, I spent outside the Metaverse -in private gaming. One of these adventures I'd like to share with you. In the early 90's I played a lot of Sid Meier games, like Civilisation (1991) and Railroad Tycoon (1990), which would fit onto 3 floppy disks at the time. I've been playing Civilisation a lot over the years, upgrading every version as soon as it came out. There was one more game which I played for a little while, which was "Pirates! Gold" (1993)

Last year I already tried out the new Railroads version, but aside from improved graphics, I think the gameplay didn't match the original. Some two months ago I ran into the new Pirates version, titled "Live the Life" (Official Site)

"Sid Meier's Pirates! is a 2004 strategy/action/adventure computer game developed by Firaxis Games and published by Atari.[1] The game is based on Sid Meier's earlier 1987 game, also named Sid Meier's Pirates!. Overall, the gameplay remains similar to the original game, though it features a 3D game engine (NDL's Gamebryo). Some elements such as sun sighting have been removed, but other features have been added, such as a ballroom dancing mini-game and an improved turn-based land combat system." (Wikipedia)

As with "Side Meier's Railroads" (2006), this new Pirates! version isn't much more than a brush up of the graphics, but its been fun to play for old times sake. A couple of screenshots:

Most importantly, as a pirate, you sail the caribbean seas, chasing Spanish galleons laden with treasure, troops or spices. Visit the various Governors regularly to get promotions, and be sure to marry a Governor's daughter, as this is where the real money is. Once you're married, she'll give you clues to Lost Cities of the Aztec, Incan and Olmec empires which will yield great treasures.

Here's a screener of the retirement page. Final rankings, Pirates defeated, treasures found etc.

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