March 23, 2008

"In The Grid" has shut down, but "Fabb" continues

I guess I should've put up a formal notice awhile ago, but wanted to let everyone officially know that as of spring 2007, this blog stopped actively publishing. Unfortunately it had nothing to do with the popularity of ITG itself -- at its height, after all, it was one of the top-15 Second Life blogs on the planet, according to Technorati.com -- simply that the game client for Second Life grew too big and complicated for my puny little Mac Mini here in Chicago, and as the owner of a new small business (The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography) I can't justify buying a brand-new computer just to play a videogame. It's a real shame, but I do at least want to thank all of those who followed along regularly with In The Grid, attended the group's events (both in-game and real-world), and consented to interesting long-form interviews. And in that spirit, rest assured that ITG's archives will remain up for some long time to come, for all you interview subjects who wish to continue linking to the articles about you, as well as those of you coming in through Google searches at later dates.

Fabb 'Asimov' Second Life prefabricated housing

Now, that said, I do now have 1,536 square meters of virtual land in the grid, as well as plans to try to make some pocket money from a micro-business there; and that's why I still continue to actively make plans for my Second Life prefabricated housing company "Fabb." (This image above, for example, is a nighttime shot from the aerie inside "Asimov," one of Fabb's first three prefab starter homes to go on sale to the public in a few weeks.) It's just that I've set up a new blog for that, so as not to confuse it with the old ITG journalism publication; the dedicated Fabb blog, featuring regular how-to articles on building as well as the latest with the company, can now be found at fabbhomes.blogspot.com.

I want to thank all of you regular gridhoppers again for coming by during this publication's "salad year" (spring 2006 to spring 2007), when interest in MMOs and virtual worlds seemed limitless and the amount of investment money available seemingly unstoppable. I hope in that year I was able to record some honest stories about what life in one of these virtual worlds was like, what was legitimately cool, what was essentially BS, how various corporate structures and underground artists were able to take advantage of these situations, and what came of them. Here's hoping that the couple hundred essays I wrote on the subject in that year will help people in the future understand the first big explosion of public interest in MMOs in those years. And don't forget that I'm still writing about MMO and virtual-world subjects at the CCLaP website; just that I focus exclusively now on interesting cutting-edge artists doing experimental projects within the grid itself, not any other types of residents. All new essays on the subject (post-2007, that is) can be found there under the usual "Gridhopping" search term.

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Filed at 4:55 PM, March 23, 2008. Filed under: ITG News |

March 13, 2007

Gridhopping: Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium' show

Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium'

Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium'

Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium'

Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium'

Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium'

Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium'

Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium'

Kala Pixie's 'Particlarium'

Okay, yes, it's true; after two weeks of being completely offline against my will, then another week of playing catch-up, I'm finally starting to get out to other Second Life activities again, so as to actually have stuff to write about at this blog! As always, your tips and suggestions are most welcome, and can be sent to inthegrid [at] gmail.com; for example, the other evening I heard from friend and former advertiser Samantha Poindexter, who has apparently been attending an event regularly that she thought I would dig.

And dig it I did! It turned out to be a regular exhibition that's given by a visual artist in SL named Kala Pixie; she specializes in particle effects, of all things, but takes a very different approach to it than the way we usually think of the subject. See, for those who don't know, objects in Second Life can not only be static objects, but can also contain scripts that will trigger different animations and the like; a popular example is a prim that will exude a series of glowy abstract Photoshop images in a repeated pattern, as if you were literally looking at a hallucinatory rainbow or something, or a 3D version of the screensaver you had back in the late 1980s.

Most of the time in the grid, such particle effects are put to annoying use in jewelry for young people; bracelets, for example, that will drown a danceclub in pulsating neon light every 60 seconds, or fill a room with little transparent hearts that slowly burst while you watch. (Such jewelry is so prevalent among young people, in fact, that it's unofficially known as "bling" and is banned from a lot of the more popular clubs.) Ah, but that's not how Kala uses particle effects; she instead marries them to an open outdoor pavilion, a viewing platform of sorts where a whole group of people can gather at once, then orchestrates what amounts to a cross between a fireworks show and a Laserium one, the effects themselves manually controlled by her throughout the course of the show.

Oh yeah, that's right, you can already imagine the possibilities; picture the most kickass stoner-rock laser show one could ever put on, with the effects literally happening around your body at eye level, but also with the chance to suddenly pull your view back 100 meters and watch the whole thing at a wide angle. It's cool, I tells ya! In fact, as I was mentioning to Kala that night, she might just have stumbled across the elusive "holy grail" of Second Life, that for three years everyone has been seeking but no one has yet found; she might just have discovered the very first type of live event in the grid that people would pay a cover charge to attend.

See, this has been a huge problem in the grid among artistic entrepreneurs, the ones who are paying the thousands of dollars to manage live-event islands in the first place; that although people will flock to such things as musical performances there, very few of them are willing to pay any kind of decent money to do such a thing (besides perhaps an American dollar or two as a tip). And this is to be expected, of course, in the digital age in which we live; in a world with YouTube, RSS, streaming radio and the like, it's becoming more and more difficult to get people to voluntarily pay for digital content, and more and more complex schemes are having to be invented as a result. In a way this is great, of course, especially for the end user; but someone's gotta pay for that theatre or club where you're all gathering, and oftentimes the owner can't afford to foot the entire thing simply as a fun hobby.

