Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blake's Seven Seas

A while ago the Lindens opened a new continent—not Zindra, the brand new Continent of Dildos and Heaving Bazooms (© and ® Lou Netizen, all rights reserved, thank you very much!)—but the formerly brand-new continent of Nautilus. Nautilus was basically intended to be land like any other in the Second Life mainland, in that anyone who could walk, fly, or swim (or buy, rent, or sell land) elsewhere in SL could have a go.

Honest, Officer, I swear the plane was like that when I got here!

However, Nautilus was different from other Second Life mainland in that the Lindens spent some time building the place out before they let residents loose to do their own things. As a result, parts of Nautilus have a Linden-owned theme apparently built around a lost civilization of stoneworking, metallurgically-savvy dolphins…or something. I don't really get it. But there's an old harbor and a funky dolphin lighthouse-temple thing with a secret submarine base, and some sewers/secret passages for dolphins, and other stuff. Nautilus was supposed to be primo virtual real estate without the gaudy garishness of the existing mainland, and maybe have a theme that would appeal to new residents who come from other virtual worlds. I guess. I don't know, I don't really get it.

Anyway, Nautilus's theme and builds were controversial because they put Second Life owners Linden Lab in the content creation business, competing directly with their customers to build sims and places people might want to rent or buy for themselves.

One project related to Nautilus was the Blake Sea, a series of ocean sims that connect the Nautilus continent to the pre-existing Second Life mainland. Unlike other Second Life ocean sims that were either owned by Linden Lab as public spaces or owned by private account holders, the Blake Sea sims represented a partnership between Linden Lab and a private group of residents who (I think) were really into the idea of virtual sailing. Again, this was kinda viewed as a case of one group of residents—in this case, an in-world sailing community—being given preferential treatment by the Lindens to the exclusion of other in-world communities. Hey, Linden Lab—where's the Trivia Continent? Or the Live-Music-that-Doesn't-Die-in-Lag Continent? Why don't the communities I care about get special treatment? You get the idea.

Anyway—there are a million bazillion sims in Second Life—OK, there are probably just tens of thousands—but, not being a sailing person, I didn't give the Blake Sea much thought. However, a friend TP'd me to on of the larger islands in the Blake Sea today (complete with a not-really-hidden underground cavern with Linden-y sword you can use to menace, um, pirates?), and I did some poking around. To my surprise, the Blake Sea isn't a desolate expanse of boring water: it's got a lot of rocks and atolls and birds and a big lighthouse and a pirate-y hideaway and other stuff to keep things interesting…again, all are apparently examples of Linden Lab competing with its own customers to develop virtual real estate and attract people to Second Life. Somewhat to my surprise, people were actually sailing the Blake Sea: probably half a dozen small boats went by as I popped from island to island, and several folks shouted "hello!" (and "ahoy!") as they passed. There was even a steampunky derigible thing floating around for a while.

I'm not a Second Life business owner or land owner, so I don't have much of an immediate stake in the degree to which the Lindens compete with in-world businesses with efforts like Nautilus or the Blake Sea. And I gotta admit, while the Blake Sea builds have some clever pieces and nice corners, they don't have a lot of depth and are...well, they're a little blah compared to many resident builds (like, say, Immersiva or Kowloon or AM Radio's stuff or…). But it's kinda nice to know there are a few picture-postcard-y spots in SL I can take friends or clients for a quick chat or walkaround that are just simple, and where I don't have to worry tremendously about lag, huge crowds, or server load. It's like having my own little atoll…crashed plane and all.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What the L Were We Thinking?!

When you create an avatar in Second Life, you can make your first name anything you want, but—unless you pay Linden Labs a big heap of money!—you only get to pick your last name from a list of a few dozen available at the time. It's not like avatars with the same last names have any particular kinship, but the Lindens seem to rotate last names out of use when enough people have them. So, a last name can be an indicator of an avatar's age: I haven't run into many other "Netizens," but we all appear to have started in Second Life at about the same time.

The upshot is that there's a lot of importance to an avatar's first name. Someone's last name may have just been the least dorky choice available at the time (Lou raises her hand), but a first name is something they fully chose for themselves. In my case that was easy—my real life name is Lou (well, Louise), and I didn't see a reason to go with anything else. But when you see someone going around with a first name like "Dingbat" or "HunterKiller"…they're kind of telling you something.

