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Friday, February 25, 2005

THE GATES COME TO SECOND LIFE

The thing that people seem to love most about The Gates in Central Park is, it brings people together. Stockbrokers and artists, working class families and socialites in Prada, everyday people of New York all come together and share the same experience, as brought to them by the mad vision of Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude.

After Aestival Cohen and her friend Lex Neva launched their own Gates project in Second Life, the everyday people of Second Life showed up too: a samurai warrior, a little girl with Margaret Keane eyes, a space commando and his dropship, an industrial designer with two adjustable chairs in his pocket, a transformer robot, a half-naked man with massive pecs, a furry in a flying vintage automobile, and so on.

And this is more or less what inspired Aestival to bring her tribute to Christo's Gates here.

"It's not about a message or an idea," she tells me. "It's a thing that we all share in doing that then makes an experience. An experience that's bright, beautiful, loud, garish, occasionally buggy, awesomely big, and a real group achievement." (And a first-person video capture of that experience is available for download here.)

All this is why I'm standing with Ms. Cohen and Ms. Neva on the highest hill on the island simulator of Briarcliff Manor, surrounded by dozens of orange arches with saffron sheets billowing in the wind. Aestival looks like a tiny schoolgirl with wide eyes, which is disconcerting in itself, because when I last saw her, she was a giant fur beast of indeterminate gender publicly advocating for George W. Bush.

"We want to set them up everywhere!" She enthuses. "Christo covered Central Park-- we'd like to extend his achievement to cover an entire WORLD!"

Creating the Gate frames wasn't difficult, but creating a fabric that would respond in real time to the wind currents of Second Life was (and those who can do without the technical explanation may want to skip the next three paragraphs):

"We started with Aestival's idea to just have them appear to flap by cycling transparency," says Lex, but "it just didn't look very good. So I made one that was just a flat curtain that swayed in the wind, and then I had the idea to combine the two methods. [Each arch] chooses which prim to make visible by checking the rotation speed. So each one has five prims, and depending on how fast it's swinging... it changes the shape accordingly, so that it looks like it's billowing in the wind."

"So the effect is sort of like a persistence of vision trick," I interpret, "with versions of the curtain displayed according to how the prim is being affected physically?"

"Yeah," Lex answers. "While you see what looks like a flexible piece of fabric bending in the wind... what's actually happening is that it's just a simple object swinging back and forth, and changing its shape to look like it's bending. And really great prims!" she adds, grinning at Aestival. "She did the prims."

Aestival says the in-world audience reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, though she was surprised by the rancor which followed, when she announced them on Second Life's conference forums.

There, she says, "The response was mostly negative, [but] focused on the real life Gates! Honestly that surprised me (and made me sad, even though the criticism wasn't at us directly)-- I would have thought they'd be more supportive and open-minded. Folks I've seen defend controversial art before really seemed to have it in for the Gates!"

Aestival thinks the contrast of reactions is due to the "in person" nature of people communicating in-world, versus the text-only back and forth of a discussion forum.

"[B]ecause in Second Life," she says, "the folks who didn't much care for the real life Gates were always much more open, willing to discuss and respect other points of view and just generally be polite."

In another Forum topic, some members of a democratically run artistic community voiced their support for hosting the Gates in their public space-- then debated whether this could be done according to their existing constituional regulations, or would require a new provision to be drafted and voted on.

"[I]n this little part of Second Life it's gonna take more 'red tape' than it did for the real life one!" Aestival muses. "I've heard people complain about how we keep building in real life terms (roofs, floors, walls) in Second Life-- now I realize it's not just our houses, but our groups and relationships."

For their part, Aestival Cohen and Lex Neva continue to distribute copies of their Gates to residents who will take them, in hopes of spreading them across the world. (For example, they sent one to the owner of an island called New York City, a replica of Manhattan which does not, as yet, have a Central Park.)

"This is just a start," Aestival promises.

"Basically," adds Lex, "my hope is that they begin to spread themselves."

For now, though, the Gates are most pervasive on the private island of Briarcliff Manor. For now, as it turns out, but not for long.

