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Thursday, September 30, 2004

IN FASHION

I'm still trying to figure out how I wound up in the role of Diana Vreeland, but there it is. Next Tuesday at 7PM PDT, on the Southern shore of Zermatt, I'm hosting an in-world fashion expo (runway show included), to highlight the best design talent in Second Life, as nominated by our residents. (More detailed event description for residents here and here, where the show is still open to nominations.) Covering the in-world of high fashion is something NWN has been sorely negligent about, especially since it's such an important aspect of the community. (So much so that, as I mentioned on Wednesday, two of the five wealthiest residents are fashion mavens.) So I've set out to devote an entire week of New World Notes coverage to fashion, and thanks to a suggestion by resident Merwan Marker, my talent search now involves digging through a pile of screenshots, fussily arranging them in the snowy foothills of Zermatt, and wondering what the best way to fit fifteen supermodel avatars on my catwalk is supposed to be.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

MARKET FORCES

If you want to gauge the strength of a society, watch what happens to the most well off, when the bottom seems to drop out from under them.

Last week, the value of the Linden Dollar against the US Dollar fell sharply for a very brief time-- at least according to the website of Gaming Open Market, a third party currency exchange that many Second Life residents depend on, to buy and sell their in-world money. On the 21st, however, the stated value of the L$ seemed to spike downward, going from highs of over US$1.30/L$250, to much, much less. According to Zeppi Schlegel, GOM’s President and “Chief Geek”, this was actually because a lot less was going on behind the scenes, then appearances suggested-- and at the same time, a lot more.

“On the 21st,” Zeppi tells me, “we had a new [GOM] user deposit a large sum of money through several [online money transfer] accounts. They then proceeded to purchase as many Linden Dollars as possible from people who were selling. Then they turned around and sold to all the waiting buyers. The purchases drove the price up. The sales drove the price back down.” Since this user wasn't apparently even a Second Life resident, all of these bogus transactions only existed on GOM's web-based exchange, with no relation to the in-world currency, or ultimately, its market value.

“The ‘fraud’ was someone taking advantage of stolen [online money transfer] accounts and purposely manipulating the market,” Schlegel explains. “The trades that took place on the 21st through that account have been wiped from the L$ price history. We consider them ‘erroneous data’ and have treated them as such.” On that day, in other words, all that buying and selling of currency which only exists in an online world did not even exist, either.

By the end of last week, the value of the Linden Dollar returned close to normal exchange rates. But before they did, Second Life’s forum boards raged with wild speculation, as residents tried to explain the sudden spike. This was a panicky sell-off by the “land barons”, went one popular theory, frightened that the steady influx of land would hurt their revenue stream. (A nebulously-defined class of real estate speculators, land barons buy and sell land with enormous frequency, sometimes for fairly substantial profits.) Another theory suggested that this was a giant market correction, hitting hard because it was a long time in coming—after all, the Linden Dollar only buys you goods and services in a virtual world. And to be sure, some encouraged calm, inviting worried residents to relax and enjoy watching the invisible hand of capitalism work its strange, unpredictable wonders over their little microcosm.

Since the Linden Dollar quickly stabilized back to pre-Sept 21 rates on GOM, however, none of these theories ultimately held much water. What's fascinating to me, at least, is how plausible some of them seemed for that short time. If a few more wealthy residents had taken any of these theories to heart, they might have cashed in their chips, and in the process, provoked a run on the bank, so to speak. And then that would really cause the Linden Dollar to devalue— a situation where misperception becomes reality. In the space of a day, then, you had a market in flux, and on the discussion boards and in wildly circulating gossip around the world, you could see the same forces which impact real world economies at work: rational miscalculation clashing with irrational overreaction, common sense up for grabs, all of it aggregating, for a time, into utter confusion.

Which brings us back to the most well off...

When real world economies undergo a sudden currency devaluation, it’s the wealthiest members who are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine. Sometimes, sensing anarchy, they cash in their remaining assets, and flee the country. Sometimes they don’t get out in time, and end up becoming scapegoats to forces even larger than them, and history has been particularly cruel, in these cases.

