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I’d love a virtual world/MMORPG mashup

Second Life isn’t a place I spend much time now, though my posts about SL continue to be get the most traffic and my daily companions also have unused, long time SL avatars. I’m more active in ArcheAge than ever. I left my drama-filled guild and now spend most of my time with my game family and a few friends, caring for our land, transporting trade packs for cash, running dungeons, hijacking enemy vehicles, and poking at enemies who are too highly geared for us to do more than annoy. One couple I know from AA met in SL and now live together and others were active SL residents for years.

One of those friends recently remarked that a mashup of AA and SL would be fantastic. He was thinking about the houses in AA, which are little more than storage locations with very limited opportunities for self-expression, but I think there’s a bigger point to pull from that. MMORPGs could benefit from the sort of interpersonal expression and connection that SL enables. I’m not just talking about sex (though if it’s an adult game, why not?), but the ability to dance with friends, stream your own music in your home, cuddle on a couch, etc.

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From a game standpoint, SL suffers from a lack of things to do. I know some of you will be tempted to jump in here and lecture me about the fine clubs, performances, creative opportunities, experimental game areas, etc. Believe me, I know!  I love those things. Yet most of the time I’m in SL, what am I doing? Remaining relatively stationary in my surroundings and talking with one person or a small group of people. Exploring areas together is difficult without using voice chat to coordinate. We could play a short game, but those are rudimentary at best even if the graphics are jaw-dropping. However, I can move my avatar in ways I’ve designed, have whatever appearance I like, invite people to my completely customized home, and have a visual replication of real human interaction.

Every MMORPG I’ve played offered limited expression and interaction. While Second Life puts creation in the hands of the residents, so each avatar and home can be unique, MMORPGs tend to be stingy with customization: putting costume dyes in a cash shop, requiring multiple purchases or crafting steps to add a graphic overlay to a small number of items, and building up demand (and therefore cash flow) by releasing some items as untradeable rare drops from cash shop chests. As far as interaction, some have interpersonal emotes and allow families/marriages/partnerships. But really, they are games and designed around activities, not social life. When I’m in AA, I might be talking with friends just as I would be in SL, but we’re simultaneously doing something, even if we’re in transit to an island on a ship, planting ginseng seedlings, or laying in wait to ambush enemies.  It’s possible to run out of things you want to do, but there are always more things you could.

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Can you imagine how exciting a combination of the two world types could be, though? Strong game mechanics, with daily events, quests strings, dungeons and raids, crafting/farming/fishing/etc, PVE and PVP, accompanied by rich personalization and interaction? A player-driven economy that also includes items created by those players? A multitude of things to do at any hour of the day, plus all the tools needed to make a comfortable sanctuary if you don’t want to leave your virtual home? When I was a solo player, I would have appreciated more choices to have a unique appearance. Now that I’m more social, the limitations of rigid furniture poses and car radios that play the same loops of music really bug me. I suppose I’ll keep dreaming of an open platform MMORPG that is truly the best of both worlds.

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Posted by on February 25, 2016 in Gaming

 

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Roundup: Star Wars, holiday tech gifts, ArcheAge, yada yada yada

Thank you for all your kind comments about Jakob. Once the waves of grief subsided, I started finding peace with his death. His illness was never going to have a happy ending and it’s a relief to let go of the constant tension of worry and sadness. I don’t have to dread a new crisis each time his sister writes to me. His funeral is Thursday and I’m grateful that it was easy to send flowers to a village in the Rhineland from the other side of the world. Jakob will always be part of who I am.

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Image above from Berkeley Breathed of course. Some heresy: I really don’t care about the new Star Wars movie. I adored the first film of the original series. Robots! Space! Scary creatures in the desert! Darth Vader! Star Wars action figures moved into my Barbie Dreamhouse. After that? Meh. The other two in the first series were fine. A date took me to a midnight premiere of The Phantom Menace and it was hard not to dim his enthusiasm with my wtf exclamations. I hope the new movie is good and more coherent than the last few. If you see it and it’s awesome, let me know.

