Friday, 31 August 2007

Al Reflects on Reflexive Architecture

I got an IM last night from Scope Cleaver, my renowned Second Life architect chum, to join him at a walk-thru presentation by Keystone Bouchard of what is apparently known in the trade as Reflexive Architecture. I opted not to accept a teleport to the event, since I hate being the dork hovering in mid-air right in front of the presenter, blissfully unaware that he is obstructing proceedings while he waits for the site to rez. Instead I found my own way there.

Unfortunately, most of the presentation was over by the time I arrived *D'OH!* but what I saw was quite impressive, and certainly got the brain juices flowing.

The gist of Reflexive Architecture is that a building, at least in Second Life, can be scripted to respond and react to the people in and around it. A basic example might be small room that gets bigger as more people enter it. But once you start thinking in terms of a reactive building then all manner of ideas can flow from it. Howzabout a building that can pick up on key phrases and take appropriate actions? Maybe it just changes colour to suit your mood, or it could retrieve and present information to you as you go along, or fetch you a pina colada or the perfect white russian if you are a tad thirsty. I dunno... use your imagination!

Obviously, such behaviour requires scripted architecture - and Keystone has kindly provided a bunch of scripts on The Arch blog where, incidentally, you will find much more on Reflexive Architecture, including a number of machinima movies. Pictures (like those below) don't really tell you much, since they're basically static. Go and watch the movies. You might be impressed.

In this example, above, the construction consists of what looks to be semi-transparent bands, lying flat on the ground. AS you walk into the construction the bands rise up and create a sort of bubble around you. As you walk through it, so the bubble goes with you. Neat, huh?

By the way, the House That Delivers The Perfect White Russian has not been constructed yet, to the best of my knowledge.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Al's Cannery-Opener

I've already covered a number of arty places in Second Life in previous posts, but it seems no sooner do I get to one than another one opens. Last night I popped along to the opening of another arty place: The Cannery, the latest sim from those intriguingly creative folks at Rezzable.

The art, or SLart (their term, not mine - reminds me too much that it needs the suffix "ibartfast"), takes the form of Second Life "photos". Here's the notecard to tell you more: "An exhibition bringing together six top Second Life photographers and 40 cream of the crop SL photographs by various Second Life artists or SLartists. Opening the 29th of August 2007 at 15:00 SLT. The exhibition will run until November. Shoshana Epsilon and Vint Falken, both accomplished SL photographers and artists, brought together Collin Savon, Melodious Source, Kean Kelly, Nephie Eerie, Rob Danton and Stephen Venkman along with other very talented SL photographers. Vote for your favorite piece! See the results on the web at"

The exhibition is housed in and around a deserted, run-down wreck of building - The Cannery - situated in a deserted, run-down wreck of a dockland. The sim seems to be set permanently to midnight, in order to maximise the atmospherics. But even in other day modes the textures and construction are impressive: crumbling walls; rusting containers; broken fences and general dereliction, all lovingly rendered! They have made brilliant use of "lighting", to create a little gem of a place. Not with the same bizarre and brilliant energy of the Greenies sim - but a mini-masterpiece all the same.

And now for the bits I am not so keen on. Working on the classic Art definition "I know what I like", I would describe the bulk of the photos on display as falling into one of two categories: Athena Poster or Comic Book. In both cases, graphically well executed, even attractive to look at, but not Art (using my strict definition above). There are some exceptions which are genuinely more than just sleekly toned bodies, cutesy expressions, or swords'n'sorcery mockups. And I would strong suggest you look for yourself. Who knows, you might even agree with me?

Interestingly, the adjacent sim, Rezzable07, was open. It, too, features a scene of not-so-genteel dilapidation. This time it appears to be an oil or gas platform. Beyond that I have no further information. Oh... and Ebuddy Sandbox 1 was also open. Maybe all the sims are...

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Yet Another Tokyo

Yeah... I know... I know. You are getting heartily sick and tired of my Tokyotic Expeditions. But that hasn't stopped me in the past, and so I shall plough on undaunted. On the plus side, this is only a brief post, concerning the sim Tokyo4,On the minus side, this is the only open sim in a cluster of 12!

The sim is entirely given over to an athletics stadium. At the entrance you get a big sign for TBS - Tokyo Broadcasting System. Their website tells me that this is an extensive network of 28 TV stations affiliated with the Japan News Network (JNN). Inside the stadium there are also adverts for Dogatch, which I understand to be a video-on-demand portal. Following the various weblinks, the best I could deduce is that TBS and Dogatch are providing athletics coverage, probably of the current IAAF World Championship in Osaka, of which TBS is an official sponsor.

