The silent hidden frontier of Second Life

I used to play games on other systems, i used to play RPGs.

Not world of warcraft but i did have a go at Star Wars: The Old Republic and while i enjoyed it, i quickly got fed up of having to bootcamp into windows. Plus the server situation annoyed me when i wanted to play with my global collection of friends. Who would have thought such a modern game would impose such a localised connection with others and apparently this is a usual situation with MMO’s. Realise how awesome Second Life really is as it struggles to allow you to connect with the entire world together in one 3D space. (except iran).

The tech or game industry journalists place Second Life squarely in the past as a burst hype bubble of no significance, it’s clear  that the industry has no idea or interest in whats really going on inside Second Life. It’s almost like they are punishing Second Life for taking advantage of the medias gullible nature.

Yet they write about the future of gaming , RPG’s and shared spaces as the next big thing. New start ups pop up with exciting new virtual world ideas to glorious Techcrunch fan fare. I’m left smiling as i read these knowing full well that Linden Lab and their devoted user base have been exploring and messing about with these ideas for almost a decade and have no intention to stop. And they might think well if Linden Lab have had this tech for so long why have they not taken the world by storm and become as big as Facebook, WOW or BlueMars.

What Second Life IS can not be treated the same as other social technology. It cant be defined and sold. There is no clear understanding of what it is, what it’s users are or what it’s for. It simply IS, and selling that to the tech industry… well i’d imagine it’s like selling Air to a fish.

Linden Lab should by now have a HUGE book on the subject of Virtual spaces, user content creation, user retention, Micro-transactions, premium-systems, free-to-play, Social networking, User-contributions, User-Backlash, User-Interface Design, and thats not to mention the geeky server technologies which allow us to share the same spaces from anywhere in the world.

Todays post was inspired by an article i read about the future of RPGs. It discusses where RPGs might head in the near future.

Star Wars: The Old Republic had every possible advantage to knock over the wobbling WoW: famous developer, beloved universe, massive resources, and initial player excitement. Less than a year later it’s adopting a partial free-to-play strategy like several other contenders before it. This was followed by the collapse of 38 Studios after it chased WoW money, and a relative lack of success for The Secret World.”

Now I’m fully aware ‘Second Life’ is not a game, but a large area of my Second Life is devoted to a Steampunk Town called ‘New Babbage‘. This town is an opt-in RPG collection of regions and i have over 6 years of Roleplaying adventures invested in it. But the sort of RPG that I’m involved with in Second Life is extremely organic and individual, (and not right winged),  it’s not something handed to you by a group of talented  developers. It’s something created and shared by talented individuals from around the world and the closest you will come to a digital live action role play, or Digital Action Role Play (or DARP :-P).

Second life is the ONLY platform i know that allows this extreme freedom of RPG along with the tools to fully realise the content and atmosphere desired.  While Journalists continue to use old Jacuzzi snapshots from 2006 the sort of graphic styles now appearing in SL thanks to content creators can challenge those of SW:TOR and other such games.

Seriously, when was the last time you saw an article that used a recent snapshot of Second Life. My steampunk pic does not even have shadows or Depth switched on.

It could be that the Tech & Game industry envision a future where Gamers inhabit a 3d space where they are free to do what ever they want, but will they acknowledge that some gamers already do that on a platform called Second Life?

Second Life users are on the frontier of so many things related to digital spaces and we relentlessly push Linden Lab on :-p  But the Tech & Games industry ignores us because they use iPads (i assume).

T H E W E L L – Aftermath

So the scary Halloween experience after four weeks planning and just two weeks open to visitors has gone from over 500 visits a day while on destination login screen to levelling out to 150 after dropping off editors choice.

For this experience i had two counters set up. One for when people first arrive at ‘T H E  W E L L’ and one for those who actually make it down ‘T H E  W E L L’ . This was important for seeing the difference between people just appearing and those getting engaged in the experience.

Even with the system to pay and wear the HUD as easy as possible, there was still a huge drop off from arriving at ‘T H E  W E L L’ and playing the experience..

Visitors in Second Life rolls in waves and you can see that at the weekends there is a spurt of visits.

By the 13th of November while still up at 129 visitors the play through rate had shrunk to just 9. I thought maybe this was an error on my part stopping people from being able to get down ‘T H E  W E L L’ but in fact it’s correct.

