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Thursday, July 29, 2004

THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF STREAMING

Since Version 1.4, flying over private land has become a little like driving through a neighborhood where everyone has their stereo out on the lawn, cranked up full. This is, as far as I can tell, an unintended consequence to the most popular feature in 1.4—the ability to stream Internet audio, especially music, onto your plot of land. Pretty much every active property owner uses it now, it seems like, so even flying a short distance, you’re likely to get hit with a different blast of sterephonics, every few dozen meters. (Fortunately for neighbors’ peace of mind, you can only hear a given stream when you’re standing on its assigned plot, or positioned directly in its airspace.) Recently flying back to my land from a sim away, I cut through a burst of techno, then a twang of country music, followed by a mullet-inducing boom of 80’s rock hits (when’s the last time I’ve heard Corey Heart, for god’s sake?!), then country again, then 70’s pop classics, and finally back to home, sweet drum-and-bass home. All within the space of a minute.

So musical taste becomes another means of shaping your online identity, and reaching out to those who share it. (I got turned on to my own drum n’ bass stream after a chat with Zoe Jade at her waterfront home, where she plays the same cool beats.)

It occurs to me that there’s another unintended consequence at work here: instant demographic identification. Because you can make a fairly educated guess at the real life age and regional background of a resident, based on their music taste. Someone who, say, listens to techno tends to be quite predictably different from someone into New Age, as opposed to country, as opposed to R&B, and so on. And sometimes, you even get a pretty good gauge for guessing gender—if you fly past a plot streaming hardcore heavy metal, for instance, the smart money says the resident is a guy (and in his 20’s). Sometimes, regional origin or ethnicity is a dead giveaway, as when the streaming DJ comes on, and he’s speaking Spanish, or he’s interrupted by British commercials.

Some academics have been trying to figure out the real world demographics of the residents in Second Life, breaking it down by age, gender, and so on. But because of Linden Lab’s confidentiality policies, the only way to do this so far is by conducting voluntary polls. Maybe a more fruitful method is to count the kinds of music streams one hears, and divide them according to genre, and assume the demographic preferences of each. Maybe that’s the better way to get an accurate picture, of who's in the world. Because while people like to roleplay and pretend to be things they’re not, in here, one thing they don’t seem to fake, ever, is the music they love.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

YOU COULD SEE THE SEA (IF YOU COULD SEE IT)

The first screenshot on the left was taken last October; the screenshot on the right, a few days ago. The key difference-- besides the massive up-kick in graphic quality, over the interim-- is what you don’t see. Or to be more exact, the sea you don’t see. For the longest time, my office in Shipley looked out on the Eastern-most shore of the world, into an ocean without end. (In other words, if you tried to fly off the edge of Shipley, about 20 meters from the shore, you’d end up hitting a Truman Show-esque wall, and be unable to go any farther.) But Linden Lab has been rapidly adding land to the South and East of Shipley, and the isthmus of new sims has grown North and finally wrapped around, to connect with Shipley. So the ocean view I once had is now more like the view of a lake.

But then, that’s the risk any homeowner at the edge of the world takes— when the world’s still growing, the edge keeps moving.

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Monday, July 26, 2004

FALLING FOR EDDIE

Their romance began, as many romances do, with a floating brain.

When Eddie Escher lived in Clementina, his pod-shaped house had a brain in a vat. And his neighbor Fallingwater Cellardoor would often stop by, to talk with it.

"I used to say random things to Brain," Fall says, "to try to get a rise out of him. It didn't work."

That's because Eddie had programmed the brain in the vat to control his house, but he hadn't scripted it to chat. So Fallingwater's conversations with the brain were decidedly one-way.

Fall turns to Eddie. "I said 'Hi' to you, though, too."

Eddie smiles, and agrees. "Always me first, then Brain."