I found that out when I was taking photos of a knight in shining armor and a transformer robot, posing near a circle of Gates near Briarcliff's shore. On the foothill behind them, I noticed, were two statue copies of themselves, holding up protest signs.

"So what's the story about the sign up there with you two?"

"The SOS sign? Well, Briar is the place we've hung out a long time," explains Zekeen Phoenix, shifting in his metal carapace, "but tomorrow, it's being sold to Anshe Chung. So we're losing the place we've been for months. So we got the Save Our Sim signs just because we're so distressed... just imagine a small town getting demolished. Same principle here."

"They are almost as beautiful as some of my Sale signs," Anshe says of the Gates, grinning. I've invited her over to Briarcliff, to get her side on the purchase of the island, which she already surveys with a proprietary air. She's a delicate Asian woman, somewhat resembling Hong Kong film star Maggie Cheung. She also happens to be one of the most successful real esate speculators in Second Life, and she's planning to turn Briarcliff into a themed community.

"What about the Gates, Anshe?" I ask. "Will you get rid of those too, after you take ownership?"

"Mmmm, maybe I replace them with For Sale signs," she replies, then chuckles.

"Seriously," she continues, "I plan to have the sim reformated before I take ownership... and I don't see how Briarcliff [as it exists] could be continued in a viable way."

"But how about a work of art like the Gates here, Anshe? No room for that in your plans for Briarcliff?"

"No," Anshe Chung answers, grinning. "I am evil business girl who forces sims to finance themselves."

Continued next week...

Second screenshot in left column by Aestival Cohen.

2/25/05: By request of the resident, Lex Neva's gender designation corrected.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

MOE, FEW, AND THEIR CONTINENTAL JAZZ COMBO (UPDATED)

Coming to you live from two states and two countries, a night of smooth jazz in Clyde (bandwidth permitting)...

Though her name suggests otherwise, Jazz Gillespie wasn't actually a fan of jazz or the chimpmunk-cheeked trumpet master, before she came to Second Life. A resident from the American South (her in-world home is a replica of a traditional plantation estate), Ms. Gillespie's tastes in music actually ran more to classical, oldies, and country. (She originally chose "Jazz", she tells me, because that happens to be her real life granddaughter's nickname.)

"I never really listened to it," she acknowledges, "but was invited to one of Astrin's concerts." She did, and prompty fell in love with the form. "Now I... play jazz on my land at times," she says laughing, "and have started collecting it in real life."

By "Astrin", she means resident Astrin Few, and by concert, she means just that-- a live jazz guitar performance, streamed from Astrin's home into a Second Life space, played before a live audience of residents. Astrin has been playing live shows since last April, and moreso since June, when the release of version 1.4 enabled streaming audio in-world. (Though Astrin's experience with performing music online preceded even that, such as the songs he produced with a vocalist via Internet Relay Chat.)

In the beginning, his in-world gigs were solo shows-- until a resident with a named inspired by The Simpsons and a post-graduate education in music stumbled into them.

Back in October, says Flaming Moe, "I searched Events for 'jazz' one day... and found 'Astrin Few, Live at Clementina'. I had to check it out to see if it was some sort of joke or the real deal. Sure enough, he was streaming live at the park and sounded great. He even took requests!"

Moe and Few shared notes, honed their chops, and two Sundays ago, debuted an in-world first, from a forest-shrouded stage in Clive*: a live combo performance, with Astrin in the Midwest, Moe on the East Coast, and their sound engineer Catja LaFollette in Canada. The show was attended by a capacity crowd dressed in their night life finest. A striking redhead named Nethermind Bliss whirled alone for awhile on the dance floor, but was quickly joined there by some dozen jazz enthusiasts, including a green-eyed panther in a tuxedo.

I was on hand to take some video footage of the show-- very short clips here and and here. (Since I shot these in FRAPS, a third party video capture program, you'll probably need to download and install the free version, to view them. Though as with all third party programs, caveat emptor.) With the simulator that hosted the performance so crowded, lag tended to bring interaction and graphics down to a crawl during the concert. Fortunately, as the videos also attest, the lag didn't impede audio quality.

