Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Importance Of Shadow and Light - 2D Game Texture Creation

After reading this book my eyes were opened to some errors I had made and indeed continue to make when creating seamless 2D game textures.

To the untrained eye, the first texture in this post may look OK.
In fact,  it is OK but if a game studio was to consider using this in the development of a new game it would probably be rejected.

Do you know why?

Let me put it this way; By looking at the shadows on this texture,  where is the light source coming from?

I made a mistake in the creation of this texture when using Photoshops default "drop shadow"or the bevel /emboss tool.

I normally always ensure the drop shadow and bevel/emboss light source direction is set to 90 degrees which casts shadows horizontally.

For some reason, I overlooked or forgot this and as a result the shadow is cast in a diagonal upper right direction meaning the light source is coming from the left hand lower corner of the texture.

That is not a natural light source location unless it's coming from artificial light such as a floor spot light from an interior room.

All external textures should have a very subtle 90 degree shadow which tells even the untrained eye that the light source is coming from directly above or midday sun.
But even that is not the correct method for game texture creation.

The shadow on this texture is too obvious. If I was to remake this texture it wouldn't have any shadow at all, or if it did, it would be very subtle.

Why? Well, because game engines have their own shaders and environment simulators which simulate weather and "real time" natural environments.

Shadows from assets in games will be cast longer or shorter depending on where the sun or moon is positioned in the sky and will also move accordingly. If the sky is hazy or overcast, the shadows would be very subtle indeed.

So to have a static dark, sharp and "directional" shadow on a texture used within a game engine would be in conflict with the games shaders and it would look artificial or "out of place"

As Second Life is heading towards more sophisticated game shaders we will find a lot of textures made previously will look strange in the new environment when real time natural environment simulators are used.

Here's another example of an unnatural architecture texture.

Take a good look at the window frame, see how it just "sits" on top of the different depths of the walls carved stone surface?
It should look like it has been "built in" to support the window and not like it's literally been stuck to the wall.

This is where the use of hand drawn shadow and light can make a difference.



Here's an example of how you can over come this kind of problem.



Look closely at the gold borders on this wall where they meet the window frame.
It's the same window that I used in the above texture,  but notice how it appears to "sit" into the wall a little?

This is easily achieved by adding a dark and light line at the edge of the window frame where it meets the wall, in this case the gold borders.

You need to play around with the opacity, Gaussian blur and blending modes of your shadow and light to create the illusion of depth by giving the edge of the wall a beginning and an end.


Here's another good example of how using manually drawn shadow and light can create the illusion of depth.


See how the door frame has an edge to it?

That was done by adding two strips, one dark, one white. The dark creating shadow and the white to create the illusion of light as it catches the edge of the door frame.

When you manually combine shadow and light you can create the illusion of depth or edges to areas that don't naturally have one.
Without it, this door would appear "stuck" on to the wall and would look unrealistic.


I am far from an expert and even this last image isn't perfect.

For an old gothic build like this, the door frame is too straight and perfect. It should be a little uneven and have some weathering or areas of loose crumbling stone.

The point is no matter where you are in the development of creating 2D photo realistic textures for games, there is always room for improvement.
If you look long enough, you can probably find little details that could look so much more realistic if you spend another 30 minutes in post work.

Taking photographs for textures helps you to notice these natural imperfections in architecture.
When looking through the lens of a camera you tend to notice things that you would not normally give a second thought to.

I personally do not like the pristine clean look of some of the builds in Second Life, it's not natural to have brilliant white painted picket fences or perfectly clean interior walls. It looks artificial like The Sims.

I have become quite anal about my work over the last 18 months and can hardly bear to look at my really old stuff, I find it uncomfortable.
And the chances are in another 18 months I will probably look at stuff I consider good by todays standards and cringe all over again.










Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Second Life - The Post Beta Days

I was browsing through my Photobucket account just now and found these really old screenshots of Second Life in 2004.

That's me in April 2004 - Note the beautiful SL wig hair and the fabulous detailed skin lol.

It amazed me how far SL has come in terms of avatar appearance, terrain, building and textures and simple to complex animations.

Standard "sit" animations were not well, standard and neither was walking. There were no Animation Override HUDs back then, your hair was "fixed" (no flexi prim) and would sometimes cause en entire sim to crash with the LAG attached to the 6000 prim curly hair.

The clothing was so basic compared to todays standards and baked lighting wasn't heard of.

Not too many people owned photoshop much less knew how to use it and those that did made a lot of money being the first to bring skins into SL such as the designer from SecondSkins which was my first skin. I think I paid 5K Linden Dollars for my first skin you can buy as good skins now for 500L, times change.

No idea if Second Skins are still in business,  back then she had the market cornered and made a lot of money I am sure.

I reckon only 2% of users in the early days know how to use 3D applications and those who did made the dance animations. Ominations was "the" dance and general animation store for the first 3 years of SL and again, he must have made a nice little income as he owned the market.