Kala's show, though, is something else entirely; it's an experience you literally cannot get in any other medium besides a live 3D online environment. That's part of the problem, of course, with trying to make money there from live shows, stripper clubs, movie nights and the like; in all those cases, ultimately you're just recreating something that can be naturally done better in the real world, with your customers reminded of it every moment they're there. The "Particlarium," though (as I call it, anyway -- "Particle Laserium," get it?), is not an exact recreation from real life; it's kinda like a fireworks show, sure, and kinda like a laser show, but with an extra element that one usually doesn't get at either. As I was saying to Kala that evening, if she were to package this together with musical themes (an all-Radiohead show, for example), and offer it to the general public every Saturday night (which, let's face it, is when a whole lot of bored stoned people are on SL), I could easily see lots of people willing to pay 5 American bucks for a 90-minute show. If you sell out a show (approximately 50 tickets), that's $250 in hard real cash you're making every Saturday night, just for putting on a freakin' laser show for a bunch of cartoon characters. Ah, if we could all have such a life!

Anyway, Kala is not anywhere near doing such a thing yet, but she does right now take private appointments all during the week; she has no official price for such a thing, but simply encourages you to tip her afterwards whatever you feel the experience was worth. (UPDATE: Kala actually does have a fixed rate for a one-hour show; it's L$750, or about 3 American dollars.) To schedule a show (and especially to schedule a group show, hint hint), simply IM "Kala Pixie" while in the grid. Thanks to both her and Samantha for the thoroughly entertaining experience the other evening!

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Filed at 3:40 PM, March 13, 2007. Filed under: Arts | Business | Events | Profiles |

March 12, 2007

Fabb: A tour of "Ion," my first mature starter home

FABB: Houses for robots and other sentient creatures

So okay, I admit it -- that for the last four or five days, ever since my internet connection here at home got turned back on, instead of doing the things I should've been doing with my time (like this blog, getting caught up on email, etc), I've been spending obsessive hours in the Second Life sandboxes instead, finalizing the styles and designing the first houses for my new prefabricated building business, Fabb. For those who don't know, by the way, the reason I'm so anxious to get some houses finished and for sale is because this is an actual working experiment as well; an experiment to see how fast it will take me to generate 700 American dollars in revenue through Fabb, thus letting me finally afford a new Windows gaming-optimized mid-level computer, thus making my SL experience so much better and letting me cover popular events, participate in arcade-style activities, etc etc etc. It's no secret that I'm unemployed in RL right now, and just couldn't possibly justify taking what little money I have and spending it on a new computer, just to make my SL experience a better one; if I generate the money through SL activities, though, that's just enough of a justification.

Fabb Jalapeno (discontinued)

Fabb Jalapeno (discontinued)

Fabb Jalapeno (discontinued)

So anyway, I'm happy to say that my first mature starter home, one designed specifically for 512-square-meter plots, is currently rezzed at the ITG headquarters [Yongdong 185/279/21] and is just a few steps from completion, for anyone who'd like to stop by and check it out. And by "mature," I of course mean that I actually designed and built an entire starter home before that one as well, but then unfortunately got it rezzed on my land and realized that I didn't like it very much, so have decided to abandon it. That's it that you're seeing in the above photos; as you can kinda tell from the 2D images, the design looked fine in its original paper form, but then turned out to be just too convoluted a space when actually erected in the metaverse. Plus, as much as I like that particular design, I was realizing that it's simply too fantastical and space-age; that for a prefab home to really be a winner, and especially for it to fly off the shelves, it also has to invoke a strong emotional sense of reality to a potential customer almost from the start.

Examining the mistakes I made with the first prototype in more detail, I realized that an even smaller footprint was needed for the house to give it breathing room on such a tiny parcel; I eventually knocked it down, in fact, to 280 square meters (20 x 14), from the 288 m2 of the first prototype (24 x 12). This then knocks down the first-floor living space to a convenient 10 x 10, which saves enormously on prims (since that's the maximum size a single prim can be stretched); but as you can guess, this also forces you into a situation where you basically only have one room per floor, for a grand total of maybe three rooms altogether if you count the rooftop patio. Which, hey, is just the reality of starter plots, with nothing that can be done about it; but believe me, it's a special challenge that lies in front of the virtual architect, of how to design an intriguing, functional, aesthetic, unique, fantastical yet realistic living environment with so many limits attached.