"I use a high quality 24 bit soundcard with many inputs," says Moe, "so I have a lot of control over my sound interface. I use a Shure SM57 microphone with a Digitech RP-7 effects processor (normally used for guitars, but that's where my source for reverb, delay, and various other settings come from that I use to tweak sound quality.)" On hand near this setup are his three saxophones, a clarinet, and flute, and an Alesis QS 8.2 keyboard. "It's not a complicated setup," concludes Moe, who in real life is currently completing a Masters degree in Studio Jazz Saxophone at a nearby college, and maintains a site showcasing his real life music career here.

For Astrin's part, "My studio has a computer against a wall under a stained glass window." Near that, a four track and mixer. "My guitar pre-amp is on the desk to the right of the monitor," he tells me. "It's a bit cramped, and some day I'd like to get set up so I could play more erect on a stool with a music stand, like I do in real life performance, but having to focus on the computer for Second Live forces you to scrunch in a bit." Few has played live (and in person) with a trio around his town, and features his own original music here, and keeps track of audience attendance at his Second Life performances via his Shoutcast streaming server here. "You'll note that interest has been steadily building, especially since the beginning of Fall," he says of it. "Also note that club gigs tend to have more 'listeners'-- that's because there's a lot more turnover, people coming and going. My Clementina Park shows, and of course the Sunday night duo concert, tend to have a smaller number of people that come explicitly to hear the show, often in its entirety."

As that suggests, their performances have developed a dedicated and sizeable in-world fan base, over the months.

"Astrin and I started a Jazz Enthusiasts group," says Moe, "which is open enrollment for anyone to join. All we did was plug the group every show, and when Astrin played I would invite people. We now have over 150 members, plus over 150 members with the other related groups, like the Astrin Listeners, Sunset Jazz group, and various other people that we have met. Live music in Second Life is a special thing and I'm glad people recognize that."

All of this, of course, leaves unexplained how they managed an in-sync performance, triangulated across the distance of thousands of miles between several states and two countries.

"Well, if I told you," Flaming Moe warns me, "I'd have to kill you..." He laughs. "This is the last thing I'll say about it... it's something that Second Life doesn't provide. Not your fault. It's very hard to create."

Now I'm begging. "Gimme a hint!"

Moe just laughs again. "You're hilarious. Thanks for the interview, though."

"The process is similar to streaming a solo performance," Astrin tells me, equally obscure, "just more complex. We'll leave it as a homework problem to the reader to figure out how we do it-- it's a good puzzle for Second Lifers, and Internet junkies in general, and we enjoy the mystique." When I ask her, engineer Catja LaFollette is similarly demure, affirming only that she did, indeed, mix the session from Canada. (My own theory, for what it's worth, involves nothing more complicated than the three of them on a cellphone conference call, the musicians' phones propped up near their instruments, while hearing each other play via the phone's ear bubs. But again, just a blind guess.)

Most of the duo's playlist are classic jazz standbys, but on that Sunday, Astrin and Moe closed the show with an original composed by Few-- "Padova", which, thanks to the musicians, cua Curie who filmed it, and the DMCA which allows it, I'll be able to feature later this week. (Soon as Linden Lab can upload it to their site.)**

"I wrote 'Padova' during the summer of '92," say Astrin, "when I was working in Padova, Italy, and just getting into bossa and jazz. I'm not sure what inspired it other than just the mood I was in one day, sittting on the balcony of our apartment, feeling like things were kind of picking up as the summer was heating up-- that's the feel of the song."

*2/24, 12:30PM: The combo show was in Clyde, not Clementina, as originally implied in the subtitle (now changed). Astrin writes in with the correction: "The duo concert was actually in Clyde, at Clovers, hosted by Drift Monde and cua Curie. My weekly solo show is at Clementina Park. [Drift and cua] worked very hard on that build, so I'd want to make sure that the location is correct..." - HL

** 2/24, 12:35PM: And "Padova" is now available here, in Windows Media. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

GLOSSING IT OVER: A NEW WORLD NOTES JARGON WIKI

An alphabetical guide to Second Life-specific terms* frequently used in New World Notes...