All that in mind, I contacted Second Life’s wealthiest five individual players—as judged by their status last week on the world’s publicly viewable Net Worth Leader Board. As it happens, all of them took either the Donald Trump or Donna Karan path to wealth, getting rich through real estate/casino investments, or personal beauty/fashion sales. I talked to most of them before Zeppi made a public announcement of GOM’s travails, and while they had their own theories as to what (or who) was behind the spike-- and even though we are talking residents with personal wealth in Linden Dollars which have a market value well into the several thousand, in US dollars-- none of them seemed overtly worried by it, or the frenzied finger pointing on the forum.

“I thought people just went crazy, like they were with the land prices,” Edkc56 Gardner tells me. (Pictured in the first screenshot.) Gardner made most of his own money through land speculation, though he now sells various and sundry items, from pre-fab houses to spaceships. His main concern in this event was missing an opportunity. “I regret not selling a bunch though, ‘cause I could have sold high and bought now that its lower.”

“I'm not exactly sure what happened at GOM,” Chip Midnight IMs me. “I saw their e-mail but it wasn't very specific.” Midnight (pictured, second screenshot) amassed his wealth through the sale of the clothing lines he created and his “skins”, customized avatars designed for residents to spec. For him, his status on the Leader Board isn’t really about wealth per se. “I have a routine that I stick to for converting Linden Dollars,” he tells me. “I try and keep myself on the Leader Board for the free advertising, but sell off whenever I can dump 100,000 and not slip below [the Leader Board Top] Ten. I tend not to pay too much attention to the exchange rate and I almost always sell it for the lowest current price that others are selling their blocks for, so it will turn around faster.”

So the daily valuation of the Linden Dollar to the US Dollar isn’t really of much consequence to him.

“I'm not too worried about the ebbs and flows of the exchange rate too much,” he says. “Not enough to try and squeeze out an extra couple of bucks.” Still, it’s not as if he’s happy with fluctuation. “I definitely have a vested interest in the exchange rate staying fairly consistent now,” he adds, “since Second Life pays several real life bills.”

“To be honest with you,” Kurohyu Song tells me, “I thought perhaps some of the players were the root cause of it and seemed to be interested in [the auctions] in a ‘professional’ way.”

Kurohyu (pictured third screenshot, with her shorter Second Life life partner) earned her wealth through real estate speculation, but she bristles at the term “land baron”. “I find it insulting and have been IM-ed by people deriding me for it,” she tells me. “Plus, getting negative ratings by people I don't even know is hurtful. I try to buy nice land low and sell it for a profit. But I don't believe in selling way higher then I bought it, and it has paid off. I have repeat customers, so we're all happy... I never set out to be a ‘Land Baron’-- just to be successful at something.”

Of the five, only Tony Tigereye took any proactive measures during the spike. “I was watching the forums closely that day for any news,” he says. “I did not believe it was a general market-related function, but rather, that some one individual was heavily influencing things.” He even hit on a way of testing that theory.

“To address my concerns,” he explains, “I put up a buy offer for L$50,000 at $0.85 per block (250), just to see if anyone was seriously selling Linden Dollars at such a low price.” Tigereye (fourth screenshot) made most his wealth off the profits of his casino games, which may explain why he was willing to take this gamble. And which, in this case, paid off by putting his mind at ease.

“No one sold me anything on that offer,” he says. “I concluded that something bogus was going on and figured Zeppi would let us all know what was going on when the time was right.”

Like Midnight, Fey Brightwillow (final screenshot) has become fabulously wealthy through fashion. The petite tycoon is standing outside a temple-like complex on an island she owns, explaining her lack of high dudgeon to me.

“I don’t panic over things like that,” Fey says. "Just like the stock market, it will fluctuate-- just stay calm and wait it out. Only think panic does is make it worse, and in the long run it will even out. Panic is like fear, the mind killer... fear clouds your decisions,” she adds, quoting Frank Herbert’s Dune-- and effectively ending the discussion-- and any concerns over the health of Second Life’s canaries.

