Making the New World

Hi again, a long’ish post on some of the cool things I have been making here and it is wonderful now that a few other residents are starting to come in a build with me. It is Saturday morning and I am sitting again in my LAMPod (see below) and thought I would talk about some new environments I have made for my work collegues, visitors and friends. At the end of this I have copied some earlier thoughts I had about the environments in this world – so of which really stink! Sure you know what I mean. Anyway there are a few complete custom builds that I have done over the last week or so.

Pyragoda 01
Above is one of my favourites, what I call the Pyragoda – for obvious reasons. I used a script to erect the main 80m structure and then individually textured every wall, added the pagoda floor elements (I saw a picture from bioworld 😉 and then furnished it. The transparent walls are fly-ins (phantom), in other words we can fly through the walls and it has five rooms. The large bottom one if a filmic installation, lots of images and randomised music and is mostly for visitors to get some sense of what AFTRS is about – moody. The second floor is a learning space/centre about LAMP (a thing from the bio world called the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production) – it looks like they are doing some innovative stuff. The next floors are business meeting and boardroom spaces. The big building in the background which I call P3 is a large gallery space with photographs of productions – bio and virtual, and will also serve as a place to hold events.

LAMPods

This was an easy yet very functional build. I wanted something very spacious so we felt like we were in the open and with views all around. So I created these LAMPods – using the most basic of primitives and turning them into non-phantom glass they have become very livable areas. Each one holds eight or twelve residents and this one below is the LAMP one for us residents who are connected to the bio-LAMP lab. So far six have moved in and it is very nice to be on the coast, with yachting and camping on the doorstep and views of the whole island. Simple and functional.

Theatre 01

One of the more complex areas I made but is now ready for a launch the bios are planning for end of August or mid-Sep as there is a TV thing coming out about all of this with some interviews or something with some of our avies. Anyway this holds over 100 of us and I made some tv cameras to record all the action that takes place here. The screen also raises and you can have big props wheeled in from behind and also get out to the coast, in case of virtual fire…hehe

The auditorium below was an easy build, apart from all the individual granite texturing, using a theatre build script. I wanted something that was good for simple lectures but which had focus and space to move around. We like to move in this world, seems silly to be sat down all the time. Anyway this was designed so that several lessons could take place in four quadrants if required as they are over the 20m chat range and it has great views to other parts of the island. Also notive that most of the builds have a red granite and blue tint glass feel. At night some of the glass glows creating a wonderful city scape feel.

Lecture Main

and now some previous thoughts which give you an idea of where I am coming from with these builds. All for now from in-world. Will tell you more about a game I am doing later and there is some more filming and some marketing things in here next week, which is going to distract from the environment design which I like doing, hehe, but these things are what I am paid to do of course…anyway an earlier diatribe (which has some bio perspective) for you delectation…

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We live in a world where you don’t need to eat or drink, you cannot die or harm yourself, you can breathe underwater and you can fly? Add to this our ability to build things in mid-air, walls you can walk through, objects that disobey basic physics and we have the potential to create social spaces only limited by our imagination. I have decided to take on solo, the task of completing the first phases of a sim, an Island we called Esperance. The build is truly started from scratch on behalf of the ‘real life’ Australian Film TV and Radio School. Given a blank canvas I have come face to face with the tensions that exist in creating back-to-back social and work-spaces, in a virtual world. The main tension is actually one persistent in second life – to be representational or to be original, to innovate or invent and to over-build or leave space.

But to start with a broader question, given the flexibility here in Second Life why is there still such a high propensity of real ‘bio’ world cloning taking place? Not just copying individual instances of architecture but dense populating communities. OK I know the way land is sold back-to-back in SL, that it is inevitable that it will get dense but even on islands we build way too much. There are malls just like the ‘bio’ world ones, city streets and buildings with ceilings, windows and physical walls and endless roads and pavements so you can ‘walk’ around. Yes it does seem remarkable that here in Second Life many of the residential, social and commerce areas are just models of our ‘bio’ world spaces for our enhanced real world avies to exist in. Some of the earliest builds like Midnight City complete with New York police sirens and pneumatic drills, replicas of Amsterdam, endless Arabian palaces and several concrete University campuses abound. Why do we need the ‘bio’ world recognisable? Why is the recognisable not even extended slightly to include unique, never before seen features? OK there are a few but the mainland of SL is, at a rough guess, over 90% environments here are ones that can be built in the ‘bio’ world.

