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Virtual Worlds

Previously on MV TV: The week of September 8th

Fantasy, Video, Aion, EverQuest II, Previews, Professions, Opinion, Vanguard, Guild Wars 2, Free-to-Play, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Humor, Guides, Livestream, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, Previously on MV TV

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It's starting to cool down outside, at least here in Texas. Trust me, I know how strange that sounds, but the temperature during the middle of the day is moving up as usual and the mornings and evenings are pure bliss. If it's cold where you are now, settle down with a cup of coffee and take that newspaper and throw it in the trash! Who needs to read? Follow the magic links down below, and not only will you get the news, but it will be delivered in a completely non-newsy form: video game streams!

Let's break down the top stories for this week. First, we'll be joined by the Pigster as he takes us on a tour of Spiral Knight's planet. Richie is still stuck in Guild Wars 2, but trooper that he is, he continues to file reports from the front lines. How brave! MJ returns this week with a recipe for Gnoll burritos from EverQuest II, a newbie tour through the character mines of Guild Wars 2, a quickie glimpse of the floating islands of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and an avocado dip recipe given to her by the pirates of Aion. I finish off by travelling back in time to a game called There, a title that kept me up for ages when I was younger.

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MMObility: Glitch's change log describes a very busy Tiny Speck

Betas, Fantasy, Bugs, Culture, Game Mechanics, Patches, Free-to-Play, Browser, Mobile, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Humor, MMObility, Housing

Glitch screenshot
Glitch has quietly been working its way through beta, adding new content and tweaking exisiting content while many wanna-be players await their turn in the world of Ur. I love the fact that I can log out of the game for several days or a week and log back in to find some newer, better way to play. I'm a bit shocked that the game is taking as long as it has to "re-launch" because it has been a very wonderful and airtight experience for a while. I have a feeling the team at Tiny Speck is a bit on the obsessive side.

How many updates have there been? If you aren't following @PlayGlitch (or @GlitchLog) on Twitter or reading up on the official blog or forums, now is as good a time as any. But I thought it'd be a good idea to round up some of the best for you.

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Free for All: Getting lost in the labyrinth of Wurm Online

Fantasy, Video, Culture, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Wurm Online, Vanguard, Free-to-Play, Virtual Worlds, Humor, Free for All, Livestream, Sandbox, Crafting, Housing

Wurm Online screenshot
Wurm Online is a game of darkness. Really, the entire world is balanced on what will happen after the sun sets. If a player isn't careful, she can find herself lost and alone without a torch to light her path. I don't mean to make the daylight out to be a haven from danger; a player can die during the day as easily as at night. But at least during the day, a far-off shelter can be aimed for. Unless there's fog, of course.

OK, look. Wurm Online is a game of super-scary death things, but the night is particularly scary. That's what I meant.

When an old Vanguard: Saga of Heroes buddy of mine let me know that he and his friends had built a giant maze in Wurm, one that can actually keep players occupied for hours and can possibly lead to injury or death, I jumped into a tiny rowboat and paddled my way south toward the Deliverance server. I had to see this thing for myself.

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Previously on MV TV: The week of September 1st

Fantasy, Puzzle, Real-Life, Sci-Fi, Trailers, Video, EVE Online, Fallen Earth, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Previews, Professions, Wurm Online, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Virtual Worlds, MMOFPS, Interviews (Massively's), World of Tanks, Post-Apocalyptic, Guides, Livestream, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, Dungeons, Previously on MV TV

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This week I have quite the selection of tasty video tidbits for you to enjoy. What better way to spend the weekend than staying inside away from the nasty pollen and wasps, watching amazing gameplay videos hosted by yours truly and his band of fellow pixel-heads? That's right! You don't even have to buy MMOs anymore! By simply clicking on the "continue reading" link below, you step into an expansive world of MMO exploration, teeming with sights and sounds unlike you have ever seen or installed before! Why should you go through the trouble of standing in line, purchasing a box, spending two days installing it on your massive PC, pulling up that huge plastic chair, waiting for the game to patch, and attempting to make a character who doesn't look like a 17 year-old pop-punk band member only to find that you suck at PvP?

The simple answer to your problem is to watch us play ALL OF THE GAMES! Which games, you might ask? Well, this week I have some Piggy action as he streams Fallen Earth, followed by Richie with some Guild Wars 2, Mike with some more EVE Online, World of Tanks and Tribes: Ascend. And I follow it all up with a trip through Wurm Online to view the mystery behind the Puzzles deed and then chat with Illyriad CEO James Niesewand about his game's new patch! Check it out!

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Free for All: Xulu Universe is more than Second Life-lite

Betas, Sci-Fi, Screenshots, Game Mechanics, Interviews, New Titles, Previews, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Races, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Free for All, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, Crafting

Xulu Universe screenshot
Xulu Universe is a new world built with far-reaching horizons. In reality, those horizons are within reach for anyone who wants to take the time to travel. If you see it, you can go to it. Xulu Universe is also a world of endless building opportunities as in Second Life, although comparing it to Second Life wouldn't quite be accurate. Where Second Life is a sandbox with no set boundaries, Xulu Universe is more of a standardized experience. Sure, there are plans to allow players to add unique touches to creations, but initially, creators will have access to a limited toolset. Don't let that fool you; the tools are quite robust and easy to use.