Some members of the L Gang (left to right):
Lette Ponnier, Laertes Parx, Lucinda Dollinger, moi, Lacey Lukas, Lillian Shippe, Lotus Ceriano, and Lebn Bucyk

In the Second Life trivia community, however, there seems to be a bit of a pattern: a bunch of us have names that begin with the letter L! I don't know when it was first noticed—several months ago at this point—but at some games, particularly on the weekends, there would sometimes be a small herd of us "L" people. It becomes particularly obvious when we all answer a question one after another—the chat log is filled with names beginning with L. At games that give multiple prizes per question (say, first, second, and third) having L people get all three is now called an "L Sweep." We joke amongst ourselves about L-Power, "Giving them L!," and pretend we're in some sort of secret gang society.

I don't quite know where the idea came from, but at some point someone suggested we should get all the L's together in one place for a group portrait. Well, this weekend it happened! Lillian Shippe graciously donated the use of her gorgeous house in Nippon, and a bunch of us were able to show up to "say cheese!" The theme was a slumber party—so fuzzy slippers and pyjamas were the norm—and we had a hysterically bizarro time trying to manage poses and get everyone into shots on furniture. In the end, the simplest thing was probably the best: we all lined up again a (or atop) a bannister and tried to face the camera. More (and better!) pictures are coming, I'm sure, from Lillian and others, but I couldn't resist getting one group portrait out into the world on my own. So there we are: the L's! (Unlike most of the pictures I post on this blog, you can click the group shot for a larger version.)

Next, we fully expect the "C's" to do their own group photo. After that…obviously we'll need to start making matching leather jackets so we can tell each other apart when we rumble!

Beep bebeep beep beep! UPDATE: Lillian Shippe has posted her candid screenshots of the L's on her Flickr site; this one and this one seem to have been her faves!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Schooner or Later!

The sixth Buccaneer Bowl team trivia event was held in Second Life this weekend, once again ably hosted by Lillian Shippe, Thornton Writer, and Lette Ponnier. I'm a huge fan of the Buccaneer Bowl—and any readers of this blog are probably sick of me going on about it! The event has truly developed into the big wingding of the Second Life trivia scene—and it's no surprise, with some $10,000L in prize money at stake and almost all of SL's top trivia players competing on teams for a slice of the pie.

Players assembled for the sixth monthly Buccaneer Bowl

So far the Buccaneer Bowls have been dominated by The Triviators, a team consisting of Lotus Ceriano (captain), Starla Gurbux, Alanna Robbiani, Nelly Swindlehurst, and Mako Kungfu—only four of them can play in any given game, but so far they've been tough to beat, winning four of the six Buccaneer Bowls. (Although my team gave them a serious challenge last month!) But the way the Buccaneer Bowl works, one team dominating doesn't mean no one else has fun…or that other teams don't win. All teams who get on the board win money for playing, and nobody has to go home empty-pocketed thanks to ARC bonuses: get your avatar's ARC below 500, and you get $100L just for playing.

Trivial Corsairs on deck at Buccaneer Bowl VI!
Captain Rain front and center! Left-to-right in the background, Nia Jinx, me, and Sinnamon Sands.

This month, the Corsairs managed a fourth place finish out of nine or ten teams, which I admit is a little disappointing after nearly toppling the Triviators last month. But them's the breaks! For whatever reason, a good portion of the Bowl's twenty-five general questions simply landed a little to the left or right (or front or back!) of our four brains: it's a shame, but it happens. (One month I think we finished sixth!) We were able to jump on a few questions—and we did pretty well silently on the bonuses posed to each round's winning team, though that didn't help us in the slightest.

The most distressing thing about the Buccaneer Bowl this time around involved scheduling: like the Triviators, the Corsairs now have five team members, but under Bowl rules teams are limited to four players. This month, we had a surfeit of talent: it worked out that everyone was able to attend this months game! We'd decided to leave it to the last minute to figure out who would play…and failing group messages in Second Life before the game made it very difficult to coordinate anything. It never feels good to leave a friend out of something fun, and when teammate Lebn Bucyk graciously stepped back to let the other four of us play, it was bittersweet—I know each of us was thinking "I should be the one to bow out." And now, of course, we're all thinking "Gosh, maybe we could have beat the Triviators this month with Lebn there!" Be that at as it may: we'll get another crack at them next month. Sooner or later…Triviators are going down!