This story began, as many New World Notes stories do, with a totally different subject in mind. I originally stopped by Eddie Escher's new home in the Elf-themed Seacliff, because Eddie's one of the many residents who are also in the game industry, and use the world as a canvas for more personal projects. Eddie's an artist with a very well-known publisher, and he's working on a console game that's set in a crime-infested New York. (Some recent assignments involved modeling, as he puts it, "tramps, junkies, gang members".) On his Seacliff property, it's all elvish architecture and magnificent trees, and that's where I first spoke with Eddie and Fallingwater together.

"I tend to spend a few hours a night in-world, during the week," Eddie says, "and don't always get a lot done until the weekend, when I'm logged in 'til the sun comes up." This isn't just a means of letting off creative steam for Eddie, because he sees it as integral to his career as a game developer. "Man, I want to work in Second Life one day, making my game graphics [in here]... plus, I intend to put some screenshots of Second Life [projects] of mine in my portfolio."

One of those projects was his original pod-shaped home in Clementina, and this is where he first met Fallingwater Cellardoor-- who as it happens, had noticed his talents a lot earlier before she started talking to his floating brain.

A web programmer and Photoshop artist, Fall first came to Second Life in late October, on the recommendation of her brother. She was looking for a place to call home, flying over the continent, when she came across Eddie's home in Clementina. "And I thought, 'Wow, whoever built this must be really cool, and I'll be intimidated by him, because he's so good." (And if you're wondering if her fears were justified, take a look at the third screenshot in this story-- that region of Seacliff is mostly her creation.)

In any case, she thought the style of the home she had in mind would complement his place, so she put down roots, and began building.

At this point, both of them insist, romance was neither expected, planned, or sought.

"I was tired of going through the [dating] wringer," says Fallingwater, "and was happy being alone."

"I joined Second Life because I was interested in the whole Snowcrash idea of a virtual world you could make things in," Eddie tells me. "To be honest, the idea of an SL romance seemed silly to me." He'd never found a girlfriend online before, and the women he did date were usually friends of friends. "I've never been adept at chatting [up] women."

About two weeks after they met in-world, they were speaking by phone, and exchanging photos.

"I remember when I first started fancying Fall," Eddie recounts. "She always had people visiting her on her plot, and sometimes I was a bit shy, and wouldn't go over... I was a bit of a hermit, always building rather than socializing." That he didn't immediately join her endless stream of visitors suggested something else was at work. "By that time we had become friends," says Eddie, "and I guess I was starting to feel an attraction to her. Otherwise, I wouldn't have felt shy."

I ask him if it was also because he realized then that he wanted more time with her all to himself, away from their friends, and he laughs again. "I must admit I liked getting her alone," he says.

Sitting with him and Fallingwater, I ask them both a question that confuses me. "Why were you shy? It's an online world, and you have an alter ego."

Fall looks at me. "That's silly, Hamlet, we're still us-- I don't feel I have an alter ego here. Although I am also shy in real life, and it's a bit freeing here... it's still just me." For despite the Elvish costumes and scenery, Eddie adds, "Neither of us are into roleplay. We are who we are."

And being who they were in-world-- building things together, admiring each other's works, was the way for them to connect, and push past the initial shyness. "I guess creativity has been there from the start," Eddie muses, "and is an attraction between us. I love getting blown away by the next thing she comes up with-- jewelery, plants, trees, structures!" For as it happens, they're both intrigued by objects with curving shapes and organic creations, curlicues, toruses, and so on-- which was why Fallingwater first noticed Eddie's pod-like home, in the first place, and decided to move next door.

"Curves are something we both love working with... they're challenging, and look so damn good," says Eddie. And, he notes, "Fall is about the best tori torturer I've seen."

I ask them if they swapped real world photos of themselves before they fell in love, or during.

"During," says Eddie, smiling. "We fell in love with each other's minds, before we saw the bodies."

For Fallingwater's part, she says, "I fell in love before, and it's a good thing he looked cute."

"So you'd love him even if he didn't?"

"Well... there does have to be chemistry. But I'm sure I'd still love him in some way, regardless."