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

I figured that the best way to work with such a space would be to create as large an open-air atrium inside the house as possible; this in turn would give residents a lot more breathing room with their cameras while inside, instead of that cramped, claustrophobic feeling one gets while inside a room with low ceilings. And this of course brought me to the Mid-Century Modernist style of architecture, for obvious reasons: because they too dealt with small houses and large interior atriums; that their real-life houses look surprisingly like most creations within Second Life, because of the stark Euclidean nature of both; because they were the architects of note when the term "space age" was originally created, and most associated with the interesting of cool, sleek housing; and because such designs allow me to slap a whole variety of appropriate textures onto them, thus keeping in line with my vision of Fabb's style selection. And so armed with this new vision, I sat down at a public sandbox one day, and eight hours later (give or take a few breaks) had my first house that I'm really happy with -- you're seeing it above there, and it's called "Ion," named after yet another small entity that packs a big punch.

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Now, there's basically one question I'm obsessively asking myself throughout this process, whenever it comes time to design another house: "What are the most fun things about being a homeowner in Second Life, and what are the crap things that a lot of people don't mind paying someone else to do for them?" For example, I think one of the most fun things about being a homeowner is the chance for customization: to be able to put down whatever kind of furniture you want, wherever you want it, add such home improvements as fireplaces and pools, even tack on entire extra walls, rooms or wings. What I did when designing Ion, then, was to keep this in mind, and to design my limited set of rooms with an eye towards what they'll most likely be popularly used for. Here above, for example, you're seeing the one-room first floor; I imagine that most people will furnish it much like a loft-style living room (couches, rug, recliner, etc), which is why I designed those windows the way I did, to give a particularly dramatic view when sitting inside at chair level.

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

As soon as I add the appropriate scripts, by the way, both those glass walls and the front door will have the ability to slide when touched, from a closed position to an open one and back again. Instead of the usual handles, I decided to come up with some coolio space-age ones on my own in Photoshop, which you're seeing above; technically, of course, you'll be able to click anywhere on the door or windows to get them to slide, but I just enjoy the panel-like way these icons came out. Then another script that will be embedded in all windows is a controllable tint function; that yin-yang button you see above is my self-made tint control for the house, which the owner will be able to click on repeatedly to cycle from completely transparent windows to completely opaque ones.

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

And then here's the second floor, which people get to via an elevator I haven't built yet. It's even smaller than the first floor, as you can see; I'm envisioning people putting not much more than a modernist bed up here, for example, or perhaps a dining table and chairs. As with the first floor, this room also has glass panels the size of walls, that will eventually slide from a closed to open position when touched; this floor also has its own window tint control, with both it and the first-floor one controlling every window in the house simultaneously.

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

And then here we are making our way to the roof, via an outdoor set of fantastical stone steps so that I wouldn't have to devour precious indoor space. This is a cheat of sorts that I think all starter homes would do good to include: a way to create a "third floor" of living and partying space, while only needing enough prims for a solid floor and railing. This, I'm imagining, is where those with an interest would set up a personal dancefloor; that's why I left it nice and blank, so that a large number of people can gather in a clutter-free environment.

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

Ion starter home / Style: FabbWater

And then finally, here are some shots of Ion fully furnished, a model home of sorts to give you ideas of what you too could do with your own. Now, please note the following: 1) I did not design any of the furniture you see above (for those who are curious, a lot of it came from the excellent, excellent Maximum Minimum); and 2) On a 512-m2 plot, you would not have enough prims to erect every piece of furniture you see here simultaneously (although you would, for example, if you erected this on a 1,532-m2 plot). I also included a few "glamour" shots of the house at sunset, basically shots you'd see in a brochure or on a kiosk as a way of selling the place to potential customers. Man, just look how sharp that place is, daddio! I feel like listening to some Dave Brubeck, attending a beat poetry show, and invading Korea!

So what do you think? Is L$1,200 (5 American dollars, 3 pounds, 4 euros) too outrageous a sum to ask for this? Not according to my research, anyway; most other prefabs are selling either a comparably complex house for a lot more, or a comparably cheap house but ugly and with no amenities. I think if I could get a total of three or four such starter designs done, and get each of them released under all seven of Fabb's styles (Forest, Beach, Sky, Snow, Water, Urban, Noir), I have a feeling that I'd soon be racking up regular $5 Paypal transactions, and be on my way to a new computer before I even know it. Hmm? Comments and suggestions gladly accepted; you can email them to inthegrid [at] gmail.com if you don't feel like sharing them with the public.

Crescent small mansion / Style: FabbSky

Crescent small mansion / Style: FabbSky

Crescent small mansion / Style: FabbSky

Crescent small mansion / Style: FabbSky

Crescent small mansion / Style: FabbSky

Crescent small mansion / Style: FabbSky

Crescent small mansion / Style: FabbSky

Crescent small mansion / Style: FabbSky

For those who are super curious, by the way, here above is a sneak preview of the next house I'm working on, which I'm calling "Crescent" and is about three times the size of the Ion starter home (that is, a 900-m2 footprint [30 x 30], versus the 280 m2 [20 x 14] of the starter home), designed ideally as a private home for a 2,000-m2 plot owner, or perhaps as a retail store for a fashion boutique. But as always, more on this project another day. I'm still looking for people, by the way, who would like free copies of these houses, in exchange for letting future customers come by and check the house out as it exists on their land; if interested, just contact me via email at the above address.