Much of the build looks relatively rudimentary and far from complete. Whether it is running late for Osaka2007, or early for other athletics events I couldn't say. The track itself looks OK, but the stadium looks like it is a couple of weeks or more from completion and I could find no working links or teleports. Still... at least I could get in. While I was here I also peered over the boundary into Tokyo3. The details (below right) are a little hard to make out, but it appears to be a giant pair of skis, sitting atop a ski jump. My Holmesian logic tells me that this sim, too, is aimed at sporting events, but given the wintry theme, may be in no hurry to open.

So that's another one (or is 2) Tokyo sims ticked off the list.

UPDATE 30/08/07: Judging by this link I wasn't too wide of the mark. Personally, my favourite is still Tokyo Mainland. The hullaballoo about Virtual Tokyo has been somewhat overblown, but then I guess that is to be expected, given the site is owned by Dentsu, Japan's leading advertising agency.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Al Goes to Church

Phew! Well that's a lot of Japanese sites visited in the last few days. I think it's time to come a bit closer to home. My ramblings today took the form of an invitation to the opening of a virtual church. But this is not just any church, this is the Koelner Dom - Cologne Cathedral. A massive building in Real Life, it survived the WWII bombing of Cologne (though not unscathed) because its sheer size made it a great visual indicator for the pathfinders looking to bomb the German industrial heartland, the Ruhr.

The RL building was started over 800 years ago, but was not completed until 1880 - a grand total of 632 years in the making. The SL building, on the Koelner Dom sim, took rather less time. Even so it is (or so I'm told) a 15,000 prim construction. If you are not familiar with SL construction, you will need to take it from me that that is - well - simply huge. I'm not sure that it is that big (yet), since in the current phase it still needs a lot of the interior work completing - a task that will be carried out over the next few weeks. But I can assure you, it is huge!

So what's it like? Well, I took a huge number of pictures (click on each for blowups):

And the interior:

My guide was my friend Piper Pitney, a resident of Cologne, who assured me that this is a stunningly good rendering of the Real Life cathedral - a view borne out in a conversation with another friend who also knows the building well. The quality of the imported textures and graphics, and of the overall construction itself, is something to behold. I hope my piccies give you at least an idea of it.

If you plan to visit, try and do so between 11:00 and 13:00 PDT (SLT), as the sim may otherwise be closed, while the remainder of the work is completed (and to protect against griefers). On the plus side, you stand to get a guided tour from one the Virtuelles Koeln team. The project itself is the product of Seminal3D, a Cologne-based build company whose work I have not seen before, while communications were provided by Medeya.

I have not used the word in a while, so I think I can get away with it... for the city of Cologne the Dom is an iconic building. It is therefore understandable why it forms the centrepiece of a more substantial, multi-sim build. This is still early days, but I understand the next large-scale phase will add more familiar Cologne landmarks - and start to encourage virtual businesses to come and set up shop. However, that is still some months away. In the meantime come and marvel.

I know that replicating RL buildings is not to everyone's taste. But I would hope you'd agree that if it is done, then it should be done well. And this is certainly done well!

Sunday, 26 August 2007

MeltingDots - Some Work in Progress

This is more a "note to self" than anything else, but while pootling about in Second Life, sticking my nose into this sim or that, I often come across a few places I think may be of interest (if and) when they finally open to the rambling public.

Today's clutch all appear to be under construction by Japanese build company (and Second Life portal site), Meltingdots:

  • Fujitsu - the Japanese computer giant - has 3 sims
  • Avex Trax - a Japanese record label - has Avexisland
  • Mitsubishi - Japanese maker of just about everything - has a single sim
They have already opened Virtual AKIBA, a 2-sim site that is basically a hoverboard track. Get your board (it's free!) and have a go. There is also a huge silver screen, showing adverts for a number of Japanese companies. Beyond this, I don't really have a clue what the "AKIBA Project" is all about.

Closer to their home base lies a cluster of sims, including "Walker Orientation." This would appear to be Meltingdots' own orientation zone, which I intend to have a closer look at soon. It is open to the public, and I have had a cursory tour, but not enough to warrant a post. Why "Walker"? Nope... sorry... no idea.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Al Tries Another Tokyo

Out in the now-crowded Western Oceans of Second Life I came across a number of joined sims named "JPL" something-or-other (eg: "JPL Osaka"). They're basically rental areas, mainly targetted at people wanting to set up virtual retail outlets. I only did a quick skim, but in the process spotted something interesting in the distance.

