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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

FOXY'S SELF-FINANCED HOUSE OF HORROR!

A young small business owner with a weakness for Manolo Blahniks decided that she wanted to create an installation unlike anything she was familiar with in Second Life, one that would preferably feature zombies and blood-sucking ghouls. So she plunked down $400 of her own money to rent the land she needed for what she had in mind, and then converted $400 more, to hire the staff to make it happen. Just the thing for Halloween, Sim Horror is a macabre, sci-fi tinged adventure (if it was a standalone videogame, it would easily fit in the genre known as survival horror.) It begins in a chamber of dancing flames, with a corridor that takes you past a graveyard and an industrial area full of rusty machinery, all beneath a foreboding sky.

“We tried to create like an abandon-type feel to this area,” Ms. Xevious tells me. “It’s all inside of a cube underwater, to give it that creepy feel it has.”

I’ll hold off on revealing too much of Sim Horror’s story, but it involves a satanically-cursed town with blood-splattered homes, near an evil creek and a death valley maze, all swarming with dangers that must be avoided, and a series of goals that must be accomplished, before you’re able to confront the source of all the evil plaguing the town, in the bowels of hell itself. (Using Second Life’s XML functionality, player scores are recorded and displayed on a website, tallying items collected and goals met, with the winner taking a cash prize exceeding 20,000 Linden Dollars-- or well over $100, at current market rates.)

Foxy counts Sim Horror a success; as of late yesterday, with a week of operation left, it’s attracted 669 ticket-buying residents. But at just L$75 a shot, she won’t be making anything like what she spent to put it all together, or even for the leasing of SimQuest and Jamaica, the two simulators she owns, or the Linden Dollars she spent, to pay a thirty-plus staff that includes builders, scripters, writers-- and bouncers.

“I don’t mind paying the monthly fees,” Foxy explains. “I had to pay off all my workers and scripters. Yeah, I pay them, [and] some of them have land on one of my sims. I don’t build, I don’t script, but I love to plan, and create up ideas, and have people [build] them for me.”

When Foxy Xevious first came to Second Life, she actually hadn’t planned on building something so ambitious.

“I came here and didn’t even know you could do [something like] this," she says. "I did the going-to-clubs at first, and then after awhile, I just wanted to do something more to keep me busy and having fun.” Now, she says, “I barely ever leave my sims.” Because by then, she had noticed that so many other residents were also spending most of their time in nightclubs, too, and in shopping malls, as well—and she wanted more.

“I see a lot of sims right now and they are all doing the same things,” she tells me. “All that space just to do the same things.”

“Well,” I observe, “nightclubs and malls tend to be real popular.”

Ms. Xevious nods, and presses the issue. “But I think there needs to be an equal balance of things. I think clubs and malls already have a high percentage of Second Life. I’m sure there’s a lot more that can be done here if people wanted to.” So SimHorror is something of a clarion call. “My plan was NOT to do clubs, or casinos,” she says, “or everything that is out there [already]. My plan was to inspire people to try different things. Not everyone has the money for sims, but even if they buy land next to each other, they could pull off more group projects.”

“There have been a lot attempts to create a themed area like yours,” I say cautiously, “and even a few with a game component, but they haven't sustained. People go, enjoy-- then go back to the nightclubs and the malls.” And that’s true enough, in terms of sheer numbers: Second Life employs a metric called Dwell to monitor foot traffic at sites and events, and as I write this, on October 25th, 18 of the top 20 sites are, in fact, nightclubs or shopping malls.

“Oh cool,” says Xevious. “So I did something not a lot of people do.”

“The challenge," I continue, "has been to create a game or theme area that people keep going back to, again and again.” I mention ‘Dark Life’ by example, an impressive attempt at creating an in-world RPG, which did enjoy a brief surge in popularity for a time, then gradually tapered off, in later months.

“Well,” she replies, “I can tell you this. People keep coming over and over, and bring their friends.”

If she’s phased by my attempt to flick a few cold drops of pragmatism her way, she doesn’t show it. Then again, it could be that the confidence is earned. In her first life, Foxy Xevious runs a title business she owns. “I work from home,” she says. “I handle a lot of requests from major banks, lenders, etc. I subcontract the work out, [the vendors] charge me, and I charge my clients my fees… I have over a thousand vendors, all in the USA.”

“OK, don't be offended, but you look pretty young in your First Life profile to have a thousand contractors!”

Ms. Xevious chuckles. “I’m 28. And it’s me and my sister who work together and started this—I’ve been doing it for about five years, and I have a lot of free time, [though] it requires a lot of time on the phone talking to my clients.” And while she talks to banks and such, her bloody vision keeps on cooking up in the computer nearby.

Next up for Bedazzled, the group she heads up and finances: “’Project Unreal’, we call it. It’s gonna be about three-four levels… sort of like Unreal Tournament. I want to dabble with some effects.” (Yet another attempt to recreate the first-person shooter experience in Second Life.)

“I’m just good with ideas. Not with making things. I need a team for that,” says Foxy. Now out of her skeleton and troll avatar forms, she’s a svelte woman with long dredlocks and a glittering silver belt. “This is all new to me. I never thought I would invest so much money into a game. My family thinks I’m crazy, but they know that I enjoy it and have a good time.”

I ask her if she spends so much money on material expenses, and she laughs.

“Only on shoes. I love shoes," Ms. Foxy Xevious tells me, standing there deep within the bowels of hell. "I have over a hundred pairs.”

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Comments

I've gotta say, this is THE best sim project I have seen in a very long time. I have returned on more than one occassion and even dragged people along with me, made beleivers of them ;)

The first dead town is a marsterpeice, so much attention has gone into every little bit of detail and a lot of well thought out features.

Congrats, Foxy, and I hope that you take on another sim-wide project again in the nearby future!

Posted by: Damien Fate at Nov 1, 2004 5:40:18 AM

I've gotta say, this is THE best sim project I have seen in a very long time. I have returned on more than one occassion and even dragged people along with me, made beleivers of them ;)

The first dead town is a marsterpeice, so much attention has gone into every little bit of detail and a lot of well thought out features.

Congrats, Foxy, and I hope that you take on another sim-wide project again in the nearby future!

Posted by: Damien Fate at Nov 1, 2004 5:41:07 AM

SimHorror was a truly excellent build--it's amazing what you can do when you've got lots of prims to work with. I visited on Halloween night and was treated to a pleasurable eye-gouging as well as ear-boxing. Very creative work. I noticed a couple tips of the hat to the Silent Hill horror game series--nice!

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