That's about when they decided to meet each other in person, and at this point, it's worth mentioning that Eddie Escher lives in England-- and Fallingwater Cellardoor lives in New England. So Eddie's first flight out to Fallingwater was no small expense. And no small risk, if things didn't work as well in first life, as they did in-world.

"You want to know my bestest, favoritest happy memory from my life so far?" Eddie asks me later. "It was our first kiss, meeting for the first time in [the airport.] Seriously. Everything around us just melted away, man, for both of us. I have no idea how long we were standing there like that."

More visits to England and New England followed. And in a few months, after Eddie secures a visa, he'll send for Fallingwater, and she'll leave the United States, and she'll fly over the ocean to England, to be with him permanently, as his wife.

For now, then, Second Life is a way of keeping close, in the interim.

"[I]t's a great way for us to spend time together while we're apart," says Eddie. "Fall is the most wonderful woman I've ever met... and I wouldn't go through all the traveling and pain from being apart, if she wasn't special. I was only just starting to pull myself out of a year-long funk, when we met. And things have just got better since... [Y]ou've been looking and failing to find your perfect partner for 35 years, and almost given up, and then out of the blue, when you're not even looking, you instantly fall in love with someone that turns out to be perfect in every way. Man..." He stops short and laughs at himself. "This is kinda hard to describe without gushing some."

But I wonder if all this seems too starry-eyed, so I ask them if they're even nervous about what happens, when the digital becomes secondary, and their relationship is one they primarily live in the flesh. Not one where it's two brains in a vat, so to speak, but where it's day to day and undeniably material, together as man and wife in England.

"We know we get on really well from our visits," says Eddie, unworried.

"And we have a pretty good idea of the ways in which we're different," Fall notes. "And how to deal with that. And we will still be in Second Life just as much as now."

While she talks, I look out on the hills of Seacliff, and the dark water around it. Sitting on a green leaf next to Eddie, Fallingwater has another thing to say.

"Someone once told me something I thought was very wise. She said you have to decide to love someone. So that even when you hate him, you still know you love him. It's a decision, not something that just happens."

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Friday, July 23, 2004

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE

In all likelihood, I'll be off-world for a week or so, starting today. (On a mini vacation which probably does not involve, gasp, a broadband Internet connection.) Stories are already in the hopper, for next week-- all about love and romance, the demographics of streaming, and other goodies-- so my trip won't affect New World Notes. But if you're a resident, keep in mind that your Instant Messages will likely take awhile for me to respond to. Until then, then...

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

POST-WAR RECONSTRUCTION, COMPLETE (AN UPDATE)

"[I] will be no more by the time you read this message," read the IM from Jason Foo, a few weeks back. When I first profiled him, in April, Jason had just got back from a whirlwind tour of the war on terror, returning home wounded and psychically wracked, and wound up building a real estate and casino empire, in Second Life. Since then, he'd started the first in-world donation effort to benefit a real-world non-profit, and by his account, he's contributed US$568, to the support of wounded veterans like himself. So when I got this Instant Messages in late June, I was a bit taken aback.

"I have proven that anyone can build a large empire and accomplish anything they want in Second Life. Now its time for me to return to real life and start a family. I will miss you all..."

For the thing was, he explained in an e-mail, his career in SL had begun to clash with his real-world commitments-- a pretty common conflict, for MMO players. He just got engaged, he said, but "I also had a girlfriend in Second Life." They didn't have an actual romantic relationship, but "my fiancé saw it as cheating." That's also not an uncommon conflict, and in Jason Foo's case, the solution was to walk away, at least for awhile. At first, he planned to sell most of his empire for 400,000 Linden Dollars, which would have netted him more than US$1600. But in the end, it was enough for him to know he'd built something so valuable. He gave his land and technology away to a neighbor and an associate.

"I had my time and accomplished my goals, and now I have demolished everything I have worked so hard for, and all of my casino games I spent so much time programming have died with me... It's time for me to move on with my real life, and leave my Second Life to the new people to build an empire like [mine].

