Wednesday, April 02, 2008

CSI (8): The Conclusion

In a day or two the VW Conference in New York starts. Last october, in the San Jose edition, we had CSI creator Anthony Zuiker as one of the Keynote speakers on the CSI:NY & Second Life mashup. Although we had high anticipations, the actual numbers flocking to Second Life after the show aired were largely disappointing.

Well, the VW Conference is back, and so is CSI. Nic Mitham from KZero puts it nicely:

Well, it’s back with the second part of the story and being aired tonight on CBS. On a related note, it is me or does the timing here seem a little spooky? First episode - just after VW Fall, second episode the night before day one of the NY show. Maybe someone should investigate that.

During the VW Conference in October Zuiker said the plan was to air the second episode in February, but somehow that was delayed. Some even speculated it was cancelled, but yesterday I read this at one of the Electric Sheep blogs;

Tomorrow, at 10, CBS will air the long awaited conclusion to Down the Rabbit Hole and wrap up the story of everybody’s favorite cyberceleb turned killer, Venus.

If you saw last week’s teaser for tomorrow’s episode, then aside from hearing an interesting cover of “Back in the New York Groove” you saw a few machinima shots in the trailer (including the one above.) But, while we can’t really give away any plot points, we can say – there’s more than you saw in the promo.

What’s different about this time though, is that we have some awesome behind the scenes pics we’ll be posting and linking to (courtesy of Damien Fate) explaining how we did some of the shots and showing what went into making them.

A little digging brought me to the official press release:


Primetime CBS Series Offers A Glimpse Into The Future Of 3D Animation Using Electric Sheep’s Machinima

March 31, 2008 — NEW YORK, NY —

CBS drama CSI:NY and the Electric Sheep Company partner to wrap up the Virtual
World killer plot line in the upcoming episode “DOA for a Day” on CSI:NY,
Wednesday, April 2 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
The first part of the episode titled, “Down The Rabbit Hole” which originally aired, Wednesday, October 24th will re-air this Wednesday, March 26 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

In “DOA for a Day” the CSI’s, working with an anonymous tip, travel to an abandoned warehouse and back into the virtual 3D computer world where they hope to find one of the city’s most-wanted criminals.

The Electric Sheep Company, a leading virtual world services company, was hired to supply the animation for both episodes. The machinima was produced by the former ILL Clan, machinima pioneers acquired by the Electric Sheep Company in January 2007 to head their machinima animation division.

“Speed is what distinguishes machinima from all other forms of animation,” says machinima animation director Kerria Seabrooke. “In spite of the extremely tight deadline, we still had time to focus on details such as seamless animations, the richness of color, the flow of fabric, the metallic reflection on a gun, which bring the virtual world into the realm of high-end 3D animation.”

Machinima (machine + cinema) animation differs from traditional 3D animation because it is similar to shooting film or TV. It’s shot in real time without the long rendering times that traditional 3D computer animation requires. The real-time aspect of machinima animation was very important on this project, as there was a two-week turnaround time from script to completed animation.

In addition to the animation, an ongoing cross platform experience was created last fall in the virtual world of Second Life by the Electric Sheep Company in conjunction with CBS and Anthony E. Zuiker (creator of the CSI Franchise). The experience includes a virtual lab where users can recreate the experiments and tests from the show as they solve one crime per month.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

CSI (7): CSI meets expectations

When the first critical and cynical blogs on CSI:NYwere starting to appear I was starting to get some mixed feelings

For exact numbers we either have to wait for CSI or the Electric Sheep Company to come with traffic stats and onRez viewer downloads and compare them to next weeks' Headcount by Tareru Nino. I do believe though that the average number of concurrent logins is higher these days. I'm not saying it was a smashing success. The massive number of islands, the fuzz upfront made us expect a lot. Again, too early to tell. There may well be ROI's made, but not sure which. I hope it'll continue though. Haven't had time to start solving the murder yet, but I for one like the concept. Me liking something isn't a guarantee that it'll make you millions though. (CSI (5) The Aftermath)

Finally, the Second Life Herald posted an article that kind of tried to sink the project.