On investigation this turned out to be the Japaland Tokyo sim, which led me to conclude that "JPL" was a convenient abbreviation). A moment's light googling provided me with the website, though as usual, I can't follow a single word of it. The Tokyo sim has some cool giant statues, a fishing lion, some guitar heroes, a metal band (really made of metal) and other treats.

There's also a whole heap of bizarre freebies - such as these:

I know it isn't (hmmm... do I know it isn't??) but at first sight, the one on the left looks like a "Judo Hitler Surfboard".

Aside from these odd quirkies the sim is nothing special - but the freebies are fun.

One of Many Tokyo's - Tokyo Mainland

The buzz at the moment - at least, among those not geeking out the Chicago Hilton at SLCC'07 - is of the opening of Virtual Tokyo. I have to say, though, that my attempts to locate it have thus far been in vain, and I am left wondering if it is a virtual Virtual Tokyo. What my travels have turned up is Tokyo Mainland and I have to say I really like this sim!

It's a bizarrely kaleidoscopic place - humorous and cartoon-like. I think it is supposed to be a commercial sim, offering shops and the like; at least, you can buy micro-sized toy robot avatars there. But so much of the sim is given over to playful views and effects, it is hard to know. Here's a collection of piccies I took of the place, to give you an idea:

To be honest there isn't a lot to do here... at least not yet. I think the sim has not been open long, and it is certainly in need of some interactivity. But it's a fun place to look around.

It is also home to Gouichi Hatakeyama art gallery (not looked inside it yet), that sits perched above the clouds. That yellow asteroid thingy in the picture above also features on the linked website - which contains the 2 English words "Illustration" and "Design."

Ah... now then... maybe it is becoming clearer. This is looking like a showcase sight for a Japanese design company that specialises in cartoon-like imagery. Yes? No? Oh... I give up! If you know, please post a comment and put me out of my confusion.

Friday, 24 August 2007

When Life is More Real in Virtual Worlds

We are familiar with the idea that people role-play in virtual worlds - in effect, real people living unreal virtual lives. Indeed, it is this role-playing aspect that underpins much of the SL-phobia (thinks: "What is the greek for Second Life?") that has afflicted large swathes of the media. However, what goes unreported is the use of virtual worlds as a means of escape from an unreal life.

Now, I think I'm pretty much a regular kind of chap in Second Life. My avatar is a pixel-based extension of my RL self (if somewhat slimmer!), he has my views and outlook on Life, The Universe and Everything - "he" is "me." I believe the same is true for many, many people in Second Life.

Others, particularly those with phyical disabilities, find that virtual worlds provide an exhilirating and liberating experience, allowing them to travel, meet people, make friends, work and network without the need for physical mobility. They can be themselves, free from the constraints imposed by Real Life physiology.

However, I was chatting with a friend recently who revealed another aspect of living in virtual worlds: that some people actually live a more "real" life in SL than in their day-to-day existence. The anonymity of virtual worlds may indeed allow normal folks to go bananas... but it also allow folks whose Real Life is constrained by various social pressures to be themselves. For example, if you live in a community where your worth is judged by the frequency and intensity of your church visits and related activities (like much of the USA), it can be very difficult to "come out" as an atheist who thinks the whole thing is built on a falsehood. The pain inflicted on family, friends and community - and the ostracism that can then follow - may be too much to contemplate. However, your Second Life persona can embody the person you really are on the inside, expressing your true/real thoughts and beliefs. The example given is not hypothetical, and I am sure there are many similar examples across the Second Life community.

To stretch the comparison with the liberating effects for the physically disabled, Second Life can be equally liberating for the societally disabled.

I don't know if I've expressed this very well, but I find it an interesting counter to the negativity discussed at the start of this post, about real people living unreal lives in virtual worlds. The balance is those people living their unreal lives in the Real World, while their real life, at least regarding the things that matter, is lived in virtual worlds.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Al Goes Gallic at Le Bon Marché

I read some stuff a while back about Galeries Lafayette, a prestigious Parisian department store, entering Second Life. But while out and about on my routine rambles around Second Life, I came across an open sim called a9 that appears to be home to one of their competitors - reportedly the first department store in the World - Le Bon Marché. According to wikipedia: "The store was founded as a small shop in Paris during 1838, and was a fixed-price department store from about 1850. It was a successful business, and a new building was constructed for the store by L. A. Boileau and Gustave Eiffel in 1876."

At the moment the sim consists of a single building with semi-transparent walls, but it is clearly under construction, with various objects still floating in mid-air, while the surrounding landscape is devoid of much detail.

