Thursday, January 22, 2009

Getting Some Air

Since I've kinda been down on Second Life lately, I thought it might be appropriate to go do some site-seeing. You know, get out a little bit, hang with people, maybe see some cool places instead of spending all my time pushing prims around millimeter by millimeter or staring into the numbing, deep hypnotic vortex of SL's integrated script editor. (Lou, you are getting veeeery sleeeepy….) I liked getting out and seeing some of the winter-themed sims that participated in Second Life's Winterfaire event, and thought trying some other places might cheer me up a little.

The "hang with people" idea worked out great. In addition to getting some social interaction by fueling my trivia addiction, some fellow trivia peeps—actually, trivia teammates, whoohoo!—talked me into (gulp) dressing up and going to a dance club. I totally admit to having trepidations. For one thing, Lou's wardrobe is not so deep that going to a dance club even with a basic-black dress code is something I can do easily. And I somehow had the impression all SL dance clubs were the kind of places where, if a girl shows up, lots of boyz immediately try to engage her in "conversation." You know, pretty much like real dance clubs but without the smell of sweat and stale beer. And there's also the minor issue that Lou doesn't dance. In real life, I'm a complete klutz and in Second Life…well, I've tried it and it's definitely not me.

But, it was mambo night—we loves us a little top-notch mambo—and I was assured the DJ knew his stuff…and I figured "what the heck." And I am happy to report the DJ did know his stuff—his southern U.S. accent was just oddball enough to work—and I didn't get so much as a single rude (or even vaguely creepy) instant message or chat comment. No, Lou did not dance, and, yes, Lou did spend probably the first 15 minutes zoomed in on her knees trying to adjust her pants so they almost-kinda-sorta fit properly. But it was a good time and, you know, I might just try it again.

I also attempted some small amounts of site-seeing. However, in Second Life, this is sort of a chicken-and-egg problem: if you don't know of any cool places, it's kinda hard to find cool places to go. If there are tour books and visitors guides to neat places in Second Life, I haven't found them, and I gather Linden Labs has recently shaken up its pricing structure on sims such that many privately developed sims have simply vanished. That apparently means some sims that people put up just to explore ideas or do something cool have gone away, and any guide to nifty places in SL would probably need some serious updating.

So, I did the same thing in SL that I would do in real life: I started paying a little attention to places my friends mentioned or thought were fun to visit. A few of those turned out not to be so fun to visit (yes, it's true, I do not share all my friends' tastes!) but others were fun.

First up, the Garden of Da Vinci, a gorgeous, idealized Renaissance-inspired sim built in part around ideas and concepts from Leonardo da Vinci. Lots of elegant terrances and airy post-lintel-and-dome architecture abounds, there are a ton of little corners worth exploring (check out the caverns, the castle library, the observatories, and more), and users can toodle around in one of da Vinci's "air screw" helicopters, implemented as a Second Life vehicle. Best of all, no ads or stores or garish displays in sight: it seems to exist simply for its own sake, and it's worth a visit.

Lou at an observatory at the Garden of Da Vinci

Visitors can also paddle around the sim in leisurely-paced gondolas. I didn't even get my feet wet!

View of birdhouse and castle in Garden of Da Vinci

Next up, the person who initially introduced me to Second Life mentioned a two-sim reproduction of Cologne (Köln) cathedral in SL—he wasn't sure if it had been completed yet, but that, last he saw, it was definitely worth a visit. The real life Cologne cathedral is an architectural marvel and one of the world's largest Christian churches. It took centuries to build—I think construction started in the late 13th century, and wasn't completed until the 19th century, and I remember from an architecture survey course that a construction crane was in place on one of its towers for over 400 years. I thought, if it takes centuries to build a church like that in real life, what would the SL version be like? It's impressive:

Lou in the nave of SL's Cologne Cathedral, viewing the apse from the crossing

Tiny Lou, still in the crossing of SL's Cologne Cathedral

For a short while in the 19th century—I think until the Eiffel Tower was completed—Cologne's completed towers were the tallest structures in the world. In Second Life, everyone can fly, so I took a quick jaunt up there. In SL, the towers are tall enough to pierce the ever-present layer of fog starting around 150m above the ground. I have no idea if the SL Cologne's spires are to scale, but if you set your client's draw distance wide enough, you can see the entirety of both sims from them.