I guess merchants were all new and had yet to developed their skills to keep up with the rate SL developed.
Some got left behind others strived to keep up with the race to be better designers, texture artists, builders and so on.
The clothing I am wearing in this shot is the freebies that people handed out once.
If the standard of freebies people get today were about in 2004 they most certainly wouldn't be free!

I am actually stood in one of Ominations store testing some dance animations out here.

I was in awe to see how clicking a ball could bring my normally awkward moving avatar into a living doll.


Heres a few more snap shots, take time to notice the scenery and buildings/textures. Then take a look at the random SL images on Flickr on the right side of this blog, kinda scary how far people have advanced in skill and technique isn't it?









































And finally lol TRU Textures back in 2004 - Look at the quality textures I had on offer!!!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

iSourceTextures.com - The Snowball Effect



iSourceTextures.com  was officially opened in July 2009 with just short of 5000 texture stock images, no members, absolutely no presence on Google and we were estimated at $200.00 value.
 (A fraction of the price for the development of the website alone)


12 months on and we have over 1200 registered members, around 20 stock contributors and 8000 textures and apparently the site has an estimate worth of just short of £32,000 (We wish! lol)


Worldwide rank: 335,629
UK Rank: 17,439


Not impressed?  No, I wasn't either until I discovered there is a total of 233,848,493 websites as of Dec 2009.  
So bearing that in mind, we're quite pleased with the growth and exposure in just 12 months with next to no marketing budget.


But don't be confused into thinking Traffic = Ranking  = Sales.. If only. 


Just as in Secondlife.com, traffic is just that,  sales and profit are a totally separate ball game and ultimately thats what all e-commerce websites are aiming for, even the ones that appear to give everything away.
Even your humble blog can have a financial motive, you just have to poke around to find it.


Our initial drive at the time of development was brought on by the fact there were so few quality texture stock sites that allowed commercial usage. 
And again, don't be confused into thinking "commercial use" means you can create your own textures for commercial distribution, (we thought that too at the time, it's a common assumption people make when they see the words "free"  and "commercial"  displayed on a website)


The creation and distribution of textures created by using photo stock as derivatives is for the most part simply not allowed by 98% of stock sites.


Some "do" allow unlimited use but there are hefty extended license fees of around $99 - $299 per image.
Freelance texture artists don't make a big enough profitable return to justify or afford those fees.
It soon became pretty obvious that most stock sites that offered Extended Licenses were aiming at publication houses with much bigger budgets than your typical freelance texture artist has.


Long story short, out of shear frustration we just started to take our own photos and when we had 5000 we decided to open our own texture stock site but with a difference. 


We don't "do" extended licensing, as long as people pay for the texture downloads, they are licensed to use our stock as a derivatives in their own texture collections, commercial or not.
We hope that gives us an edge but it's still too early to say.


It's taken us a while to suss out what each of the different stock websites goals and objectives are. 
For example, why would a website offer nothing but free textures/tutorials/photoshop brushes and the like, what's the point? (I'll go into this later)


We went into this blind, (and I mean really blind) and things are only just starting to come into focus a little now.
Initially, we set off basically hoping to replicate the success of a very popular free texture site on the internet that comes in at Number 1 with Google under the key word "textures"


That's no easy task believe me. This site beats all of the very old and very professional commercial texture websites under that all important key word "textures" yet offers most of the stock for free to subscribed members.
There is an incentive to pay for a subscription which allows you to download the highest resolution images and removes the "cap" or daily quota applied to non paying members.
The subscription fees for the site has increased (despite the economy) from $20 to 50 Euros a year for a private individual and up to 199 Euros a year for corporate use and we now know the goal has nothing to do with kindness and "giving"
This texture stock site is way ahead of use in terms of age, brand recognition, customer database and choice of stock and they always will be.


Without wanting to seem biased, I think iSourceTextures is certainly one of the top 5 sites within our genre. 
Sure, we're still learning and developing both in photography, texture creation and SEO but we are starting to see the very early hints of "success" but success comes in stages.
Initially success was finding visitors, being nothing but a blip in the void of the www universe, it's really not easy to be seen.
But things seem to be snowballing with more and more people signing up to display and sell their own stock and our ranking on Google continues to move in the right direction.


Today, we have around 1500 downloads a month and an average of 4 new members a day and we continue to move up on Google ranking albeit sometimes two steps forward and one back.
I think Martin said we were on page 5 on Google under the keyword "texture" Two months ago and we simply didn't exist until about 50 pages in.


We have also just been approved by an online advertising agency to accept and charge for advertising space on the site too. We were rejected 6 months ago because we didn't have good enough rankings. 


We are a long way off making back any of the initial set up costs for the website, servers, camera equipment and associated photo editing software used to create textures but from what we have researched, even in a healthy economy a new start up company doesn't achieve profits for the first 2 - 5 years.   


