Saturday, January 31, 2009

Landmark Surfing

Every once in a while I'll be at a trivia game or merely minding my own business (really! that happens sometimes!) when a Second Life friend will instant message me and say "Hey, do you do any exploring?" And I say "Yes, yes I do!" because I love to find unusual and new-to-me places and builds in the Second Life universe. One of my frustrations with SL is that so much of the landscape is worse than blah—I think the phrase I used was "like a bad cartoon strip mall." In fact, often, the strip malls come complete with strippers. So I like finding odd and beautiful spots (even if they're stores) and think things like Winterfaire are a great idea to showcase the talent and ingenuity of many of SL's residents. The upshot? If someone gives me a landmark, the odds are that I'll check it out.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so trusting. Someone—you know who you are—gave me a set of landmarks to interesting spots. Some I had been to before, but one of them carried the Japanese name Higashiosaka. Many of the Japanese sims I've found (like Kowloon) have been wonderful…so I gave Higashiosaka an immediate double-click. And found myself in a pit filled with lava and a dreadful pounding all around me. Gee…thanks.

Eventually I found my way out of the pit and found an apocalyptic diorama: a race of giants had apparently crawled of the earth and were in the process of ripping apart a city by hand...and smooshing hundreds of naked, frantic residents in grisly ways. But these aren't actual avatars: the giants and the residents are all objects made of Second Life prims, animated by scripts, and tricked out with sounds, screams, particles, and actions. I explored the scene after assuring myself I wouldn't actually be hurt. (Some areas of SL are "damage enabled" so people can get hurt and "die"—like in combat games. Dying means being teleported back to your home.) The giants are all escapees from some 80's metal video, sporting spiked clubs and hideous mullets—truly someone's vision of Hell. And the scale of the city made even my diminutive stature a little giant-like.

Lou stares death in the face

After Higashiosaka I decided I might try somewhere more pastoral, and a landmark for SL Botanical Gardens. It is indeed more pastoral and has some beautiful locations…but somehow more clich├ęd and cartoony than places like the Garden of Da Vinci. I was also kinda dismayed to be vaguely trailed by a set of mullet-wearing boys speaking Italian who kept asking me to dance. It was like the giants from Higashiosaka had decided to shrink down and follow me, but were trying to be all suave.

View of the Botanical Gardens from a high, rocky terrace

Next up, I found myself at Straylight, which is both a gorgeous build and a store that sells…well, I guess, botanical stuff. Trees, shrubs, outdoor stuff, things that people use to make their own outdoorsy environments in Second Life. Some of Straylight's areas are simply gorgeous—heavily wooded areas with brick paths that look wonderful , even during SL's nightime:


While at Straylight, I remembered where I'd seen landscaping builds in a similar style: Ode, and especially Oubliette. Confession time…when I inadvertently went trespassing in Ode when I first started out in Second Life, the person I barged in on was Saiyge Lotus, proprietress of Balderdash, where she sells jewelry, gypsy wagons, and a number of landscaping, furniture, and seasonale items—there's not really a theme except for the high quality of her work. Balderdash's sim, Oubliette, has been more-or-less constantly transforming. It used to feature a lighthouse where I would hang out and write these postings, but at some point that vanished, a frozen lake appeared, and now additional low-key stores are beginning to appear around the island. And Saigye has stashed some of her wares in ingenious places—for instance, check out the mermaid ruins:


To find them, you either have to climb down (or, in my case, fall down) a well. But they're for sale! The arches, the porticos, the columns…here I am sitting on the gift box:

Oubliette also has some whimsical touches from some other vendors: I spent a few minutes picnicking with these delightful squirrels:


But after that? A quick breather before another hard-fought trivia game. I'm so cool.

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