Making the HUD temp attach was a mistake as people who crashed found they had to purchase another one. So i went and changed it so that it added the HUD to inventory. I think it was a case of me just wanting to use snazzy new tools instead of looking at the practicality.

Trying to get visitors to take part in a game when they arrive is a real challenge and one that i’m hoping the Linden Realms Experience Tools will close the gap between by making it even easier to start things rolling. Although some might argue that the uptake would improve if i did not charge $L25.

‘T H E  W E L L’  has been a really fun experiment with so far 1000 people having a go.  I’ve also had great feedback on an SLfeed thread …..

 

“Verrrry Scarrrry!!! Loved it went down 3 times…different every time, great sl experience.”

” Very short… I don’t think it was worth L$25. I mean, I finished it in less that 1 1/2 minutes.. Good story. Well done. Just not enough of it. ”

“omg so scary, an even made my dogs jump!”

“I loved it!! Give us more please. Best thing on SL EVER and I’ve been here 7 years”

“HAHAHAHAHA! Awesome! I jumped outta my skull!”

“I thought it was good!! I don’t really understand what happened in the end?? Maybe I missed it?”

“It took about 1 minute to run through. Seriously? For 25L?”

“very fun! i jumped and screamed more then once! thanks”

 

People have wished it was longer, so i’m thinking maybe this time next year i will produce ‘T H E  W E L L  2’ . Maybe by then LL will have released the new region permissions system allowing us to see wether it’ll make a difference to the gap between ‘Visiting’ and ‘taking part’. Or maybe it’ll turn out that LL decided against having region specific permissions system… we’ll have to wait and see 🙂

#Steampunking it back into Babbage #SL

Returning to New Babbage this year brings excitement of a different kind.

For the past five years I’ve returned with a story to tell while updating my builds and getting back into the smoggy spirit of things. This year however things will be different.

This time last year i was hard at work setting up the final story to the saga i’ve not properly named yet. It took a lot of work and planning and was spread across October to December. Mesh had just been released on the grid and with firestorm and Phoenix TPV’s behind on integration i chose not to use mesh in any of my builds until New Year 2012.

So with the big story over i decided there and then that the following year (this year) would be a break from the RP. One reason is so i can decide what sorts of stories i want to do next, the other is because it’s time to rebuild the Old theatre, Absinthe cafe and the Cobblestone house (in Mesh of course).

 

Back to a love of Building

The Old Imperial Theatre is one of the oldest original builds in New babbage Square. It has been updated once two years ago when exploiting sculpt prims to add detail. After a year of learning mesh on Escapades island i am excited to see what will be possible when rebuilding the Theatre in Mesh.

It will be experimental as well, seeing wether it would be better to replace the entire building or to keep parts of the original prim build. It would be great if i ended up with More free land impact for expanding new ideas inside the theatre, or simply use up the same land impact but with greatly detailed designs.

The Imperial Theatre is like the Millennium Falcon, she don’t look much but she has a special place in peoples hearts and they will be watching with interest to see how it comes out in this new up date.

 

My Urchin look now in 2012 compared to back in 2007 when the Theatre was first built.

 

Back to Basics

Even though I’m not doing any big RP stuff in New Babbage this year it’s not stopped me thinking about where i want to go next with story telling. A huge part of the reason i build these places in Second Life is how users interact and read them. When someone visits a place they intemperate it’s meaning, “What was it for, why am i there?” and a personal story experience can grow from that. It becomes even better when the space is shared.

I built the theatre based (very loosely) on a book called ‘The Thief Lord’. In it a group of kids live in an old broken down theatre. The idea that these urchins who lived hard times on the streets found refuge in a place where once dreams flourished on stage to delight and inspire appealed to me.

In recent years the Street Urchins of New Babbage have become a much loved part of the town and any idea of hardship seems to have been glamoured away by good old fashioned romanticism.

So I’m starting to think about the realities of steampunk. Im fed up with magical portals to other worlds, and mad scientists making the fantastical happen. I think the best Steampunk happens when you just tweak history a tad.

