Monday, February 9, 2009

Immersed

In my heart, I always knew letting people comment on this blog was going to be trouble.

My SL friend Lette Ponnier (check out her Flickr stream) mentioned in a comment on an older post that one of the ways she finds cool areas to explore in Second Life is "profile perving." Every SL avatar has a profile that displays their birth date (really the creation date of the account). Optionaly, users can show a picture, their group memberships, and write a little about themselves. One area of a profile is the "Picks," where users can insert pointers to some of their favorite places in Second Life—and you can open a landmark and teleport to those spots directly from someone's profile. Picks are like personal recommendations…and, naturally, some locations and clubs even pay people who pimp a particular spot in their profiles.

So while I was snapping a picture of myself next to an old Coca-Cola machine at AM Radio's Refuge, I "perved" the profile of another nearby avatar. There were only two entries: the Refuge, and someplace I'd never heard of called Immersiva.

The name is a very apt description. I think I spent four or five hours exploring Immersiva, and it's one of the most finely detailed and engaging builds I've ever found in Second Life. And I apologize for the number of screenshots in this post—I took over 100 photos while I was there, and have tried to whittle down to just the essentials. The upshot is: if you like cool builds and exploring in Second Life at all, you must go to Immersiva. And you must allow yourself enough time to take it all in.

First of all, getting ready for Immersiva means tweaking your Second Life client. I've never encountered a sim that does this, but Immersiva is designed to a custom sky setting rather than the default four-hour "day" and fog layer riding at 150m that everyone experiences throughout the Second Life mainland. Immersiva's custom sky settings—instructions are available right at the sim's landing point, and they're well worth the effort—bring the fog in close, diffuse the light, and tend to wash out colours. You can almost feel moisture condensing on your skin and all the metal objects as you explore the sim…and it adds a creepiness and sense of foreboding that would otherwise be absent with SL's default "weather."


Socked in by Immersiva's sky settings

Immersiva is the work of the SL avatar Bryn Oh, and all I know about her is what she says on her blog—that in real life she's a Toronto-area oil painter. (That, and she has fabulous taste in Blogger default templates!) Immersiva plays host to several large-scale—sometimes very large-scale—standalone works, like the Ferrisquito here:


…although elements in each of these items seem to tie them into Immersiva's central story. For instance, this carousel of robot creatures that seem to have emerged fully-formed from the fog…


…has a bit of poetry on a bit of paper at the base of one of the robots. There's also a jellyfish room:
…with more poetry. And the poetry fragments—everywhere throughout the sim—only seem to make sense once you'v read a bunch of them. The jellyfish room was also my first hint that I might have to be clever to see parts of Immersiva: there was no way to enter, at least when I was there. So I used the first of my "explorers' tricks" to get inside…and I would use almost all those tricks before leaving Immersiva.

Immersiva is packed to the brim with little details. For instance, this gorgeous metal spider is hidden inside a seemingly innocuous vent-like structure—a visitor not only has to figure out how to open that vent, but also how to maneuver Second Life's camera to appreciate it. And the spider is tiny—about the same size as that first bit of Second Life jewelry I built.

And that vent? An entrance to an underground world that (I think) is too small for any Second Life avatar to really visit—unless maybe they've got a super-small "tiny" avatar. The tunnels and pipes are populated by mechanized insects…and if you wait and watch, they move. There was only one part of the build I was able to get into—in the picture above, you can just barely see the bottom of my boot through a small hole at the bottom of a brick wall.


The central story of Immersiva is, I think, called Daughter of Gears, sort of a sci-fi/steampunk/Frankenstein parable concerning a woman's effort to re-animate her deceased(?) daughter using technology from those little mechanized bugs…and then protect her from the angry mob that comes after them both for violating nature's laws. And some of Bryn Oh's imagery is just astounding: here's a mechanical rat pulling a mechanical owl pulling a…giant mechanical shrimp up an arc of light, teetering on spindly wheels and seeming to just barely be beating out gravity. And the level of detail is amazing: for instance, the owl opens up revealing inner gears and workings and some kind of power source. Reminded me a bit of my cute little friend.


Here's a glimpse of the Daughter of Gears story, perhaps, also up in the sky at the end of that arc of light. I gather Bryn Oh calls one of these characters "Mr. Lightbulb" but all I could think was "Look! It's The Man with The Lightbulb Head!" Yeah, I know: I was horribly twisted as a child.

But again…the detail. The girl's face opens and we find not only an inner armature but a line drawing of the same girl looking out a window. We'll get back to that.


The center of the Daughter of Gears story is this tower—and, you'll find, it's conveniently located in a "no-fly" area so if you want to get to the top, you'll have to walk. Yes, there are certainly ways to cheat and fly in no-fly areas, and, no, climbing the tower is not easy. But—it can be done. Honest. I did it. Don't wimp out.


Here we find the torch-and-baseball-bat-carrying mob:


To get into the tower, you go underwater and up a convoluted series of platforms…you'll also pass the lab where the Daughter of Gears was apparently born. Along the way metal spheres rattle down the tower like some kind of giant pachinko game…and, yes, those spheres can knock you all the way to the bottom, so be careful. Eventually, you'll come to the most challenging part of the tower, where a series of three hammer-like pendulums seem to impede your path. Really, you can get through it without flying: if sit and consider your options, you can get to the ledge I'm standing on in this screenshot:

A giant metal ball careens down the tower at the heart of Immersiva

After that, it's not very hard to get to the top of the tower where mom—which seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to Bryn Oh's avatar—is leading her daughter to safety.


And if you look carefully, you'll find a way to get there too. Boom. You're surrounded by white, with no horizon, no landmarks—nothing. Except..was that a line? In the distance? You walk towards it and come to what I think is absolutely the most astonishing part of Immersiva—a 3D line drawing of geese:




Each "line" in these sketches is actually a three-dimensional object: you can walk around, over, and even through them. It's something I'd never expected to see in SL, and it works because of the all-white surroundings: from some angles it's a pure line drawing, but get close and suddenly it develops an eerie, startling depand and perspective. Fabulous idea. And there are other items up here in "heaven"—I won't spoil them all except to note that you can find mom and daughter up here, safe and sound:

…and if you thought the 3D line drawing of geese was out of theme, here's what ties it all together. It's part 3D line drawing, part 3D objects, and there's the daughter of gears, facing a half-open window…of opportunity, perhaps.

Naturally, I wasn't quite satisfied I'd found everything there was to find in Immersiva, so I pulled out some of those explorers' tricks and found a few areas of the sim that didn't seem to (yet) be open to the public. Won't spoil it all, but it looks like Bryn Oh has a store or gallery in the works, featuring some of her unique creations:


Including this intriguing 3D recreation of George Bellows' famous painting "Stag at Sharkey's:"


Again: Immersiva. Highly recommended. Set up the sky correctly, and take your time.

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