A virtual recession may threaten the metaverse, as service workers hired to meet and greet noobies suffered mass layoffs today. The layoffs are part of a significant downsizing in the number of CSI:NY sims - perhaps due to a less than enthusiastic response to shark jumping, couch potato marketing of immersive games to television viewers. At this time last week, some enthusiastic reports were suggesting that CBS television's CSI:NY/Second Life hookup could yield as many as 1 million new players. However, that enthusiasm has been tempered by reality. (CSI:NY shrinks by 93%)

I've discussed that post with my good friend Aleister Kronos who has some reservations on the subject as well. There are a few things that don't really fit in. First of all, we came to watch the show and it carried a lot of Cisco sponsoring. Secondly, there was some exaggeration in the announcements, in the way that Hollywood usually does

Just yesterday I spoke with Chris Carella (Satchmo Prototype), Electric Sheep's Chief Creative Officer. I asked him what they thought of the result. Here's what he replied:

"Believe it or not, despite the blogs, everything is going exactly as planned. We purposefully had many many extra sims and staff the first 2 nights as a just in case precaution. There are few user experience worse than not being able to log in or even worse crashing the grid.

We're right on point with ours and CBS' expectations as far as number go. I've been impressed with how many people are still signing up a week later. It's to soon to get a good feel on retention numbers. Our expectations were never the millions of people the SL community expected. The % of people who went from TV to SL are well in line with our other TV experience and CBS's other efforts in cross media.

TV is a passive medium. It's really hard to get people from watching TV, to their computer checking out a website an downloading an application. However, those that do make it become more valuable customers. They spend 2-3 times longer a week with your brand and they will tell others how cool your show is".

The show has had about 16 million viewers, of which some 80.000 signed up for an account in the last week. That's a response of 0.5%. My marketing knowledge is a little rusty, maybe Nic Mitham from KZero can say some clever things on that, but as far as my memory serves me 0.5% is a very acceptable response. Truth is, we don't know if those 80.000 signed up because of CSY:NY. If we look at groups in Second Life, the CSI:NY group is the largest at the moment, having close to 1200 members, but the group for "the Office", which was much more viral and smaller in setup has about 675 members. And if they signed up for CSI, how many of those will stay?

There were those who had expected more than a million of new residents to sign up. Like a 5% response. That would have been awesome, a smashing success. Such a smash hit isn't build overnight though. If the 80K signups is a reliable figure to go by, I would say that the Great Satchmo has every reason to be happy. By marketing and advertising standards it's good. It got publicity and people still come to the CSI:NY sims. Everybody is entitled to his / her opinion. I'm inclined to look at it in a positive fashion. It's been a first time experience. We've got lots to learn. But we'll get there

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

CSI (6): Zuiker explains

CSI (5) The Aftermath

It's saturday night. Just a few days ago we were all watching the grid with great anticipation to see what would be the outcome of the first CSI:NY goes Second Life show. There's many blogs out that that voice an opinion, but I'd pick out Ambling in Second Life over almost any other blog.

Here's Aleister's views:

As the hubbub starts to subside on the whole CSI:NY thing, I thought I would record some of the stuff that’s been rattling around in my head over the last few days.

My first reaction when I read all the hullabaloo coming out of the Virtual Worlds Conference was: “Meh.” However, folks with a far keener interest and knowledge of the entertainment and media industry were at pains to assure me that this was groundbreaking stuff, and that is was “game changing.” I thought I should wait and see. The impression given was that this represented a real leap forward in the pursuit of convergent media, and is the way of the Future. To quote Mr Zuiker, proud owner of the CSI franchise: “What’s the future of television? It is as follows: TV, online, mobile, and gaming.”

As for Linden Lab, CEO Phil Rosedale’s take, as quoted at Ugotrade was: “I think it is a great project. We don’t look for traffic for Second Life in general we more look for opportunities to present Second Life to people in a more obvious way to people who don’t understand it, or haven’t experienced it.”

So… a major leap in convergent media – and good exposure for Linden Lab.What could possibly go wrong?

The big risk we all knew about was grid overload, but so far (touch wood) this has not happened, in part because the invasion of newcomers simply has not happened on anything like the anticipated scale.

However, what I think has gone wrong is, frankly, the whole shebang. What I’ve noted, rather than a magical blending and blurring of the lines between reality and virtuality, is simply the co-opting of Second Life to act as a games
platform. A role for which it is particularly inappropriate – and for which CSI has no need, since such platforms exist already. Now, I’m not trying to be precious about SL here. In the whole wide metaverse there is clearly a large need for entertainment and, indeed, for gaming. But to be blunt, Second Life cannot offer the level of gameplay that seasoned gamers have good reason to expect.