 

Back to the Burning Barrels

Every year i hold the Burning Barrel Race. This year i had mesh at my disposal and on top of that i somehow learnt to script. I created new Hessian torches just like my Grandad used to make for the carnivals in the real life village i grew up in. Much more realistic and efficient compared to the sculpt Torches of last year. Even the Barrels where mesh and scripted to activate better than previous years. I even had time to knock up some mesh Toffee Apples.

Overall the event went well. Region crossings only took one or two out of the race and it was feared that the race would die at the first crossing. We had one issue with a land parcel that was set to ‘no object pass through’ which i missed in my earlier checks.

All in all as usual the contestants battled through the lag and obstacles to cross the finishing line to complete the sixth year of the barrel Race in New Babbage.

Each year i film and edit the event. While not casting shadows (which kills my iMac) i was able to squeeze enough power out to display projected lighting. The effect gives really great contrasts between orange lighted areas and the dark blue night skies. The fireworks i created this year also came out on film much better than i hoped for.

Franchise, Fanbase, Copyright, FIGHT!!!!

As a long time GEEK who has grown up with many franchises it feels like right now we are arriving at a point in time where Fanbase, franchise and copyright are about to collide in some super spatial vortex thingy of doom. Back in the day as a kid if my parents could not buy me the official merchandise, i would make my own, create my own costume, build light sabres from toilet rolls.

later i was able to express my creative inspirations from the franchises with local friends to continue and strengthen the fan base by making short movies, building models out of clay, paper and what ever. And there was no thoughts of copyright infringing, i mean who would know, and why would they care?

We arrive to today where i find myself in a situation where my friends and fellow fans are no longer localised to my town, they are world wide. My craft is now digital with the ability to strive for great detail. Sharing is easier than ever before with fellow fans. 3D printing is just taking off allowing replication of the things we think are kool. And we do it because we love the franchises we want to keep these sci fi worlds alive in our conscience every day because we are such HUGE GEEKS.

But we have arrived at a point where we conflict with the copyright system and its gonna start to get real messy, not just in Second Life, but all over the place. Just last week i saw a report on how 3D printing was taking off, and they talked to some guy in the UK who printed out models from a site. One of them was Yoda.

It’s interesting times ahead as Copyright tries to take on an ever growing wall of fanboys who are more connected and creative than ever before eventually toppling the attempts of copyright. Either that or the fanbase is obliterated by improved copyright laws that cause fans to scatter to the wind and die out. Nothing remains the same, i learnt that from star wars.

Maybe Copyright and Fanboys can come to some kind of agreement, a compromise. Except copyright has no soul born from greed compared to Fandoms soul of shared love, camaraderie and creativity.

If you are a Fan and you love your starships, you are gonna have to be a lot more thoughtful from here on in with who you share it with, especially if you charge money for your hard work.

Scaring in Second Life – The making of ‘T H E W E L L’

About a month ago i took a group of my Goony friends to a haunted hospital destination. That type of ‘haunted’ destination was becoming more and more common where you look around, see ghosts appear then fade away, with spooky set pieces and eerie sounds. While the rest of the gang was looking around and poking dead bodies with sticks, i was wondering wether i could actually make a haunted place that really did scare people.

So a month later i finish work on ‘T H E   W E L L’ an experiment to see wether i could scare people in Second Life.

The idea is that a boy fell down a well, a rescue team was sent down rescue the boy but have not been heard of since. You then must go down and find out what has happened. You find a walkie talkie and communicate with a lone survivor of the rescue team who sort of guides you through the tunnels.

 

Expanding the use of the HUD

I love HUDs (Heads Up Displays) and while most people use them for functional controls, i love using them to tell stories or add to the immersive experience. For ‘T H E  W E L L’ i wanted to see how i could use them to scare people. I had been thinking for a while now about using a HUD to take over the screen. A traditional tool in Games are cut screens that cut away from the game and show a picture and some text to move the story along. So far i had not seen this attempted in SL before so would be interesting to see how people reacted to having their SL display blacked out.

The HUD is minimal, it’s simply a title at the bottom, hardly Head Up Anything. The main bulk of the HUD is invisible and appears when you step through things or on things. One of the issues of doing it this way is that you can’t click on anything because the HUD is in the way, but it would not take much to fix this in a future experience. As a result ‘T H E  W E L L’ is a game of exploring and avoidance rather than click and shoot.

