Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pack o’ Pastiche

I know I just did a bit of an unthemed catching-up post, and while I don't intend to make a theme of assembling blog posts from unrelated bits of what I do in Second Life, I'm perfectly willing to run with it as a leitmotif. The way things are going lately, if I don't put things together this way, they may not get put together at all. Perhaps Ye Gentle Readers can forgive me.

Buccaneer Bowl XVI!

The sixteenth (yes, I can count this month!) Buccaneer Bowl was held this past weekend, as always hosted by Lillian Shippe, Thornton Writer, and Lette Ponnier. The bowl is so established at this point I'll just hit the highlights: open chat trivia with teams of three to four players competing for $10,000L in prize money. This month real life continued to play a little havoc with established team rosters, with several teams shifting their lineups and the many-times champion Triviators (hey! they even one won with me on board last month!) not fielding a team at all…even though it turned out at the last minute that three Triviators could make it. This month I was back with the Frivolous Corsars, with captain Rain Ninetails, our muscle Lebn Bucyk, and Special Guest Corsair AnaMaria Quintessa:

Frivolous Corsairs in April: Rain Ninetails, me, AnaMaria Quintessa, and Lebn Bucyk

This month the competition was relatively tight, although I am personally miffed that I crashed during a question in the first or second round where I probably would have scored some points for our team. The winner this month was a new team "Three Non-Blondes," with frequent Triviator captain Lotus Ceriano with Darren Belisamo and Jeanette Avedon. The Corsairs managed a sixth place finish—although we did win one of the five rounds!—but perhaps more importantly, Ana made us awesome personalized super-intimidating muscle shirts, so we had an actual team uniform! The shirts not only intimdate our enemies, the Buccaneer with Heaving Bazooms on the back distracts other teams whenever we move our shoulder blades.

Corsairs Muscle Shirts™ complete with Buxom Buccaneer!

Zoom Zoom

People don't come to this log to see weird tricks you can do with the Second Life viewer software…but…pfft, I think y'all can handle it.

On odd property of the Second Life client software—all recent versions, so far as I know, including third-party viewers—is that they have rather odd zoom capabilities. I normally use these features when I'm making jewelry or other tiny items, but they can also be used to good effect over relatively large distances. As some of you know, I recently started renting some virtual land and have been working on building my own personal flying island. (Why a flying island? Well, why not?). One afternoon I invited AnaMaria Quintessa to see the work-to-date, and she immediately asked "Do you own that box over there too?" And I was immediately befuddled because, in my default graphic settings, I can't see anything in the sky near my island. But Ana's settings were evidently somewhat more rigorous, because when I cranked up the "draw distance" in the Second Life viewer software—essentially, how far you can "see" in Second Life—there was a bubbly cube of some sort hovering off in the distance, undoubtedly a skybox belonging to some other landowner or renter. So…being totally normal Second Life residents, we flew over to check it out.

So, turning around to look back at my flying island, this is the "normal" view you would see in the Second Life viewer if your draw distance was large enough. It gives you a sense of how far away my island really is: that falling-apart dome on top is about 30m tall, with the entire island being about 60m from top to bottom:

AnaMaria and Lou, eyeballing Lou's distant construction project from a neighbor's rooftop.

Now, standing in the exact same spots, here's the same vista using a neat trick of the Second Life client's zoom capability:

AnaMaria and Lou standing in the same place, with
Second Life viewer's bizarro zoom kicked in.

Pretty cool, huh? So if people are wondering how I can watch what's happening around me and still pick out details of things far away from me…there's a glimpse into my process!

Oh, and no, Ana is not normally that short. She was getting ready for a "dress up like someone else" event.

Blink and You Miss It

Although it was before Lou Netizen ever rezzed on the grid, I gather that back in 2006 or 2007 Second Life was for a time a hip place for major companies—somehow, they got the idea it was important to have a "presence" for themselves and their brands in the virtual world. Reuters opened a virtual news bureau, movie studios would do themed sims to promote summer blockbustery releases, television shows had their own areas (you still see avatars with the last name "GossipGirl," and an L Word sim was big for a while), and big-ass companies like Siemens would buy a few sims and hire a virtual world consultancy to make them a cool build so they would have a "presence" in SL. I think I saw Armani and Nike in SL; for a while I think some real-world real estate companies were operating, too.

That didn't really work out so well for a lot of the companies—amazingly, most people don't willingly teleport themselves into boring 256m² 3D advertisements, even if they might be able to pick up a free virtual t-shirt. However, one of the corporations in Second Life did catch my attention: Gibson Guitar. They had their own private island kind of shaped like an electric guitar body, with buildings for pickups and knobs and whatnot. It was a decent build, and although they made some effort to engage with the virtual community—they were "endorsed" by a lot of in-world virtual performers—I never saw anyone else there when I visited, nor saw any in-world events put on there.