Last week I joined Xulu Entertainment's co-founders, CEO Nanci Solomon and CTO Joe Santos, for a tour around the new building MMO. We drove, flew, ran, shot, stacked, and jumped through the physics-based world thanks to a new peer-to-peer-styled server plan. What does all of this mean? Click past the cut and I'll do my best to explain what Xulu Universe is all about.

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Rise and Shiny revisit: Uncharted Waters Online

Real-Life, Video, Game Mechanics, Previews, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Rise and Shiny, Livestream

UWO screenshot
It's been a year and a half since I last looked at Uncharted Waters Online, a nautical adventure MMO that will probably remind many of you of EVE Online or Pirates of the Burning Sea. I was excited to see how things have changed, but the gulf of time between the last time I really dived into the game and now has made it so that I've forgotten a lot about my initial experience. Chalk it up to growing older, I guess.

Luckily, the game is still as fun as it ever was. It seems, on the surface, pretty simple and straightforward. Its Anime characters and simple yet effective, graphics might give players the feeling that they are embarking on adventures that only younger players would enjoy, but the true depth of the game emerges soon after you begin.

This game is complex. It's not impossible to figure out, but it was nearly impossible for me to revisit in just a week's time all of the old stuff I remember and the new stuff that has been added to the game since my first voyage.

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Free for All: Second Life, the little 75 million-dollar engine that could

Culture, Opinion, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Virtual Worlds, Free for All, Sandbox, Anniversaries

Second Life
Do not call Second Life a game. If you find yourself in the position of describing the game at all publicly, be prepared to be corrected: Second Life is not a game; it's a world. Let me amend that: Second Life is an experience, a world, a game, or whatever the players, residents, and consumers want to call it. In fact, the Linden Lab baby is whatever you want to make of it, and I have seen many, many sides of it over the last eight years since I joined the experience.

Don't worry; this column will not be a fanboy rehash of the successes of Second Life and will not be a recount of my favorite memories. Instead, we'll focus on facts to prove just how incredible this latest ninth anniversary is.

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Habbo chat disabled as another investor pulls out

MMO Industry, News Items, Free-to-Play, Legal, Virtual Worlds, Kids, Miscellaneous

Habbo chat disabled as another investor pulls out
Habbo has lost another investment partner as an investigation into alleged user misconduct continues. Earlier this week, UK broadcaster Channel 4 went public with reports of "sexual, perverse, violent, and pornographic" chat in the children's virtual world formerly known as Habbo Hotel.

Today, Gamasutra reports that 3i, a private equity group that owns 16 percent of Habbo parent firm Sulake, is pulling out. Previously, Sulake shareholder Balderton Capital returned its stake, while retailers Tesco and WH Smith removed Habbo gift cards from their websites.

Sulake CEO Paul LaFontaine subsequently announced that all chat functionality on the Habbo website has been disabled pending the results of a potentially lengthy internal investigation.

Habbo accused of harboring predators, CEO fights back

MMO Industry, Legal, Virtual Worlds, Kids, Miscellaneous

Habbo accused of harboring predators, CEO fights back
Habbo, a popular children's virtual world, is under fire today by UK's Channel 4 News. The station aired a special report suggesting that the social network as a haven for pedophiles and child predators and promising to expose "the extent of sexually explicit material on the social network."

Habbo (formerly Habbo Hotel) is shedding investors with the news; Habbo's parent company Sulake lost its second largest shareholder, Balderton Capital. The former shareholder released a statement saying, "We were given some information a week ago that profoundly shocked us. We had to ask ourselves whether we were comfortable being investors in a business where children were not being adequately protected."

Habbo CEO Paul LaFontaine fought back against the accusations by saying that Habbo is "one of the safest online communities" and has a large team of moderators that tracks the millions of messages sent between the network's users

"To keep users safe, we filter content and block inappropriate users," LaFontaine said. "We work with child safety organisations and local police forces to address inappropriate behaviour. Habbo's leading safety systems were recognised as making the service one of the safest social networks in a 2011 European Commission report."

Storybricks demo and interview with Brian 'Psychochild' Green and Kelly Heckman

Betas, Interviews, Previews, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Screenshot -- Storybricks
Namaste Entertainment's upcoming MMO-narrative-building toolset, Storybricks, is quickly picking up steam among the massively multiplayer gaming community. The quirky title recently released a public alpha client to coincide with the project's Kickstarter campaign, and I had the opportunity to sit down with Namaste's Brian "Psychochild" Green and Kelly Heckman for a tour of the client as well as a short interview on what the future holds for the toolbox-cum-MMOG project.

Follow on past the cut and join me as I try to pinpoint Namaste's goals for the future of Storybricks.

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The Daily Grind: Are virtual worlds still important?

Culture, Opinion, Second Life, The Daily Grind, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

The Sims Online
As part of the recent Massively Speaking bicentennial, we were reminiscing about the fact that Massively used to have a much heavier focus on virtual worlds. While we still touch on those from time to time, these types of "games" don't seem to be as hot as they once were. Or maybe they are and we're just not seeing it!

