Thursday, October 29, 2009 Thursday, October 29, 2009

I attended Tymmerie Thorne’s amazing Halloween party the other night, where I saw many totally amazing costumes. I believed mine to be pretty good, but it paled in comparison to most of the others, especially Tym’s iron cage skirt, which must have been rather heavy.

A key theme of the party was, of course, blood. It was smeared all over the floor, walls, oozing from various body parts lying about and especially on clothing. There was even a kind of blood-sprayer on the floor wetting everyone down with the red stuff. By the way, if you haven't yet seen this build, I strongly recommend you take a look before Tym and Jerremy take it down. I especially liked the giant ants that devoured noobs, limb by limb.

While I had blood dripping from the corner of my mouth, I felt more was required in that scene.

Taking initiative during a dance, I managed to create a rather realistic and terribly gross blood spurting effect. It looks like you managed to sever a key artery, and is quite shocking. 

If you’re seeking a unique and totally horrifying item for your Halloween outfit, you might consider the Blood Spurter from Electric Pixels! (It's in the very dark Vampire section)

Anatomy of a Box

Saturday, October 24, 2009 Saturday, October 24, 2009

In an attempt to increase sales, I’ve been fiddling with my product boxes, and thought readers might be interested to see what I’ve done.

But first, the problem: In this case, sales were low, and my new theory is that shoppers get most of their information about product simply from the visual on the box cover.

In the past (and currently) I’ve tried live demonstrations, which are pretty much mandatory for moving particle effects that cannot be properly shown on any box picture. I’ve also tried notecards: every box at my shop delivers an explanatory notecard upon touch.

But the images on my boxes were previously quite simple, having only an action shot and the product name. It occurred to me that the nature of the product was not clear by merely looking at the old boxes. You had to either run the demonstration or read the notecard to "get it". I believe the demo and notecard are extra steps that some shoppers wouldn’t bother to do, and that they’d rely only on the box image.

My strategy was to replace the box images with something much more informative. But what to put on them? Here’s what I did:

(Click on the image above for a more detailed view)

  • Consistency: Every single box has exactly the same style, size, fonts, layout and colors. The idea is that once people get familiar with one box, they will much more easily read other boxes. This is the same way grocery products are labeled.
  • Information: The familiar “i” icon can be touched for immediate delivery of an informative notecard. If shoppers don’t recognize the “i”, it says “Click for Info!” as a reminder.
  • Quantities: The number of prims and objects is stated. While this doesn’t make much sense for particles, which are most often a single invisible prim, shoppers often ask this question. Answer it here before they can ask.
  • Permissions: Another question that is frequently asked is the object’s permissions. Unlike clothing or skins, particles are often sold as Transfer, no-copy.
  • Description: This is a very important feature, I believe, as it may be the only way some shoppers find out what the item actually does, because it is faster than reading a notecard. The trick is to clearly capture the essence of the product in as few words as possible.
  • Colors: I used colors to help people understand the permissions scheme, with green and red helping to convey the meaning. 
  • Titles: While the product name is an obvious inclusion, it should be prominent and not confused with anything else. Also, I've added my store name as a bit of extra advertising. 
  • Image: The most difficult feature is the image, as it must carry a vision of the product at a glance, much like a book cover. The image has to accurately portray the product in a setting that matches the product’s intent. The background must complement the product, and the viewing angle, model's "look" and model’s pose must also match the theme. This turns out to be fairly difficult to do, and took me the most time to do. Above you can see an image of one of my particle effects that tries to show the feeling of the product's motion in a still frame. These are very hard to do.