She winks. “Next question.”

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Monday, September 27, 2004

THE WASHU OF FATE

... continued from last Friday, which was continued, in turn, from the Wednesday before it.

So after a day of delays and a long flight, Damien Fate found himself standing alone at an airport terminal somewhere in the American Midwest, more than four thousand miles from his home in England, waiting to meet a woman he'd fallen in love with months ago, but had never actually met. And for a moment there, without even knowing, she was closer to him than she'd ever been before.

"He was lookin' the other way in the airport when I came up to him," Washu Zebrastripe tells me, "And he stood up and turned around, and there I was. Like two inches from him.

"If he was nervous at all," Washu observes, "I scared it outta him."

"Scared me to death," Damien agrees. "But we hugged straight away."

I'm standing with the couple in their Second life home, but now that Damien is back in England, this is the closest they'll be together for the time being. Fate slips a series of digital photos into my archive, and when I open them, a cascade of images appear, documenting their time together in the material realm. (Which in this case, means a hotel near Washu's home.) I feel obliged to provide a running commentary as I flip through the images:

"Washu in the hotel!... Washu and Damien hugging!... ["We did that a lot," Fate interjects.] On the bed chillin'!.... Posing at the hotel, Damien looking somewhat like Elijah Wood in this shot... Damien with long sleeves, Washu looking beguiling!... Ah, the strong man pose, holding her up!" ["We had the same shot in Second Life," Fate explains, "so we did it real life."]

But since the story is fully theirs, perhaps it's better to let them finish it in their own words...

ON WHAT SURPRISED THEM MOST, SEEING EACH OTHER FOR THE FIRST TIME

Damien Fate:
Her eyes. They weren't as clear on camera, but they really grabbed
me in real life. The colour is a kind of grey/green which goes great
with her auburn hair.

Seeing her on Webcam and in pictures so much before meeting, there was no great big surprise when seeing her that first time-- other than that she looked even better... [Y]ou can only see someone online in two dimensions, it's not quite real...

So you build up an image in your mind of them in real life.

When you dream, you wonder. Is she really that pretty in real life? Is it even possible? I was pleasantly surprised by seeing first hand that, yes, she really is that beautiful.

But the main thing [about her eyes] was how I felt when I looked into them. It was a feeling I had waited for for a long time... We were already in love, it just felt like falling in love again when I saw her for the first time.

Washu Zebrastripe:
Hum... uh... Probably how comfortable he was with me, I expected him to be more shy about everything. It is a bit hard to tell how forward a person will be when you meet them online, you know?

But was she shy?

Hum, well. I was me. That's hard to explain, but I don't really think I was too shy about it. I mean, it's Damien. What do I need to be shy about?

ON WHAT THEY DID THEIR FIRST DAY TOGETHER, FROM THE AIRPORT ONWARD

Washu Zebrastripe:
Well, we ran outta the airport, 'cause he's been in the damn things for two days! We went to my car, and he tried to get in on the wrong side. I was very excited though!

I talked a bit about how I was glad he finally got here, and how bad I felt that I made him have to be in airport hell for two days.

And then we drove to the hotel. He was worried it wouldn't let him in at 11pm, and where he would go if they didn't. Well, they let us in, but they asked a lot of questions... His address, which was way too long for the computer, and they kept misspelling it. It wouldn’t take his zipcode at all, and his phone number was too long! They kept joking with us, and it was very amusing.

We got to the room and he asked to take a shower... I sat on the bed and watched TV. When he got out, we said "Yay!" And drove to get something to eat. Then we got to the restaurant and sat down... the waitress tried to mimic his accent, which she couldn't do. We laughed, and we grabbed each others' hands, and he kissed mine. It was just so exciting to see him in person. A relief, even. Because I've wanted to for SO long.

... and then [we] did some shopping together. First night together, and already acting all domestic.

ON THEIR FIRST REAL KISS

Damien Fate:
We were both hugging each other on my first night there. It was really late, about 4AM, I think. Washu layed down in bed and so did I. Then we kissed.

