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.