"SL has helped me tremendously in my hard times of adjusting and gaining my self-confidence. I think maybe one day in the future I will come back... [although] it really doesn't look like it.

"I tip my hat to the Lindens and the residents of Second Life as I bid farewell to all my friends and the people who worked so hard to make SL what it is today."

And with that, he said goodbye, and it's the last I've heard from Jason Foo.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

ASSESSING THE SITUATION

The color-coded maps on the right were generated in a program created by Adam Zaius, in his quest to assess the value of land on the continent Second Life, based on a complex formula of variables.

"Top number is the value of the sim," Adam says, explaining the key to me in Instant Message. "Next under it is the recommended value in L$ per square meters. Brighter [color] means the sim has a higher value." He goes on to warn me that these should "be taken with a grain of salt", since "I make no claim as to the overall accuracy of the outputted information at this stage... However, it should provide a good base estimate."

The screenshots depicted here were taken from a few days ago-- Adam advises NWN readers to look at these, instead of going directly to the server address which generates the most up-to-date map. "I dont want that server turning into a molten pile," he warns. "The map generation takes the thing to 100% CPU load for a few seconds each hit."

The information for these calculations are dynamically taken in-world by a cube-shaped spider, says Zaius, "which collects the required data, then deletes itself... [then] e-mails all the collected data to a certain address, which a program I have written processes." The data is run through an off-world server, and in real time, you wind up with a thumbnail estimate for how much land in each server should currently sell for.

Pressed for more details, Adam tells me the formula he uses to calculate this ballpark sum, and offers some observations and advice, on current land speculation.

"The value is devised from a series of factors," Adam says. "Specifically:

- Proximity of land to nearest telehub (if there are multiple telehubs within the proximity, a bonus is added, an additional bonus for this factor is also given for proximity to the Ahern Welcome Area) [Where new users-- and presumably, new customers and audience members-- first enter the world.]

- Number of allowable prims in the sim (the city sim, Luna, Oak Grove, are all given bonuses for having more than 15000 allowable prims.)

- Rating of the sim (Mature tends to be 'worth' more.)

- Number of visitors per day (averaged over rolling last three recorded days)

- Percentage of sim water (deviation from 20% is a penalty after +/- 10%. Being within the 'sweet spot' generates a bonus)

- Land distortion (flat land is considered 'worth' more.) [Flat land, Adam expands later, 'Makes terraforming to build a standard structure a lot easier. I'm just making observations based on what tends to sell well, then documenting it.']

- Average sim Frames Per Second (less than 300 results in serious penalty, more than 300 results in a bonus) [Higher FPS means smoother animation and clearer graphics.]

- Lease Period (if applicable; Luna has a two month lease period, which drastically lowers the land value)

- Average value of retail sales (not highly influencial, +/- L$3/square meters maximum maximum)

- Base value of land (L$3/sqm)

"The exact formula I'm using at the moment," says Adam, "is:

Value = telehub*7 + rating*3 + ((fps - 300)/300) + (((prims - 15000)/15000)*10) - ((4-lease)*13) + percent_flat + ((percent_water - 20)/4) + (average_sales/total_sales) + base_value

"However, I'm refining it, and trying to feed in more data, to get it more exact... I'm working on [factoring in] the average citizen join-date for a sim, [since] sims with more older players tend to move towards being higher quality."

The estimate, Adam adds, "does not provide details for particular plots; rather, an average of the entire sim." Nor does it take into account subjective value (for example, the amount a landowner is willing to pay for property which adjoins their home estate.) "Currently, I'm working with the Linden Lab published figure of in-world land sales, which [gives] the average to be L$16.59/square meter (source: http://secondlife.com/land/). However I'm not going to standardize to that figure, until I have data on each of the 145 sim entries in the database."

Of course, Zaius says, this estimate doesn't always jibe with the market as it exists now. "Boardman, by prediction, should technically be the cheapest land available, and all factors do point to this. However, a variety of people have held all the available land [in Boardman] and are using the scarcity to attempt to sell at twice the predicted value (L$5.00/square meter-- [instead] selling at L$9-10/sqm). However, this land [in Boardman] has not sold in the last few months, so [this] may be indicative that the market will not buy at that rate.

"Due to the popularity of the sim... Federal is the most expensive land that can be bought, predicting sales at L$39.00/sqm. The second highest is the city sim Sistiana (L$34.00/sqm). However it is on 'the way up', and I expect it to overtake Federal, as it maintains twice the framerate, has rising popularity, and has twice the prim multiplier."

His take on current trends? "Prices are rising, which is good for older players, but 'very bad' for newer players. However, this market is probably going to stablize (I.E., crash, then fall down to a normal level) as more land becomes available faster. (Something that started occuring recently, and probably will accelerate soon, based on the number of new sims that [Linden Lab] recently purchased [~100])."

His advise for new players, looking to buy land now? "I'd probably suggest waiting about a week before making any purchases, for two reasons; The snow sims are going up at the start of this week, and they look awesome, and the auctions are now proceeding at twice the rate now, which means the established 'barons' will most likely be forced to lower their rates somewhat, due to the glut of new land, that will [soon] be available." (By "snow sims", he means the always-winter sims Linden Lab releases this week.)

As fascinating as all this is, New World Notes makes no endorsement or criticism of Zaius' assessments, and for the residents who would use them, when making purchases, caveat emptor. What is certainly true, however, is that calculations like his are inevitable, with so much land emerging into the world so quickly, and garnering so much demand, when they do. Since land was first put up for auction, at the beginning of this year, the maximum bid price for an entire simulator of 65,000 square meters has held at US$900-$1200. Recent bids, however, have seen lease rights go for US$1216, for just 9952 square meters, and US$990.00, for 12576 square meters.

Also take into account Zaius' intentions for creating the program-- to create a secondary non-Linden auction system, for land already owned. "[T]he direct use I have for this system will be with the TerraBarter land auctioning system I plan to finish implementing soon," he says, "which will both use the data to moderate sale prices (such as provide an estimate of the worth to both buyers, and sellers), as well as be used to moderate the index to produce more accurate results (such as scaling sales globally to match any rise/decline in global land sales, as well as adjusting individual factors)."

And if you've read this far, you might want to see the program in action. Keeping in mind the CPU cost it exerts on Zaius' own server-- it's at http://titus.piracy.biz/ovend/land_index.php. (In other words, try to hit it during off hours.)

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Monday, July 19, 2004

TAKING A DIVE

"Let's get this gent kitted up," says Chage McCoy. Chage is outfitting me for my first airborne adventure. "You will need a chute, a smoke cannister, an altimeter and a helmet."

"AND A PAIR OF DEPENDS!"

Around me, members of the SL Skydivers are already strapped in and ready for their plunge. (Unfortunately, Al Bravo, who made their skydiving gear, is not among them.)

Aerodome owner Cubey Terra approaches me. "Are you going to suit up and take the plunge, Mr. Linden?"

I answer that I am.

"That's the spirit! There's only a small chance that you'll get pulped on the ground."

"Only if your chute fails to open," Reitsuki Kojima adds. "Pity we never got around to puting in the reserve chute... Oh well."

The group uses so much skydiving lingo, while I suit up, that I ask them if they've ever actually jumped out of a plane in real life-- or at least, hope to, someday.

"Can't say I do," says Chage, "I hate heights."

Reitsuki Kojima looks at me. "Are you kidding? I'm terrified of tall buildings in real life. I love planes and being up high in Second Life. I can't stand anything above 20 feet in real life-- I guess the two are related somehow."

"What happens [at] about twenty feet?"

"I develop a sudden urge to be DOWN. And panic attacks. Like, 'I'm about to vomit'."

When the concept of virtual reality first got going, there was a theory that it could be used for curing phobics, by simulating their various phobias in a digital space, until they were desensitized to what they feared. I ask Kojima if his frequent skydives have had any effect on his own fear.

"A little," he says. "I can't say I like heights [any more], but... I can at least stand on balconies now, I've noticed."

Cubey Terra's jumped from a plane once. "I'm totally afraid of heights," he says, "but I found that when I got outside the plane, it wasn't a problem. Maybe because I had a parachute. When I climb ladders and so forth, I don't have that reassurance."

So with my 'chute on, I march to the jump platform with at least two and a half self-confessed acrophobes, eager to take the plunge.

"Hold on to your butts," Kojima warns, as the platform ascends to a thousand meters.

"Altimeter Alert!," the gague on my wrist announces. "You are now above 350 meters. Say 'arm' to set auto-pull." I say "arm" as suggested, and now the parachute on my back is talking, too: "Auto-pull altimeter armed. Set for 350 meter deployment."

And when the moment's right, we launch into the air, and go flailing toward the ground. Everything around us is described by speed, wind, and blur, until the auto-pull kicks in, and our chutes furl out. Now we're leisurely wafting downward, smoke plumes trailing behind us, with enough time to watch the oncoming landscape as it...

"I'm stuck!" I yell. My chute has hooked onto a corner of the Aerodome. "I'm gonna get dragged to my death in the ocean!"

"Detach your chute!" Kojima shouts at me.

After we manage to get myself out of that embarassing predicament, a bunch of us pile into Cubey's turboprop, for more traditional skydiving. Trouble is, the fuselage is too narrow for me to tell if I'm still wearing a chute. In the confusion, I fire off my smoke cannister.

Kojima turns back at me. "The plane is filling with smoke!"

"I'm telling the TSA," Stretch Stephanopolis threatens. "Smoke in a plane!"

But I'm more concerned about what happens when we make the jump. "I CAN'T TELL IF MY CHUTE IS ON!"

"Hamlet," says Chage, "it is, because I saw you arm it."

"You'll know if it's on when you fall," Cubey adds, helpfully.

I'm not satisfied, and now I'm shouting. "I'M IN A PLANE WITHOUT A CHUTE! I'M LIKE KEANU REEVES UP HERE!"

Suddenly, fellow jumper Atra Brodsky suddenly recognizes me. "Hey, Hamlet, are you the reporter guy?" In between the panic, I admit that I am.

"I'M GONNA BE FAMOUS!" Brodsky crows.

And despite all their assurances, when we leap from the plane, I find that I do not, in fact, have my chute on, and go plunging like a stone straight into the sea, crumpling on impact.

"We're gonna have to fish Hamlet out of the lake!" Kojima shouts over my corpse, while two Cobra choppers circle overhead.

"For god's sake," Chage cries, "pull him out before he drowns."

Reitsuki flies off, and returns with the pod from 2001: A Space Odyssey, complete with the cabin's whirring sound effects, sampled from the Kubrick movie, then makes like Dave Bowman, with me as Dr. Poole's lifeless body.

"I tried," he grumbles. "I cant get him onto the claw. Curse these inflexible claws!"

"Dammit, Chage," says Cubey, "he's dead!"

Atra Brodsky looks around. "Does this mean I'm not gonna be famous?"

Cubey Terra sighs. "That's what it means."

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

THE SIM'S STORY, CHAPTER V

(Being an ongoing account of one simulator's history, from its appearance in the world to the community that emerges from it. Chapter 1 here; Chapter 2 here, Chapter 3 here, Chapter 4 here.)

June 29:

Sometime very near the end of June, Sophos Casanova followed through on his promise to turn Tenjin into a kind of Cape Caneveral of Second Life. Though I didn't quite expect him to stream hardcore gangsta hiphop onto the launch pad.

“I've had three people go on this and it lagged out a lot,” Twist Zaius, the rocket’s chief engineer, warns a half dozen plus residents, as they pile into the capsule, “so we're pushing it.”

However, I’m still trying to push out of the elevator that’ll get me onboard, in the first place. Members of Mission Control wonder out loud if they should just leave me behind.

“Launch ‘em!” Jon Wheeling says. “Science must go on!”

Before they can, I finally reach the platform into the rocket. I look around, because instead of hearing a symphonic score from Apollo 13 or The Right Stuff streaming into the launch pad, I’m hearing someone singing about the desirability of females who shake their rear end.

I look around; no one seems to notice.

“Wait, am I the only one hearing hiphop?”

A few agree; why yes, there is hiphop being streamed into the launch pad.

“It's like a Snoop Dogg video where Snoop flies to the moon,” I observe, as I step in.

Raemus Patel shouts: “EVERYONE SIT DOWN NOW!” It’s not a matter of surviving the G forces; in Second Life, you either sit on a vehicle, while it’s in motion, or due to the physics, you usually go flying off.

Once the passengers are all in their seats, the countdown begins, and soon the rocket rumbles upward, gaining momentum and distance, until it's reached the very edge of the world’s atmosphere. In a seat next to me, Meta Abattoir is screaming; as the ship goes horizontal to the earth, Raemus Patel announces, “Damn we’re sideways. IM GONNA FALL OUT.” But the ship just cheerfully pings the message, “Now en route to Ahern”— and somewhere over Ahern, something goes horribly… well, I leave that mystery to future travelers of the starship Casanova.

“We used a llSetPos function loop (which means it doesn't use the physics engine),” Twist tells me later, explaining the rocket science behind the ride. “Plus we used the llGetRegionCorner function to locate simulator locations as well. The original rocket used physics but kept on crashing.” According to Twist, the Lindens set the world’s height limit to 715 meters up. “But this rocket only goes 480 meters because the script gets errors if we go near 500. Had we used physics, we could have gone much farther.”

For all that clever rocketry, however, I didn’t hear any roaring sound effects, when we left the launch pad.

“An explosion was supposed to happen,” says Zaius, when I point that out, “but Ludacris' voice drowned them out.”

As I waited my turn on the launch pad, my attention kept wandering to an oblong red building nearby, that now looms much higher than the space port. “It’s a big tower,” says Luminia Olsen, a kind of punk rock devil munchkin with fangs and coal black eyes. ”I was thinking of calling it the Tower of Sickness.” She points me to the tower’s spinning core, sure to induce nausea, as you fall through it. “I wanted to make the highest tower in Second Life, but I’m not a good builder. I will learn, I think.”

While we talk, another rocket rips off, behind us, but the pint-sized succubus pays it no mind.

July 2

Of course, there’s still a fair amount of “conventional” builds going up, in Tenjin—lovely waterfront homes, one of them featuring a pod of dolphins. But then right across the water, there’s a couple of monkeys hopping around a row of computers, loudly demanding your attention. And monkeys with computers always require a hearing.

“I wanted to keep track of Cordova's FPS,” the monkey named Jim Bunderfeld tells me. “And then the project grew, and grew, and then Derek...” He nods to Derek Jones, veteran simian. “Monkey see, monkey do.” So the rows of computers are tracking the frames per second for the Cordova server, and the other world’s sims.

“I have nodes in a few sims,” Bunderfeld continues, “e-mailing these trackers the sim's FPS.” The higher that number, the better performance the sim has—less lag, and better frame rate for each resident in it. All of this is actually what you’d expect the server monkeys at Linden Lab to obsess over—and indeed, they do— but for the sake of pure research, these two monkeys have taken up the project on their own.

As is prone to happen with monkeys, left alone in a laboratory, chaos soon erupts, and suddenly, the computers are set ablaze. Then a kinky sound effect which probably violates the spirit if not the letter of Tenjin’s PG-rated restriction begins to play over the sim, in an infinite loop. Loudly.

benji Czukor tries to shush them. “I have grandparents next door—shhhhh!”

From the bonfire to the lurid sound effects, we go straight to gunplay; within minutes, Jim Bunderfeld is wielding an M60 machine gun.

“Get off my porch, Human trash!”

He goes on an impromptu strafing run, and then into a monkey-versus-monkey dogfight over Tenjin.

Take a look at the road to Tenjin, as it was on June 11, here.

Now compare it to this screenshot, taken on July 2nd.

In less than a month, the freeway to Tenjin is now framed by a Japanese fortress at the border, a space port, and other random constructions. And what began as a placid, watery simulator with a gorgeous view at the far end of the world, has also become a place for hiphop rocketry, a devilette with a vomit-inducing tower, and a pair of profane monkeys with a mad science project.

And with that, we take a break from the Sim’s Story for a month or so, when we’ll check back see what new, wild forms Tenjin has taken, in the interim. It may even go back to being a placid, watery simulator-- and given what's come before, that'd be pretty wild, too.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

THE TAZ OF OZ!

It begins, as you might expect, with a black and white view of Kansas, and our own Auntie Em-- in this case, Evie Fairchild, owner of Cayman island. In celebration of Baccara Rhodes' one year anniversay in Second Life, Cayman has just been transformed into a world based on the Oz novels of L. Frank Baum-- with a few scattered nods to the classic Judy Garland MGM musical which emerged from them, a few decades later. (Fortunately for Spellbound, Baccara's group of event planners who created the Oz microcosm, the novels are already well within the public domain.) Wandering along the yellow brick road and through the Emerald City and flying past the witch's castle-- the Bad Witch played, perhaps unsurprisingly, by Baccara herself-- it all struck me as something of a TAZ, Hakim Bey's idea of a temporary autonomous zone. Usually the setting for weddings and other traditional ceremonies and social events, Spellbound has suddenly turned Cayman into a momentary world of literary role playing. And like a TAZ, the place will be disassembled, in a matter of days, the island returned to conventional use. And all most of us will have to remember it by will be in screenshots-- like the ones after the jump.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Baccara's Credits for Oz (handed to me by a passing munchkin, if memory serves):

- Costumes by Fey Brightwillow

- Emerald City Build by Donovan Galatea & Nyna Slate

- Witches Castle Build by Athos Murphy

- Kansas Set by Johnny Bunderfeld

- Cottage Sets by Evie Fairchild

- Script Wizard & "Surrender Dorothy" by Panthar Orlowski

- Soundtrack & Music by Astrin Few

- Games & Giveaways by Caroline Apollo

- Mini Emerald City Display by His Grace

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THE INSTANT INSIGHTS KEEP COMING!

Sometimes you blog your heart out with a multi-part, extensively-researched story, and the feedback is bupkus. (Not whining, just saying!) Sometimes you post a quick hit-and-run blurb, and the conservation never quits. That's more the case with "Instant Insights on Sex and Race", featuring the thoughts from a gay white man who played Second Life as a black lesbian. A very short entry from nearly a month ago, the comments are still coming, and they're provocative, strange, and wonderful. Some recent excerpts below:

I recently started playing SL and lost my original avatar, so experimented
with the options for female avatars and haven't gone back yet! It's really
interesting seeing how differently people react to you based on their
perceptions of your gender. This is obvious intellectually, but a lot more
visceral when someone's looking up your skirt... - Cranky Murdock

You are being deceptive [to play as a different gender.] Things like appearance can be looked right past. Race and nationality, I would never let anyone get away with saying that such things alter the way you think. However, gender goes to the very core of a human. When you talk to a black man or a white man, you're still just talking to a man. The same goes for a black or white woman, of course. However, Men and Women are two different things. They don't look the same, no, but they also do not think the same. - scorp

First off, let me say that I am male, forty, and, as society determines at the moment, I am straight in real life. That being said, in-game I play male, female and... heh... both (hermophrodite) as the mood and my girl friend's desires dictate... - Kathmandu

Go here to plunge into the insights, and to toss in some of your own.

Posted at 11:40 AM | Permalink | TrackBack