The areas I enjoy most here in SL tend to be the enhanced naturalistic spaces such as The Lost Gardens of Apollo, the Underwater Caves at Rua or The Pot Healer Game on Numbakulla. So in designing the AFTRS island from ground up I had to balance the need for work (media production spaces) along with the need to socialise, play and relax. I knew this was going to be a never-ending, iterative organic process so I took the plunge and over one day in mid-July effectively built what will be the foundation of the AFTRS Island (I have enhanced it in weekends since then and those are the images you see here). With a list of needs I decided to roughly consider the island as two broad areas, work/creative and the play/living. I started a ground level literally with the terrain greyscale file. This allows me to terraform the whole island in one go using a simple 256 pixel square 13 layer raw graphics file, manipulated in photoshop. After five or so misses I got the basic landscape close to what I needed and have of course been tweaking on the ground ever since. I wanted a balance of flat, built up spaces and naturalistic, vertical play areas. That balance I believe is still being achieved, but will be an on-going journey, especially when staff and student avies start to get their building ‘legs’. I did have the option to make the ground completely natural and build functional spaces in the sky but I believe work can be enhanced by being near the coast with crashing waves and natural sounds around you.
To follow on from the start of this post I had a traditional tryptch of building options – representations, enhanced representations and originals. The representational spaces included the main cinema/theatre (pic above) a smaller enclosed forty seat TV studio, a range of production backlot for film sets, and a few scattered dept. offices. The theatre took most time as I wanted something to hold up to one hundred in a screening situation and double as a multi-camera live shoot for theatrical and music performance. It is constantly evolving and getting close to a functional space. I built a ‘representational’ sadly, new camera for all areas, and added AngryBeth Shortbread’s great camera switching script that she gave to me earlier.

The enhanced representations included a main AFTRS information, meeting tower and a range of naturalistic forest, coastal and mountain social spaces. The pyragoda tower, which sits in the mid point of the island, would hold areas for visitors to see, interact with and find out about Australian Media plus a few permanent office-type areas. There was talk of building a replica of the AFTRS bio new campus, but as this is still being designed and my lack of wanting to replicate the bio world I suspect that will go away. For the main tower I wanted something that allowed views of the whole island at work, didn’t feel claustraphobic and was easy to explore – by flight as opposed to walking up long ramps everywhere.

The third build paradigm, the original spaces include some ground up designed rotating meeting pods which allow up to nine seated chatters, a breakout five way enclosure and a couple of underwater meeting spaces. I was surprised how sitting underwater with fish swimming around actually allowed one to focus far more than a boardroom, campground or simulated coffee shop. I am developing a growing range of experimental flying spaces, many slowly rotating but allow all users to focus on each other while providing a sense of change and space. I like meetings in NightSpys ‘Holodeck’ that I have permanently out in the backlot areas, this is great as it allows us SL residents to get a feel for the ‘bio’ world and some of it looks quite nice – no I am developing more amorphous, soundscape and organic spaces that promote original thinking which I will cover in a future article.

Finally back to the start it is worth pointing out the thinking behind the layout of the island. Even though the island is effectively a series of smaller ones, as I wanted water to be only a few tens of meters from anywhere and no built up canals, it was important to make the whole area walkable for some game applications. I have been to many islands and not got a sense of real space as, and this contradicts what I said earlier, you are blocked from walking and only walking. It is possible to circumnavigate Esperance by foot and I have designed quite a few hidden valleys and caverns for simple quest games, and in the mountain areas. A simple game we are designing is lost artifacts from the alien race that used to inhabit Esperance, and some even more cooler ones. There are many other aspects that one must consider when developing the areas around the island and these must fall into the mood category. The vegetation, environmental sounds or music, local props (waterfalls, fires) and of course thought about the composition and delineation of each space and how much it is removed from other spaces but still provide some island continuity.

It has been fun starting this process from scratch and I am finding that that all the AFTRS residents who have been initiated into the environment are getting very excited about the many and various aspects of it. I am excited to know what those ‘bios’ being trained professionally in the craft of TV and film making (many who go on to win Oscars) can do with this environment, I wonder also how representational (like the TV studio set) they will need it to be to create wonderful machinima rich with story. There are many other things we have planned for the world including script and story development through improvisation and indentity experimentation, set design, collaborative development of interactive 3D objects and environments, game narrative creation and sharing/hosting screening festivals, presentations and learning events – plus all the awareness raising and marketing around Australia’s premier media academy. As in any new form there are the early entrants who pioneer but then quickly those who can communicate narrative (linear and interactive) at a much higher level are tempted in when it reaches a level of maturity, my world, second life is very close to being there.

I have tried so far in the initial phases to not borrow too heavily on either what I know of the ‘bio’ world or existing areas in this world. If you are any of the twelve thousand land owners here you will know how satisfying but fiddly it can be creating the spaces in our virtual world, the constant tweaking, going through endless modifications and alternate builds. One thing should pervade your thinking though, try to fight the need to fill in all the spaces and make our virtual world as over-built as our ‘bio’ one.

Posted by Gary Hazlitt (first part in-world) from Second Life

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