As you can see below, it's not nearly ready!

It has a professional look about it - but it does beg the question "Why is it open?"
It is not yet in a fit state to be treated as a soft launch, as there is still too much work outstanding. In this state it therefore actually poses a risk - perhaps, small - of damaging the brand. As I have mentioned before, this is one of the cardinal sins that the "brand police" should be stamping down on. I wonder how much longer it will remain open? Perhaps this post will cause a re-think.

Incidentally, I don't really get the reference to "a9". My best guess is that this is the build company, but a cursory look on Google has not brought up anything of use. There is a group called "a9*SecondLife", but again, this has not revealed anything.

Apologies for a lack of SLURL - to find it, use the "Map" button and search for "a9".
Here's the SLURL.

DePaul CTI

Today, following a tip from a friend, I pootled along to DePaul CTI, the sim belonging to the School of Computer Science, Telecommunications and Information Systems (no wonder they abbreviated it) of DePaul University. Named after Saint Vincent De Paul, the university's main campus was founded in Chicago in 1898 by the Vincentians, but now offers courses around the world. The CTI offers a wide range of courses, including options for online and distance learning.

For reasons best known to the build team, the island is loosely themed on Venice. A number of canals serve to carve up the island, but transportation is not a problem as you can take gondola rides between the various parts of the sim. Thinks: "I wonder if this idea came from the New Media Consortium build?" In any case, gondolas won't get you everywhere (like to the top of a hill, for example) - so there are various "stools of destination", teleports that will whisk you to your destination. The overall build quality is high. There are many excellent, detailed textures, the buildings are well thought-out and there are some nice ideas at play - such as using animated critters from Second Wildlife.

I am told there are all manner of caves and other hidden gems to discover - but to be blunt, I couldn't be bothered looking. Nice looking place, though:

I'm not too sure who this site is aimed at. I found only limited information about the university, while there are many (many!) meeting places of varying sizes. This suggests to me that the site has a couple of functions, both aimed at their own student body, rather than a channel for attracting potential students and sponsors. First, it provides a great example of what can be built in Second Life by experienced builders, and should serve to encourage some students to give it a go. Second, it provides an environment for students and faculty to meet informally - particularly useful for those who are on distance learning courses. I may have this hopelessly wrong - but that's what it looks like to me.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Avatar Island Orientation Zone

While covering the CyberExtruder personalised face graphics software in the last post, I mentioned that Avatar Island is also about to launch its own Orientatation Zone as part of Linden Lab's outsourcing of Second Life entry. Since I've covered a couple of other such zones, I thought you would be interested to see their approach.

First though, I want to offer my thanks to Trogg Garrigus and Captain Borgnine of CyberExtruder, and Korvel Noh and the team from Cranial Tap, for putting up with my dumb questions and giving me a comprehensive tour of the extruder lab and orientation zone.

The orientation zone is of the "5 and out" model that I have described before. Newcomers are given a set of basic lessons, sufficient to get them started in Second Life. Each lesson is accompanied by a brief description in 5 different languages, but the lesson itself is basically graphical - and is thus language-independent. The newcomer steps through a series of slides that provide the necessary information. The first lesson, shown below, is on movement; the second, inventory; the third, editing appearancs and so on. A nice touch here is the transition from third to fourth lesson. The newcomer is taken below the sea, where s/he can marvel at the sealife (excellent, by the way) and gain an idea of the power of SL. The fourth lesson is about flying and the fifth, and final, lesson is about obtaining goods (freebies! Yay!) and using a teleport (to the Cyber Extruder lab). Throughout, touching blue surfaces will pull up addtional helpful hints (according to the message that appears when you arrive).

The blue circle below is actually part of the flying lesson - but I will leave it to you to go figure it out.

We spoke at length about the approach to orientation. Newcomers will get here either through a registration portal on the CyberExtruder website, or from the generic Second Life website. The workings of the latter are not clear, but what is clear is that different newbies, arriving at different zones, will get different orientation experiences - some better than others. It seems that, for Linden Lab, this is part of their intention. By using a range of different orientation techniques they hope to see what works, and use that as a template for future orientation zones. They've already had a tour of this zone and have been thoroughly impressed.

I am not a huge fan of "5 and out", but I think this is an excellent example of what can be crammed into such a constrained set of lessons.

(Thinks: I can't recall where chat and IM were covered, but they must've been - mustn't they?)

UPDATE: Here's the starting page for the CyberExtruder Second Life Portal.