Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mao Than Meets the Eye

In Second Life, there's a meme dubbed NPIRL, or Not Possible in Real Life, which basically explores the idea of using virtual worlds to create environments, objects, clothes, stories, or (dare we say?) art that would be difficult to impossible to achieve out here in "meatspace." I don't know much about the NPIRL idea, if there's a centralized group or movement, if they have a manifesto, or if there's a secret handshake, or if you have to have a union card to talk about it. I do know there are some spectacular places in Second Life that fall into the NPIRL bailiwick, including builds by the likes of AM Radio, Bryn Oh, Zero Point, Omega Point, and the (long-since vanished) sim Wintermute, and they represent some high points of creativity in the virtual world.

Perched on the pagoda in Kanto, looking into portions of three sims.
You can see a bit of the Great Wall in the distance to the right of the image.

But sometimes making something PRL—Possible in Real Life—is quite the challenge in Second Life…and part of the result is that vast swaths of the Second Life mainland look like really bad cartoon strip malls. But every now and again you come across something spectacular like Al-Andalus, and another great example is the sim Mao with its three companion sims Japan Kansei, Japan Kanto, and Japan Chubu. Mao is dominated by a gorgeous recreation of the Great Wall of China—and, like so many things in Second Life, the component pieces are for sale for anyone who wants to keep out their own Mongol hordes. But the commercial aspect isn't overwhelming, and the build is very elegant: the sim has a Buddhist shrine and elegant views, and the Wall winds up and down through the landscape like a living thing. The textures used to build the wall are nicely high-rez, and while I'm sure purists would take issue with some aspects of the build, it successfully captures the spirit and sheer sense of mass that the real Great Wall inspires—all without being scaled to giant Conan and Barbie avatars! Some of the doorways are snug even for my little frame.

Next door in Kanto and Chubu—you have to go past the protection of the Great Wall to get there!—is a build inspired by the Horyu-ji Buddhist temple complex in Nara, Japan, complete with a version of the five-storey pagoda that dates back to the sixth century (which makes it one of the oldest wooden buildings on the planet) and supposedly houses a bone fragment of Buddha himself. (That's me perched on the second or third tier in the image above.) Like the real pagoda, there's nothing on in the upper storeys to see—it's not like a Bruce Lee movie where you fight your way up levels of transcendence or something. The pagoda is designed to inspire visitors with its outside appearance…which is totally spectacular.

It's probably not kosher to wear my kitshickers into the temple, huh?

Underneath the temple courtyard, however, the sim isn't quite like Horyu-ji—behind gilded doors is an simple and elegant pool for meditation that uses Second Life's "Linden water" and translucent textures to to great effect.

At the edge of the ocean (and the edge of the sim) in Oubliette.

There are other places in Second Life that do neat things with water too: one technique I'm seeing more often is to layer semi-transparent textures for "sea foam" over the Second Life's "natural" water to create a more realistic shoreline. A great example is at the ever-changing Oubliette; check out the froth and foam on the water in the picture above! Builders on private sims that don't immediately border another sim have also come up with a way to make their sims look bigger than they are: they cantilever megaprims (often shaped like rocks, using sculptie textures) out into virtual space beyond the edge of the sim. Megaprims are objects larger than the 10m³ maximum object size you can create using Second Life's built-in content creation tools. Although avatars can't make megaprims anymore (apparently it was possible in Ye Olde Dayes), ancient (and not-so-ancient) megaprims can still be found on the grid and builders use them for all sorts of cool things. Megaprims are not without problems and must be used carefully, but in this case, so long as the center of the megaprim remains in the boundaries of the sim, about half the prim can extend beyond the edge of the sim. And lo, behold, virtual off-sim rock formations you can see...but you can't touch or reach via foot, air, or teleportation.

The daring young av on the flying trapeze…

Every now and again you stumble across something in Second Life that just tickles your fancy…and one day it was a circus tent perched on top of a mafia-theme dance club that was hosting a trivia event. (Yes, I know that's a mouthful!) I spied it while camming around—and, um, not dancing—then popped up during an intermission. The tent is intended as a backdrop for taking circus-themed photos: there was a tightrope and a trapeze, and the owner had a few other props for taming lions and other acts. I didn't put a lot of time into it, but I got a good giggle out of the trapeze: when I was a little girl, like many little girls I wanted nothing so much as to be a graceful gymnast or acrobat. Never did it in real life, but in Second Life I briefly got to walk a tightrope wearing heels!

Lou and Mia sit for tea in Kanto.

And lately there's been another minor theme in my Second Life wanderings: I seem to find exquisite tea sets.

Lou contemplates theft in Al-Andalus

Do I drink tea? No, not really, except maybe a little in the winter when I fear I might be overdosing on coffee. But would I like to take some of these tea sets home with me? Absolutely.

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