We opened in the midst of a global recession so to get any sales at all in the first 12 months was a bonus.
Long term? We have no idea, we just have to keep tweaking the business model until we find the right combination.


Some e-commerce sites financial goals are to gain a lot of traffic by giving freebies away.
The objective being to be able to sell advertising space from their website and bearing in mind other companies can pay up to $1000.00 a month for a slot on a high traffic website, this stream of income should not be overlooked.


It may also explain why there are so many "freebie" websites on the internet.


The trick to success in any industry is to find a niche or to be better than your rivals within your field.


Are we in a niche? 
Well, I know from experience when people ask me what I do for a living if I say:
 "I make game textures" then they usually ask me to repeat myself.
So I just go into the default explanation by asking them if they have ever seen a video game on Playstation or Wii. When they confirm they have, I try to wind it up by saying I make the "graphics" that are used within games like that, the brick wall, the cobble ground and so on.


Of course then they ask me which games I have created for and it gets really complicated then! 


To your average Jo, the word "texture" means fabrics and the whole concept of selling digital game "graphics" to people and not game companies like EAGames but other "normal" people is totally alien.


They can't understand it and because of that I refuse to go down the road of explaining Secondlife.com and how texture artists exchange game textures for game currency which has a real economic value because you can sell it to other people who use it to buy virtual houses, cars and vibrators!  Hell yea, it's a niche market alright.


So, selling raw unedited photo stock to people who aren't already involved with digital art is so beyond the imagination of your everyday person by definition makes it a niche market.


So, yes I think we're in a niche market in terms of the general public and compared to sites that perhaps sell Perfumes,  jewellery and Toiletries we certainly are.


But theres a fine line when it comes to niche markets. 
Maybe it's niche for a good reason, maybe the target market is tiny and so the "potential" isn't big enough to sustain an income from.


I hope our niche market is small enough now to allow us to develop and grow but will boom over the years.
With the popularity of virtual worlds, it seems a positive indication that it may well do.


Lets not forget the ever expanding game industry which is bigger than both the music and movie industry. 
(I couldn't believe that when I was told by one of the Train2Game staff who has worked in the game industry for 15 years)


Game development is massive and one of only a dozen industries that reports profits during  this recession.


The age of "virtual reality" is in its infancy still and regardless of who may come and go there will always be a platform for VR and as such always be a market for game related texture stock, well we hope so. 















Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Truth by Handsome Boy Modeling School

A song I purchased 18 months ago after hearing it on ChillOut Lounge FM1, Classic.

OOOOOHHHH!! OMG! It feels like Christmas!


The postman has just delivered me my Autodesk 3D Max software which is included as part of my course from Train2Game.com.

What I didn't know was not only do I get a free copy of 3DMax 2010 but also:
Maya 2010
Softimage 2010,
MotionBuilder 2010
Mudbox 2010  ( Much like Zbrush I think)
Sketchbook 2010!

That little bundle would cost me thousands of dollars if I was to buy them all.

As exciting as it is, it's also a little daunting.
I mean, I think it would take me a life time to learn all of them to a competent level.
I am still kind of clinging to Photoshop as that's my comfort zone.

The last time I played with 3DMax I was about to start the lesson on the Material Editor which being a 2D texture artist is more interesting than the model making side of things, at least for now.

The Material Editor is what allows you to make and apply textures in 3DMax, I am not 100% sure how it works but I have seen some very nice Marble textures made totally within 3DMax.

Then you have MentalRay which basically applies lighting effects to your scene to simulate real life natural lighting conditions.

It's a  little vague yet lol but I am sure once I get back into it I will get "the bug"

My only complaint is all of the above software is for Windows OS and I run on Mac. I am not sure if there are MAC versions but technically MAC is the preferred system for all graphic related industries.

The box doesn't indicate whether its for MAC or Windows but if I was to buy the software I would want MAC.

As it stands, I have to run a "virtual PC" on my iMac which means the computer is divided into two parts one for Mac and one for Windows and that OK but it means each OS takes 50% of my computers memory so things can get a buggy and laggy when I am running a piece of heavy software like 3DMax on windows.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

3DMax - Growing Pains


I have started training in 3DMax as part of my diploma course for Game Art Animation and I'm not loving it.

I hate learning new applications and God knows, it's taken me years to get to a stage with Photoshop were I feel comfortable.
That only happened in the last 2 years really.

Of course, its always relative and in another 2 years I will look at what I make now and probably think its rubbish.

3DMax seems alien to me. There is absolutely no sense of familiarity with any other program I have dabbled in.

I played with Poser when there was a promotion with Secondlife.com were by you got a free copy of Poser 5 from Contentparadise.com the makers of Poser.

Despite the fact I had never played in 3D software before, Posers UI was fairly intuitive and I managed to morph some facial expressions with one of the default characters as well as render some poses with a skeleton and export the screen shorts as alpha textures which back in the day, were fairly popular.