Ghost - The remnants of a prim (see below) that has been deleted from the server's dataset, but due to packet loss has not been deleted from the client's dataset. Ghosts cannot be moved or deleted, but must be flushed from the client cache by an avatar moving a far enough distance or relogging. (Def. contribued by Olmy Seraph, 3/02/05)

In-world - The state of being online in Second Life.

Lag - In general, network congestion which slows down communcation between client and server. Specifically to Second Life, lag is typically caused when an excess of residents (see below), prims (see below), or active scripts exist in a given simulator (see below). (Def. added 2/23/05.)

Leader Boards - A regularly updated, automatic ranking system which posts a list of the top Residents (see below) in various categories, such as Wealth and Land Owned. All residents have access to these names and figures via the SecondLife.com website and through a button the Second Life interface. (Def. added 3/2/05.)

Linden (noun) - Singular, refers to an employee of Linden Lab. Plural, refers to Linden Lab staff or more generally to Linden Lab policy or policy implementation (e.g., "The Lindens just changed the cost of rating people.")

Linden Dollar (or L$) - The official in-world currency. Often bought and sold for real US dollars via third parties, the current market exchange rate according to Gaming Open Market (as of 2/22/05) is US$4.02 for L$1000.

- Poseball (noun) - An object embedded with a custome pose script, designed so that when a Resident sits on it, their avatar is automatically put into that pose. (E.G., a slouch.) (Added 4/08/05)

Prim (noun) - Fundamental building blocks which are comprise the basis of all in-world creations. Originally rezzed (see below) as a primary shape such as a cube, cylinder, or sphere, a prim can have its form altered, its surface textured, and its physical composition changed in an infinite number of ways. Most in-world (see above) objects are comprised of several prims linked together.

Prims can be set to respond to the physical forces of Second Life, including gravity and wind. They can also be turned invisible, or made visible but without physical substance. (Added 2/25/05)

Resident (noun) - Paying subscriber to Second Life. (Def. added 2/23/05)

Rez (verb) - "[Origin: the movie Tron. Derived from 'de-rez' - a fictional hacker term for an object losing resolution, or dissolving away.] - to create an object or to bring an object out of your inventory. To make something appear in the world. - Kathy Yamamoto"+

Simulator (noun) - Often abbreviated as "sim", a discrete area of in-world (see above) geography, approximately 16 acres in size, contained on a single server. (Also refers to the space directly above and the area below the simulator's perimeter.) Most simulators are physically linked together, to create a single, contiguous continent.

* Rather than defining each common SL-specific term every time they appear in a New World Notes entry, I'll simply link them to this guide. I will also be treating this glossary as a kind of mini wiki quasi wiki, so if you have a term and a definition you want to add to it, please post it in the Comments section below, and when appropriate, I'll add it to the entry proper, with full credit given.

+ Definition taken from Kathy Yamamoto's Second Life Glossary, an in-world document first reported on in New World Notes, 10/22/03.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

GONZO, RIP: A NEW WORLD NOTES EULOGY

I relied on his influence most in the beginning of New World Notes, when I was first trying to figure out how to be a journalist in a world full of stories that somehow seemed both stranger and more real than anything I'd written about before. When the late Hunter S. Thompson covered a subject, he made himself a part of it, and somehow, with all that crazed, intrusive brilliance of his, you got a sense that he helped you understand things more than you ever would, otherwise. It's why I took him as a journalistic inspiration-- and when the topic called for it (as featured here and here, and pictured here and here), it's why I took him on, as an inspiration for my avatar. Now that the real Thomspon is gone, I'll probably discontinue using that avatar for the forseeable future. But when I last brought my HST out of inventory, I had him hugging a babe at a firing range-- which is, when you think about it, actually not a bad way to remember him. So here's to Gonzo, who'll always be remembered as a role model of mine in both worlds.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

LINK OF THE WEEK!