Tiny Lou, looking up the (very uppermost) parts of Colgone Cathedral's spires

What was strange about the Cologne sims was that, in maybe an hour and a half I spent exploring there…I didn't see a single other avatar, even at a great distance. There weren't even green dots on SL's mini-map that would denote other avatars in the area. I had it all to myself.

After exploring two sites built around impressive, idealized architecture…I thought something completely different might be in order. So, somewhat arbitrarily, I found myself in Kowloon, which I gather is a sim built to simulate the now-destroyed Kowloon Walled City in British Hong Kong—an area that was controlled by the Chinese but essentially policed by no one, and was a haven for the triads, organized crimes, opium dens, and all manner of "unregulated activity." And where Cologne and the Garden of Da Vinci are bright and airy and spacious and inspiring…Kowloon is cramped and dark and bewildering and gritty.

Lou on a main drag in Kowloon

The architecture of Kowloon's streets, stores, shops, and rooms is claustrophobic—buildings and rooms jammed up right next to, against, and on top of each other—and makes almost no effort to accommodate the realities of a Second Life avatar (we tend to need high ceilings and a lot of space to move around comfortably.) And Kowloon is awash in mouldering textures, dark openings, neon, unexpected cubby-holes, and neon. The sim seems largely Japanese, including most of the items for sale in various shops and stands, and many of the avatars I encountered were from Japan. A few areas of the sim are for members only, but the nature of the streets means you can wonder between, through, and around buildings almost endlessly and scarcely be aware of whether you're retracing your own footsteps. Heck, you can be within a few meters of another avatar and not be able to see them—even with masterful SL camera control skills. Some areas in the sim are inexplicable—a winding pier that leads out to a glowing purple cloud, and pose balls that let avatars assume the roles of unfortunates passed out in an alley among them—but other parts are oddly charming, including a small (and incredibly dense) street market and the flooded-out lower floor of a store that still has stuff for sale…along with a mackerel or something swimming about.

Hmm, do I really want to go in there?

Kowloon isn't pretty, but it's certainly an experience, and I'd recommend it for anyone looking for creative builds in Second Life that aren't about platonic architectural ideals, glowing flying abstract geometry, or cybering.

Just watch your back. You never know who (or what) might be down that alley.


  1. Sorry I didn't start reading your blog sooner... comments posted two weeks after the original message are usually pretty useless. :) But if you like sightseeing, I've got a few tips.

    1) Profile Perving. This is what I did early on to find new places. Go into profiles and check out people's Picks. Sure, you might end up sloshing through profiles consisting of testaments to bestest friends and partners or picks that stores and clubs bribe people to include, but eventually you'll find a gem: a profile filled with cool places to go. Mine used to be that way, though I gradually let a few people- and quote-picks slip in there. I'm in a profile reconstruction process right now to make the locations the highlights again. Incidentally, this is how I found Gardens of da Vinci, which if I'm not mistaken I passed on to you.

    1a) An offshoot of straight-up profile perving is Puddle Jumping, where you go to one person's pick, explore, find someone else there whose profile to use, go someplace new, and so on. Can be fun and random.

    2) New World Notes/Koinup. The most-visited and most-photographed sites of the week are listed there, and though I haven't used this sightseeing method much yet, I've liked what I've visited. The kind of traffic they're talking about is *not* the kind that gets quantified by the SL system to tell you a gazillion green dots are there at the moment. I don't actually know what their metric is. But it's a good one.

    3) There actually *are* print travel guides to SL. I've been going through the recommended destinations listed in Second Life: The Official Guide little by little (that's how I found Kowloon). Obviously, there is the hazard of SL's ethereal nature: there's no guarantee that the places will still exist when you look for them. But the majority are. They made it into the guide because someone suspected they'd remain, after all. Just do an Amazon search for "Second Life." A few guides come up in the first couple of pages.

    Or just ask me where I've been lately. :)

  2. Lette did indeed tell me about the Gardens of Da Vinci, and that's why I went there...although it also turned out I had had a landmark to it for months and never realized. Because I am lame. :( Kowloon is one of those sims lots of people told me about, but I'd never worked up the gumption to visit.

    I'll have to start perusing people's profiles and these blogs...I almost always forget to look at people's profiles, and the "blog" scene around SL is almost entirely unknown to me...I'll check 'em out.

    And I always ask Lette where she's been. Duh. ;)


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