Washu Zebrastripe:
Then I fell asleep.


ON TAKING THINGS SLOW

Damien Fate:
Well, slow or fast depends on your views of online relationship. I think online things can become deeper quicker, but I can't say if we were going too slow or too fast... it was more a case of we were going at a pace which felt right for us. We knew after a couple of weeks of dating online that it would be cool to meet up, so that's when I bought the tickets forty nine days in advance. We thought that would give us even more time to get to know each other while we waited for the day to come when met... We went out on a LOT of dates, though.

Washu Zebrastripe:
We did. And we went to my mother's house. We went out to eat a lot. Fondue, Mexican, Mongolian... A walk along the river, to my favorite part of the city.

Damien Fate:
We even went to see a musical! The Producers by Mel Brooks. It was awesome, though. We got dressed up all smart for it, and were warmly welcomed for it.

A great final date. That was on Thursday-- I had to leave Friday morning.


ON THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING IN-WORLD, NOW THAT THEY KNOW EACH OTHER

Washu Zebrastripe:
I think we're more comfortable with each other, joke around a bit more? It's hard to tell so far, it's only been a few days.

Damien Fate:
[Being in] Second Life together is pretty much the same as it was before... we've always gotten on very well, so things haven't changed that much. But we're both happier.

ON WHERE THEY GO FROM HERE

Washu Zebrastripe:
Well, I want to go and try to live with him, in the UK. I don't like where I live and I love to travel anyways, so I think it would be fun to go over there. I don't know when it will be, we are working it out at the moment.

All I care about is seeing him again.

Never been [to England]! I’ve been to Canada a few times is all. I'm not scared... the change will be exciting. I can't get a job [there], but I make a bit off of Second Life... I make wigs. I sell a lot of them! I make about L$10,000 a week. Plus I can do little babysitting jobs and stuff that won't require a visa.

Who knows [when I go]! Before Christmas, I hope.

Damien Fate:
[S]he can legally stay in the UK for six months before having to return home again. But she can fly back to renew the six months visa. We'll be able to do that.

I have a good job in graphic design in real life, but Second Life provides a nice bit of pocket money... [I design] clothes mainly, but the latest things I have made and sold in collaboration with Fizik Baskerville as part of the avalon.brand are Kicks (prim shoes) and the avalon.mobile, which works as a portable photo album attached to your hip.

To legally work in the UK she would need a work permit, but they're difficult to get. Mainly you need to have a job lined up before you even enter the country (which is pretty hard) and there are sponsorships too, I think. It's not really as one way as that, we both also earn from Second Life.

We'd be supporting each other.

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Friday, September 24, 2004

FATE WAITS FOR WASHU

There's a curling white sculpture in the home that Damien Fate and Washu Zebrastripe share in Second Life. Used to be, it had a digital readout, floating above it, counting the days, hours, and minutes that Fate would fly from England to the heartland of the United States, to meet Washu for the first time, in their first lives. (More to the story here.)

"It counted down to the moment we met real life," Fate tells me. "It ended up being incorrect though, because my first flight out was delayed and then cancelled."

"How was the flight?" I ask him.

"After 24 hours [when] I finally got on the flight to America, it was OK."

And though you'd think the sculpture would now track the countdown to their next meeting, I notice it's counting in the negative, from their last meeting.

"We don't have a next date set," Damien Fate explains.

More-- much more-- next Monday.

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Thursday, September 23, 2004

THE TROUBLE WITH TELEHUBS

... illustrated in two screenshots.

Used to be, you could pretty much teleport from anywhere in the world to anywhere else in the world. Following the principles of smart growth urban planning, Linden Lab introduced the telehubs late last year, so now, when you teleport to a given location, you're actually transported to the nearest telehub, which is often hundreds of meters away from it. This means you have to travel the rest of that distance, on foot, flying, or in a vehicle-- while having a look at the neighborhood and its residents, the shops, the clubs, the art galleries, the game sites, and so on, along the way. Which is a great way of encouraging a sense of community and public space. (Unsurprisingly, it's also had the unforeseen consequence of driving up the real estate values for land near telehubs.)