As impressive as U:SL is, it shouldn't eclipse all the other fine resident-developed games in-world. Fortunately, veteran game developer Pirate Cotton just created a wiki designed to keep track of them all. Only a week or so after its inception, the wiki is already a plethora of game listings (over 75 in all), divided according to genre: Action, Adventure, Casino, and so on, some still in development, others already well-established hits. It's looking like the ideal place to keep track of SL game development, and because it lists landmarks, too, it's also a great guide to consult if you're looking for a night of in-world gaming.

Visit Pirate's Game Slave here.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

SHOOTING TO KILL: BEDAZZLE'S U:SL

Four months fighting lag, stubborn code, and family crises to create Second Life's first full-featured, multiplayer first-person shooter. (Previous projects from the "Shooting to Kill" series covered here and here.)

I first decided to write something about U:SL sometime last November, I think, right after I heard the howling wind and the crunching snow. Those were some of the sound effects Team Bedazzle had already incorporated into their Winter Ice Cathedral map on the simulator of Abraxas, and it was touches like that which convinced me that something truly ambitious was in the making. Since then, Linden Lab has put some indirect promotional punch behind U:SL, featuring it with some in-game screenshots and a trailer (both of which I ended up contributing some post-reportage assistance in creating.) But back in November, of course, the game was still an unknown quantity-- and for that matter, was still referred to as Project Unreal, in tribute to the classic FPS Unreal Tournament.

In gameplay, U:SL resembles a cross between Unreal Tournament and Halo, with the gritty, big-chested firepower of the former, and the slower paced, low-gravity combat of the latter. (And this last element is more a server-side issue-- since all objects and avatars in Second Life are streamed, the average frame rate runs considerably lower than most current shooters.) Now in publicly playable open Beta, U:SL is the work of nearly fifty residents from around the world, its four month development cycle a history of setbacks, workarounds, and for at least one key developer, emotional ordeal.

What follows are a few milestones along the way, as told by three members of Bedazzle's core team.

FROM A WALK IN THE DUCK PARK TO A SPRINT ON RAINY STREETS

"[A]s we worked on Sim Horror," Bedazzle leader and financier Foxy Xevious tells me, "I was trying to figure out what path I wanted to take next for my next project. I remember talking to Yadni [Monde] on ideas and he suggested a shooting game." After mulling the concept over, she decided this where she'd invest her time and money (at the time, Foxy leased several simulators from Linden Lab.) At first, her plan was to create three themed combat areas: a snow-covered castle, a jungle, and a cityscape. Led by Bedazzle's chief artist Jimmy Thompson, the team began work on these environments.

"The snow level was impressive from day one of being built," says Foxy, but "the jungle was scratched 'cause it kept looking more like a romantic park where people go to feed the ducks. So I wasn't impressed with that... and then with a little nagging from me, I suggested to Jimmy [that] we start working on a city." They pored over urban photographs, and Jimmy was fixated on one depicting rain-swept streets. "I agreed and said 'Let's make a Chinatown...'"

THE TOWN BENEATH THE TOWN

"I tried to recreate the high density ambiance of the night life of the Chinatown streets we have on every big city," Jimmy Thompson tells me. To do that, he created a new weather system-- also used in the winter map-- and a series of lighting effects which would illuminate the streets in a unique way. But in Chinatown, perhaps the most striking effect is the reflection you see in the streets themselves, in the ghostly reflection in the puddles. While some graphic engines are pre-engineered to generate mirror effects, Second Life's does not.

So Jimmy Thompson created his own.

"Creating a reflective surface inside SL is a simple techinque that can be used for many purposes," Thompson tells me. "Inside Chinatown, I created a mirror duplicate of every 'important' object that needed to appear in the reflection effect. The puddles that we see in the street of Chinatown are transparent regions inside the ground texture." In other words, you're actually not seeing reflections at all, but looking down at exact copies in reverse.