There's a girl on the course who's from the UK and Second Life who used to make custom skins such as animals skins but for the human form and did quite well at one time.

She, like me had only worked with Photoshop previously and she's a little ahead of me on the course.

She uploaded her car model (which is part of the course work) to the forums and I was thinking: "OMG I will NEVER manage that!"

The sweet girl assured me it was just like Photoshop as in nothing makes sense at first but the more you play around with it the more things "click"

Well, I have yet to hear the beautiful sound of "clicking"
I am not enjoying feeling impotent one bit. Patience is a virtue I lack and more so when it comes to anything to do with learning.
With Photoshop, I looked and admired other peoples work and took inspiration from that. I had a goal a place where I wanted to be but with 3D art I just don't seem to see the point, my goals aren't clear.

I havent identified anything other than plants that I want to create. I have no interest in character creation at all. But I suppose it would be neat to be able to make furniture textures or a UV Map for a car mesh that I could create for SL.. yea, that would be neat.

It could be worse. There are some students on the course that haven't used Photoshop OR 3DMax and honestly, I can't imagine how overwhelming that must feel.

I am a slow learner generally I think as I sometimes meet people in SL who have mastered Photoshop and several other 3D programs too.
Brice the owner of subdimensionstudios.com has extensive knowledge with Photoshop.
He's made some beautiful animated water "river bed" textures and to this day I can't find a tutorial to teach me how he did that.

I had a bit of a panic attack and wrote to my tutor explaining how frustrated I felt.
I had been trying to follow a tutorial I found online and got stuck. He said that online tuts may be using older versions of 3DMax which will only confuse me even more and advised me to stick to the course lessons as I was trying to run before I could walk. He was right, I was.

There are some very experienced 3D artists on the course which makes me wonder why they enrolled to be honest. If they had the experience to make what they have displayed in the forum, then I can't imagine what else they could learn from the lessons.

However, what may look jaw drop amazing to me may be quite basic to others depending on where you are on the evolution of 3D experience.

I have to get over myself and stop trying to create stuff that I feel is "worthy"

I am constantly trying to compare my ability in 3DMax with Photoshop and it's impossible. I have 4 years of PS experience were as I have 10 hours of 3D Max.

What I have decided is the kind of game artist I would like to be.
I don't want to be a character artist, not my cup of tea.
I like architecture and environment so it makes sense that I should train to be what's referred to as an "Environment Texture Artist"

That means I would be making terrain, plants, buildings and structures and the like but I still need to be fairly confident with 3D software.
Job listings I have seen generally tend to need a good "all rounder" who can work in both 2D and 3D software and I am not there yet.

My UK friend on the other hand wants to be a concept artist which means lots of hand sketched drawings of scenes and characters.

Technically, she doesn't "really" need to work in 2D or 3D software but she would be expected to show she is competent in both as you never know when you would be required to change direction in the process of game development.
So yes, being a good all rounder is common place in job descriptions for most game developer studios.

Second Lifes SEO is driving me NUTS! No matter what words I put into the land description or what category I list the store in, we don't move.

I know initially vendors that were scripted (as ours are) would not be taken into consideration with the All Search and as all of ours are that may explain why we are on page number 547458321!

Still doesn't explain why our little Bay City store which uses the exact same vendor system but has less than 3% of our stock and only 50 - 100 traffic is higher up in All Search though does it?

I need to find someone who knows how to manipulate the search system and I would gladly pay for that advise.

Linden Labs have totally removed Profile Links from the SEO system in SL making them totally irrelevant now.
I understand the reasons, people have profile picks not related to business like pictures of their friends etc and these are messing the search up.

Personally, I still don't mind rewarding people for placing us in their profile picks as its still exposure but I'm a little tired of the same stores showing up as Number 1.
They know something I don't and I am going to make it my number one mission to find out what that is! lol

The TRU website is still not ready. Chosen Few has completed the CSS and template work, now we need Thorian to make it all come together.

Elizabeth and I have been through the site and marked the sets that need to be deleted because of their age and as such associated low quality.
I explained, if we were a fashion store we would have remove or reduced clothing created 2 years ago considerably, so we should have done this a long time ago ideally.

We're aiming to have a Sale Store with all discounted sets priced 99 Linden Dollars and these won't be displayed on the site at all.
I want to remove a good 1/3 of stock really because its long overdue.
Also what may have been "all the rage" in 2006 for SL use, isn't now.

I downloaded an ebook showing the top 100 virtual worlds on the web, I didn't know there were that many! So when the site's good to go I will have to do some pro active marketing.

Blue Mars is our first port of call as they have been in contact with me since they were in beta but until their members can purchase and download textures to their PCs from the website, it's pointless advertising with them.