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Filed at 1:13 PM, March 12, 2007. Filed under: Architecture | Arts | Business | Fabb | Photos | Sociology |

March 7, 2007

Twelve days without the internet -- that's a long time!

Hello, dear gridhoppers! And my apologies for no one hearing from me in so long, either here at the blog or via email; for the last twelve days, in fact, my home broadband internet connection has been down, and it finally didn't click back on again until late into the evening yesterday. (See, it's actually one of my freelance clients who provides my home internet access; but they've been having some technical glitches recently, which is what caused the forced vacation.) Believe me, I missed the internet more than you missed me; I hadn't realized, in fact, how dependent I had become on instant access to weather, TV listings, news feeds and the like, until it was suddenly gone and with no idea when I was going to get it back (but see my personal blog for more on that). Anyway, I'm happy to report that the connection is now firmly back on, which means daily forays once again for me into the grid, and daily entries here at the blog about what I've found.

Luddite sketches of some upcoming Fabb buildings

Luddite sketches of some upcoming Fabb buildings

Luddite sketches of some upcoming Fabb buildings

Luddite sketches of some upcoming Fabb buildings

Luddite sketches of some upcoming Fabb buildings

Luddite sketches of some upcoming Fabb buildings

While I had all that offline time on my hands last week, by the way, I ended up doing just a whole messload of paper sketches regarding my new prefabricated housing business "Fabb," and the various buildings I'd like to include in the first wave of the company's catalog; I also finally taught myself Google Sketchup, the company's 3D drawing program for Google Earth, so that I could do some multi-dimensional views of my paper drawings while offline, and see whether the drawings were making inherent spatial sense when fully realized. (From above, respectively, for those who are interested: "Jalapeno," my first starter home [specifically for 512 m2 plots]; "Crescent," my first small mansion or store/club [for plots between 2,000 and 4,000 m2]; and "Crabb," my first large mansion or commercial building [for plots between 4,000 and 8,000 m2]. The eventual price of these will respectively be L$1,200 [around US$5]; L$3,600 [around US$15]; and L$6,000 [around US$25].)

(UPDATE: And here are the downloadable 3D files themselves, for fellow Sketchup users who'd like to play with them: [jalapeno.skp]; [crescent.skp]; [crabb.skp]. You'll quickly notice, by the way, that some of these files are much better than others; I'm basically teaching myself Sketchup through random discovery, which of course makes the learning curve quite unstable.)

Of course, it's bitter irony that on the exact day I get my internet access back, I catch the flu and can barely move; but I suppose that's my fault and one I don't entirely mind, in that two days ago I also finally gave up cigarettes after a 19-year habit. And you fellow former heavy smokers know what I'm going through, of course; I'm going through nicotine withdrawal this week, a very real and verifiable thing, which in the case of heavy smokers like me manifests itself the same way as a mild flu bug (fever, achy muscles, sore throat, extra phlegm, sleep problems, etc), for about four days altogether. I bring all this up, of course, because I know I'm going to be extra snarky with just about everyone over the next couple of weeks (although I'll admit that the nicotine patches I'm using for the first time help immensely with those "I'll kill you all in your sleep" moments); I just wanted to mention it, and please beg you all to show extra patience with me over the next month both here, in the grid and via email. Your understanding is appreciated!

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Filed at 11:00 AM, March 7, 2007. Filed under: ITG News |

February 23, 2007

Fabb: My first house starts coming together

Fabb: Houses for robots and other sentient creatures

So as mentioned earlier this week, I've been thinking recently about starting up a new business venture in SL, to replace the new adult blog -avatar- that I've now decided not to open after all; I'm thinking of opening a new "prefab" store, actually, to borrow an architectural term, one I'll call "Fabb" if I end up going through with it. Prefab, for those who don't know, is short for "prefabricated housing," and is a subject the real-life architectural industry has already been dealing with for a century or longer; but as you can imagine, the term takes on an entirely different relevance within the grid, which after all is a place where one can literally stick an entire medieval castle into a cardboard shoebox, then simply yank it back out when one is ready to live in it. Combine this with the fact that duplication and distribution of goods in SL is free, and you can see that virtual architecture is atually a pretty good business when it comes to labor versus profit -- once the complicated work of the prototype itself is done, infinite copies of that house can be sold into perpetuity with no extra effort, leaving the architect free to develop a bigger and bigger "long tail" of dwellings for sale in the first place.

Fabb: Houses for robots and other sentient creatures

My idea with Fabb is to construct modernist, space-agish houses that are nonetheless highly livable, taking just a bit of an advantage of the fantastical elements available in the grid (like waterfalls that can travel through rooms, decks that don't require load-bearing pillars, etc), to create something that at once seems from the future but also that one could actually buy in real life today (if one was rich enough, that is). The plan, then, is to create a series of dwellings with different footprints (20 x 10 meters, 30 x 30, 40 x 20, etc), each appropriate for a different kind of common land parcel out there; and then to also create a series of visual styles for Fabb, named for the types of environments in the grid where the houses would work best, and to create a version of each style for each different footprint I design. That way I get three or four sellable houses for each prototype I work on, vastly improving my work-versus-money ratio; plus customers get two different ways to shop, either deciding on a style first and then finding the size that's right for them, or vice-versa.

