Saturday, 7 April 2012

Passover and the Freedom of the Metaverse

Happy passover!

In case you don't know, passover is a Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus from Egypt and is commonly called the freedom holiday, referring to the release of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. This is a good a reason as any to write about the metaverse and freedom.

Some background:

Free Allegiance is the best game you've never played. I have played it and will continue to play until it becomes illegal... at which point I'll still play but vehemently deny it.

The Metaverse is a rather poorly defined concept which usually means a shared virtual universe, a collections of worlds possibly including non-immersive content (the "flat" web) and maybe even boring old regular reality.

Steam overlay on top of the game "Alien Swarm"
Steam is a service run by the game company Valve, it's a combination of an online game store and social service. Steam lets you buy games, keep a list of friends and see who's playing what. An important technical feature is the Steam overlay which lets you access all these functions while inside a game running full screen. You can get messages from friends who are playing a completely different game without alt-tabbing away from the action.

Virtual Reality is broad term which is recovering from buzzword-itis at the moment. Most people think of VR as referring to visually immersive worlds but that's a rather narrow definition... most VR professionals would agree that any interactive world inside a computer which is not mapped from an external reality is VR. Facebook would be a sort of VR if the people there didn't map consistently to real people and their actions did not map consistently to RL.

RL is a very common acronym for Real Life, IRL stands In Real Life. If you haven't used these terms at least once, you're living one life less than the rest of us... or you're having trouble distinguishing between realities. Either way, see an expert.

Allegiance needs a-fixin'

Alleg (as we Allegites call it) is in a spot of trouble.
Nothing special, just what comes from being older than Windows XP...
Oh yes, Alleg was making people feel confused and disorientated way back in 1999... back when 1999 was a year and not just a funny number.

Allegites, being addicts, are worried about the possibility their drug of choice would stop working... some of them actually started thinking about Alleg's future and an idea appeared: recreate Allegiance as a modification based on a newer game! The game Free Space 2 was chosen, a thread was created, people came, the flame burned bright... and then it died out for a bunch of uninteresting reasons.

Enter the insanovator!

Yes that's me.
Being one of the slightly crazier addicts, I came up with something even less likely to succeed than the previous attempt: recreate Allegiance (the technical term is "port") not inside another space simulator but inside a general purpose virtual world!
Long story short, nobody paid attention to my suggestion, but I did see in it the seed for an important idea which the rest of this post will explore.

The Seeds of the Metaverse.

First let me state some of the purposes and advantages of having a functional metaverse.
Freedom! Freedom is the thing... it's what drives the quest for VR, to be able to do things unencumbered by the limitations of reality.
In the metaverse, freedom means something more precise and technical: not being tied down to a specific VR world.
That's all there is really... just freedom. You'll see what I mean soon enough.

You can see it happening!

As soon as I started thinking about this, it became apparent that metaversal features are appearing around one kind of VR application without being noticed and recognized as such.
If you've been paying attention, you'll realize I'm talking about Valve's Steam.

Besides Steam, Valve's biggest asset is an engine for 3D games (read: VR) called Source. It's apparently not as popular among commercial developers as it was but it's still strong with people making free "mods". Running such mods requires having an original Source game installed, no longer an issue since Valve itself released several free games using this engine.
I recommend installing Steam and trying the free game Alien Swarm, after you're done with that, try Age of Chivalry, an imperfect but highly amusing medieval combat mod which is being made into a full fledged game.

Despite it's slump in popularity, Source provides a convenient common engine for closed VR worlds. Content can be easily transferred between Source games and it's essentially guaranteed that a system which can run one Source game can run any of them. Still, these worlds are from the user's point of view, isolated from each other.
This is where Steam comes in: Steam users have a consistent ID in different games. When you *friend* a player in one game, he's in your Steam friends list, not just in one game. He may not even appear with the same name in all games, but his unique identity is global.

I said these games are isolated from each other, but this recently this has begun to change.

  To be continued in part two:

   The Global Economy



Steam isn't the only service which let's users have a consistent identity.
The Nintendo Wii has the Mii avatars, Microsoft has Xbox Live and it's Windows extension and I assume there are some others I'm not familiar with. Tell me if you've seen something interesting!


  1. There is also that awful EA "Origin" service.

    I'm kinda worried that what you suggest here will turn the entire gaming industry into one giant MMO.

    1. Should I take your view on Origin at face value or assume you're lying? :P

      RE: giant MMO
      I'm not done discussing the subject of course, but I don't think we'll ever see a monolithic MMO anymore than we have just one online messaging service. You're not even limited to one Gmail or Facebook account...
      In fact I think at some point it will get easier, not harder, to have accounts in different mega-MMOs, just like you can use Facebook or Google IDs to quickly sign up to services on the web.