What technology is on your holiday gift wish list? I’m seeing a lot of hits on my review of the Amazon Echo. I’ve had mine a year and still use it daily, though there’s plenty of room for innovation and improvement. If you’re still looking for ideas, I’m pretty excited about the Anova Precision Cooker I picked up recently ($129 from the Anova website, more expensive elsewhere). This Gizmodo review explains why, with plenty of food porn. As for me, I’ve asked Santa for a Samsung Gear VR. I see it as a starter headset and the device that could spread VR from the narrow band of the innovator market segment into the early adopters.

I’ve remained moderately active in ArcheAge long after I thought I’d give it up from boredom, which says something about the game though I’m an atypical player. I’m not social, I don’t spend lots of money, and I don’t play for hours on end (except for a lazy afternoon on the weekend, perhaps). I’ll never be in the top tier but I’m satisfied. This week I moved from my boring guild of farmers and fishermen to a high level guild that often leads faction raids. I was evaluated on my level, gear, and had to pass a voice interview before I was accepted. It felt good to do my first sea raid with many of my new guildmates and to be praised for my play style. Earning the admiration and respect of one’s peers is a boost, no matter what arena that takes place in. Until No Man’s Sky arrives for the PC next year, you’ll probably find my gaming time spent in ArcheAge.

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Lately I’ve been in Second Life a lot more, relearning how to make small talk and upgrading my neglected avatars (I love the Maitreya Lara body so very much). This week I need to attend the RL holiday party for my husband’s company and that small talk practice will help tame my shyness at the event. Part of that is learning to apply filters to my stream of consciousness again; I’ve had a few years of not holding anything back when talking with my husband and Jakob. When a new acquaintance recently asked some probing questions, in a conversation where I felt that optimistic honesty would be appreciated, I told him the truth about Jakob and my health struggles. His response was more robotic than actual robots and he vanished in a cloud of dust. Ha! I’m not a roleplayer so if I’m asked a personal question that I’m willing to answer, that answer will be true. It will take practice to get back to answering truthfully without spilling my whole life, no matter how nicely phrased.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Side Topics

 

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Jakob died yesterday

Jakob had been back in the hospital for a couple weeks following another collapse, but he had been doing better and there was hope that he could move to a nursing home. So, I wasn’t prepared when I got a Facebook message from his sister yesterday. She told me that he had gotten much worse, unable to eat, speak, or recognize people. The hospital gave him morphine for pain and called her, saying they thought the end was near. He died in his sleep before she could get there.

I’ve been anticipating this day for the past year, since he was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer that had already metastasized to his brain, and I’m glad he’s at peace. That didn’t stop me from curling in a ball and wailing as my husband hugged me in silent comfort. I said a few words to his sister in broken German and I’ll write her a proper condolence note today. Poor woman… she is overwhelmed and dreads the tasks of burying her brother and cleaning out his home. I feel terrible that I just mailed Christmas cards to her house for her and for him.

Me? I’m blogging because I am too heartbroken to go to sleep. This is my eulogy for him.

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Today, December 10th — as it’s just past midnight — is the 3rd anniversary of the day I met Jakob Aulder in Second Life and we were inseparable from that first encounter. He was a difficult man to get to know. His profile warned off questions about Real Life and for the first year whenever I asked one, he’d reply with, “Does it matter?” When I said, “No, but I’m curious,” he would insist that he wasn’t interesting to talk about, because he already knew about himself. Stubborn, that one.

Jakob never learned how to use most features of the SL viewer, he hated exploring unless I scouted places first and teleported him, and he had only two outfits in SL: a pirate costume and swim trunks. He loathed dress codes and thought they were ludicrous in a virtual world. So, every day, he was my pirate. I’d dress as a wench or captain now and then to make him laugh. No matter how often I changed clothes or switched between avatars, he was constant.

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He was bull-headed and grumpy, but he was unconditionally loving, too. He helped me through some difficult times with his simple, no-nonsense coaching. We both altered our sleep schedules so we could chat twice a day, every day: on his lunch break and before he went to bed. We watched Formula 1 races together, sitting on a couch in SL while each watching television in our RL homes. He directed me through German exercises via Skype and I read him a couple of German books, chapter by chapter, in recorded MP3s. Though he was already very ill when we spent two weeks together in Bavaria this spring, and the visit was terribly hard, I’m grateful we got to have it.