During the open Beta of Chinatown, a griefer smuggles in a contraband "push" gun and shoots me with it, tossing me hundreds of meters up and out of the town. Which turns out to be a good thing, because it gives me a chance to see what Jimmy's talking about from a new angle, when I land.

"And now that I'm looking at [Chinatown] from outside," I tell Jimmy, "I noticed that it's actually floating in the air. Why is that?"

"Chinatown has its own replica 'under' the street level in order to create the reflection effect," he says. "There is a HUGE black box containing a replica of all major object to create the reflection. All those object are simpler versions with small texture and in phantom mode." Jimmy grins. "Not the whole town, but all the object that I wanted to get reflected. I'd say 25% of it."

ON THE NOSE CODE

"The whole thing includes a very large amount of scripts, designs, and techniques I had to shove together to make work," Crystalshard Foo tells me. Ms. Foo is Bedazzle's chief coder, whose job it was to jigger the in-world Linden Script Language into something that would resemble a shooter, including multiple weapons, hit points, scoring, and classic game modes like Capture the Flag.

"The game itself was designed to be modular," says Foo. "Weapons can be specificed and added easily. A script is available that can make any weapon compatible with the game in some way... So once the official U:SL project is over, we'll see about letting additional third-party weapons in the game." (U:SL's native hardware were primarily developed by master weaponatrix Francis Chung.)

When you begin a game of U:SL, you attach a small pyramid to yourself, which floats right in front of your face. "The pyramid functions as both your game client ('life pack') and HUD," Foo explains. And as it happens, it's fitted to sit right in front of your nose. "The reason being that when you go [into first-person] mouselook, even if you choose to keep your avatar visible, all head attachments go invisible." What they wanted was a heads-up display (keeping track of hits points and the like) which was visible even in first-person mode-- something that was also not part of Linden Lab's base code. The workaround here is a see-through helmet device which holds the pyramid and its game data in place, dangling in front of you, even in first-person. "Less pretty," she acknowledges, "but it works!"

Once attached, the pyramid turns the plethora of guns and effects into a full-fledged game. "[T]he lifepack both maintains connections with the server over the network," says Foo, "and acknowledge incoming damage events generated by gun bullets. In effect, all the active objects in the game talk with each other. Local events (gun bullets, life/shield pick-ups, etc) are handled locally. Global events (flag captured, game start/stop, player got fragged) are sent to the server for acknowledgement before being processed, confirmed, and broadcasted to everyone else." (U:SL's scoring system was designed by a Till Stirling of Silverday Production-- which means, yes, not only are there resident game developers in Second Life, there are middleware developers, too.)

In all this, Crystalshard Foo believes she's developed a viable alternative to the installed combat system created by Linden Lab, which simply keeps track of hit point damage, and teleports dead residents back to their pre-set home location. "Which-- let's admit it-- is very limited and sometimes just downright annoying."

Despite all this innovation, it's U:SL's in-world server-- represented in the game by a humble laptop near the simulator teleport entry points-- that Cystalshard Foo is most proud of. "I had to actually sit down and design a full-scale network protocol for this thing," Foo says. "It was very educational and, of course, loads of fun." She grins broadly. "Sometimes during the development I turned on Debug output just to get warm fuzzies in my heart. (Much to the cringe of everyone nearby.)"

THE INTERNATIONAL LABOR OF LOVE

"We started the project in October," Jimmy tells me, "so it's took a total of five months to get the final result. I'd say that I invested around 20 hours a week in the project." This, after his real life work running a small French Canadian company that develops software for regulating maritime traffic. "3D is a passion for me," he says. "I strongly believe that if we work all together we could reach a level of visual apparence equivalent to the other major online games."

Crystalshard Foo, who logs into Second Life from somewhere in Israel, declines to say what she does for a living-- except to say it isn't programming and it isn't game development. "Its not my job-- that'll ruin the fun... Thing is, I have a good sense of observation. I am good at 'reverse engineering'. So I learned the concepts of play by playing these games... [then] learned how they did it and used it to make my own."