And this leads to my next point. TV is an illusion, where it is necessary to tweak reality (and in this case, virtuality) in the interests of entertainment. CSI was not out to make a documentary about Second Life, and was bound to present it in a way designed to extract the maximum entertainment value. And this has led to 2 basic lies. First, that the Second Life virtual world is smooth, fast and beautifully detailed. This would be fine if newcomers weren’t then invited to come and try it out. The gulf between the TV version and the horribly laggy, grey, slow-rezzing virtuality cannot, to my mind, be called
“good exposure for Second Life”. The second lie is that Second Life is a sleazy game, populated by players. This lie was not necessary to the plot, and is the one with which I have the single biggest issue.

In common with many of the readers of this blog, I spend a great deal of time in Real Life extolling the features and benefits of Second Life and virtual worlds in general. Through this one piece of unnecessary scripting I feel like I’ve been thrown back a year in my own evangelising efforts; back to the days of: “Second Life? It’s just a game isn’t it? Full of sleazeballs and geeks.”
Again, how this view of Second Life can be viewed as “good exposure” I am at a loss to explain. This might also explain the less-than-impressive uptake of new accounts.

On a lighter note – I was tempted to call this piece: CISCO:NY. As I have mentioned previously, the grossly over-the-top “Ciscofication” was – to me at least – a complete turn-off.

I think Linden Lab have done themselves no favours here. It is not true that “all publicity is good publicity.” I am dismayed at the short-termism shown by Linden in going along with this farrago. Also, in handing over the source of the viewer to Electric Sheep we have the interesting situation where the open source code has been re-skinned, a few neat, new features added, and the whole thing seemingly locked up again as a proprietary product. Well that’s what I think.

So what did I get wrong?

The ciscofication maybe was a bit over the top, but here in Europe with tv stations like the BBC and public broadcasting companies in the Netherlands we do have a slightly different opinion of such blunt advertising. But seriously,

There's several blogs that have been negative over the amount of traffic generated by the CSI show. Well, it was aired in different timezones, people came in in several runs. And in the days after. True enough, these 16 million viewers didn't push the SL headcount from 9 to 10 million overnight, but it's too early to tell. There's a lot of speculation on how many came in. Prokovy Neva states (on the first timezone run):

"But the numbers of people on those sims, for the three
hours I watched them before, during, and after the CSINY show, couldn't have beat 5,000 concomittant, and no more than 20,000 max total arrivals. In fact, it's probably far lower."

For exact numbers we either have to wait for CSI or the Electric Sheep Company to come with traffic stats and onRez viewer downloads and compare them to next weeks' Headcount by Tareru Nino. I do believe though that the average number of concurrent logins is higher these days. I'm not saying it was a smashing success. The massive number of islands, the fuzz upfront made us expect a lot. Again, too early to tell. There may well be ROI's made, but not sure which. I hope it'll continue though. Haven't had time to start solving the murder yet, but I for one like the concept. Me liking something isn't a guarantee that it'll make you millions though.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

CSI (4) The Show

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

CSI (3): Flying High

The CSY-NY virtual scene has been set up on a 4 sim base, 2 orientation sims (east and west) and two crimescene sims (north and south). This setup is repeated about a 100 times to be able to hold all these CSI addicts coming in tonight.

At this early hour there were quite a few people walking around already and it took a little while before our gray selves colored up and we could proudly fly our virtual colors again. This doesn't bode too well for later today, after the show.

Here's the Crimescene:

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CSI (2) Down the Rabbit Hole

Wednesday, October 24, 10pm et/pt

In this episode CSI New York is all about finding Venus Game:

On October 24, Detective Mac Taylor chased a murderer, Venus, into Second Life. She's on the loose, and her virtual body count is rising. Track her down before she kills again!

CBS has finally opened up their website to support tonight's multimedia show. Also in Second Life the sims are ready to rock. The CSI-NY - Electric Sheep Company gang put in an amazing 416 islands, good enough to hold about 20.000 concurrent logins.

