Crowd Particles!

Friday, May 16, 2008 Friday, May 16, 2008

This week I built a new experimental product: crowd-based particle effects. I was contacted by friend IYan Writer, who was organizing a space/ambient music event held at MMC Island last Thursday. IYan wanted particle effects that would enhance the "spacey" mood of the show.

Headlining the show was Cypress Rosewood, whose music was indeed very spacey. According to IYan's press release:

The legendary SL space musician, Cypress Rosewood performs his musical magic with flutes, guitars and synthesizers throughout the SL world and is a metamedia treat to see live, in concert.

In Second Life CYPRESS has been a pioneer of live space and ambient music. He has performed over 150 concerts of his special brand of aural vibrations that can aid healing and relaxation. Cypress is also developing a Space Music Museum alongside working on many groundbreaking projects. He is also one of the primary designers for the first major music manufacturer on the SL grid, Gibson Music Instruments, building their "Gibson Island" to be opened in May of 2008 sometime.

I had not visited MMC Island before, perhaps because it is "an extension of the Multimedia center of RTV Slovenia (Slovenia 's public broadcaster) in the virtual world of Second Life". Fortunately for me, few were speaking Slovenian during the concert!

The stage itself was spacey: set high in the dark sky, attendees sat on pink cushions floating in the air at the Orbital Station. Dance balls surrounded the audience where the daring could dance in the air.

We decided to build a special attachment that would be provided to each attendee. The invisible attachment would produce the required particle effects.

But then the question was, "what effects would be appropriate?"

Virtually all of my wearable particle effect products would be inappropriate as they produce a fair number of particles each. If used by a large crowd of say, 40, you'd blow out the sim with particles.

I decided I'd better make something very subtle.

Instead of blasting out many particles, the device makes a single stationary star every few seconds. When used by a crowd, a subtle 3D field of stars rapidly appears around everyone.

To make things more interesting I added a few spectacular twists. Once in a very long while it emits a multi-colored nebula, and at other times it may go Nova, explode, collapse or emit tantalizing rays from the wearer.

Testing the device was very strange. My laboratory at Electric Pixels had 40 invisible devices lain out to simulate a large crowd. With a black background, the visible effects were eerie indeed. Stars always, but with occasional explosions and novas!

So how did it go? At first I was concerned, because I could not predict the number of attendees. If too few people showed up, particle emissions would be insufficient to produce a spacey view. If too many people wore the effect, there might have been a particle overload. But no, it was just right. Interesting effects appeared at just the correct rate, and I think it was a success.

What other crowd-based effects might be possible? I'm not sure yet, but imagination is our only limit. Let me know if you have any ideas!


Peter Stindberg said...

You still have my idea in mind with the ppl to codone an area off?

Dale Innis said...

A next level of sophistication would be to have the devices aware of each other, and produce effects that depend on the aggregate crowd, rather than a summation-by-colocation of individual effects.

Possibilities that spring to mind include: having some effects move toward or emerge from the 'center of gravity' of the crowd (or perhaps a point several meters above it) (nontrivial to do I realize!), having some particles be emitted by one participant and travel toward another, having the emitted particles change color (or size, or ...) in a coordinated way among the participants.

There ya go. :)

ArminasX said...

@Peter - Yes, I have built the tricky device I call the "Stanchion" that can be used to erect a particle fence. I haven't boxed it up yet, as it is a little confusing to use. I'll have to show you how it works. And thanks for the reminder, I should box it up and put it for sale soon.

ArminasX said...

@Dale - very interesting possibilities! IYan and I talked about that, and while possible to build, I greatly feared the lag effects of having 40 avatars with multiple open listens. The back-chatter on non-chat channels could be a big load unless very carefully designed. If the devices did talk to each other there would be all kinds of cool stuff to do, as you describe!

Dale Innis said...

Having open listens isn't laggy as long as there isn't lots of traffic on the channel. So having forty things listening on channel 50889437 would be just fine as long as the only traffic on it is when a device is rezzed, or arrives, or moves significantly...

ArminasX said...

@dale - hmm, if you are right, this does open up a lot of possibilities. I should do some testing at the lab. Stay tuned.

IYan Writer said...

Great writeup - and the effect was great, everybody loved it!

Will definitely experiment more with themed shows and custom effects in future :)

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