How many hours per week did he spend working on U:SL, on average?

"Almost every waking hour since December, as long as I was near a 3D and Net-capable PC," she answers. "When I code a project I am obsessed. When I am at the computer, I code. When I am not on the editor, I code in notepad. When I am not at the computer at all, I code mentally. (I once went as far as code on a restaurant napkin, but that's an entirely different story.)"

THE HEART OF BEDAZZLE

Even before U:SL's public release, Foxy Xevious found herself fielding offers from professional developers/filmmakers. "We are waiting everything out to see what our option are at the end," she says. Throughout its development, she has always described the project as something without commercialism as a main goal; something that she and her team made for the sheer love of the doing, and the chance to share it with the Second Life community. In Foxy's case, that devotion extends beyond the time and effort it took, or even the money she's spent developing it. (As with Sim Horror, Foxy financed U:SL out of her own pocket, plowing thousands of dollars she's earned from the real estate title business she owns and runs out of her home, into this most ephemeral of creative endeavors.

Beyond time, effort, and money, Foxy also cares for her daughter, now five. "I get about four hours of sleep a night," Foxy tells me. "She’s in school 'til about 6PM and my sister's kids live here." So she trades care of their kids with her sister, while somehow running the title business, and these two worlds featuring snow and Chinese lanterns and thousands of shell casings.

"I don't know how I can leave Second Life on one PC running on Busy mode as I work processing [title] orders," she admits. "Anytime I hear Instant Message jingles or hear someone [in SL] typing to me, I'll take a peak at who it is. I think it also creates a lot of work for me on the weekends, since on Fridays I have work pile up to get out by Sunday night."

In the middle of U:SL's development, Foxy Xevious sent out a notecard to members of the Bedazzle team, and some of her other close SL friends:

"A lot of things are going through my head that are crushing my spirits into pebbles," she wrote in it. "The person everyone knows me as is not a sad person, is not a depressed person... I am a warrior, and if there's one thing I can't stand is a person who always feels sorry for themselves, or a person who has the feeling of being helpless."

But since then, she went on, things had changed. While she was working on U:SL, Foxy's real life mother contracted cancer, and had little time left. And in the time she had remaining, Foxy had decided to take care of her. This was a difficult decision, not only because it required moving her life and her business to another state, so she could buy a home near her mother. More than that, she said, it was difficult because her mother had abandoned her at the age of two, leaving Foxy to be raised by an aunt.

All this comes out shortly after playing a few rounds of U:SL with Foxy in the snow beneath the Winter Ice Cathedral, running down pathways, leaping over obstacles, exchanging gunfire. "[C]reating U:SL has not been easy," she acknowledges. "It's been a emotional rollercoster for me, but I think it also has done me a lot of good. I have a solid team that shows me support in no matter what choices I make... We created something that we love. It's our world that we build here for others to enjoy. It helps keep my mind off things, while giving me something to look forward to."

"Do you think being a caretaker for U:SL and SimHorror is sort of a response to that?" I ask her, referring to her mother's mortal illness. "Wanting to hold something together?"

"I see it as healing, to be honest, Hamlet," Foxy Xevious tells me. "Jimmy is like a best friend here who always cheers me up and keeps me motivated to go on... If something bothers you a lot it makes it hard to stay focused-- sometimes to where you want to give up. There’s been plenty of times where real life has took away all my motivation to not want to even go further."

But somehow, she still found a way to keep at it. The spires of the Palace are testament to that-- as are the open doors in Chinatown, lit up by a glow, going off to places unknown.

"I gave [my mother] a chance to be in my life when she was diagnosed with cancer," she continued in the notecard to her friends. "I have forgiven her for what she has done to me but the pain that I may lose her soon is killing my soul. As happy as I try to be, as much as I try to forget, the thoughts will not exit my mind."

But despite all that, this wasn't her way of announcing her decision to abandon Bedazzle or U:SL. This was just her way of explaining why the way forward would be so hard for her at times.