I'm in the middle of designing my first dwelling as we speak, actually, a three-story beach house with a total footprint of 30 x 20 meters. (That's 600 square meters total, for those playing along at home; in other words, a dominating structure if placed on a 1,024-m2 plot, not so much if placed on 1,536-m2 or more.) For this first house, in fact, I'm keeping detailed notes on just how long each step of the creative process is taking me; this is going to help me determine just what kind of labor/pay ratio I can expect in the future, as I get better and better at each step, which of course will help me determine whether or not to open Fabb in the first place. Anyway, I've now put a total of seven man-hours into the project (or should that be av-hours?), and believe it or not am actually getting dangerously close to having a completed house on my hands; for all of you like me who have always been curious about the planning and construction process in SL, I thought today I'd share some of my building notes with you.

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

Hour 1. My first hour on the project, before I did anything else, was spent in a cafe in my neighborhood here in Chicago, merely doodling out some of the ideas I had; I'm old-skool, after all (i.e. got my art degree in the '80s, before the introduction of computer graphics), which means that I was trained to think visually literally by holding pen and paper in hand. As you can see in the above images, how I started was to basically draw out the boundaries of the footprint itself, then start throwing down 2D rectangles until I was aesthetically pleased with how they interacted; I then extrapolated those into 3D boxes and did a series of perspective drawings (both from the front and back), just to make sure it wasn't totally a waste of my time to go with this particular scheme.

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

Hour 2. My next step, then, was to actually go into the grid and rez up a 3D version of my sketches, moving as quickly as possible using only a series of featureless transparent cubes; working out details on paper first is good and all, don't get me wrong, but ultimately sorta defeats the purpose of working within SL to begin with. This step was done for one reason and one reason only, so that my avatar could actually walk around within my "3D blueprint" and make sure I hadn't made any glaring mistakes in my planning; and as you can see if you compare these images to the original drawings, there were indeed a whole series of small mistaken assumptions I made in my pen-and-ink plans, which thankfully can be quickly corrected in SL merely by pulling a bit on the side of a prim. As a newbie architect, I'm glad I went through this step; as I get better and better at building, though, I have a feeling that I'll eventually be able to drop this step altogether, which is why I was curious how long this particular step would take me.

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

Hours 3 and 4. Okay, so then I was ready for the step that so far has turned out to be the longest individual one; the construction of the actual house frame, or in other words just the walls, floors and ceilings. And again, this is a step that I'm envisioning will take less and less time, the more experienced I get at building and the more grunt work I put in; that's the beauty of building in SL, after all, is that each time you perfect another basic building block (say, for example, a 10 x 2 x 2 rounded pillar that's been sheared into quarters and textured with tan stucco), that's one less piece you have to create for future houses, and instead can just plop down and shift-copy to your heart's content. This is also the step, by the way, where you can first start seeing the stylistic details that will be featured in all of Fabb's dwellings, as a way of setting it apart from all the other prefab companies out there (and there's a lot of them); the rounded corners, the elongated decks, the narrow horizontal windows, the complex interplay of indoor and outdoor space, etc. That's the hope, anyway; that eventually, a person will be able to randomly spot one of my houses in the wild and immediately think to themselves, "Why, that's a Fabb house!"

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

Now, that said, this step is also fraught with complexities, which I'm sure I'll be getting into in more detail in future entries; in particular I'm finding the process of matching up stretched textures to be a bit of a f*****g nightmare, for example all those mismatched wood planks you see on the floor in the above photos, a situation which comes about by having prims of different sizes but with the same texture next to each other. (In a nutshell, the way one corrects for this is by changing the texture dimensions on one of the prims; to have it repeat a little more or a little less, stretched a little more or a little less, offset a little more or a little less, until the pictures on both prims are in perfect alignment with each other. Can you see why this might be a bit of a nightmare when you have two different-sized prims next to each other?) Anyway, I'm already discovering a series of tricks that can help ease this process, as well as such other maddening details as getting prims to exactly line up; like I said, I will undoubtedly be sharing these tips in future entries.

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

Hour 5. Okay, so now that I had the framework together, it was time to take a much more detailed look at the house so far, and to start tweaking the various elements that I thought could be done better. For example, one of the big things I did during this step was to deepen the floor/ceiling between each story, from basically a flat panel to a slab a meter thick; this, it turned out, not only helped greatly with meshing the stories together afterwards, but also gave me an aesthetic white strip along the exterior of the house in intriguing locations and patterns. Also, I decided that having the entirety of the decks be white was just a little too modernist; that's why I changed the center of each to now appear like wooden slats, just like the flooring on the inside of the house. Also, this was the step where I first put in the fantastical waterfall I had envisioned for this house from the start; one that starts on the second floor as a pool, then pours through a glass wall in order to form an outdoor waterfall, as well as inside the house where the pool spills over the second-floor balcony. (Sorry, by the way, for the waterfall looking less than spectacular in the above photos; I happened to be having problems with the rendering engine right when these images were taken.)