One exciting development this month: a brand new team managed to capture second place! Awesome! The team "Into Bahrain" was captained by Devin Velikov, backed up by Ailin Triellis, Catherine Resch, and Less Juliesse—and, frankly, they kicked ass and took names! It's even more exciting because Catherine and Ailin are kind of new to the SL trivia scene—and they're very talented! More players means better games, more competition, and more fun…and another team to watch out for at next month's Buccaneer Bowl!

Just Some Snapshots…

Once again I find myself trying to find time to keep up with Lou's Clues—what with all the stuff I'm doing in Second Life, I haven't found as much time to sit down and write about what I'm doing in Second Life! It's a bit of a viscious circle—the more I do that I could write about, the less time I have to do it. So, this is just going to be a quick update…but first, some snapshots!

Lou stares up as Godzilla (Maelstrom Janus) stomps on trivia at Double Standards!

So the other day I pop into Double Standards, which is a well-established trivia venue running games during the afternoons (SL Time) as well as special games on the weekends—and the owner, Hummingbird Forster, has also put on two "Smartasstermind" events emulating the well-known Mastermind TV quiz show, which so far as I know are unique in SL. When I arrive, there's a big purple mecha standing on the stage behind the host Cully Andel…and then Maelstrom Janus suddenly morphs into Godzilla to do battle with it! At one point Chaddington Boomhauer puts on a giant dragon/duckling avatar—and I tried to get pictures of all three of these giants futzing around each other, but they didn't stay still long enough for my slow computer to get a snapshot—and the avatars (Chadd's in particular) were so tall they were too far away from me for my computer to draw! But I did get a picture of Mael menacing the trivia game as Godzilla—and the most amusing part of all this was that Cully kept the game going more-or-less as normal the entire time!

Rebuilding the sky platform

Another project I've been working on is rebuilding the little workshop that I use in public sandboxes. I've had a sky platform for a while; I'll teleport into a sandbox, zip up to 512 or 1024m above the ground (so as not to bother anyone—remember, in Second Life everyone can fly!) and essentially unfold my own little hovering spot where I can work on stuff in private. I built my original platform back in November 2008 and revised it again in December…but it wasn't working for me anymore. Most of the time, the platform was more space than I needed, but other times it was too small! And I'd also built a little abstract teepee-thing at one side with some simple couches where I could meet with clients or work on small stuff like jewelry, but increasingly it just bugged me. The colors were too garish, the textures too harsh, the surfaces too flat…it just wasn't fun to be there anymore. I realized the look and design of the place was kinda blocking me from getting things done: I'd be more likely to pop to a concert or a trivia game than do work if I didn't want to be on my platform.

So, I spent a little bit of time redoing my platform: the default form is smaller and simpler, but I can give it little commands to get bigger (if I'm working in something sizable) or put out some furniture if I'm working on something small or having people over to chat. So now I have a cooler platform with more features, and the ability to add more components to it easily…and I'm looking forward to using it.

Lou pedals a blimp-bike in the skies over Armada Breakaway

Finally, I managed to take some time to explore a good portion—though certainly not all—of Armada Breakaway, a role-playing-optional sim with a steampunk theme, based to one degree or another on the fiction of China MiĆ©ville. I've never read MiĆ©ville's work and probably wouldn't have found Armada on my own if Mako Kungfu hadn't started hosting a trivia game there. And Armada is a brilliantly-designed sim: the surface level is basically a collection of ship hulls lashed together into a kind of floating town…and above the surface are derigibles and airships! And below the surface…that's the realm of the mer: mermaids and merman who seem in kinda contentious relationship with the surfacefolk!