From their website you can immediately sign up for your new flashy virtual alter ego. Of course not necessary for those already having their Second Life avatar. However I took a little peek and I must admit, I didn't go further than the avatar selection, but the Electric Sheep Company did a good show on the graphics. It has a slick look and feel.

I skipped the registration part and went on to step 3: Downloading the new 34 Mb On-Rez viewer, available from this location. The first addon to the default Linden Lab viewer is that aside from English and Korean it now has German and Japanese language support.

Okay, time to immerse

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CSI (1) D-Day for Second Life

It's october 24th, which means D-Day for Second Life stability. Today's the day that CSI New York will immerse into Second Life. Among the Second Life establishment the hour of truth brings about mixed feelings.

Everyone with a media background is looking forward to this event with great anticipation and anxiety. By putting Second Life (and virtual worlds in general) right in the spotlight of the world's largest (US$ 6billion) television show, bringing it to the homes of 16 million people at once today is a day that could potentially change the future of both the entertainment and the virtual world industry.

Everyone with a background in testing, infrastructure and risk management is looking forward to this event, while holding their breath or saying their prayers (except risk managers don't pray, they'd have fall-back scenario's) questioning if Second Life is ready to perform today. A normal will see about 45K concurrent logins. What if an additional 25K out of the 16 million viewers decides to check out Second Life within the hour after the show has ended?

As usual, the early bird catches the worm. Here's part of Aleister's thoughts on tonights moment of truth:

There's not much to say about this really. In my view, it is an interesting experiment but the lack of maturity and stability of virtual worlds like Second Life means this is happening far too early. Perhaps in another 12-18 months.

We will see.As I don't follow the show, or have any interest in it, I am not best positioned to judge the merits or otherwise of the gameplay - which looks fairly
straightforward to my eye. I have to say that the in-yer-face shameless promotion of Cisco I find particularly jarring. But then, I like to be seduced by advertising, not beaten about the head with it.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Santa Zuiker

Here's another Keynote tidbit. Anthony Zuiker went backstage and came out as Santa Zuiker throwing candybars at the audience.

According to Zuiker the Future is like Snickers:

  • It's delicious

  • It's a little nuts and it's

  • oh so sweet.

What he was referring to is how this candybar originated when two different companies started working together, a sort of early mashup of biscuit and chocolat producers.

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More on CSI

Here's some more on the CSI gig which Electric Sheep is pulling. During the future of entertainment session I asked Sibley and Reuben if Machinima were now going mainstream, and if the grid was ready. Is Second Life capable of handling this mass media attention?

There's gonna be 16 million viewers. Not all have internet, not all have the needed hardware. Some will fall out due to long downloads, some will get losts with the introduction stuff. But there will be thousands of people logging into Second Life on the 24th.

This is an outstanding opportunity for the Electric Sheep Company to promote their new viewer (see Second Life Insider). Taken into account that your average SL sim is maxed out at 50 visitors, Sibley hinted at hundreds of sims being lined up to feed the masses. This hint may bear some truth and Linden Lab may be holding back capacity to blow out on the 24th. As it stands right now, the sim-auction center is completely empty, no Islands on sale at the moment.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

CSI hits Second Life.


Yesterday I shortly blogged on the new Electric Sheep Company project. Today the Second Life Insider blogged this to. The project involves a collaboration with CSI, the world's number one television show.

One of the keynote speakers of the Virtual World Conference was Anothony Zuiker, creator of CSI who told us more on the project. On october 24th CSI New York will submerge into Second Life, with Gary Senise chasing the murder suspect into Second Life. This airing will get Second Life into the homes of 16 million viewers.

This broadcast will get a follow up on february 6th 2008. It calls for action, you can join the CSI team and solve the crime. Zuiker sees virtual worlds as the next level of entertainment which will be cross platform in the future. "After 9/11 the world changed. Insecure teenagers started looking for communitieds and businesses started to think cross platform," he said. This cross platform operation started for CSI with viewer interaction by using cell-phones, now it will get multi-platform with Second Life stuff, inworld gaming and blogging. There will be a regular Murder of the Month blogpost by Anthony and you have to finish it.This will put on heavy strain on Second Life, calling for performance on the 24th. Let's wait and find out what the limit of concurrent log-ons will be.

Here a screenshot of the episode that will air on the 24th:

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