However, one thing Gibson Island did have going for it? Guitars. In a surprisingly astute move, Gibson apparently hired in-world luthier Myriam Beck to make virtual versions of many of its iconic guitars. Gibson probably could have deferred some of the cost of its sim by selling these guitars, but instead it gave them away for free. A lot of guitars in Second Life amount to little more than a photo plopped on a prim, but Myriam's builds are stunningly good, faithful to the design and proportions and scaling of the instruments—even down to details like internal bracing on acoustic instruments.

But now, like so many corporations that tried out Second Life, Gibson is gone. I'd kept popping back hoping Myriam had made them an ES-175, and a few weeks ago I materialized over an empty ocean sim labelled "The Former Home of Gibson Guitar." Now me and the red ES-135 Myriam made for them have the blues.

Outside Myriam Beck's shop, with the outstanding ES-135 guitar
she made for the now-departed Gibson Guitar in SL.

Radio Goo-Goo

Hot shades, hot sand, and a hot rod.

Somewhere in the process of getting all rockrr-chicked for those guitar photos I found some funky sunglasses I'd picked up in my wanderings, probably last summer when I had a brief desert island phase. I thought it might be fun to find a racecar somewhere and take a few pictures…and immediately thought of one of AM Radio's builds that consists of almost nothing but an immense, dry desert lake bed and a zoom-zoom automobile.

One fact of Second Life is that there really isn't very much space. Sure, there are tens of thousands of sims, mainland "continents," innumerable private islands, expansive "oceans" and more…but most of the time these things only seem expansive because of that "draw distance" thing I mentioned above. As I type this in the real world, I can look out a window and see a mountain peak that's easily 100km from where I sit; however, although there are a couple exceptons, in Second Life an avatar can at best see 512m away. And that's if they have a powerful computer with some significant graphics hardware: a typical Second Life user probably only sees 128 meters or less from their current position. Past that, things are invisible: you see a sky, horizon, and maybe distant water, but none of the intervening buildings, strip malls, badly textured foliage, and the inevitable plywood cubes. In terms of real-world scale, all the "real estate" of Second Life is pretty tiny: I think last I saw, all resident-owned land in Second Life (including mainland) totalled less than 2000km²—that's about the size of Mauritius.

So one of the reasons I like AM Radio's builds is that—through a little bit of megaprim trickery—manage to evoke a sense of space and distance. For instance, check out the hills in the AM Radio build "Into the Sky:"

AM Radio's "Into the Sky"—a lot of the action is underground.

You can't walk (or fly) to those hills: they're purely a scenic backdrop. But they're a backdrop that works within the context of Second Life: they seem like three-dimensional hills off in the distance. This isn't a trick you can use effectively on much smaller scales—although folks who make skyboxes like to drop images of landscapes or cityscapes outside "windows" to create a different feel—but I admire that the builds try to offer something besides the default client-generated horizon and sky…that even works for people without massive graphics cards.

Yes, I am tall enough to have spraypainted my name on a train, thank you very much.

Of course, AM Radio builds often have other neat features: for instance, in "Surface," you can paint anything you want on the side of a freight train.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Just a Little Scrapbooking...

Ye Gentle Readers may have noticed I have been posting fewer snapshots taken as I meander about Second Life. In part that's because I haven't been wandering as much. Between running my Lou's Clues trivia game and trying to figure out what I'm doing with (gasp!) my own teeny parcel of virtual land and attempting to deal with the new realities of Second Life being created by Viewer 2.0 and Linden Labs' third-party viewer policy…I'm exhausted. Oh, and of course, getting regular doses of trivia. Have to keep the training regimen going if I wanna be a contender!

But I have been taking some snapshots, I just haven't had even a loose thread to weave them together into a coherent post. So…guess what? Not having that thread is my thread! I hope Ye Gentle Readers will forgive me if I sit down, set out some tea, pass around a few snapshots, and tell little stories around them.

