Monday, January 31, 2011

Mainlining Mainland

One accepted truism of Second Life is that the SL Mainland is kind of the virtual equivalent of steerage compared to the posh upper- and first-class berths afforded by private sims and estates. To an extent, the perception is justified: Mainland is home to many builds that can generously be described as eyesores, many neighbors that can diplomatically be described as uncouth cretins, and sim performance that can sometimes be measured on a geologic scale.

But that doesn't mean Mainland is without its charms. When I'm not at my own little flying island parcel, attending some event, or off (gasp!) working on some project or other, I can often be found hanging around public Mainland areas. Although there are many high-quality, privately-owned areas of Mainland open to anyone, I often find myself going to places built by the Lindens (or, more properly, by the Moles—often resident contractors working on projects for Linden Lab) for the simple reason that they're intended to be public and open to all. Often I can be found in parts of the Blake Sea or the newly-emerging Sea of Fables, so when Linden Lab's efforts at infrastructure improvements made my home (and thousands of other sims) inaccessible for several hours:

Staring off into the empty space where my home sim ought to be…

…I thought I would go looking for a few new places.

One of the first I found—purely by visually scanning the in-world Map—is a Linden-build "Space Base" in a sim called Mos Ainsley. Although pretty obviously named for a lawless desert town in the first Star Wars movie, the whole sim is a crater with what appears to be some sort of sci-fi abandoned research station. The build features a selection of buildings, tunnels, pressure doors and elevators (about half of which don't work—whether that's deliberate or not I can't say) along with an underground shuttle hangar where you can rez your own craft and fly around.

The Lindens' Space Base, with the pod bay doors open, Hal

Exploring the build, you might find yourself a spacesuit to wear in case things go horribly wrong, and while the build as this weirdly hygienic quality to it, the not-working stuff and the sense that whoever was there just abandoned the place recently creates a bit of an Alien-ish atmosphere. And…if you can find your way through the right airlocks you'll eventually meet the aliens.

"Hey, S'nicklzyb'grr!zub, how's it goin'?"

At some point I noticed there's a spot on the Mainland called "Mare Segundus," and I believe someone told me it was one of the older Mainland "seas" where folks first took at stab at making sailing vessels and stuff for Second Life. I looked for it on the world Map and it's super easy to spot: it's got a bunch of islands shaped like the number "2." Two. Get it? Har har har. I figured with that level of subtlety I probably wasn't too interested in visiting, but at some point I found myself only a sim or two away and thought "what the heck"—and discovered it's actually kind of neat. A lot of Second Life's mainland seas have this vaguely Greek/Minoan/Atlantean vibe to them, like you're stumbling on variously-preserved bits of a long-crumbled civilization. (The new Sea of Fables has recently sprouted a Mount Olympus island, for example.) Anyway, there's a bit of that here, with a few domed structures and an orrery you can lay back and observe spinning. However, the star attraction is a kind of brass-punk rocketship on a landing pad right in the middle of that "2" on the map.

T minus three minutes and counting…

You can poke around the rocket, get a gangplank out to it, and get inside—and if you're not careful, it'll blast off! The takeoff seizes control of your avatar's camera so you're looking out the rocket porthole and see the horizon drop away beneath you—and then you land and you're on an alien world!

The atmosphere is breathable—do we dare go outside to look around?

Of course, you're not actually on an alien world, or even transported to another sim. (Sim crossings are pretty jarring events: you'd notice.) Instead the rocket transports you up about a kilometer into the sky, where there's a skybox carefully dressed up to simulate a bit of a classic scifi alien planet: you feel a bit like Robbie the Robot might appear in a moonbuggy at any moment. You can explore around and check out the weird plants and drippy things—careful, there is a monster and it will eat you if you let it. I was amused to find a flag planted by a previous exploring party—the Moles.

The Moles have claimed this planet as their own
LDPW stands for Linden Department of Public Works

If you bumble around a bit you will eventually find a strange altar—watch out for the tentacles, and be careful what you click!

To worship false gods, or not worship false gods?
Decisions, decisions…

As soon as I saw the altar on the "alien world," I knew it looked very familiar—it's a dead ringer for another strange altar that I found elsewhere on the Linden Mainland, not far from where my friends Lebn & Preston have their house. I don't think the Lindens have any overarching backstory to their builds, but it's kind of fun to notice when things recur and have little themes.

Hmm! This one doesn't have tentacles!

Anyway—the upshot here is that just because a location is Mainland and technically owned and operated by the Lindens doesn't necessarily mean it's boring and a no-fun place to hang out. I often pop to places like this when I'm just kicking around SL for a little bit, knee-deep in multiple IM conversations that need immediate attention, or maybe just looking for some no-script, no-rez areas to test some of my new scripts and toys. (There's actually a rez-enabled area right near that second altar intended for boats and whatnot that I abuse for other purposes.)

Of course, Mainland will always be Mainland, and not everything is going to be neato-keen, picturesque, or even polite. The same day I was galavanting between those altars, I got a message from a friend that it was raining penis-posters at her mainland house. I popped over there, and sure enough: spread across four mainland sims were at least two dozen invisible griefer objects, the sole purpose of which was to emit (literally) thousands of obscene images. Ah, the charms of Mainland.

Standing on a griefing cage 400m in the air, reporting penis-poster-spewing particle emitters—what fun.

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