Normally role-playing sims are distinctly not my thing, but the folks at Armada have been very open and welcoming to me and my jeans-and-tennis-shoes trivia gear…and the sim is simply ingenious. I attended a synchronized swimming event there (Mako as a merman!)…and I guess Armada must be welcoming because they convinced me to attend a goth music event! It was too much to pass up—some of the avatars in Armada are among the most impressive in Second Life, and the thought of seeing them deck out up for a gothic ball was to much to pass up!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Caching Up

To my surprise, my time in Second Life is starting to become fragmented and rushed, rather than relaxing and the kind of unstructured freedom I used to enjoy. I'm making more friends, taking on more responsibilities, and getting more integrated into the virtual community: I'm no longer just a visitor who pops up from time to time. As a result, lots of things I'd like to do are slipping to the wayside. I hardly ever have time to go exploring anymore, and although I'm trying to take in music shows when I can, increasingly I'm just catching the tail ends of performances rather than being able to attend the whole shebang. Heck, I'm even late to many of my precious trivia games…and those are just the ones I'm able to make! The trivia calendar has been exploding in recent weeks—there are a bunch of events I'd like to attend that I simply haven't been able to get on my radar. (And, a more extreme example, there's a very well-established trivia game most mornings that I've never been able to attend.)

But! I have been able to do a few random things—largely at the instigation of my fabulous SL friends! For instance, a friend I hadn't spoken with in a bit messaged me out of the blue inviting me to an event…and kind of wouldn't tell me what it was! So I figured O What The Heck! and teleported in…and there was a fellow named Tuna Oddfellow grooving down to some bizarro electronica.

Tuna Oddfellow getting funky, 18-May-2009. (If you squint, you can see me perched on the "dance" ring.)

Tuna was apparently named the "most talented avatar in Second Life" (by, you know, someone somewhere), and apparently throws "Odd Balls" on a weekly basis at a custom-built venue called the Tunaverse. And the venue…well, it's I think the first time in Second Life I've ever experienced something akin to vertigo. The locale is within megaprims loaded with animated textures that constantly shift and change: it's like being at a dance party inside a gigantic kaleidoscope. It's one of those unique things that can be done in Second Life that would be impossible in real life, and while it may not be entirely my thing it is definitely amazing and noteworthy: check out the Flickr set to get a slight sense, but definitely attend an event in-world if you get a chance.

Speaking of random? One evening Mako Kungfu messages me out of nowhere, asking if I want to go to an awards show? Like, right that minute? This is so out of character for both of us that I just had to do it! Turned out the awards event was Second Life's First Annual "Best Home In Second Life," a black-tie affair put on by an in-world organization called Animal Rights Advocates.

Awards being presented at the "Best Home In Second Life" awards show, 31-May-2009

The idea was that ten SL residences were nominated for the awards, and the top three homes received not-insubstantial rewards in Linden dollars. (And by not-insubstantial, I mean they translated into semi-significant real-life money, if residents wanted to "cash out" the prizes.) The event also auctioned off pieces of virtual art to benefit the ARA organization. Mako and I wallflowered at a table towards the back—after rummaging through our inventories for vaguely-formal-wear—trying not to let the lag from so many dressed-up avatars knock us offline. Turned out Mako had been asked to take screenshots of the event from someone who suddenly was unable to attend: I guess I was there as Mako's bodyguard! Although I'm not an SL landowner and have little interest in setting up a virtual home, the event was a look at a chunk of Second Life culture I've never seen before.

I've always been trying to keep up with old friends, including the folks I met when I first started in Second Life. I've largely stopped popping into Memory Bazaar in Ross, the infohub I was assigned when I created my account. There are some great folks who wander through that infohub, but there are also a lot of dorkbots, and I've become tired of random people harassing me just to get a laugh. Just yesterday I popped in there an an avatar immediately begged me for $10L to help his brother battle Hodgkin's Disease. (That's like ¢3 Canadian.) It's not that I'd begrudge someone three cents, but…gosh, I mean, really? You've got a reasonably-powered computer, graphics, and broadband Internet and you're logging into a virtual world to beg people for pennies? When I refused, he immediately emitted a few epithets and wandered off.)

Lou & Mia catching up

But! I was able to hang out a bit with my friend Mia, who literally rescued me from a griefer that attacked me within moments of my logging into Second Life for the first time. Mia and I have a bunch of fun exploring random sims together—sometimes I suggest a spot, sometimes she does, sometimes we literally click random places on the built-in Map and see where we end up. (On one of those trips I found myself a personal rainstorm I can wear anytime I want!)

Lou…in the rushes, but not in a rush

And I'm still on a quest to find new places to hang out, catch up on instant messages, and write these little missives. One of the latest is AeroBreeze, an oddly surreal ocean atoll with—well, glowing trees and the occasional dinette set. And of you see a girl sitting in the rushes, dipping her toes in the water, staring off at the sunset…it might be me.