What did I not do?
  • Price: I did not put the product price on the box, even though this appears to be a common practice. My reason was simple: once on the box, you kinda have set the price permanently, unless you redo the box texture and upload again, at your cost. Imagine trying to have a sale where all 200 products suddenly must have new textures! In any case, the price is available by simply mousing over the box.
  • Language: You’ve probably noticed that all wording on the boxes are written in English, yet many customers speak other languages. I debated whether to have multiple box covers, but in the end felt that it was far too much work to do, and the information portrayed would be much greater than before in any case. It's my belief that most people are accustomed to seeing English products - and my monitors tell me that by far the majority of visitors to the store have set English as their language.
  • Fractional Textures: It’s possible to save a bit of money by creating textures that hold 4 box images in a 2x2 matrix. You could, for example, fit four 512x512 box images into a single 1024x1024 texture. By adjusting the offsets on your boxes, you can display the desired image only. This could save you 75% of your upload costs, and visitors would have a simplified texture rez experience (fewer, but larger textures to load). I didn’t do this, but could have if I had the time to do so (it’s more work to do this). One issue with this approach occurs when you need to change one image - you might end up redoing the other three, or at least must keep track of several versions of the multi-texture.

It was a terribly large amount of work to redo all my boxes, as I have around 200 different items for sale at Electric Pixels. The better part of two weeks was spent designing, shooting, photoshopping and uploading. But in the end, I believe it was worth it, as sales have significantly improved since the new boxes went out. The most interesting effect was that different items are being sold now - proving that box images are indeed very important for shoppers.
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Collaborating Outside Second Life

Saturday, October 17, 2009 Saturday, October 17, 2009

Like most virtual designers, I am often collaborating with other designers or clients in efforts to build something or other. Initially this was pretty easy, as Second Life is a pretty decent environment for collaboration: You’ve got voice, text and can exchange images via textures, or even build small prototypes for visual demonstration. Often I’d use email to send material to and fro. Nevertheless, I’ve found the SL environment is often insufficient for certain types of collaboration.

So what do I do? Simple: I make use of several free or low-cost web services. There are the obvious choices for sharing information, such as Twitter, Plurk, Flickr and YouTube, but there are several other highly useful services you might not use:

Google Apps: If you haven’t tried Gapps, you should. It’s free and provides some amazing services. Imagine being able to build and access a spreadsheet from anywhere you can access a web browser. Further imagine being able to invite others to “participate” in the spreadsheet, and watching them changing cells in real time. Now try that with documents and presentations, too! Gapps is well thought out and indispensable.

Skype: The ubiquitous voice service now provides more than just voice, but now includes video, file transfer, instant messaging and other great features. Get it now if you haven’t already! You’ll find it most useful for discussing projects with team members when you are not in-world.

Dropbox Dropbox is a wonderful tool that provides a completely free 2Gb virtual disk. What’s the big deal? The disk appears just as if it’s installed on your machine, but is in fact somewhere far away on the Internet. You can put this virtual disk on several machines - I use it to share files between my laptop and desktop machines. The best part is the ability to add others to your disk - and thus you can seamlessly share files between people simply by drag & drop into the shared folder and it’s automatically updated on shared dropboxes. Indispensable! If 2Gb is too small for you, you can certainly buy more.

DeliciousThe biggest social bookmarking service is Delicious, where you can share a stream of URLs with others. There are also several browser plug-ins that make creation of bookmarks a breeze.


Etherpad: It’s an incredibly simple multi-user shared text editor. What’s that mean? A page you can edit with others in real time. Different colors show you who’s changed what, as everyone types at the same time. Cut and paste the resulting text into a notecard and get your collaboration done much faster. 

YouSendIt: Files too big for email? YouSendIt will come to your rescue, as it enables direct sending of bulk files. It’s not quite instant, but one of the best ways to get a lot of data moving.

Tinypaste: It’s another instant service for storing a chunk of text. Again, very useful for keeping notecard-style information in a semi-permanent state. As long as you can remember the obscure URL, that is...

Are these the only services to use? Not at all - there are dozens, perhaps hundreds more, and those above are simply the ones I use. Which services do you use? Tell us in the comments below.

Seasonal Stuff

Monday, October 12, 2009 Monday, October 12, 2009

I haven’t done any shameless advertising on this blog for quite a while, so I thought I’d mention a few items in my shop that you might find very appropriate for the season. And that season is of course Autumn (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) and Halloween (in both Hemispheres).