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

Hour 6 (which was actually an hour and a half). All right, we're finally starting to get a house on our hands! Now that the basics of the frame were becoming more and more finalized, in fact, it was time to get into the structure and start adding the details that will eventually sell the thing; the means of moving about within the home, that is, the hallways and staircases and other elements that avatars directly deal with when moving around. Let's face facts, after all; with the building process in SL being as easy as it is, it takes neither an exceptional amount of smarts nor training if all one wants to do is assemble four walls and a ceiling there. Where the crucial difference lays, then, in all the competing prefab businesses out there, is the one element that does take smarts and training to master, which is the flow of the house; of how easy or intuitive it is to move from one part of the dwelling to another, of how the different parts of the dwelling interact with each other not only functionally but aesthetically. This is just my opinion, of course; but when all is said and done, I do believe such details to be the fundamental thing separating the merely decent builders in SL from the truly great ones, no matter if it's homes or clothing or vehicles you're talking about.

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

My very first prefab

Hour 7 (which was actually a half-hour). And then here's the latest work I've done on the house, just a couple of hours before writing this report, which as you can see mostly involved finer and finer details; the stairway between the second and third stories, railings for each story and the like. By the way, in these shots you're seeing the glass walls as they'll appear in the "open" position; these will in fact be giant sliding doors by the time this whole process is over, which the homeowner will be able to open and close simply by clicking on them. For those who are curious, the windows will also have multiple tints that a homeowner will able to change by clicking on a button; for those who don't know, among other things you can even embed interactive scripts within prims in SL, which is what powers both of the features mentioned, as well as such things as lockable doors.

Okay, so that's it for now; and as you can see, I don't think it's going to be much longer at all before I have a fully finished house on my hands. And what's after that? Why, find me some testers, of course! And this is where you potentially come into play, dear reader; to be precise, I'm looking for five to ten people who would enjoy receiving a free copy of this house when it's finished, in return for filling out a questionnaire on what they think of it, as well as letting me come by and take photos of it rezzed on their land. Remember, you will need a plot of land at least 1,024 square meters in size in order to use this house, and ideally 1,500 square meters or more; if you do own such a plot, though, and would be interested in being a Fabb tester, do be sure to drop me a line at inthegrid [at] gmail.com and let me know.

The horror, the horror

By the way, these days mark the first time I've ever gone seriously shopping in the grid for textures; and ooh, man, have you ever tried such a thing yourself? It's a nightmare, frankly, and a perfect example of how SL is not actually the best option for every online activity out there; textures are cheap, after all, meaning that the only way to make money from them is to have thousands of them, which when selling in SL means that you need thousands of prims on display as well, each of them with a different texture rezzed on its side. Now compare this, for example, to how one would do this through a website; how you could simply have the different textures displayed as JPEGS on various pages, taking almost no time at all to load, and with a search engine as well so that one could simply skip directly to what one is looking for.

This always makes me laugh, to tell you the truth, when some new SL fanatic starts talking about all the various things that could be done in that environment, that don't actually make any sense to do there; like that executive from Amazon.com, for example, who was recently talking in public about how cool it'd be for Amazon to build a superstore in SL, and how much better the shopping experience would be because customers "could browse and ask for help just like a retail bookstore." Well, excuse me for saying this, but wasn't the whole reason Amazon became popular in the first place was that it wasn't like a retail bookstore? That's what makes Amazon so great, after all; that you can simply type in what you're looking for and have the book instantly delivered to your hands, out of a total catalog of titles that would literally take dozens of miles to cover, if one were to ever build a retail bookstore for all of them.

That's what Amazon would be if they ever came into Second Life: they'd be a 100-mile-long bookstore, and to browse the shelves with any expediency they would literally have to provide motorcycles to their customers. Jeez, I can barely stand going to the mall to begin with; could you even imagine what a nightmare it'd be to shop a virtual Amazon in such a fashion? Face it, people -- there's a reason certain things have become a lot more popular on the web than they are in the physical world, and just because you can fly and teleport in SL doesn't necessarily change this. There are certain activities that are simply better and easier to do on the web, and will always be better and easier, no matter how cool an environment SL is. I wish more texture vendors would take this lesson to heart!

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Filed at 3:44 PM, February 23, 2007. Filed under: Architecture | Business | Fabb | Photos |

February 21, 2007

Question: Do you know of any work/pay private sims?

Walden Two

I've got a question for all you smart gridhopping readers out there; has anyone come across a private sim yet that's funded through a work/pay system, by which part of the bills are individually covered by residents and part of it generated through group labor? I had this intriguing idea the other day for such a community, and am curious now if a group out there is already trying such a thing; read on for the admittedly nerdy details...