From Habitat to The Sims Online to Second Life, there have been many attempts at constructing vibrant, community-driven virtual worlds that would draw in players looking to create dual lives that were flashier and more fantastic than their real lives. These games once were heralded as the wave of the future, but it seems as if that wave has since moved on to bashing things with their +4 Clubs of Exquisite Suffering.

So what say you: Are virtual worlds still important? Are we trying to return to the concept by embracing sandbox principles? Are they best left to wither and die in the annals of history?

Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!

Second Life used to teach relaxation techniques

Culture, MMO Industry, News Items, Second Life, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

Second Life - happy avatars
Who says Second Life's best days are behind it? Not Medical News Today, which reports that the long-running virtual world from Linden Lab has been successfully used to teach relaxation techniques. Massachusetts General Hospital researchers recently conducted a study that concluded that online worlds like Second Life can be useful in "teaching a mind/body approach that includes the relaxation response."

The study found that by doing away with the limitations of face-to-face meetings (and easing the minds of participants who are uncomfortable in real-world group settings), virtual worlds can foster more relaxing and healthy experiences. The study featured 24 individuals who were divided into three groups and subjected to eight weeks of online sessions in Second Life.

Researchers found that participants "showed reductions in depression- and anxiety-related symptoms," though it's also important to note that participants had prior experiences with virtual worlds.

Free for All: I got the Second Life inventory management blues

Real-Life, Culture, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Free for All

Second Life screenshot
Every year I attempt to go through my Second Life inventory in the hope that it actually works out for me. I really do want to get rid of the 7,000+ items I have after eight years in the game (my game-birthday is on May 26th!), but it's such a daunting task. Where do you start? Is organization really even needed? Well, yes it is, from what I have heard. Everyone is running in-world carrying endless pockets filled with everything possible, and that's going to cause some lag and effort on the server's part.

Also, I have an obsession with minimizing my life. I hate physical stuff. It takes up room, collects dust, and just sits there. Sure, I maintain all of my art if I can and some other important items like pictures and cute little knick-knacks, but otherwise, if I don't use it, it gets tossed, sold, or set on the curb for the junk-people to grab.

I feel the same way about Second Life. There's a mental burden that years of junk presses onto someone, digital representation or not. It's no wonder those people in that Hoarders show look so down; it's a hard life to lose the ability to throw anything away, ever.

I am making a stand, slowly. I am going to get this inventory under control by coming up with some ideas to help me along.

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Linden Lab's Second Life 'extremely profitable,' company looking to expand

MMO Industry, News Items, Second Life, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

Second Life - hot air balloon at sunset
Second Life has dropped out of the limelight in recent years, but if a new piece at GamesIndustry.biz is on the mark, the long-running virtual world may be primed for something of a renaissance.

Former Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon vacated the throne in June 2010, and veteran developer Rod Humble took over at the beginning of 2011. Since then, the EverQuest and The Sims veteran has been working hard to bring a bit of structure to Second Life's virtual sprawl, and in the process, reinvigorate what was one of the first MMORPG media darlings.

"I was taken aback by just how big Second Life was," Humble says. "To be honest, it had fallen off my radar until I got the call offering me the position. And I looked at their numbers; this is a world that has got 1 million people logging in every month, generating well in excess of $75 million a year -- it's extremely profitable."

Humble spent much of 2011 refining the product, and everything from the sign-up process to the UI to world transportation received some attention. The result was a 40 percent uptick in new users, and now Humble is bent on expanding Linden Lab's offerings beyond Second Life. "Linden Lab has been very successful with one innovative product, but I want to stretch the company out again, to make it a really exciting place where people can't wait to find out about the next unusual title we're going to release," he said.

Some Assembly Required: Six must-haves for creative expression

Fantasy, EverQuest II, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online, Free-to-Play, Roleplaying, Virtual Worlds, Xsyon, Post-Apocalyptic, Some Assembly Required, Sandbox

Some Assembly Required header
Creativity. It is expressed in so many ways in so many mediums. Art, literature, architecture, music, performance... I love it all, conventional and unconventional. Heck, I revel in it! Why do you think my work and recreation include gaming?

Wait, gaming?! You betcha!

Beyond the artistry of the developers, MMORPGs offer outlets for player creativity in a variety of ways. I am not ashamed to admit that the primary reason I delve into MMORPGs is not for the gameplay but to explore and experience the creative expression of others (and to express some of my own as well). In fact, finding and sharing that very creativity by championing and highlighting player-generated content is precisely what Some Assembly Required is about.

Between (or in lieu of) the hacking, the slashing, and the plundering, players seize proffered tools in myriad virtual realms to build works of art, pen masterpieces, construct edifices, compose melodies, and take the stage, all within the pixeled confines of a virtual world. Unfortunately, not all games have adequate tools for such creative expression. While inspired players can make do if they must, having supporting features exponentially enhances a game (and positively affects retention). Thankfully, some games provide a few standard-setting features that -- in my opinion -- should be included in every game on the market. Here are six of those must-have features.

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