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We joked about his awful taste in music, but he was an ardent supporter of a few talented independent female artists. He was mad about Vienna Teng and Rachel Sage, trying to see them perform whenever they appeared within driving distance of his home in Germany. He liked when I sang for him.

The man behind the avatar was 64 years old, but the nearly two decades between our ages rarely felt like a gap. He was an artist, a pacifist, and an atheist who appreciated Buddhist philosophy, though he will be buried in a Christian cemetery near his father. His last RL partner passed away a few years ago and he is survived by no children.

Armenelos ocean view

Jakob had a standard SL account, so I suppose it will sit there until the Lindens archive it for inactivity. How long does that take nowadays? A year or more? I suppose his sister will archive his Facebook account but I’m sure he didn’t leave her his SL login. So he will remain, offline in my Friends list, until the Lindens take him away forever. I’m sure I’ll cry again then, too.

Sweet dreams, Jakob. May you be in a place with great wine and Asian food, cheesy music, and a TV channel with round-the-clock soccer and auto racing. I hope you knew you were loved until the end, no matter what. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Relationships

 

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Second Life road trip: Heterocera Atoll part 1

The SL mainland doesn’t have the best reputation. With no zoning laws and limited control over the terrain and atmosphere, the mainland continents can be chaotic. That chaos can hide gems, though, which is one of the reasons I enjoy living there. Today I dismantled my skybox, leaving a platform and a large box to contain objects owned by Jakob: windchimes, a lotus pond, and lots of bouquets of red roses. I’ll arrange them neatly and give myself a space to sit and reflect until his account is deactivated. I still have my office on ground level as well as a large, landscaped parcel next to the road on the Heterocera Atoll continent. The notion of cutting off part of my parcel to bring down my tier payment is distressing, so I’m making little changes and maybe I’ll be ready by the end of the year.

In the meantime, I started flying around to see what bits of fun I could find on Heterocera. (I adjusted Windlight settings and sometimes applied a Darken filter for detail, but no additional editing has been done to the images below. WYSIWYG.) First I stopped for a coffee at the Damocles Diner in the Spini region. There’s seating for standard and tiny avatars, a nice assortment of refreshments and news boxes, but the swaying train above kept me from lingering.

Damocles Diner

The diner is below an abandoned and incomplete railway line. If you’re a transportation fan, Heterocera has railways, navigable water, a pod tour system, and many public roads. I won’t claim the lag is good — it’s shitty — but you can pull out a vehicle of your choice and get around. If you fly, the sky isn’t overwhelmed with ban lines but you’ll have to dodge skyboxes and towering structures.

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One of the unusual structures on Heterocera is the Great Northern Wall. This is a Linden build; you can walk/ride along the top or through a tunnel inside. Resident builds line the Wall and you can visit the (unofficial?) Great Wall center in the Ziczac region.

Great Wall center

While you won’t see many avatars in my photos, Heterocera is far from empty. There is a lot of abandoned land and in many areas the population density is low, but some places draw crowds. This is a shot of the map with green dots representing people, taken on Saturday afternoon SL time.

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On the SL mainland, each landowner can terraform her parcel only within a limited range of values (which is why I have a steep hill between my office and the back of my property that I can’t flatten). Between odd shapes cut by the various roads, waterways, and railroad tracks and the challenging elevations, residents have had to devise interesting solutions to build at ground level. I snapped a shot of one of the mountains on Heterocera; the peak is the highest point on the SL mainland:

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If you travel along the roadways like I often do, you’ll see a lot of open land. Some of it is truly vacant, but often the resident has a skybox hovering above for more privacy and less concern about the uneven ground. I admire those who have risen to the challenge, though!

Each SL premium account comes with an allocation of 512 square meters worth of free tier, the amount you would pay Linden Lab as a monthly rental fee for mainland space. I know a few people who don’t take advantage of that because they rent or own private islands. Other times, a resident might own mainland space but rarely use it. I had to laugh when I came across this building with the self-aware marquee.