For convenience I'll call my sim concept "Walden Three," based on it being partly inspired by psychologist BF Skinner's 1948 utopian novel Walden Two. (And before you get your panties in a bunch, let me mention that I don't buy many of Skinner's theories about behaviorism and the like; I am, however, a fan of that particular book.) Basically, you start by zoning the sim into two equally sized areas:

--Private land: Ten estates, 3,276 square meters apiece, each belonging to one of the ten residents of Walden Three who exist at any given time. Residents are allowed to do anything with their private estate they want, given that it meets with Walden Three's aesthetic covenant. Since only half the costs of the sim are covered individually by residents, this makes each person's monthly "tier fee" (or virtual property tax) half the usual cost -- US$12, that is (or 6 pounds, or 9 euros), versus the $25 per month elsewhere for that amount of land. (The initial $1,675 cost of the land, by the way, would be split equally among the ten founding residents; that is, it'll cost a person $167 in advance to "buy in" to Walden, $12 a month thereafter, with of course a chance to sell that land for a profit later.)

--Community land: The other half of the sim's total area, then, or 32,768 square meters, would be public land to support the Walden Three community; a mall, a central gathering space, a live-event venue and more, along with lots and lots of undeveloped terrain for such things as parks and nature walks. The monthly tier fee for this half comes to $125; this would be generated (hopefully) through the group commercial activities of the sim, such as the goods sold in the mall, tips at live events, etc. If less than $125 is generated in a given month, residents have to equally make up the difference; if more, then residents get an equally-distributed break on their own tier fee that month.

In return for the reduced rates, then, residents of Walden Three are required to perform three types of work for the sim each month, all of which help maintain the public half of the island and generate a profit:

1) Creative work -- a certain amount of time each month working on individual creative projects, that once finished are donated to Walden for group profit. This would include goods made for the sim's stores, the producing and hosting of live events, marketing and publicity work, and the re-landscaping periodically of small areas of public land, in order to keep the environment a constantly evolving one that people will want to visit repeatedly.

2) Labor -- a certain amount of time each month helping with the day-to-day chores of the sim. This would include working the mall, manning the information center, doing technical work at live events, contributing to the sim's group blog, etc.

3) Civic duties -- a certain amount of time each month maintaining the sim's administration. This would include regular "Planner" meetings (to use a term borrowed from Skinner), where the ten residents of Walden decide parliamentary-style on the overall vision and strategy of the sim; and also time spent each week as a "Manager," someone with a detailed knowledge over one specific area of operations, and who assigns the specific duties that other members perform in that area as part of their labor.

It occurred to me the other day that this might be a really great way to run a sim; so that not only is one's personal bills cut in half, but an air of cooperation and collaboration permanently established as well, so as to make the public half of the sim as profitable as possible. So, know of anyone who's actually doing this already in the grid? If so, make sure to mention it in the comments along with their location, or you can email me directly at inthegrid [at] gmail.com. Your tips are greatly appreciated!

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Filed at 3:26 PM, February 21, 2007. Filed under: Business | Sociology |

Photos from a winter boat ride; plus more on SL as a 3D social network

A map showing the path of my recent winter boat ride

So as I mentioned yesterday, as part of the changing editorial focus here at ITG I've decided to start doing more tours of large areas of the grid, and filing multimedia reports about what I found. This is one of the things I can still easily do in the grid these days, after all, is explore large areas on my own during times of low lag, versus the popular live events I mentioned yesterday that I'm having a harder and harder time even getting connected to anymore. For today's trip, then, I decided to make a boat ride down the entire length of the main "winter river" in SL; that is, the river that runs through the section of the grid that's perpetually covered in snow and ice.

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

I admit that I'm kinda fascinated with the winter section of SL, mostly because I don't know anything about it; how it came about, when it came about, why Linden Lab decided to create this but not any other specialized types of terraforming on the mainland. Plus, I've noticed a strange kind of unified quiet in the winter section of the grid as well, that you don't normally see from other sections of the mainland; whether on purpose or on accident, the area just seems to have a lot more tasteful residences and a lot less glaring big-box stores than one randomly finds elsewhere. And of course I just find the winter section of SL to be aesthetically pleasing to begin with; and how can you turn down the prospect of full-speed boating in winter without ever getting chilly or catching cold?

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

And thus it is that I recently spent three hours successfully making the trip, stopping numerous times to check out an untold amount of random crap, snapping copious amounts of photos along the way. And as you can see in these images, there's something about the now greatly expanded grid that's still amazingly true, despite the doomsayers predicting that the mainstream would be the creative death of SL; that when you provide people with the means to create almost anything they can imagine, people will use those tools to create an astonishingly diverse amount of stuff. I mean, sure, you're also seeing a lot more copies of popular prefabs on the mainland these days too, although even that's a bit misleading; most owners of prefabs, after all, end up doing at least some amount of customization, and of course with landscaping also being a free public tool, no two estates ever end up looking exactly the same.

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

Spending all that time in a row the other night looking at homes got me to thinking again as well, concerning one of the many definitions people use to try to describe this unique environment; how in many ways, SL is not much more than a highly powerful social network with a 3D interface, kinda like MySpace on steroids. When you break it all down, after all, SL at its core does a remarkably similar thing as MySpace and all the other web-based social networks out there: all of them provide a system of tools to the general public, that allow people to easily express their personality online, at which point other people can find and interact with them based on shared interests. That's pretty much it when it comes to social networks, whether you're talking about a 800-pound gorilla like MySpace or a highly specialized one like LibraryThing (a social network specifically for nerdy book lovers).

