Friday, May 11, 2012

Interactive Storybook Adventure

When you think you've seen it all, you've barely seen any of it. The brilliant minds that make-up the population of Second Life continue to astonish me with their innovation. The way that they can take the blank canvas that Second Life gives us and create something extraordinary, some of the things I find boggle my mind. Take for example, Interactive Storybook Adventure. The name, when I first read it, threw me off. What kind of story, their own story, an adapted story, how would the creator be able to do it?

Amazingly well, is how he did it. When you teleport to the land the storybook adventure takes place in, you are dropped in front of a lighthouse. Next to the door is a poster telling you the story that you will be adventuring through, "Where the Wild Things Are." Upon entering the lighthouse, a door, with the words "Max's Room" on it stand in front of you. Going through the door you are transported into Max's room. The story is being told to you through manipulation of a chat box that Second Lifers use to communicate with each other.

When you climb into Max's bed a forest slowly begins to appear around you, trees sprouting up from the floor, vines dangle down from the ceiling, the walls disappear, revealing a forest. Next thing you know, the bed shoots up, depositing you on a small circle of beach with a little red sail boat. You hop into the sail boat and make your way across the ocean.

Your boat drifts onto the shore of an unknown beach, and as you disembark a group of Wild Things comes up to greet you. Interactive Storybook Adventure is one of the coolest things I've experienced in Second Life. What could have been done very blandly, was done masterfully. Interactive Storybook Adventure felt like more of an amusement park ride than it did a virtual reality experience. It captures the feeling of Where the Wild Things are perfectly, and amazes with its presentation.

Terracotta Warrior Army

I've always been interested in China's Terracotta Warrior Army, for as long as I can remember. Discovered in 1974, the army was meant to guard Emperor Qin Shi Huang as he made his journey into the afterlife. With over 8,000 sculpted soldiers, it is a sight to behold.

I'm not sure if I will ever get to experience the sight of the Terracotta Army, but, with Second Life I can at least have that experience simulated. Walking into the tomb of the army is quite an experience. It's dark and damp, and the mood it gives off is almost unnerving, like descending into a cave in a horror movie. After making your way down the short hallway, you come upon the army. Obviously not the thousands that actually make-up the army, but enough to simulate the experience. The detail on the re-creations of the statues is pretty remarkable, and it is obvious the person who designed the exhibit put a lot of care and time into their work.

For anyone interested in seeing the Terracotta Army, but without the means to see it in real life, I would suggest taking a trip into Second Life and over to the Terracotta Army exhibit. It's as close to seeing the real thing as you can get without going to China.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Apollonian and Beauty

Have you ever wanted to experience ancient Greece? In Apollonian and Beauty you can. Apollonian and Beauty is an Ancient Greece role-playing sim where players can come and immerse themselves in the pleasures and history of Ancient Greece.

Second Lifers can participate in tournaments with their avatars, battling other Second Lifers in the hopes of winning fame and glory. Second Lifers can also participate in raids with their fellow Greeks, helping to expand the Apollonian empire and bring glory back to the homeland.

Your first step into the Apollonian Empire will be in a marketplace, where players new to the sim can buy clothes, weapons and various other items that will help prepare you and immerse you in the experience, and it is quite an experience. The attention to detail is quite impressive. All of the architecture is crafted in the style of ancient Greek architecture, complete with grand arches, magnificent pillars and carved marble engravings on the various buildings, depicting great thinkers or gladiators.

I highly suggest a visit to Apollonian and Beauty for anyone interested in ancient Greece. Whether you are interested in seeing the architecture or participating in a unique sim experience, Apollonian and Beauty is definitely a part of Second Life worth checking out.

The Loneliness of Being

The Loneliness of Being is such a beautiful and simply-made area of Second Life, I found myself staring into the cloud of letters, looking for patterns and words. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. The Loneliness of Being is an art installation in Second Life, it is made up of a small island with a cloud of ever-changing letters floating around it. The incredibly cool thing about the cloud of letters, is that, it is a constant reflection of the now. The cloud is linked into the internet, using Twitter and various news-feeds to update itself with new words.