Another function of the HUD is Cache Loading Efficiency(CLE). The HUD hides just below your view of vision all the textures to the main features you will discover, loading them into your cache before you come across them down the well. The HUD when attached also preloads and triggers very quietly all the sounds needed during the experience again loading them into your viewers cache before you head down the well.

Simplifying the start.

Last year i created the ‘Escapades Evil Giant Zombie Worm Chainsaw Massacre’ which turned out to be very complicated for the new user to get into. Things like Reading instructions, buying things, then looking through inventory, then wearing it was just too complicated. So this time i decided to try using Linden Lab’s new Experience tools ‘llAttachtoAvatarTemp‘ and ‘llTeleportAgent‘ to see wether it could cut out some of the crap.

Another part of this experiment was ‘Payments’. I always get a few comments that people won’t like to pay to play. I charged people to enter the Underground base game, and i charged people to play chainsaw massacre and charge to play New Babbage Chronicles. All these have shown people are willing to pay to play and if they get something in return that they think was worth the credits then tis all good. But integrating a payment system with the new experience tool set was something i had not done before but the result seemed to work really well.

Starting the experience is as simple as i could currently make it. You arrive, see the sign which has a simple message ‘Pay L$25’ to enter the well. You click the sign to pay, then get an ‘Accept Attachment’ dialogue box. Accepting will auto attach the temporary HUD which automatically starts by bringing up the instructions which are simply ‘Walk over to the well and accept the teleport request’. Walking over to the well you will get the TP request and on accepting will be teleported down the well and then you are immersed in the experience.

Could be simpler.

The start could be even more simple once Linden Lab release the new Permissions system which i assume allows region owners to request permissions Region wide for things such as Teleport, animate, attach etc. This would simplify ‘T H E  W E L L’ experience by not needing to accept an attachment, or teleport request. You would pay and get the hud instantly, you would walk to the well and teleport instantly. This would also eradicate the chances of missing the teleport or attach requests which pop up and disappear rather quickly.

 

My first Pathfinding experience.

I’ve been messing around with the new Pathfinding tools for some time now but this is the first time i’ve used it in a proper experience. With the Cheese Fairy i wanted to use pathfinding, but i could not get multiple states to work. I wanted to use pathfinding for the Goblins on Escapades, but i could not get them to attack and touch the avatars. For ‘T H E  W E L L’ i made some pathfinding creatures and kept them simple using one state and also figured out how to make them attack and touch you with frightening consequences :).

A bug of some kind causes pathfinding alpha flipping animated mesh to sometimes become invisible. For my experience i decided this just added to the scaryness.

Observing people i’ve noticed many attempting avoidance manoeuvres to get passed these pathfinding creatures. Doing so i think people arn’t realising just how well these pathfinding creatures move. They walk down the tunnels, turn around corners twist and turn as you dodge passed them. People are already taking these more realistic movements for granted.

Have you found the bedroom? did you look out the window?

Reaction – is it scary?

I was gutted i could not complete the experience before Halloween. In the end i submitted to Destination guide in the morning of 31st October and within half an hour it was up on destination guide which kinda freaked me out.  So far there has been a good steady stream of visitors which has not caused the sort of LAG i had last year. Nor has the SIM froze like it did at New Babbage. Part of this is because i might be better at scripting :-p.

The Price to take part is just L$25 because overall the experience is quite short (about 3-6 minutes depending on fast you run). There are four different routes to take to the end and initially failed to point that out to people. So if you go through once then go down the well again, it might be different depending which way you turn. People also got confused because i used GAME OVER at the end of the experience, instead of THE END. GAME OVER implies that you failed to complete the experience so I’ve been and changed it to THE END to satisfy those who cant stand open endings.

But are people finding it scary? Well some are finding it a little disturbing, but a lot are saying it made them jump out of their skins. It might be down to the sort of person you are and wether you jump easily. It can also depend on your computers volume setting. Part of the reason the experience is so short, might be to do with the fact people RUN to the end because they don’t want to hang about lol.

Anyway once again i’ve learnt a tonne of new things while scripting and 3Dmodelling for this and no doubt i’ll learn lots from observing the victims of this experience. It will be available right up until Christmas so check it out and id love to hear feed back on my SL feed.

I’d Like to Thank all my lil beta testers and Matthew Querrian who helped me get my head around some of the complex scripting issues. X