Getting to grips with High Fidelity

(Image courtesy David Burden.)

(Image courtesy David Burden.)

Having been reading more and more of the Alpha Tester posts about High Fidelity I thought it was about time to give it a try – and our Daden U day on 30th October provided the ideal opportunity. High Fidelity is the new virtual world development from Second Life founder Philip Rosedale, and is currently in Alpha.

Getting High Fidelity started was a bit hit and miss. I downloaded the Interface client, but although it booted up it kept crashing on my laptop with weird graphics effects, and no webcam control. I tried another office PC and couldn’t get it even to run. I went back to the laptop, disconnected the external monitor and webcam, and it booted up like a dream 🙂

The “big feature” of High Fidelity has always been the webcam avatar control – your web cam picks up your head movements, and even lips and eyes and animates your avatar in real time. This worked pretty well, although some times your head almost wobbles off and you have to reset, and since your conscious (at least initially) of the tracking you move your head in a very false way – which soon gets pretty tiring. Having seen it work I switched off the webcam control. High Fidelity also gives primacy to voice for avatar to avatar contact – and there are only third party text chat apps. Otherwise avatar control is pretty SL like, although flying has no flying animation and some of the camera/avatar control combinations seemed a bit tricky and I didn’t have the hang of them even by the end of the day (added to which lots of places don’t appear to have a solid ground!). Changing avatar was simple, although its now in one piece not two, and accessed from the Edit not File menu, both changes since the video tutorial.

Having mastered the avatar it was time to try building. The public sandboxes didn’t let me build so I downloaded the Stack Manager to run up my own server. This was, as the video said, just a couple of minute task to get your own server running and choose the content pack. The process of creating a domain key has also changed since the video, but I managed to muddle through.

When first loaded into my new world all I had were stars – despite pre-loading the large floating island. I then spotted the island as as small dot miles away so had to fly over (something I’ve also found with other public spaces – poor choice of landing spots). Once there it looked pretty nice, good rock, grass and tree textures. Accessing the market, choosing an item and rezzing it was dead simple. Rotate, resize and vertical shift controls were easier than SL, but the movement is of the drag variety and I soon found objects disappearing off into the distance as I struggled to get a decent vantage point. I also had to add a ground plane to stop myself falling through the floating rock.

Bringin in my own objects was next. High Fidelity supports FBX (and OBJ, although FBS is usually mentioned), and I had to try about 6 or 7 different FBX objects from my collection til I found one that would come in, and even then without its texture. However the OBJ I brought in was half the City of London skyline, so that looked pretty neat (see below)! High Fidelity only imports from a URL, so you need to upload your objects to a server first.

 

(Image courtesy David Burden.)

(Image courtesy David Burden.)

Coding was the next task. I found a simple “touch” script in the documentation, added this to an prim (you can have just cube and sphere prims, and no prim torture), and it worked. Like the models the scripts have to be uploaded to a server, and referenced by URL (so at least you have central script editing). There is an entity embed option but this seems very constrained – one liners only.

I then extended the script to include collision. You can’t do floaty text, so I rezzed a separate “text” object, and again got the script to control the text on the board (“hello world” above). Again lack in documentation were a problem, as nothing told you how to change the text property or what it was called, I followed the other examples and guessed at textContent, as that was the editor label, but then found it was just “text”, and sure enough in one of the older demo videos the editor label is just “text” as well! (well it is alpha…)

The final thing to play with on this task was good old media-on-a-prim – having an active web page on a surface in world that you can click on and navigate – dead easy to rez a Web object and add a URL, the Daden web site  – see below.

 

(Image courtesy David Burden.)

(Image courtesy David Burden.)

One last task was to add our Daden sandbox to the public directory, so I paid the $20 for a year’s domain name (DadenWorld) and posted it up. Note that since High Fidelity is a fully distributed system (like OpenSim) DadenWorld is only up when my server is up. Interesting that NATO is listed there, and also looked like the Swiss Army!

(Image courtesy David Burden.)

(Image courtesy David Burden.)

So all in all a good day’s play with the system and I achieved all my goals – avatar control, building, importing, basic scripting, server running. Crashes were frequent at first, but after a while it all settled down. It is still in Alpha, and it shows — most of the menu options are very techie –but beginning to be usable.

The distributed model is nice, and the webcam avatar control great fun, and we’ll keep playing with it as the system develops and work out where it sits alongside Unity and WebGL, our current preferred technologies — and whether High Fidelity or Linden Lab’s Project Sansar will be the new Second Life.

(This article is reprinted with permission from the Daden Limited Blog.)

David Burden

David Burden heads up Daden Limited, a virtual worlds and AI solution provider based in Birmingham, UK. The company offers consultation, design and build services in virtual worlds, and has special expertise in the areas of web and real world integration, and creating interactive virtual personalities.

  • So. Here is the million dollar question. Does High Fidelity have a future? Or, to quote Gertrude Stein about Oakland, California “is there no there there?”. I still cannot figure out why High Fidelity is going to be of much interested to anyone but hard care vr groupies — if that — unless Facebook decides to buy it and they are tailoring their platform to what Zuckerberg has told them in private. One other thing — I find the content to be unremarkable at best. I can’t see any reason to go back right now– but perhaps some big name players have plans for it.

  • I thought the coolest thing was in an interview with Philip Rosedale you could see on the avatar when he started bluffing or getting on thin ice. – Very revealing.

  • Telos

    HiFi relies too heavily on VR and peripherals (motion-tracking sensors, headsets, etc). It was primarily built for that sole purpose. Rosedale and his team gambled big time on this, without even knowing VR’s future. They should’ve developed a stable virtual-world-framework as a primary focus, with VR-experience as a secondary focus, and then wait for the consumer version headsets to release and stabilize, before building a platform around this.

    Not only that, but it’s trying to be a collaborative community of developers, much like Open-Sim, and that isn’t working so well either. There’s too much reliance on 3rd party outsiders, which makes everything unstable (chat, UI, avatars, etc). They need their primary focus, aimed at a stable core experience, for the average user.

  • Rene

    HF is a virtual world platform meant to let others develop world experiences. It is in alpha at this point so it is not possible to predict whether it has a future. It does have sufficient venture capital to take it all the way to beta which is where its future can be better understood. As a next generation product, it does have some compelling features that revolve around natural inputs driving the avatars movements and object grasping and manipulation, facial and body expressions (which adds much more realism to avatars). But, the purpose of all that natural input is to make it a more approachable experience to a larger audience. The days of keyboard chat, mouse movements and lots of special key codes are numbered because they have limited the number of people willing to go through that level of complexity.

    The big issue is whether all that tech will get cheap enough to be affordable by mere mortals. Certainly the computer power required to experience High Fidelity is much higher than SL-style virtual worlds. Also, the network bandwidth requirements are higher and the quality of people’s home switches and WiFi access points definitely have to be upgraded. Audio is UDP based, clean and low latency *if* you have modern equipment. I recently tossed my venerable Linksys WiFi APs because they were dropping far too many UDP packets. The NetGear Nighthawk WiFi works extremely well, but it is pricier.

    None of this should be surprising. Second Life went through a similar upgrade requirements as it added features throughout its growth period that required more powerful computers.

    • “the network bandwidth requirements are higher and the quality of… WiFi access points definitely have to be upgraded.” — you’d better tell Philip this cos the whole purpose of HiFi is to make SL pale into insignificance on these requirements .