The letters float through the air, in a range of different colors and sizes, appearing out of nowhere and then disappearing, some sinking into the water that surrounds the island. I found The Loneliness of Being incredibly interesting and caught myself just sitting in my chair staring into the cloud, looking for new words, trying to figure out if there was some sort of order to the chaos.

On one of the mountains of the island I found a strange, almost disturbing site. What looked like a group of ghosts walking around in an endless circle. They would seem to become almost tangible, and then become so translucent they were barely visible. I'm not sure what the ghosts were there for, but they did confuse and unnerve me a bit.

I found The Loneliness of Being incredibly interesting, and found myself lost in the swirl of ever changing letters and words. If you are ever in Second Life and have a few moments to kill, I highly suggest checking it out.


Prepare to enter a world full of wonder, steampunk wonder that is! Caledon is a whimsical and eclectic steampunk community based in Second Life. It is made up of fifty different regions, each inhabited by Second Lifers from all over the world. The collection of different regions is called the "Independent State of Caledon" and it is considered a micronation in Second Life.

When you first teleport to Caledon you arrive in the city of Oxbridge, the gateway to the main city of Victoria and the rest of Caledon. Caledon is set in the Victorian era, but, like all good steampunk-inspired works, it has bits and pieces of sci-fi and fantasy scattered throughout it's world. Want to get from one region to another as quickly as possible, why not catch an airship and sail through Caledon, enjoying the wondrous sites you pass over?

For those not familiar with steampunk, it is a genre that became popular during the 80's and 90's. Steampunk is generally set in the Victorian era, where the power of steam is harnessed to run, trains, airships and other idiosyncratic devices. The gadgets and machines are based on futuristic innovations as the Victorians might have envisioned them.

Caledon does a great job at building a living, breathing steampunk world. The architecture is fun and imaginative, the fashion is what you would imagine would be worn in the Victorian era, but with a flare of sci-fi inspiration. I encourage all to visit this rich and vibrant land, and experience the wonder and excitement of a steampunk world.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tree Of Lovers-Portland

Live music? In Second Life? Yes. "Tree of Lovers-Portland" is a "multi-international effort combining the creative talents and efforts of a group of friends from Canada, France, Italy and the USA. Providing Second Life Residents with live performers from all over the planet." With eight custom-built stages, each hosts a different genre of music and an art gallery. I arrived in a breathtakingly designed area, with magnificent statues of what looked like angels. They were fitting, as the stage before me seemed like it was anchored in a heaven-like afterlife.

I walked across a glistening, white bridge and come upon a group of my fellow Second Lifer's dancing, hooting and hollering, or whatever hotting and hollering would be described as in text format. The singer was Naomi Morens, apparently a fairly well-known Second Life singer, though I had never heard of her. She sang covers of mostly top 20 pop songs and had a penchant for over-extending her vocal abilities.

Second Life has flourished with live music events such as the ones hosted in Tree of Lovers-Portland. A typical day in Second Life will feature dozens of performances covering a wide array of genres. The band Redzone, a British electronica group, have even toured in Second Life, being the first band to do so, and recently released their newest album in Second Life only. There are dozens of areas in Second Life where you can experience new genres of music live, one of the best parts being that you can interact with the artists after they're finished playing, something you normally can't do. Second Life delivers a unique live music experience, all from the comfort of your keyboard.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

This is a Dead End

Your footsteps echo on the cracked pavement as you walk slowly down the grime covered alley way. Scream's seems to come from off in the distance, carried by the wind, or was it just the wind? Trash swirls around your feet as you creep closer to the end of the alley. You have that feeling, that distinct feeling that you are being watched, but you're positive you are alone. Up ahead, there's something, something under a pile of garbage. You cautiously keep walking, hoping to pass by it with no trouble. The pile begins to rustle as you move ever closer to it. You start to walk a little faster, hoping to just get by it, get by it without finding out what's lurking beneath the discarded refuse. But it just seems the closer you get, the more the pile of trash animates. You're coming up on it now, your muscles begin to tense, the trash is just becomes more and more restless, you're sure something is going to jump out at you. A hand reaches from behind you, covering your mouth, a sharp object is wedged against your spine, "Give me all of your money."

Welcome to "Dead End" the urban/noir role playing game. "Dead End" brings you to the filth ridden streets of Dead End, a city filled to the brim with the worst types of human garbage imaginable. Second Lifer's can choose from a variety of roles, like a common "denizen," just trying to survive and make a life for himself in a city overflowing with corruption. Or maybe you're feeling like being a part of the problem instead of a part of the solution, then the role of "deviant" is perfect for you. Run around the streets causing mischief and mayhem, getting into heated battles with the police, and just being an all-around bad guy.

The look of the city is everything you would expect it to be, it's dark and grimy, practically post-apocalyptic. While exploring, it's hard to not imagine something or somebody waiting for you around every corner. "Dead End" features a plethora of delightfully sleazy areas for players to role play in. Are you sick of the city? Well head to the rural Dead End suburbs. There are plenty of houses in this quaint little neighborhood, that looks like it's been hit by a tornado. If neither the suburbs or the city are your cup of tea, then maybe the sewer system will be more your style. Slosh through the human excrement as you congregate with the rest of the scum that were too reviled to be accepted even in the city.

"Dead End" is a great role playing game for those who are sick of fantasy and science fiction, and want a dark and grittier role play experience. It explores a city haunted by corruption, will you be a part of the solution or a part of the problem?

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Order of Perception

   Are we alone in the universe? While we have no proof that life exists beyond the confines of our small planet, logic states that the universe is too massive for us to be alone. What if a celestial being made contact with us tomorrow, landing on the lawn of the White House, or in front of the steps of Parliament? Would they come in peace, or prepared for war?

   The premise behind Harter Fall's interactive art exhibit "The Order of Perception" is that aliens have landed on our world, and have successfully transported one of their cathedrals with them. This cathedral allows visitors to travel across space and time, giving them the ability to visit alien universes.

   When you first transport to the exhibit, you are overwhelmed by your surroundings. Every way you look you are bombarded by intricately produced art installations. In front of you lies the cathedral, housing the portals to different universes. Only two portals are open at the moment, with new ones being opened every week, but the two that are open are incredible nonetheless.

   Walking into the cathedral, a scene is set up of different alien species either studying, conversing with each other, or working on the construction of the next portal. While the aliens are essentially just models, and don't actually interact with each other or you for that matter, they are important in showing the imagination and sense of humor of the artist.

   The first portal warps you to Universe Q-937X1, also known as "The Upend." This portal drops you into the inside of a hollow star. When you arrive a message pops up instructing you to walk through the "infinite home world of Wandungus." You make your way through a long expanse, surrounded by stars, ending up at a floating platform where you warp back to the cathedral. It is a short walk, but it is masterfully put together.

   The second universe, Universe F-008M4, "The Cube", is even better. Once you go through the warp you are transported to a 20 million years old abandoned observatory of the species Uf Mak Ir. The observatory is a maze-like, optical illusion, and walking through feels very disorienting. Though you are walking on a path (an invisible one), you get the feeling that you are suspended in mid-air by some unknown force, and able to move through out the observatory unimpeded, able to gaze into every window that houses a new galaxy.

   The observatory is a prism made up of triangles and squares with repeating patterns carved into them. Windows into other universes are positioned around the prism in a distinct pattern that adds to the illusion. Some of the windows you are able to venture deeper into as they bring you to a new part of the observatory, which can make navigating difficult at times, as you are never quite sure which windows lead to new areas.


   "The Order of Perception" is such a great example of the creativity that Second Life has to offer to artists with the imagination to use it. Second Life allows artists to create these amazing interactive art exhibits on a scale that would be impossible to do in the real world. "The Order of Perception" takes the tools that Second Life has to offer and runs with it, giving us a uniquely surreal experience that can only be truly appreciated in person.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Batman

   I arrive in a subway, it's dimly lit and a layer of grime covers the walls and floors. Brightly lit signs are arranged on the walls with various labels, one warns pedestrians to stay of the subway tracks. A tall blue "Police Box" stands in the corner, looking barely used. It's not surprising though, who needs the police when you have Batman.

   Welcome to Gotham City, not only a Batman role-playing game, but a large and highly detailed re-creation of Gotham City. You can visit a large amount of the famous landmarks found in the Batman comics and cartoons, from Wayne Manor to the Iceberg Lounge.

Iceberg Lounge

Wayne Manor

   What's really interesting to see though is the level of detail that has gone into the city, from the micro to the macro. Snow covers the landscape, slowly melting away in certain places, leaving behind bits of its residue. A Gotham City Police Department blimp hovers over the city, its spotlights dance across the dark streets below. Directly across from Wayne Manor is a tiny graveyard where one can go and pay their respects to Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce Wayne (Batman's) parents.

   For role-playing, it is a very immersive environment, and the labor of love can be seen in the details. Time and effort have gone into making Gotham feel as much like a real city as possible, with convenience stores dotted around town, banks ready for villains to penetrate their walls, a radio station playing all of the latest hits, and a university. All of these buildings are fully explorable, in fact, most of the buildings that stretch high above the city are explorable, and their insides are very nicely detailed.

The entrance to Arkham Asylum

   This is the power of Second Life, this is what makes it great. These worlds, like Gotham, that we only read about in books and comics, that we only get glances of in movies and video games can be close to fully realized with Second Life. All that it takes is some imagination, and some creative and hard working individuals. But Second Life isn't confined to certain intellectual properties. As I said in my first post, it opens up the possibility for anything your imagination can come up with, and that's what we will be looking at in the next post.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Roads? Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads!"

One of my lasting memories of childhood, is me at six years old, riding Spaceship Earth at Epcot. I remember being enamored by its depiction of the future and the technological advances that it showed. The rest of the day I couldn't stop thinking about what I had saw, and bugged my parents for more information the whole way back to our hotel. Of course, being six, the extent of my questioning came down to, "When is the future?" My parents, having a complete understanding of how time works, told me, "Tomorrow is the future." I awoke the next morning, expecting a futuristic paradise to have sprung up around me overnight. This was not the case, and my little six year old heart was crushed. 

I am not sure if this event in my life sparked my interest experiencing the exotic and strange worlds you only see in movies and video games. But for as long as I can remember, there has been a place in my imagination reserved for wondering, what if, what if I could, even just for a few minutes experience a completely different world.

Any world you can imagine you can create. You have no limits. This is the driving ethos behind Second Life, an online virtual world developed by Linden Labs. Second Life is a completely user created experience; every article of clothing, every mountain, every building is created by its users. It is a constantly evolving shared experience. 

It is very easy to write Second Life off as another online game, where people with no lives can whittle away their remaining minutes. But Second Life is so much more than that. It is a place where people from around the world can come and interact in real time, exploring the world that fellow users have created, and at the same time creating a world of your own. As a resident of Second Life you have complete control over what your avatar, you, looks like. You can create a carbon copy of your real life self, or you can let your imagination run wild, becoming any manner of creature you can think of. 

One of the best things about Second Life though, is that everything created is the property of the resident that created it. Linden Labs claims no ownership over anything created by the users of Second Life. Residents who explore the creative aspects of the Grid can go on to sell their created wares on the Second Life Marketplace for Lindens, Second Life's currency. Those earned Lindens can then be spent again on the Marketplace or be converted to real world currency. 

Second Life is so large, and each part of the Grid was created with different intentions in mind:

Some people have re-created real life cities like, London and Paris. 

  Others have created places plucked from their imaginations, for exploring or for role-playing.

Universities and Colleges have begun establishing virtual branches, and educational exhibits.

Businesses have even started to pop up on the Grid, and not just resident based businesses, actual billion dollar companies.

What intrigues me the most about Second Life though, is its place in the evolution of technology and the internet. While seeming fairly minute at the moment, Second Life is one of the first steps into the future of the internet, the metaverse, a hyperrealistic digital environment in which the world's communication networks come to life. Second Life is the beginning, demonstrating the potential of a 3D internet. There is so much to see and do in Second Life, and I'm excited to not only to experience it for myself, but to also share those experiences with you.