And then there's that whole bodies-and-limbs-gruesomely-fusing-together-on-occasion deal to contend with, too.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

BURNING LIFE, BURNING EMBERS (PART III)

One of three final glimpses from the last Burning Life, featuring some of the most ambitious projects of the event, redolent with artistic and technical brilliance.

Blind Life by Icon Serpentine (with Casval Epoch and Spider Mandala)

I initially saw the framework for Icon's project hovering above Burning Life, and assumed it to be a maze in the sky. In later days, however, the maze was moved to ground level, and set within a large, dark chamber.

"What is Blind Life?", the project's explanation card asks rhetorically. "Part maze, part social commentary, part metaphor. Simply put, its creators feel it is the most difficult maze ever created in Second Life. From inside the Blind Life maze, you will be plunged into darkness, the only points of refference being the entrance, the exit, and your fellow explorers. Interior walls are unseen, the outside world is unseen. From the outside of Blind Life looking in, spectators will be able to see the various avatars blindly feeling their way through the maze and watch their progress.

"As a child," Serpentine tells me, recounting the trajectory of Blind Life, "I would often disappear into my own world and doodle, read, play with math forumlas, or listen to music... all of the things that usually kept me from having many friends. In this world though, one of my obsessions was drawing mazes. I would simply doodle them-- and when I really had time to build a complete one, they would be large -- spanning many pages -- and would have a complex set of rules and conditions for completing them. I'd often let the friends I did have try them out. They mostly enjoyed them, which pleased me greatly."

Years later, his passion for mazes had become an avocation. "[They] offer a complex parallel into many subjects such as logic, mathematics, geometry," Serpentine tells me, "and even farther-reaching subjects such as philosophy and psychology." So when he discovered that he'd won a plot in Burning Life, and made a few aborted attempts, his childhood obsession eventually clarified things for him.

"[A]fter several failed experiments I was sitting in a black inverted-face cube, wondering what I could turn it into, when the idea for Burning Life slowly formed in my head."

"There is no other space in the known universe in which BlindLife could be built," Serpentine enthuses later, "which makes it a unique work to begin with. Technically, it is a 90x90x90 meter maze construct consisting of 6 layers of traditional x/y plane mazes, each one inter-connected on the z plane at various points with ramps and/or pits. The maze itself is contained within an black inverted-surface cube (meaning that viewing the cube from the inside out one cannot see anything but black, but looking in you can see through the cube to the opposite face) and is entirely invisible."

Building the maze seems as taxing as trying to navigate it. "It was a complex process to map out six mazes (one of which was designed by Spider Mandala), cut each one up into nine pieces and map them out onto a 90 square meter grid of prims. [O]nce the floorplans were completed, Casval Epoch and myself built the walls, each floor being five meters in height. Once all six floors were completed, I began mapping out where the ramps would go from floor to floor, putting each one together... Once it was all assembled, we moved this enormous complicated structure inside the [black] cube -- which was no easy task itself -- and made it all invisible (we joked about how it's probably one of the most complicated builds in Second Life that no one will ever see)... A week later and after 28 hours of work, it was completed."

But the technical expertise that went into building Blind Life is just a means to an artistic end. "[T]he technology melts away into the metaphors this construct represents," Icon tells me. "[I]t lets [residents] experience something akin to a metaphor... [since] the maze represents the myriad choices we make and the confusion we sometimes feel when making them.

"[T]he 'maze' is only an element that makes up BlindLife," Serpentine adds. "When travelling inside the maze, it has been mentioned that the participant is practically blind-- they cannot see the walls or floors that make up the maze; they can only see blackness when they are alone in the maze. Being alone in the maze and trying to conquor it alone is an incredibly difficult task and is in fact nearly impossible... However, in life this is usually not the case." So too in Blind Life, where other avatars lost inside are visible to each other. "We have friends, familiar strangers, and complete strangers to help us navigate through the maze of life... and so we also have those same relationships to help avatars explore the maze of Blind Life. One may not be able to see the maze itself and may be travelling through it blindly, but they can see where other avatars are in space relative to them, and depending on their relationships with these other avatars, one may find help navigating the maze."