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

In fact, when you look at SL from the standpoint of traditional online features, the grid actually combines two different popular online models into one intriguingly unique environment:

--Like MySpace and other social networks, SL gives landowners a series of tools in which to express their personality: the ability to share photos, audio and video, the ability to change the look and behavior of their "profile" (a web page with MySpace, actual land in SL), etc. Like MySpace, SL landowners get their own "address," which people can use to directly visit their space; or, a visitor can discover one's space tangentially, perhaps through a neighbor/friend or maybe by searching on a particular topic at a centralized database.

--At the same time though, SL also functions as a large-scale chat community, much like logging into ICQ or AIM on a busy Saturday night. Much like AIM, SL provides a plethora of smaller group spaces (land in the grid, "rooms" in a chat environment), where smaller clusters of people can get together away from the larger crowd and speak on their own. Like AIM, a variety of controls can be placed on these group spaces; they can be public or private, advertised or unlisted, dedicated to a specific subject, etc. And much like AIM, the system can also be used for private one-on-one communication, as well as "mail" designed to be read at a later date.

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

So yeah, already a pretty intriguing environment when you look at it that way; kinda like if you slipped Spanish Fly one night to both Friendster and Yahoo Chat, I suppose, locked them in a cheap motel room, then nine months later took custody of their bastard child. (NOTE: I hereby officially apologize for that horrifically strained metaphor.) Ah, but then you add the killer aspect of SL, the one thing missing from all these other online services, which is the persistent 3D environment where all interaction happens -- a place that's slightly different every time you visit, a place that changes when you're not even there, a place with a permanent geography and shared public roads and even its own persistent laws of physics (albeit sometimes fantastical laws like flying and teleportation; my point is that such laws are consistent across the entire grid). It's this virtual-reality aspect of SL that's made it as infamous as it is, and also contributes heavily to the main irony about the grid -- that it is almost impossible to adequately describe, but something one immediately understands by actually experiencing.

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

And really, when you think about it, the persistent universe of the grid is not just some gimmick when it comes to online tools, but actually enhances all the traditional services that SL provides in different ways:

--When it comes to group discussion, for example, the persistent universe of SL provides something most chat environments can only dream of, which is a way of adding non-verbal communication to enhance understanding. Note, for example, how easy it is to add body language to one's speech in the grid; how one can wink or nod while chatting, fold one's arms across one's chest, shift one's weight to one leg, all of which contribute to overall communication between humans in a way AIM will never be able to duplicate. Note how if one wants to get into a smaller discussion in a SL "chat room," all one does is physically move to an empty corner of that room; such physical distances are impossible to convey in the usual text-window interface of most traditional chat software. And note as well that "chat rooms" in SL go way beyond having a funny name at the top of that text window; they involve the creation of a literal physical room, one that can be specifically tweaked to enhance whatever discussion is taking place. When used the right way, the 3D interface of SL can be a profoundly unique tool for online communication, an option that one literally cannot get from a single other piece of software on the planet.

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

--And then of course is the social-network enhancements such a 3D environment provides; and jeez, where do we even start with that one? Imagine your MySpace profile not as a web page but as a three-dimensional house -- one that you build yourself from the ground up, with absolutely no regulations at all over how it looks or what you do with it. Imagine a place like a community-held private island, where instead of using a search engine to find like-minded individuals you simply walk around and check out your neighbors. (Even better, imagine if Linden hadn't taken their now famous unregulated approach to mainland zoning; imagine if they had instead cordoned off zoned "neighborhoods" for specific interests, for example an entire continent just for musicians.) Imagine an online account where every single pixel of your profile says something about you; not just the text you enter into provided fields, but even the white space between words and paragraphs, with visitors able to actually crawl around on that page and zoom in on any particular pixel they want. In this light, the 3D environment of SL becomes not only a gimmicky selling point but also the ultimate tool of user empowerment; a place where customers are literally given a blank page, as large or as small as they want and can afford, that instead of reading one literally walks on and physically explores.

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

Although I have no hard facts to support this, when all is said and done I do believe that this is what the majority of landowners in SL are using their land for; not to construct giant clubs and stores, the activity which garners the lion's share of SL press, but instead to construct intricate personal expressions of their personality, and to have fun with their friends because of it just like any other social network. When looked at this way, the ever-growing popularity of SL land ownership makes a lot more sense, and I think provides a refreshingly honest alternative to the "everyone in SL is trying to turn a profit" tone of most articles about virtual land. If every landowner in SL was there to open a business, SL wouldn't work and no one would want to visit; it's the fact that most landowners aren't trying to open a business that makes the environment so diverse and fascinating, and the stores that do exist stand out even more.

A winter boat ride

A winter boat ride

Anyway, I guess that's enough philosophizing for now; hope you enjoyed this tour, and like I said, expect to see more of them in the coming months. By the way, know of a particular section of the grid that you think is worth exploring? By all means, do make sure to mention it in the comments; and don't forget the SLurl!

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Filed at 1:14 PM, February 21, 2007. Filed under: Photos | Sociology |