Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Holy Moley

Linden Lab likes to make much of the fact that the vast majority of Second Life is designed and built by its residents. A typical video game (like say the Halo or Modern Warfare franchises) or mainstream virtual world (like Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft) provides all the content for the players: participants are essentially just consumers of content doled out by the games' developers. Sure, they can interact with the world and each other—and presumably have fun doing that—but for the most part, players don't get to create their own content, adventures, environments, or games, and have them exist in the virtual world for other people to find, interact with, or…uh, buy. Second Life is different: the vast majority of the "world" is created and built by residents. Some of these folks are stunningly creative and do phenomenal things with the tools at their disposal…but the reliance on resident content also goes a long way towards explaining why so much of Second Life is a boxy, garish, tacky, and amateurish.

However, not all of Second Life is built by residents: a surprising (and growing) amount is built by Linden Lab themselves and folks working for Linden Lab on contract. Some builds are purely to support the functioning of the virtual world, like in-world offices for Lindens along with welcome areas, infohubs, and tutorials for new residents. However, the Lindens also engage in some large-scale construction, including the prefabbed Bay City, the sentient-dolphin-themed continent of Nautilus, I guess some infrastructure on the adults-only continent of Zinda, and things like the all-new Linden Homes, which are essentially houses that residents can get as an option with a paid subscription to Second Life.

A lot of these things are built by contractors working for Linden Lab, known collectively as Moles. Any avatar with the last name Mole isn't a Linden employee, but they work on stuff for the Lindens and, often, public spaces in the virtual world. Some of these Moles do stuff for the Linden Department of Public Works, an inworld Linden-run group that's responsible for building roads, railroads, dams, and other bits of virtual infrastructure in Second Life's mainland areas. Until recently, the biggest Mole-constructed area I knew about was the Blake Sea, a large area of mostly ocean sims that represents a partnership between the Lindens and SL's inworld boating community. (I wrote a bit about it last year; the area sports a bunch of islands and above-and-below water builds.)

Now I've found the Moles hard at work, but it's not in some area of Linden land that's just appeared on the world map. Instead they're in the heart of very old mainland, including an area which has just been renamed the Sea of Fables.

The Sea of Fables on the Second Life world map
the island at the upper left is in the sims Celebes and Bohol.

The center of the area is a sim/island called Baffin, which is mainly notable for being the starting point/infohub for avatars transferring off Second Life's Teen Grid onto the main grid when they turn 18. However, to the northeast of Baffin is an island in the sims Bohol and Celebes. For as long as I've been in Second Life, the island has been empty of everything but trees: no buildings or other items around. But it hasn't exactly been empty: it allowed folks to rez things for a few minutes, which made it a frequent semi-private stopping point for folks trying out new items or just looking to play with a new vehicle or toy in an out-of-the-way place. (It's also the island a Zak Mohr's phantom horseman used to haunt for days on end.)

One day I popped into Celebes for a little bit of script experimenting…and the island had totally changed! The basic coastline is the same, but rezzing was no longer allowed, the terrain had been terraformed. and buildings and half-finished structures apparently based on the famous blue-and-white architecture of Paros were popping up everywhere!

The island in Celebes and Bohol getting a seemingly Grecian redo.

A quick glance revealed the Moles were responsible: the Lindens have apparently decided to turn an empty island into some sort of prefab Greek island. But then I thought: what if it's not just Celebes and Bohol? A quick fly over to Baffin revealed the Teen Grid transfer point was so far unchanged…but, wow, a ton of other things are changing. A new set of islands popped up in the ocean to the south in a sim called Mirtoon: not exactly Greek, but definitely tropical.

Taking in the sunset in a brand-new tropical island in Mirtoon

But just south of Celebes, I noticed a seemingly empty ocean sim called Baltic had an enormously high number of prims used. At first I thought maybe the moles were building something in the sky and would drop it down when it was read, but a quick look found the build was under the sea! Under the ocean floor, in fact! And it's not just any build: it's a genuine labyrinth under the sea floor that takes up the entire sim, and it's awesome! (Here's the entrance!) It's solvable (without cheating!), but you can grab a ball of twine at the entrance that'll help you out.

The center of the labyrinth under the sea floor in Baltic

Scouting around the neighboring sims, I found the Moles have been hard at work—although a lot of the work isn't done yet. I found an enormous treasure chest under the waves in the sim Ligurian:

Pandora's Box…quite possibly Second Life's most out-of-scale treasure chest.

Other new Mole-made discoveries in the Lindens' ocean sims appear to hark back to the Nautilus continent and Blake Sea, although the mythology might be a little different. Here are four undersea goddesses who are half human and half sea snake and, uh…may be muses? They seem to be carrying musical instruments, including—very weirdly—a banjo.

Four underwater goddesses in Sidra: one apparently carries a banjo.

Plenty of other things can be found: underwater coral caves, ship wrecks, bits of golden monuments, schools of fish, other scripted sea creatures akin to those in the Blake Sea, and more. Not all the new things are in the Sea of Fables tho: other Linden ocean sims seem to be getting attention. I found an amusing underwater Hippo monument elsewhere in mainland ocean.

Not in the Sea of Fables: the underwater hippo god.

I initially found all these in-progress builds before the recent turmoil in which the Lindens tossed 30 percent of their employees and brought Philip Rosedale back as "interim" CEO. The layoffs may not have impacted the Moles: I've seen work underway on the labyrinth in Baltic since the layoffs and the CEO changeover, so at least some Moles are still around.

I am puzzled what the Lindens plan to do with the island at Celebes and Bohol: it's littered with small apartment-like homes, which have (wrong-shaped) working doors and a few of which sport furniture. Are they just for show, or is Linden Lab planning to get into the rentals business with small units where people can set out a few bits of furniture and TP home to change clothes, without the commitment of paying for an actual Second Life premium account?


  1. Thanks for the links Lou..I'll have to go peek!

  2. Hey, Lou, nice blog.

    If you ever need a place to stand and sort inventory, you're welcome to hang at our Whimsy sims (Whimsy and Whimsy Kaboom). There are lots of pretty and peaceful places (just don't stand too close to the volcano, which has been known to launch hot smoking lava boulders). Build and scripts are allowed, and there's no autoreturn, so you can work on your tiny prims.


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