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Sometimes a tiny parcel of land may be all you need, as in the case of this touching little roadside memorial.

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I can’t explore Heterocera without talking a little bit about the Second Life Railroad and the Virtual Railway Consortium, but I’m no expert. I marvel at some of their builds with all the wonder of visiting my childhood neighbor’s basement, where a detailed model train setup filled an entire room. If you’re a train aficionado, the tracks are here for your use! You can even find freebie train givers along the route. I took a little break at one of the stations.

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Below is a map that was posted there. Further along in my journey, I found a sign by the VRC showing “Second Life Rail Road Traffic” on the continent, with lights indicating where pods and trains — automated ones, I’m assuming — could be found. There were nine pods and three trains active on the sign at the time.

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Because of all these public works builds (literally in most cases, the Linden Department of Public Works), there is a lot of public space on Heterocera. You’ll find piers, picnic areas beside the road, and even little rez zones. I pulled out some furniture to test the access. As a landless avatar, you could do worse than to find a pretty seaside spot to unpack your boxes.

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I’ll continue this trip when the mood strikes. After all, you haven’t seen the hobo lands yet, or Pyri, or the crater, or the temple, or the….

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Art in SL, Side Topics

 

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Friday night in virtual worlds

It’s been a rough week: I haven’t felt well, the news has been lousy, and I’ve been frustrated and lonely in my online worlds. I’m bored in ArcheAge, though I’m finding some amusement in traveling the oceans, killing sea monsters for drops to upgrade my clipper. Other than that? Blah.

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Second Life hasn’t been much better. SL is a huge space and new users have always complained that it’s hard to find and meet people in it. Well, let me assure newcomers that it’s not much easier for someone shy who has been there a decade! I jumped around the Destination Guide, often finding myself alone in a sim. The biggest crowds were at sexually oriented sims; I don’t shy away from those and I’ve met some great friends at venues with names that would instantly stop my mother’s heart, but I’m not ready for that sort of interaction. I visited a couple of the formal dance venues but I’m a lag snob and a room full of flexi gowns is a disaster. Standing at the side of the dance floor in my light(render)weight mesh gown, I felt like a prissy wallflower. Hmmph. I’m open to meeting people but also wary, as my heartache about Jakob comes to the surface easily when I’m in SL. Someone who meets me now might get a tough facade or thin ice over raging sadness instead of my normal personality.

So, I was delighted tonight when I got a group notice from Hesperia Templemore announcing an imminent performance by Red Heaven featuring Joel Eilde. I hadn’t heard Joel perform in the past but Templemore has never disappointed me and I headed right over. The crowd averaged 50 avatars, which is a considerable number for one space, but his stream was clear and the music was enjoyable. I tipped liberally — the artist, GM/host Bee, and the house — and I hope to go to another show there soon. (Related real world anecdote: I met my husband for lunch at a sandwich shop on Thursday and as we left, I wanted to tip the young woman who had been playing the guitar and singing in the corner, “if she has someplace I can put it,” I said. My husband said that she did, described the white can to me, and added, “After being in SL this long, I can find a tip jar!”)

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I grooved to the music and had a couple of conversations, and all in all, that’s a pretty good night in SL.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Art in SL, Gaming

 

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Paris and how we get breaking news now

On Saturday night I visited Paris in Second Life, joining the impromptu gathering of people from all over the world.

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Avatars wore pins and held candles or signs showing their support for the people of Paris. Many dressed in blue, white, and red. There was also one avatar in a party hat, bathing suit, and rubber ducky float… but it is Second Life, after all. I stayed for a while until someone tried to pick me up. (I know it’s hard to open conversations — I stink at it, which is why I wandered the grid alone after this though I would have liked some company — but ffs, it was completely inappropriate to pull out cheesy opening lines in virtual Paris the night after the attacks.)

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When news about the attacks broke on Friday, my husband and I were finishing dinner. I glanced at my phone before we went up to our home office for an evening of listening to music together and playing separate games. I flipped by a headline about attacks in Paris in feedly; we live in a world of unrest, and I thought nothing more than, “I’ll read that later.” Just after that, my husband got a text from his mom asking if he was watching the news about Paris. I tried to load CNN.com on my computer and got an error. Fine. Tried BBC.co.uk and found a short video that we watched. Eventually I arranged three windows on my side monitor: a subreddit of Paris attack news, Twitter open to hashtag #ParisAttacks, and the live feed from France 24 in English. The Twitter feed gave me information before the anchors and the subreddit provided other sources, but the France 24 coverage was competent and non-alarmist even in the midst of tragic uncertainty.

I tried different TV news channels the next morning. BBC World News and Al Jazeera America had consistent informational coverage. CNN had a report from Christopher Dickey as I flipped by — my path crossed with his 20 years ago at a magazine site I managed and he’s still helping Americans understand Paris — so that piece was good. Then I went to Fox News. Oh holy hell. Instead of “Attacks in Paris” and “Breaking News” , which other networks had used as identifiers, Fox had a big yellow “ALERT” banner like police tape and the headline “Bloodbath in Paris”. I only watched for a few minutes as speculation and opinion were presented as news, with the ticker at the bottom of the screen pulling out the most explosive, ridiculous quotes. It was disturbing, especially since that’s the channel my husband’s mom and many other Americans watch for news.

When I was a kid, a crisis like that would have meant a breaking news alert interrupting the TV program that, most likely, my whole family would have been watching together. They probably wouldn’t have cut away completely, but offered regular updates through the Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas as the night continued. By the time the first Gulf War started, we had CNN and 24 hour coverage. Now there are more news sources accessible all the time from almost everywhere, but many have tried to be competitive with sensationalism, pandering, and divisive opinions presented as fact. It takes some savvy and self-awareness to choose a mostly neutral source or one that challenges our own view of the world.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2015 in In the News

 

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A reborn SL noob after 10 years

I spent a couple hours in Second Life last night, for the first time since August (and, to be fair, I hadn’t explored outside my SL home for several months before that). In the interim my desktop computer died, so I had to do a clean install of Firestorm with no cache and no preset preferences.  After months of playing an MMORPG, my fingers were trained to move around the environment using the WASD keys. This often resulted in my avatar exclaiming “ssd” or “wwwdd” in local chat.

It was not an easy experience. I didn’t stay at my home long. I’ve wanted to replace my skybox for a couple of years — it’s old technology now, crude and strangely sized — but Jakob objected. It’s highly unlikely he will sign on again as his illness progresses, yet I couldn’t bring myself to start deleting. I checked my land. 86 objects owned by his avatar, including numerous bouquets of flowers intended as gifts but not transferred, just placed around the space we shared. What can I do about those now? I wish I could communicate with him and ask for his password, to properly archive his account, but his sister says he has forgotten his passwords and how to use technology.

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Quickly, I switched from my Kay avatar to my original avi. She’s the inside part of me, more sweet and gentle, more readily emotional; she’s like younger me behind the facade. It was easier for me to tolerate the sadness and loneliness in her body than Kay’s, where I feel more need for composure and restraint.

I visited locations from the Destination Guide and was struck both by the beauty and detail of some areas and the Duplo-like blunt ugliness of others. Second Life at its best is a glorious virtual world where resident creators have pushed the technology and often found ways to make amazing things despite it. At its worst? Well, it’s as good a place to learn about 3D building and virtual coding as Minecraft and I have nostalgic affection for blocky builds with freebie textures. With a small handful of skills and no cash, anyone can start turning imagination into digital reality. That’s marvelous even when the results are unsophisticated. I admire both hyperrealistic and surreal environments in SL, so I wandered from sim to sim. Usually I was one of very few avatars there, as I avoided clubs and adult areas. I’m open to meeting people again, but those aren’t the places I want to be now.

If Jakob is not returning, I need to downsize my SL land holding (the tier is too expensive to pay alone) and I’d like to start splitting my evening online time between gaming and the virtual world again. I suppose it will depend on how my mourning progresses and if I can find a community, or at least a friend or two, with whom I want to spend my SL time.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Embodied Experience, Relationships

 

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