I am not sure about IMVU, the content its very cartoony and textures used are low resolution (much like There.com was)  so I am not certain our textures would be relevant to what content creators use for IMVU content creation.

IMVU is still holding 80K logged in each time I check.
They're doing something right, what ever that is.
I hope Linden Labs continue to lean more towards a browser based client like IMVU.

LL can't advertise SL as things stand because the client/severs can't handle more than 70K logged in at any one time so SL is stuck between a rock and a hard place right now.

I don't understand why people are not happy about SL being a browser based client, as long as the fundamentals of SL don't change, whats the problem? Maybe I am overlooking something which is quite possible as I don't follow Linden Labs blog announcements much, if at all.

But if it means we can get more people logged in then surely thats a good thing for everyone.

There's very few websites I visit that IMVU isn't advertising on.
If and when Linden Labs advertise on that level it will breath life back into a stagnant growth rate.

My sales on Contentparadise.com are OK still, if sales continue at the rate they have since the beginning of July I am looking at a few hundred dollars for July (after the 50% commission split)

Its funny really, because I look at the TOTAL amount of revenue my products have generated on the whole (before the commission split) and think: "hmmm, that $X.00 could be all mine if I wasn't paying them 50%!"

It's funny because the business model they use is exactly the same as ours but I guess it's human nature to sometimes see the glass half empty.
I know for a fact that the 50% commission I pay to Contentparadise.com pays the existing customer database they have developed over the years of trading on the net.

My 50% commission pays for exposure that I wouldn't otherwise get.

The image included in this post is a new texture project I am working on. I have 50 stained glass patterns that I "colour in"

Not sure if the fantasy style I used in the example above will follow throughout the full collection. I will see where it takes me :)

Monday, 12 July 2010

Boring Soppy Puppy Dog Post - Harvey My Mini Dachsund

That's Harvey our 4 year old Mini Dachshund with a yogurt pot stuck to his snout after he spent 15 minutes chasing it around the living room floor trying to lick the remains out.

We got him around 2 months ago and I love him dearly.

I have had Basset Hounds from being 28 until 2 years ago when me and my ex of 13 years split.

Then I remained "dogless" more or less until my current partner started living together in Jan 2010

Basset Hounds are still a breed I adore but they are deceptively large dogs that require lots of maintenance and shed their coats all year round.

I wanted a smaller breed and I consider Daxies to be the closest thing to a Basset in shape but certainly not in temperament.

Bassets also slaver and drool a lot so having them curl up on your lap as you watch TV wasn't practical.

Haveys different because he is small enough to hold in one hand almost and as such he gets to sleep in my lap and in our bed on rare occasions just for an hour as I watch TV.

I love Bassets but I love Harvey more than any dog I have ever had before and I think it's because of his size.

Smaller dogs are more "cuddly"

I can hold him in my arms, all four paws in the air like a baby as he sleeps and it's as close to a maternal love than I can imagine.

I never got that with any other dog I've had. I loved them all for different reasons but I love Harvey the most.

He has tons of character and is more "interactive" than Bassets.

He waits for my partner to come home from work by sleeping on his shoes next to the front door and as soon as he hears the car pull up outside he runs to get his rubber bone and stands looking up at the door, tail and backside wagging to such a degree I'm surprised he doesn't fall over.

He loves his Daddy (lol don't laugh!) to play games with and he comes to me for sleepy cuddles (You vomiting yet? I DID warn you! lol)

It took me a good few months to finally bite the bullet and get him.

I spoke to several people who were looking for new homes for their dogs and those dogs ranged from Bassets to Scottish Terriers and my partner wanted a Wire Haired Daxie after seeing two in Skipton.

But for some reason I just couldn't commit and I would go cold and say: "no, another one will turn up" which pissed Malcolm off no end I think.

I didn't want another Basset for several reasons but one of those reasons was that Bassets were the breed me and my ex had through-out our 13 year relationship and being a typical sentimental woman, it just didn't feel right.  As my ex was now in my past, I felt Bassets should be too.

So anyway, Harvey was brought to us by his owners and after a 30 minute chat we all decided he should  stay with us.

It was difficult watching his mom as she was crying.

They had already found him a suitable home once previously but backed out as they couldn't bear to part with him.

But they explained the situation has changed at home since they bought him as a Puppy.

They were both working full time and had a surprise 18 month old child.

As a result Harvey tended to be left alone all day and be the last to get any real attention so they were doing what was right for him and that takes "real love" in my opinion.

I felt terrible as she was kissing him and holding him for the last time with her eyes filled with tears.

I swear, after having Harvey for only 2 months I am not sure I could have been as brave. He is literally part of the family and I couldn't imagine life without him.

Best dog I have ever had and he was worth the wait and worrying I went through before finally picking him to be our new dog.






Sunday, 11 July 2010

Opportunities - Right on your Virtual Doorstep

You know, each time I come here to write a post I glance at the various SL images from Flickr cycling to the right hand side of the page, 95% of them really impress me.