For Halloween I have several particle effects involving bats. Bat Hair Day, seen above, produces teeny-tiny bats around your face. It’s on sale in the “Pretty” department at Electric Pixels.


If you need more bats, the Batty effect makes your own personal flock of bats. For room-sized clouds of bats, the BatMaker or BatMaker Thick effects can be installed for your Halloween party and have bats buzzing around all your guests.

CandyGiver is a Halloween basket that you wear on your hand. When you do, it scans the area and asks you to whom it should give candy. Once you select someone, a stream of rather sweet candy items flows to them. It and the Bat effects are available in the “Occasions” department at Electric Pixels.

You might also find something spooky in the “Vampire” department, which has a variety of demonic and evil items.

One of the items I’m very happy with is LeafMaker, which produces a scene of beautiful falling leaves. They’re several different colors and based on real leaves, but the effect works because of their motion. It really feels like you’re standing in a forest at that special moment when all the leaves are falling down around you. I also have several species of falling leaves: red, yellow or brown, in both “thick” or not-so-thick packages. Just place the emitter in your tree, and leaves fall gently the ground.

Have a great Fall and Halloween, everyone!

Lennon in the Sky with Diamonds

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The amazing SL artist Eshi Otawara has done it again: she's built a work of 3D art that's quite amazing in a way I haven't seen before. This time it's a tribute to the late Beatle John Lennon, entitled, "Anamorphosys of John Lennon". The work has a beautiful flower base, an element typical of her designs, and has several classic Lennon icons floating above. The icons are not simply a texture upload, but are in fact three-dimensional and built from many twisted prims.

She's built this amazing display as a tribute to Lennon, as it is the musician's birthday on 9 October. The main tribute to Lennon will of course be the Peace Tower, commissioned by Yoko Ono (details here).

I asked Eshi about this work:

John is an artist who was always ahead of its time. I am thrilled with life to have been honoured with being able to make my little expression for this exhibit.

Eshi is relocating the exhibit at the moment, so I cannot provide a SLURL for you to visit. But if you get the chance, definitely take the time to see it. Tip: make sure you cam under the water and look up.

[UPDATE] It appears that the new location is right here

ArminasX Gets Upset

Sunday, October 4, 2009 Sunday, October 04, 2009

This is a tale of Real Life, but it’s also a tale of Second Life.

It starts in Real Life, where I happened to be dining with a couple dozen folks, and by chance I was sitting across from an older fellow. As with many of his age, his viewpoints on most things were very traditional. But he was also quite outspoken and freely told everyone his thoughts.

Meanwhile, I am a very open and tolerant person, and have been my entire RL. I believe others should be able to believe what they wish, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

During the course of the evening, the older fellow began saying things that increasingly bothered me. Things like: which cars were "definitely" the best; that he knew better than the authorities; that certain lifestyles were “not normal”, and immediately discounting any views different from his own. Some of the things he said, I am quite certain, would have caused some readers of this blog to leap across the table and physically engage him.

I’ve encountered this type of person before, and usually I just write them off as uninformed and intolerant and then ignore them. They are free to believe what they wish, and I ignored him. But there was something different about this encounter. It just bothered me, much more than previous incidents.

But why did it bother me more this time? My theory is where the tale ends: Second Life.

In SL one is constantly exposed to the amazing, the fantastic, the creepy, the unusual and rarely, the traditional. I believe that after almost three years of virtual life seeing anything and everything, and realizing that everyone is indeed a real person with real thoughts and feelings, regardless of what they think, what they do and especially what they look like, my level of tolerance has grown significantly. I’m hypertolerant.

And then I encounter this guy at dinner. And I’m shocked. Shocked at his level of intolerance, because it is now so terribly far away from my new level of tolerance.

Some say Second Life is good for education, to make money, to collaborate or to create. Maybe there’s something else.

Something... necessary. And that’s more tolerance.

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