"Please forgive me if I may not be myself for the coming months," she concluded. "I will still continue to be a part of Bedazzle, all plans are still on, I will still be around. Nothing brings me happiness than to see our group succeed. I have invested too much time and money to be a quitter now."


Thanks to Cindy Bismark, Artemis Fate, and additional unnamed residents for the varied action poses in the screenshots accompanying this piece.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

VALENTINE'S BLOGGING

For heartfelt Second Life romance on a day of first life romance, a look back at three stories of six hearts entwined in pairs of two: the Midwest-United Kingdom cross-cultural mingle of Damien Fate and Washu Zebrastripe (concluded here), the spelunking meet-cute of stampshady Grimm and Faerie Muse, and the intercontinental courting of Eddie Escher and Fallingwater Cellardoor, as first inspired by a floating brain. Somewhat less traditional but no less romantic: the gender pretzel tango of Torley Torgeson and Jade Lily. Click and read with someone you love.

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Friday, February 11, 2005

LINK OF THE WEEK!

A tribe moves online...

Neal Stewart Walker Spaight of the Second Life Herald has a fascinating profile of resident Duuya Herbst, who describes himself as a member of the Deeni people, a nearly extinct American Indian tribe from the Northwest. Duuya, as Spaight tells it, is recreating elements of his tribal culture in-world, as a way of conveying it to the outside world-- and preserving it:

Duuya’s goal is to keep the Deeni language alive (a language which was banned in early federal boarding and public schools) and to create a resilient community that can transcend IRC, SL or multiplayer games. “There is a big absence, a disconnection,” he says. “I find a tribal community is something missing from today’s world: a support structure.” His vision for the community is essentially open-ended, and he stresses that it is not necessary to learn the Deeni language in order to join: “I’d like to think the online version [of the Deeni] would be like a ‘family,’ in a sense. We spend enough time within these ‘worlds’ with each other.

Read the whole thing here.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

Before we leave the subject for at least a few weeks, one last entry on the new Second Life economic policies that remove funding for resident-run non-educational events. (Or what some might call the Nightclub De-Subsidization Act.) While Philip Linden insists the change is not directed against nightclub venues, many residents, like The Edge nightclub owner Jenna Fairplay, predict dire consequences as a direct result. No longer able to get Linden sponsorship for their parties, runs their argument, nightclubs will begin to fail, while at the same time, the few nightclubs which do thrive will be the ones that emphasize sexual content (since they'll be able to charge willing patrons for that.) There's a fascinating question at the heart of these predictions: are the nightclub venues popular with residents because they help fulfill a basic human need (as Ms. Fairplay argues), or because they're the easiest and most accessible Second Life locations to visit? If the former, then the nightclubs will probably thrive even without Linden subsidization; if the latter, most of them are probably fated to decline.

Or to get even more meta: What's most essential to human nature? Being a social animal, or taking the path of least resistance?

The cool thing is, we get to actually run that last philosophical point through the empirical wringer. The screenshot above is a list of the most popular twenty sites in Second Life, as of today. And as they have been in recent memory, most of those places (twelve) are nightclubs; five of those emphasize Mature-themed sexual content. Three locations are primarily billed as shopping malls; two others emphasize casinos and casual games. One of them is a social and sandbox hangout for the Furry subculture, another is a thematic recreation of New York City; still another, Dark Life, is a mini MMORPG.

I'll check the Popular Places board again next month, and find out how, if at all, the new economy has altered the culture, and the way residents play.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE ENTRY

If you have a Second Life account, I enjoin you to go to this Forum topic and participate in a grand experiment with democratic blog writing. After taking resident suggestions on SL stories I've not yet written about, but should, I put their first ten to a poll, with the promise to write an entry on the story with the most votes. In the tally so far (as of today at 3:50PM PST) the topic of "Failed projects, and why they flopped" leads with 30% of the vote, followed by "Inconsistency in 'discipline' enforcement by Linden Lab" with just under 23%, and the in-world democratic city state of Neualtenburg in third with 13%. Polls close on 2/10 at 06:24AM-- vote now, and tell your in-world friends to, too!

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