If you consider the fact that everything in those pictures were made by ordinary people, most of them working from their home PCs, it's really quite amazing the shear volume of talent SL houses.

Clothing, avatars, code/script work for the avatars animations such as walking, dancing, fighting, textures for buildings, plants, trees, avatar skins, make up, terrain and so on and so forth.
The scripting for a multitude of in world creations, multi player games, websites, vending machines etc

The soon to be introduced upload of obj. (meshes) from 3D software will display another layer of talent within SLs walls.

And then the marketing and sales skills required to get their creations seen and purchased is another skill in itself.

I'm sure we all know of one artist or builder who absolutely kicks ass in the creative side of things but looses themselves in the process of creation that the marketing is left unattended.
All of that creative skill is wasted really from a business POV.

More commonly there are people who know how to market and sell but lack the creative and technical experience to make anything really good which will stand out from the rest. *coughs* Full perm stores and resellers of other full perm content. 

But that aside, there remains a huge volume of people who have all three skill sets and they are the people who make real money from SL.

Of course time to dedicate to your SL business is vital too.
If you're working full time in your "real" life then it would be mighty difficult to get a business off the ground and create new content for said business all in your spare time.
I'm not saying it hasn't been done because it has albeit not very often.

Now, you would think amongst ALL of those talented people someone would decided to develop a game studio, perhaps just a small one to start.

They have a massive social network of skilled people to head hunt from within SL each with their own portfolio for you to evaluate before you approach them.
They all have their own IT and graphic equipment so set up costs are minimal.
You can all work from home of course just as many game dev teams do already.

As someone who is training for a diploma in Game Art & Animation I find it quite surreal that amongst all of this raw talent in SL more people haven't grouped together and done something "outside of the box"

Of course, all games start with an idea and thats the job of the game designer.
It's his vision and without the initial spark of an idea you can have all the character artists, environmental artists and programers in the world all dressed up with no where to go.

Don't get me wrong I love SL and intend to stay as long as they will have me but it has its boundaries and limitations and if you take this theory literally, Linden Labs are the game designers and we're the rest of a massive team of artists, programers and character designers all working on a freelance basis for Linden Labs.

Of course, God forbid if you arrange for your team to get together and pitch your game concept to a potential publisher. The "work from home" dress code would need to be addressed.



Pink Floyd The Wall - Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb



OK, I'm "on one" now! I can NOT find this song to download except from a live concert.

I can't even find The Wall - The album which includes this track.

I've search iTunes and Napster but all they have are recordings from live concerts.

There's tons of "tribute" songs but damn it! I want a recorded version.

Wonder why? Hmmm.

This video scared me as a teenager and still does. I am still not 100% sure I understand all of the visual references not being much of a poet and all. I was once told I read poetry and lyrics too "literally" and that person taught me how to try and read between the lines.

But Floyd is considered deep by many peoples standards I think so here's some info on what the video/movie and lyrics are about.

I have never watched the full movie. Might see if I can rent it from one of these online rental sites like iLovefilm.com

In the meantime, I will continue to search for a studio recorded version of Comfortably Numb. I can't believe it's so hard to find.

A Walk On The Wild Side - Musical Influences

When I was about 20, I used to go to a Pub called the "The Hordens"
I guess there must of been a local there, someone much older than me who liked Lou Reed because the above song was always playing on the Juke Box.

Like most kids at that age I would snigger and laugh at how lame it was and sing along with my mates, taking the piss out of how "uncool" it was.
After all, if it's not played at the Hacienda in Manchester it MUST be crap right?

Then my taste in music matured (Along with everything else sadly. Why can't we be born with the wisdom we acquire with old age? It's no good learning from mistakes and being all wise and stuff when your 80! Cruel irony) and I grew to love that song.

Not just because of the sentimental value but because it's a damn good track by its own merits.

Around the same time, I was working as a Video store manager and one of the girls used to bring in a music cassette (again, showing my age) of Van Morrison.

I hadn't heard his songs before and as a narrow minded "twenty something" in theory I should have disregarded him too. But again, after listening to it a few times I asked who it was and went and bought a copy for myself.

The Doors was a band I was introduced to by my best friend Nicola when I was 24. She was really into them and it wasn't long before I had my own CD "The Best Of The Doors" which I still own today.

Rolling Stones was a band my older brother (by 8 years) used to listen to.

As a 10 year old I couldn't appreciate music much but again as I got older it was like hearing it for the first time and subsequently I am now a big Stones fan.

Oh, and on that subject I don't care how good a singer people think Susan Boyle is, she totally ruined "Wild Horses" for me.

When I was about ten I was a fan of The Specials (Too Much Too Young) and Fleetwood Mac (Rumours - The first album I bought and even at 11 I couldn't help but notice the strategically placed balls hanging from his crutch! Whats THAT all about? )
Later as a teen, I was a fan of Frankie Goes To Hollywood who's lead singer I had a crush on despite the fact he was openly gay.

(I replicated the double album cover for my Art GCSE exhibit and I can't find it on Google at all today.
Maybe it was discontinued? 
It was a mass of weird creators all having sex but you had to look hard to make anything out, the animals were drawn in a Picasso abstract style)

My taste in music now is wide and varied ranging from Snoop Dog (DoggyStyle - First album *sorry Dad* lol ) to Pink Floyd and each track or group I have grown to love today was introduced to me by a friend, lover or a stranger from by gone times.

And all of the above I still own and listen to today ('cept Frankie!)





Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Majestueux Palais Lovers Texture Collection

The Majestueux Palais Lovers Texture Collection

I was told today that Second Lifes oldest texture store (and my initial inspiration when I was new to SL) has packed up and gone.

 I am unsure whether the owner has left SL or just closed the store at this stage.

I won't name the owner or the store but they have been in SL longer than me. (2003)
They haven't added any new stock for literally years for some reason. Maybe because they work in RL and don't "need" to be a merchant.

When I was noob I walked into the store and IMd the owner and said: "One day I want to have a store just like this!"

I honestly didn't think how that may have come across at the time.
I mean, it may have been taken as competitive threat or taunt,  or just a tactless thing to say because if anyone IMd me and said that I don't know how I would react.

Actually, yes I do, I would ask to see their work and lure them into my sinister capitalist trap lol *rolls eyes*

Anyway, that now makes us the official oldest texture store in SL. I was always careful to say:

 "We are one of the oldest texture stores in Second Life" in promotion and marketing text but it seems now I can say it.

Actually no, I don't think we are. Lauren Fox has been around since day dot too. Not sure where Lauren is, the last I heard she was real sick but recovering.

I like Lauren, always have. She is one of the nicest people I've ever met in SL especially in light of the fact we are competitors by default.
I once asked her how she made some diamond textures she had for sale fully expecting her to tell me to "mind my own" Instead, she said she followed an online tutorial and would send me the URL link if I wanted it.
She's such a sweet kind person with not a bad bone in her body. I wish her well what ever she is doing.

Another texture artist who has been around since 2003 has left SL too. This chaps work was something I always admired.
It is and always was original and authentic even back in the days when 95% of texture stores in SL were largely made up of Google images.

In 2005 I asked him on more than one occasion if I could "buy him out" or buy the right to sell his textures from my store and he gave it some consideration but decided against it - very politely.

He was a nice guy and back then I really admired his obvious talent. (and still do)

Anyway, he's leaving SL because of something in the TOS that means LL technically own everything SL content creators make in SL. He felt Linden Labs were "stealing" from him.

I replied that the clause had been in the Second Life TOS since day one as far as I was aware and I just assumed it was their way of covering their ass in case they use promotional images of SL which by default will contain textures and avatar creations as part of that promotional image. But he was adamant that they were stealing from him and every other creator in SL and in his words:

"It's the last straw, I don't care if someone steals a dollar or a thousand dollars, it's the way they have gone about it and think they can just STEAL it from me without even asking my permission. They could of had anything if they had taken the liberty to ask me"

I don't see the issue here at all. Partly because I have known about it for years and as I say I doubt LL are going to start copying others content and start selling or distributing it.

I think it's really just as I say, a way to ensure content creators can't sue them for displaying their content in marketing images they may use.
After all, 90% of SL is made by its members so the chances are if they use a screeny of some cool place in SL for their website that image is going to contain textures, hair, skins, clothing, buildings and plants all made by people "other" than Linden Labs.

Anyway, he's very upset and has gone to inworldz.com with plans to open up his own website and allow people to buy and download his textures directly so people can use them in other worlds (Like we are about to do)

I wish him the best of luck and hope he finds a new home and friends in his new location.

I don't know how many old time merchants have left SL but there's not many left.

The competition is fierce now unlike "the good old days" when merchants were developing their skills as SL was developing as a platform. We had time to be less than brilliant as there was very little competition.

These days, there are some seriously talented people from all corners of the globe who come in with existing experience in 2D or 3D software. They haven't joined SL to be part of a community, they have come to make money during and possibly because of the current global economic crisis.

The problem is, because of the economical climate consumers in SL aren't spending like they used to. Customers are consciously aware what 300 Linden Dollars equates to in real dollars and thats real money that they believe should be in their real bank accounts.

So we have thousands of very talented content creators all fighting over an ever decreasing amount of spending customers. SL is at saturation point in all genres and sub genres.

Stay at home moms are no longer creating for fun and hobby but are now trying to turn their creations into Linden Dollars by selling it to be able to pay for the land they rent off Linden Labs.

Once they were "OK" with the monthly payment leaving their bank accounts for SL land fees. But as I keep saying, $300 is a lot of money for a luxury purchase or pass time in this economy. How many people own land "just for fun"?

People are no longer spending. I know I don't. Once upon a time 10K a week was a normal spend in SL for various bits and bobs but as my income shrinks so does my spending money and like ripples in a pond this effects other store owners who I once spent money with to reduce their in world spending too and on it goes.

The situation with the RL economy and it's effect on the SL economy will end in one of two ways.

1) There will be a "cleansing" period were only successful designers and stores will be able to afford to keep the engines running and keep from ending up in negative equity.
Smaller stores or designers who aren't pushing themselves due to low motivation (caused by low sales) will eventually give their land up and stores too leaving only the determined and driven people to perhaps enjoy a recovering economy IF and when that happens.

2) The whole SL economic system will crash as merchants continue to engage in price wars reducing the value of their stock (and eventually the value of the Linden Dollar) or just give a lot (or all) of their stuff away under a false sense of security that Traffic = Sales. It doesn't and long term this type of "marketing" is akin to shooting themselves (and other stores) in the foot.

If the spending members of SL can buy or obtain merchandise for a fraction of the price prior to the RL economy,  then they don't need to buy any Linden Dollars for spending money. When that happens LL stops making profit and they either sell or it folds.

Unlike the real economy which can and will bounce back, a virtual economy is different.

Consumers expectations of how much things should cost is driven by us, the merchants and it's the merchants that are controlling the economy even unknowingly.

If you are good content creator then IMO its paramount to remain motivated and make new content whilst honing your skills and hold the value of your stock because if you reduce everything to 50L you can't then increase the prices in 2 years time.

What merchants should be doing is having limited period sales.

Contentparadise.com (where I sell a small collection of my stuff) has sales and discounts periodically and sure enough, people spend more during those sales.

But,  if CP reduced all stock prices on a permanent basis, when consumer confidence has returned to a normal level the expectations of what things "should" cost will stick and people aren't going to start paying double or triple what they have been used to paying during the recession, no matter how much they can afford it or want it.

It's just my opinion of course.

Myself and Martin (Koba Ajax from SL and my partner at www.isourcetextures.com) have decided to remove the free downloads on all images at 600 pixels and just have a collection of freebies we will separate from the commercial stock.

After 12 months, 1200 members and over 2000 downloads a month, only a hand full of people have spent money and bought the higher resolution sizes of 1200 - 4200 pixels.

So what are we loosing? Not profit as we haven't made any and won't do as things are currently arranged.

We would rather make no sales and keep hold of the stock until this recession passes and people aren't afraid or resent spending a dollar.

That time will come, when, is the only other question.










Thursday, 8 July 2010

Wanna Do Bad Things With You - True Blood



Just bought this MP3 along with Stranglers - Golden Brown and Lou Reed - Perfect Day.

I DO have a superb taste in music,  if I do say so myself :P

True Blood (incase you haven't seen it) is like an X Rated Buffy The Vampire Slayer, well, kinda.

I have been tapping my toes and singing to the theme tune to it ever since we watched the first episode.

I find often the best music is played in some movie a classic example of this is the movie Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (Which BTW has another classic track, Stone Roses - Fools Gold, takes me back to my wild wild youth)

There's a scene in a strip club and some dead sexy music in the background which I didn't recognise.

After a bit of Google research I discovered it was bloody Dusty Springfield!! *cringe*
 I would never have bought her music until I heard "Spooky" played in the film.

We had a freaky Wednesday in terms of sales, for some reason (which I have long since stopped trying to analyse) we doubled our average sales.

I think its just one of those flukes, a grid wide phenomena and whilst I would hope it was a sign of better times ahead, I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

" It's a wonderful Second Life: Breathe 2"

Is it just me or is the image of  "Money" (which shows an Asian lady) a coincidence or a deliberate dig at SL's most famous
entrepreneur? LOL

That aside I think its a powerful and true message. As soon as money became the motivation SL as we knew it was lost and I don't exclude myself out of that equation. But then Linden Labs did and still do market Second Life as a place to make "money"

I think they hoped people would be a little more creative about it instead we see a saturated market of full perm sculpted boot resellers and full perm stores and I doubt many of them know how to build or make any form of content.  Its just about a quick buck.

Regardless of how creative merchants are I think it's only fair any merchant should pay for the service of being a merchant. I can't think of any platform that lets people sell content for free and anonymously.

Wouldn't it be interesting  if Linden Labs rewarded a small group of quality controllers who approved or disapproved peoples content?

There.com did it IMVU do it and interestingly IMVU don't allow people to make and sell content unless they are paid premium members.
I think that should be LLs first port of call.
If you want to make money you have to spend some first.  No business can be set up for nothing in RL why should SL be any different?

I used to hear people gloating how they had made $4000 in SL and "didn't spend a dime" (pleased with themselves)
If everyone had a "Why should I spend a dime" attitude they wouldn't have made $4000.00.