By Icon Serpentine's estimation, even bystanders outside the maze looking in are part of the interactive metaphor at play. "By watching this process, the observers are also participating in Blind Life and represent those of us outside the sphere of the people around us that are navigating complex choices together in life. The observers may represent those who've already navigated the maze and reached the solution and are observing others trying to follow the path they already solved. In another light, the observers may represent a distanced relationship -- perhaps by not participating and only observing, they represent those in our lives that can watch but not get involved directly with our choices."

According to Icon, only three residents have completed the maze: Kenzington Fairlight, Maxx Monde, and Toxius Stephanopolis. "It took approximately 46 minutes for Kenzington and Maxx, who was only a minute behind. Toxius finished in about 53 minutes." He grins proudly. "All of them said their brains nearly melted. Maxx claims he even nearly got dizzy from the mental power he had to exert."

Serpentine even had a chance to make some social observations, on the players who succeeded. "It was interesting," he says. "In some cases, there was some direct relationships forming where a leader emerged. In other instances, it was very subtle. You could see indirect relationships form in the maze as people used the position of others to help themselves navigate through the maze. These relationships were neat to watch because they didn't speak a word to eachother, but you could see who was following who. And these indirect relationships started forming seperate groups in the maze.... As people got to later levels, the groups started forming in hierarchies," he tells me, and smiles. "It was interesting enough that it might warrant further experiments."

Artistically, Icon Serpentine cites the works of David Anson Russo, and the science fiction cult film Cube, as inspiration. "Technically," he adds, "I'm influenced by topography, 3D geometry, and logic." And while Blind Life has disappeared along with Burning Life, Serpentine says it may make a reappearance in some other form. For now, then, it's just a matter of exploring the rest of world inside. Or, as the Blind Life notecard concludes, "In life, all that we have to go on to guide us is who we were, who we hope to become, where we have been and where we are going... All we have is where we were, where we're going, and those along the way with us."

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

BURNING LIFE, BURNING EMBERS (PART II)

One of three final glimpses from the last Burning Life, featuring some of the most ambitious projects of the event, redolent with artistic and technical brilliance.

"TAMED FRUSTRATION", an environmental sculpture piece by Lash Xevious.

"It was inspired by a dream I had not too long ago," Ms. Xevious explains. "In the dream I am in different roles. One roles was the girl looking into the box, while other times I was inside the box... And there was an instance where I was just this bodiless entity, observing the whole scene.

"The dream only inspired my build visually. What I wanted to express was the feeling I had from that dream and my surroundings. So mostly it was based on feelings of sadness and fear.

"This feeling that I wanted things out of my reach.

"I think it's my nature in wanting to have the ever vague Ideal. No matter how hard I strive for it, I may never be satisfied. And there's always that rude awakening... you get what you want, and it turns out not so great. I was also listening to my sentimental playlist [when I built it.] I tend to get nostalgic. And sappy. Bleh."

"[The texture for the sculpture was created] from pictures... [but the originals] don't look like [the finished work]. I go into Phtoshop and make the colours richer or add some lighting effects. I like to mess around with the texture filters and see what I come up with. The textures overall have a violet-ish tint to it; that's my colour of choice, I guess. They all have that tone."

Next: ringing in the new Burning Life...

Tiger Crossing's "MUSIC, BOXED", the sound-enabled interplay of falling metal spheres and resonant cylinders, which chime as they're struck. (And hurt you, if you happen to be in their way on the way down.)

"It's just a larger, grander offshoot of the Marimball instrument I made for last year's Burning Life," says Crossing, referring to a site still on display in Celadon. His abbrievated explanation for the building process:

"Create one 3x10x10 cylinder and script it to randomly rotate and position itself in a given 3D volume [in this case, the cage.] Shift-drag lots of copies. Move the few that intersect by hand.

