Monday, November 23, 2009

This Bowl Goes to Eleven

Second Life's monthly team trivia event, the Buccaneer Bowl, normally takes place towards the end of each month, but owing to a major U.S. holiday at the end of November, the eleventh Buccaneer Bowl took place in the middle of the month. And this time around, instead of cramming everyone on a ship somewhere, the fantabulous Jez Oh built a special purpose "marooned" venue for the event: picture Stonehenge coupled with a pirate camp and you get the idea. I loved the setting, in part because it provided opportunities for the teams to kinda gather in three dimensions instead of two: me and the rest of the Trivial Corsairs camped out on top on of the "henges" for the Bowl. After all, in SL everyone can fly! And if you can fly, wouldn't you park your butt on top of Stonehenge?

Trivia players assembled at the Buccaneer Bowl 11 venue by Jez Oh; photo by Lillian Shippe.

This also had the nifty effect of making me the tallest player at the entire game! See the super cool black spec standing on top of one of the henges? That's me!

Once again, the Bowl was ably conducted by Thornton Writer, Lillian Shippe, and Lette Ponnier. The last few months they've conducted a team-building session the hour before the game to get everyone matched up, and that seems to have paid off great dividends: the games start smoothly, run smoothly, and everyone seems to have a great time. The Bucky Crew have also introduced new bonus question formats, one modeled on Outburst( where an entire team has to come up with a certain number of correct answers within a time frame) and another called a "Lightning Bonus" where the team has to answer a series of eight rapidfire questions spaced 15 seconds apart—if the team gets five correct, they win the bonus.

Trivial Corsairs in November: Nia Jinx, me, Lebn Bucyk, and Captain Rain Ninetails

Sadly, the altitude of the "henge" probably got to my head: some days answers to trivia questions seem to fall into my lap, but during the Buccaneer Bowl they pretty much landed to the left and right of me: the Corsairs managed an eighth place finish this time around. I'd had high hopes for the game, since seasonal disruptions meant several of the teams were operating at reduced or altered capacity, and the Corsairs (for once!) had all our original crew: Rain, Nia, Lebn, and me. It didn't work out that we walked away with the game, but it was still a fun time and it was great to hang with the "original crew" for a while.


It's hard for me to believe the Buccaneer Bowl has been running for nearly a year; I'm pleased to have played even a very minor role by participating in the events, and I hope it becomes—continues to be—a long-running SL tradition.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Omega and the Alpha

I have occasionally lamented that vast swathes of Second Life seem to be little more than the virtual equivalent of stripmalls—often complete with strippers. But while the grid might be replete with oversized, boxy buildings painted with garish over-saturated textures and (seemingly) no thoughts for aesthetics, there are many places in Second Life that demonstrate tremendous imagination, creativity, and…well, vision. I'm pleased to report that one of my favorite builds in SL, Omega Point, has just completed a period of reconstruction—and it's seriously cooler than ever.

Clouds and mist and mystery at Omega Point

Omega Point is the work of the Japanese creator Sweetlemon Jewell; the sim was originally billed as a "dark cyberworld," and wow did it live up to that description with tentacles and monsters and robed hooded figures and even a chapel where lucky avatars could preach and (if I remember) dance in blood—all taking place in an environment where scifi technology has been grafted to edifices that seem to be millennia old. The new Omega Point is less dark, more baroque, perhaps more overtly digital, but an even more elegantly organic place than its ever been.

But but but! Hold off on all that. What immediately impresses about Omega Point isn't the theming of the build but the sheer scale of the place. Where most builders do a little terraforming and splat some prims around in the shapes of buildings or rocks or trees, Omega Point is massive like you've never seen. To appreciate the scale and design many visitors will probably have to increase the draw distance on their Second Life client software to see what's happening. The whole build seems to live in a massive crater, with elegant arcades and towers and walkways and staircases suspended over it like gothic lace…and over that, massive stone arches like the ribs of some long-dead leviathan. Like the old Omega Point there's a brand ballroom where, I imagine, exceedingly cool avatars shall engage in a little dancing. And below it all, a kind of sub-basement that's half church, half store, half digital, and half mystical. (Yes, that's four halves. I can add.)

Underneath it all…


Shadow of the valley of death?

Where the previous Omega Point was dark, broody, and vaguely menacing, the new Omega Point is golden and arcane and glorious. Sweetlemon embraces megaprims and sculpts and rich textures in ways unlike anything I've seen elsewhere in Second Life—and she's fast: speaking with her (via a machine translator; my Japanese is non-existant) the entire rebuild took her only a couple months. (For more gorgeous images of what she's been up to, check out her Japanese-language blog.) I've been working on one of my little tiny scripting projects almost as long, in calendar terms.

I did most of my reconnoitering of the new Omega Point while it was still under construction, so my images don't quite match up to the completed build. But Sweetlemon graciously left the sim open during the construction, relocating the sim's two stores into the stratosphere while she worked on the lower levels. I've been meaning to get back to the upper echelons of the sim to see if the temporary stores are still there—if you flew up into the balconies of one of them, there was quite a display.

In the rafters of one of Omega Point's temporary stores

Omega Point features two stores, one of clothes and cyber-goodies from Sweetlemon, and another of almost cyber-steam-baroque-abstract clothing and accessories by Kariwanz Felisimo. Both are highly recommended, but Omega Point is worth the full tour (check out the little pod crafts!) regardless of whether any of the virtual goods hold any appeal. There are also a few tip jars scattered about the sim…if you like it, drop a few Lindens in one.

Kariwanz Felisimo & Sweetlemon Jewell

I expect the story of Omega Point to continue evolving. For one thing—and I'll just drop a hint—there's something brand new developing in a sim next door: Alpha Point.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Triviathon

Another blog post where Lou is late to the party, but I would be seriously remiss if I didn't mention this last weekend featured Triviathon, a 24-hour all-trivia-all-the-time event benefiting Relay for Life. The brainchild of trivia hosts Cully Andel and Triain Kandr, the idea was to run 24 hours of continuous in-world trivia to benefit charity. Of course, the best time to throw an event like that is on the weekend, and that means running up against a lot of popular Second Life trivia games like (ahem!) Lou's Clues. So Cully and Triain had a great idea—invite the hosts of those games to be part of Triviathon. Thus, on Saturday instead of setting up my little chair and cheat sheet at [MonoChrome], I rezzed into Trivy Isle and followed Trivia Grandmaster Thornton Writer up on stage in an effort to raise some money to fight cancer—a very worthy cause that, in one way or another, I'm sure impacts everyone RL and SL.

I didn't get any screenshots of my set—I was too busy trying to cram my questions into a one-hour time slot!—but Lette Ponnier managed to get a picture of me and "my little friend" the Victorian Mad Science Death Ray Mk II (made by Tali Rosca)—pummeling trivia fans with questions and excess protons. I was also randomly giving away some Jez's Oh's fabulously cute small avatars (available at [Oblique]!) and I didn't completely fall on my face or have massive script glitches, so I'm going to count the gig a raging success!

Although not all of SL's trivia hosts were represented, aside from myself the event featured a bunch of SL's best and brightest showrunners, including AnaMaria Quintessa, Triain and Cully, Chadd & Shale (I got to do Zoo Bar trivia again!), Josh and Circe, Nelly & Lotus, Maggie, Billy2Times, Devin, and even event host Hummingbird Forster took at turn at the stage, along with former Armada host Mako Kungfu and Chaos mistress Lette Ponnier.

I wasn't able to attend all 24 hours of the event, but I popped in whenever I could and five folks managed to hold out for the entire event for special prizes! I don't know how they did it, but Rain Ninetails, Lette Ponnier, Juke Badger, Devin Velinov, and FlutterBye Skytower where there for the whole darn thing—and they were reasonably coherent at the end. I tried to get a shot of the winners, but Second Life wasn't cooperating—not everybody rendered fully. Perhaps they hadn't been changing their pixels often enough.

Left to right: Juke Badger, Cully Andel, Devin Velinov,
Lette Ponnier, Rain Ninetails, and Flutterbye Skytower

The conservative goal of the Triviathon was to raise $20,000L—and I'm pleased to report that the event raised far more than that. Last I heard, the total donated to Relay for Life was $65,056L. Yes, that amounts to about $260 CAN, which isn't a terribly huge amount in the grand scheme, but for a trial run in an online community that's never tried to put together an event on this scale, I think it represents a solid success.

Plus, as part of the deal, Juke Badger's avatar got a haircut. That may not benefit cancer research, but, wow, it's sure a tremendous social good.

(If you need me, I'll be in some remote sim hiding from Juke.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Of Corn and Cabals

Halloween is a huge deal in Second Life, in part I think due to the holiday having become a month-long heavily-commercialized celebration of weirdness and debauchery in America over the last umpteen years. All October Second Life was replete with zombies, axe murderers, blood-splattered avatars and walking corpses…in addition to a number of very creative seasonal builds with jack o' lanterns, ghosts, leaves, spiderwebs, and other creepy things. As with real-life Halloween, some of it was horribly tacky, some of it was magical, and some of it was weird. At least in SL none of it smelled funny.

Ghost-ish Lou climbs a dead tree in The Corn Field:
no signs of civilization.

In celebration of Halloween, Linden Lab briefly opened up The Corn Field, a near-mythical area that's normally off limits to Second Life residents. Apparently, back in the early days of SL, the Lindens would send misbehaving avatars to The Corn Field, a region where it was always night and which was completely isolated from the rest of the grid. The Corn Field had a one-way teleporter that went nowhere, a tractor, a couple of dead televisions…and nothing else but rows of corn. Residents banished to the Corn Field couldn't go anywhere, talk to anyone, or do anything. I guess The Corn Field was supposed to be the equivalent of sending a misbehaving child to their room without supper—a harsh disciplinary measure, but short of an outright ban. The idea is based on the original Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," where a mind-reading six-year-old demands everyone think happy thoughts or he will wish unhappy people away into an infinite cornfield. Or turn them into misshapen ghouls.

Lou staring at Philip Linden's glowing underwear-in-effigy


For Halloween the Lindens set up four creepily identical Corn Field sims, and dressed them up for the holiday with a sinister scarecrow, creepy things hidden in the rows of corn, along with graves, skulls, and the obligatory dead tree. At times, Linden Lab employees were wondering the fields, scaring people and occasionally handing out Linden teddy bears. There were also some mannequins of avatars "banished" to the Corn Field, including an all-black shadow of Linden Lab founder Philip Linden, for some reason wearing glowing briefs. I don't know what the point of the effigy was; it seemed to bear on the edge of tasteless given that Philip Rosedale—the typist behind Philip Linden—recently announced he was ending his day-to-day involvement with Linden Lab, having stepped down from the CEO role in April 2008.

The vertically-enabled: I pose in front of Juke Badger and Devin Velinov.
Bear in mind the camera angle makes me looks taller than I am!


But not everything has been creepiness and glowing underwear—some parts of Second Life are reassuringly normal. For instance, although my avatar is a bit taller than Real Life Lou, I continue to be abnormally short by SL standards, where anyone under about 2m is considered a bit petite. Here I am standing in front of friends Juke Badger and Devin Velinov, two of the tallest avatars I see regularly. The contrast makes me laugh—I barely come up to their hips, and Juke's hair is almost as long as I am tall!

The Not-At-All-Secret Secret Trivia Cabal meeting in Secret Primhenge:
Prim-mistress Jez Oh, me, Lette Ponnier, and Lillian Shippe.


And I'm happy that stepping back a little from some of my in-world work means I'm spending a little more time with friends: for instance, this was an impromptu gathering of [MonoChrome] (and [Oblique]!) creator and prim-mistress Jez Oh along with Buccaneer Bowl crew captains Lette Ponnier and Lillian Shippe…in Primhenge. Kinda sorta. Maybe more about that later. It might just turn out to be wicked cool.