Up on a stone wall, watching the snow fall…

Back in December I had an odd coincidence of requests from no fewer than five friends and clients: could I send them a picture for the end-of-year projects they were putting together? Some of these were Web pages, some were for one-shot in-world events or parties, and others were for things like virtual memory books. I'd been meaning to try to make a new profile image anyway—little did I know Viewer 2.0 was going to come along and make a mess of things by displaying everyone's profile photos as 1:1 squares rather than the 3:2-ish format they had been using for years—so I seized the opportunity and tried to do something vaguely winter-y. You know, since it was winter at the time. I wound up in an AM Radio build "The Quiet: Further Away and Further Apart" that features a cabin, a frozen pond, snow-covered hills, and some winter forest…along with a low New England-y stone wall. I set myself up on it and tried to get some pictures together. This is the picture I liked best—as Lillian Shippe might say, it has a little bit of "narrative" to it—but it's not one I wound up sending off for any of those projects, or using as a profile picture.

Lou and Them in the snowy wastes

This image of me standing on a giant ant is straight from Second Life—although I admit to tweaking Windlight settings to get something resembling shadows, I didn't convert this image to monochrome or do any image editing. I took this snapshot at a fashion store called Deetalez. The store is under the snow and trees and hills—in fact, when most people go there they probably never realize there's an above-ground setup. I believe I was there because I'd been directed to a nice coat or sweater, only to find it probably couldn't be modified to fit an avatar of my small size. I idly cammed around and noticed there was a ground level to the sim: I quickly figured out how to get there, and went exploring. Unlike the store, there was absolutely no one else around, which was kind of a shame because it was a nice winter build. With giant ants. And that was a plus.

Walking down the glowing path to…is it a molecule? Or a spaceship?

This year, Second Life had a winter festival of sort around the end-of-year holidays, but there didn't seem to be a sim like Wintermute that captured my imagination. But somehow I wound up at Pteron. I have no idea what Pteron is about. It's certainly not holiday themed. It's aways night. There's a half-sunken, green-glowing city. There are puzzles and clues and weird vehicles and collapsing rooms. And teleporters that take you to apparently different worlds—they're really just separate builds say 1000m up in the air, but they might as well be separate. Like Omega Point, Pteron is the creation of a Japanese designer—Kei514 Flow—and while Pteron has no store or overt purpose to the place that I've discovered, I still have much more to discover. And Pteron is gorgeous, stunning, abstract, challenging, and ever-changing.

Another view on Pteron

And now for something completely different. For the last several months, I've been "provisionally" using Plurk, a Web-based Twitter-like social networking service with a kinda unique horizontal-scrolling timeline. Unlike, say, Facebook, which doesn't want anything to do with "fake" account belonging to avatars, Plurk seems fine with the idea, and even has World of Warcraft and Second Life set up as "locations" from which folks may hail. Some folks in the SL trivia community have turned into heavy "plurkers," and it's an easy way to keep up on events and communicate amongst SL friends without having to log into Second Life.

It turns out Second Life's trivia crowd are not the only SL people using Plurk! Imagine that! Through Plurk I ran into Carter Denja, who with partner Stormy Aluveaux creates Pocket Gardens—low prim, small gardens that people can use in rentals or other space-constrained areas to bring a touch of nature to often-sterile Second Life builds. But that's not all! Carter DJ's, often offering up world music at the Bollywood-themed Madhu's Cafe. I kept hearing amazing things about these sets, and via Plurk I realized that these weren't the gesture-and-bling fests one normally encounters at Second Life clubs—these were smart, savvy people, a lot of them creators and designers, all of whom can hold up their end of a conversation, and all of whom obviously had smart tastes in music. Normally I'm about the last person to be into DJs an dancing, but…I gotta say, I was sold about ten seconds after I arrived.

Carter Denja and Stormy Aluveaux at the old Madhu's Cafe in February

The music is outstanding—Carter really knows her stuff—and I always seem to have having three or four conversations at once while I'm there…I've even picked up scripting jobs from folks I met at Madhu's. And part of the appeal for me is the gorgeous build: very Bollywood-themed, but (as appropriate for folks who make gardens!) with great use of space, sky, trees, animals and plants to create a wonderful environment. Now, since I took these pictures, Madhu's has moved to a new ground-level location in New Toulouse but the core elements of the place are still intact, and Carter is still spinning sets, often on Monday nights (SLT).

Watching the sun set on Madhu's old location

Now, don't get your panties bunched up. I don't actually dance at Madhu's. (Honestly, pssh! What kind of avatar do you think I am?) So I usually wind up parking my little pixellated self on a stool or somewhere out from underfoot. One evening Stormy confessed that the gorgeous canopied little bar I'd adopted as a people-watching spot was one of her favorite things in the old Madhu's location…but it never seemed to get much use. As she and I were talking, I fiddled around with Second Life's environment settings and managed to get the sun to line up nicely with the trees and the scene. It's nice to have a few good pictures of the old location—and I look forward to tuning up my ears many times at the new Madhu's!