"Create a temporary-on-rez physical sphere that fades into view on rez, and fades out when it drops below a certain altitude. Make a script to rez copies anywhere on a given plain (the top of the box). Ta-da...

"Only took a day or two to put together. Making the spheres damaging if they hit you was the final touch I liked... wild notes caged for your entertainment. Watch your fingers."

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Monday, September 20, 2004

BURNING LIFE, BURNING EMBERS (PART I)

One of three final glimpses from the last Burning Life, featuring some of the most ambitious projects of the event, redolent with artistic and technical brilliance.

THE BURNING BUILDING OF NEIL PROTAGONIST, featuring fully-animated flames and smoke.

"I initially had an idea for a temple of light for the plot," says Protagonist, "but I was just lacking inspiration on that piece... so I scrapped that idea and said, 'Hell, why not just burn a building?' since I am never at a lack for inspiration in torching things. I had done something similar for one of my [in-world] billboard ads; it was relatively easy, since most of the parts Nephilaine [Neil's partner] or I have created in the past. It was just a matter of assembling it all properly.

"The building itself was a store idea Nephi had built a while ago; it was handy, so I used it. The fire and smoke for the most part were particle systems (Hell Fire, in my stores). I created the smoke particle using a voxel system in a 3D package, then saved out an image and used that as a texture for the particles. The [animated flame] was created by pulling some fire out of a video capture of some fire.

"Also scattered throughout the building are animated texture fire cards-- I created the fire loop from a ground fire video capture taken from the Reel Fire set (Artbeats.com). I layered five fire cards deep with varying transparency to give it more depth. The overall effect was achieved by layering effect on top of effect.

"The shadows under everything were created by making a basic shadow map. Take a snapshot of whatever you want to make a shadow for by placing it on a white prim. Then in Photoshop, select the white portion. Invert it and fill it with black, then blur it, and use that as an alpha and fill the foreground layer pure black. This will give you a nice shadow, which is something that Second Life sorely lacks-- it really helps connect the building with the ground."

Next page: send in the cows...

THE UNHAPPY HAPPY COWS OF LISSE LIVINGSTON, tracing the life of a cow, from birth to reproduction to slaughter to consumption at a fast food franchise (which includes a working clock and sound effects of a cash register, ringing in the profits.)

"It was inspired by my feelings when I first saw the 'Happy Cows come from California cheese' ad on TV," Lisse tells me. "Coming from England, and now living near cattle farms where there is zero grass and massive overcrowding, the irony of the message seemed overwhelming. So I made an ironic Happy Cow life cycle build, ending in 'MacDonalds'.

"I am not a vegetarian and eat many fast food meals," Lisse acknowledges. " I simply wanted to dispel the myth that cows in California lead happy lives."

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Thursday, September 16, 2004

BURNING MAN, BURNING LIFE (PART III)

Further glimpses from the now-yearly event; Part One here, Part Two here.

Last Friday, the Man went up in flames, accompanied by the usual dancing and carrying on, though the site itself wasn't disassembled until early this week. Some more annotated glimpses, taken in the days before the carnival folded up and went home, until next year.

- First two screenshots: the official Immolation of the Man, as hosted by Nova Linden. (Souvenir coins of the event available in a kiosk afterward.)

- Second column, first screenshot: Taylor Thompson's Giant Baby diorama.

- Second column, second screenshot: Digby Boffin's man-sized maze.

"I didn't have much in mind when I started," Boffin tells me, "but I did want to make the connection between life and a hamster maze. You know how sometimes the choices we make really aren't our choices but someone else's? That's all I really wanted to convey. I put the exercise wheel in there later to reinforce the illusion. Did you get a chance to go through it? It was big enough to walk and fly through..."

- Third column, first screenshot: Crackula Cunningham's morbid diaroma of ravenous beasts emerging from beneath the city streets.

"Basically," says Cunningham explaining his inspiration, "it was just me having fun... I originally had three or four concepts I considered, even started out with a different scene entirely the first day.

"I decided to go with what comes naturally, and, well... natural to me is generally kinda creepy, kinda comedic scenes of horror. Several of my favorite films are zombie/apocalyptic type films, especially Romero's trilogy and [Mario] Bava's Demons 1 and 2, and I've often drawn similar scenes in my art (had a few stories published in the horror comic Fleshrot-- cheap plug, I know.)

"So, basically, this was a comfy build for me; familiar territory. And I'm happy with how it came out, I suppose (especially the last day, when the plot magically allowed for 13000 prims and I really got to go nuts on it.) But I already have ideas for a couple more expansive/challenging builds that I'd love to have at, if invited to participate next year."

- Third column, second screenshot: Gattz Gilman's temple of fire, known as the Unholy Black Rock

"I've always liked the dark arts," Gilman says, "medieval times, video games about vampires (like Legacy of Kain, Blood Reaver). I had recently finished building my new home in Zuni, with a similiar look as the Unholy Black Rock. (Oh, and by the way, I'd like to thank Jimmy Thompson, he is the one that provided me with a texture that started it all.)

"Pretty much what happened was that I had applied for Burning Life, [but] was not picked at the drawing. A couple days later while I was working on my house I received an IM from Nova Linden asking me if I wanted to build for BL, and my response was pretty much 'HELL YEAH!'. I teleported there as fast as I could, and first idea that popped in my head was 'temple'. So, my BL build is kinda based on my house.

"My Burning Life build doesn't really express anything. The name of it I got from the name of the sim 'Black Rock' and since I had blood flowing everywhere, I added 'Unholy'.

"Second Life for me has been a place where I have an easier time creating. In real life, when I want to draw something, it doesn't come out good. There have only been a few times where I was able to draw what I wanted. SL takes this barrier away."

(Gilman also wants to add the following disclaimer: "No humans, animals or avatars were hurt in the making of this SL Build.")

- Fourth column, two screenshots: Ulrika Zugzwang's Space Elevator, carrying you hundreds of meters above Burning Life, and beyond the stratosphere.

"The idea to make a space elevator for my Burning Life project came from the unification of [the Burning Life region's] Two-Cows' 'futuristic' theme," Ulrika explains, "and the real-world Burning Man festival's 'Vault of Heaven' theme. Additionally, I wanted to contrast the structure with other builds by creating a unique, soaring vertical structure similar to the Burning Man figure itself."

"In the beginning," she adds, "I had plans for a project with a controversial message but became distracted with the joy of making planets, rockets, and comets. Thus, the top floor of the space elevator evolved into an immersive planetary diorama.

"The build was relatively simple, utilizing almost exclusively spheres and cylinders covered with freely availably space textures. My favorite components of the build were the three outer cylinders which gave the illusion of moving into and being in space. The first cylinder had a texture moving from transparent to black, the second cylinder had a texture moving from black to stars, and the final cylinder was covered completely in stars."

To make sure I've made my best effort to capture Burning Life in all its deranged, brilliant, wild mind creativity, I'll extend coverage into next week, with special attention given to some of the most ambitious projects of the event (by my lights, at least) in a series called, appropriately enough, Burning Embers...

Posted at 01:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (61) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

THE EVER EXPANDING SL-BLOGOSPHERE

... At this point, I'm tempted to pronounce that "sblog-o-sphere", and hope the word catches on in everyday in-world conversation. Just added links to four more non-Linden Lab blogs that are devoted largely or wholly to the world of Second Life: Gwyn's Home by Gwyneth Llewelyn, Second Life & Times of Olympia Rebus (written by same), Atomic Robot by Osprey Therian, and Second-Rate Dresses by Zana Feaver. (Left sidebar, scroll down past the archive and favorite hits links.) As with the other blogs that came before it, they're worth at least one visit, and probably much more.

Funny thing: I was already a fan of numerous blogs even before I took this gig at Linden Lab, and I still check my favorites daily-- everything from politics to the game industry to quirky personal journals. But at twenty-plus, the number of blogs I now read that are devoted to Second Life will soon surpass the number of blogs I read that are devoted to, you know, the real world.

Posted at 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack