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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Monday, January 24, 2005
Just a Picture
This is a picture of my SL alter ego in his new black suit. Just trying out a new look.

Moriash, looking like a bit of a badass.

And another one. Nifty sword, huh?

Nothing to add. Just thought they were cool pictures. I don't expect this to become an every-day look, but it's sometimes handy to have something for business engagements. Or for taking care of business.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Second Life Update
Things I learned in Second Life this week:

Well, that's all the news I have this time. More later, I suppose.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
After a few days of negotiation and shopping around, a RL friend and I have purchased some land in Second Life. (The software is free, and they have a free 7-day trial. You ought to give it a try. Tell them Moriash Moreau sent you, and I'll split my referral bonus with you if you decide to stay.) Or, more precisely, after a few days of me buzzing around and acting neurotic about losing choice virtual land, I bludgeoned said RL friend into forming a group (Pinkerton-Moreau Industries) and getting adjacent plots of newbie land (from the First Land project, which offers low-priced land to first time buyers). We now have 1024 square meters on the relatively new Louise sim, a stone's throw from the edge of the world. (It's not the tourist attraction one might imagine.)

Unfortunately, in order to form a group, you must have a minimum of three members. I didn't find this out until after we'd bought the land. So, in the great American middle class tradition, I threw money at the problem until it went away. In this case, I ended up purchasing a new Basic account. (There are two account types: Basic and Premium. Basic is a one time $9.95 fee for lifetime access. Premium starts at $9.95 a month. Premium members get to own their own land, and get a much larger weekly in-game cash allowance. Basic members are poor, landless serfs... Unless they join a group with group-owned land.) So, with this dummy account, we now have the necessary silent partner. And with the referral bonuses, I'd break even, were I to sell them on the open market. (It's interesting to have a sanctioned money trade system, as opposed to the ban-worthy black market I had to use for Everquest. But that's a post for another time, should I ever actually make in-game money selling in-game artifacts.) I won't sell the game money back, mind you, but it's good to feel like I didn't just waste real money to clean up my own mistakes. At least I'm starting out with a tidy little nestegg as a bonus.

While I'm on the subject, I'd like to take a moment to formally apologize to the unnamed RL friend (aka Howel Pinkerton) for all the confusion, and thank him for his patience. Howel, I think I still owe you $488L of your share of the referral bonus.

Anyway, for the past three or four days, I've been building my first major virtual project. It's a little flying home-away-from-home, suspended some 80 meters above the ground. The smog is an unfortunate visual mix of the incipient sunset and the fog effect applied as the distance nears your render maximum, where the game stops showing rendered objects. The simulation engine can't handle showing you every object between you and infinity without grinding to a halt. The fog is a reasonable compromise.

Here's the SkyPod, in all its glory. Actually, I'm looking for a better name. I'm considering "SkyPad" instead, but that sounds too '70s. (Which may fit the decor, actually.) Anyone have any better ideas? It needs to be short, under 8 or 9 letters, so that I can use it in selection menus and such without it being truncated.

As you can see, the pod is held aloft by four huge (10 meters, tip-to-tip) propellers. This is not strictly necessary, mind you. Second Life is quite happy to let you build castles in the air. (In fact, a neighbor is currently building an glittering soap bubble construction just to my north. That, and the upcoming Aztec pyramid to the northwest, will improve my view immensely. Fortunately, people on Louise and neighboring Abitibi seem to have restrained tastes. No strip clubs or shopping malls right next door... Yet. SL needs zoning laws!) But the physical justification is a nod to my concrete worldview in a fantasy world. The propellers are designed to (theoretically) prevent spin (by counter-rotating two of them) and precession (by spinning them slower, and thus reducing their angular momentum, as they get further away from the center of mass). Fortunately, I don't have to make the exacting calculations required to control the prop speeds while accounting for lift, reaction moments, and precessional counterforces. I can just fake it. If nothing else, it's kind of an interesting visual effect.

The first floor is unfurnished at the moment, as I'm still working out the kinks for some of the basic systems. I'd like to make it an observation deck of some sort, perhaps with several telescopes (or maybe remote cameras, or crystal balls) pointed at different interesting local landmarks (using the scripted camera controls, provided I can trick them into giving me any magnification). At least one will focus on the Pinkerton-Moreau garden below, and maybe one more will be programmed to show various landmarks on demand. If this works, I'll have to make a set of surveying tools to scout out points of interest and collect distance and direction vectors back to the telescope. Perhaps a longterm project for another time.

The silver hatch in the middle of the first floor leads to an escape tunnel out the bottom of the pod. You wouldn't believe how long it took me to interlock the two hatch doors (bottom and top) to open simultaneously, rig the necessary kludges to work around undocumented quirks, and dredge up enough trig to get the rotations right. Hopefully, this kind of thing will come faster and easier when I'm no longer just a script kiddy. It better... I need my sleep!

Most of the interior decor work has gone into the second level. I'm kind of proud of how it turned out. The giant semi-circular couch is upholstered in full-grain virtual leather (it looks kind of washed out in the picture). The light fixture is a suspended halo, to match Moriash's trademark headgear (at least until I get tired of it), which turns on and off with a simple touch (one of my first successful scripts). This shines down on an opening to the floor below, which is surrounded by appropriately contemporary steel and cable handrail. I lucked into finding an intricate wood inlay texture for the dome at the top. The green glass at back was another lucky texture find, although this one took considerable stretching and distorting to get it right. The red velvet curtains open and close for privacy on demand (another early script). Eventually, I will have a free-standing fireplace, tucked between the ends of the couches (which will be shortened a bit) opposite the decorative glasswork.

My current project is the in-house teleportation system. Each of the steel discs with the translucent black monoliths is a teleport pad. Just click on the green button, and it will teleport you up to the next floor, or to the roof. (Teleporting down again is tonight's project.) There's another T-port pad at ground level, in what will eventually be Howel's garden.

Local teleportation is kind of an interesting hack. There are various methods of in-game long distance teleportation, including the use of public pads, preset "home" points, and site-to-site teleport invitations invoked by friends (requiring said friend to be at the destination point already). But, with the partial exception of the teleport home and land eject commands, there's no script code to teleport a player from arbitrary point A to arbitrary point B.

(The llTeleportAgentHome and llEjectFromLand commands are primarily there to deal with rowdies and griefers. Be an assjack, and the owner can use various bouncer scripts to either send you to your home point, or kick you to the nearest point outside of his land. Then he'll probably add you to a temporary or permanent ban list to keep you from returning.)

However, there is an interesting application of the llSitTarget command. This command was designed to allow furniture designers to exert fine control of where and how a user sits on his sofa and loveseats. With it, you can tell the avatar to sit in a certain place when he selects "sit here," instead of the sometimes awkward placements generated by the default sit code. (Often this is combined with custom animations, using 3D character design software like Poser. These can be used to make the avatar lean back on the cushions, or lie down, or throw an arm across the back, or whatever. There are even animations for couples only, to make two avatars cuddle side by side in a hammock, for example, or do considerably more explicit things in specially designed beds. Disturbingly, untold manhours have been spent by dozens of designers to perfect the latter.) This is handy for custom designed furniture, as well as for car seats and other vehicles where the specific placement of the driver matters.

Now, this is all well and good, but what does it have to do with teleportation? Well, someone discovered- probably by accident- that you can set your llSitTarget vector to be nowhere near the furniture in question. In fact, you can set it such that, when the user chooses "sit here," he will end up sitting up to 300 meters away! (As an aside, there's no command to force an avatar to sit. He must choose to do so himself. So no sneaking up and llSitTarget teleporting someone to your own personal den of iniquity... They have to enter it willingly.) This, combined with the llUnSit command (which makes an avatar seated at a given location stand up- useful for keeping would-be car thieves from stealing your virtual Ferrari) equals teleportation. Pretty sneaky! In my case, the teleporter on the ground tells the user to sit down some 80 meters in the air, in a spot that corresponds to the teleport pad on the first level. The remaining teleporters bounce the avatar up or down as required, effectively acting like an elevator.

At one point, I had a full teleport booth assembly, which completely enclosed the user when activated. However, in a virtual reproduction of all too many sci-fi scenes, the hacked together code kept materializing the subject halfway through the wall or ceiling of the booth. Fortunately, this isn't fatal. But it can be a massive inconvenience. Thus, for safety's sake, I've had to switch to open pads.

So, anyway, that's what I've been doing for the past few days, anyway. Sad, isn't it?
Sunday, January 02, 2005
Second Life

So I'm doing the seven day free trial for Second Life right now. It's not a MMORPG, per se. I suppose that, if games like Everquest are the successors to the old text MUDs, then Second Life is more like a MOO. There's no real goal (except perhaps to make money, see below), but there is substantial social interaction (not that I've done much of that yet) and a powerful object creation system. The latter is the main reason to play the game, in my opinion. You can create just about anything in-game, including homes (if you want to buy land), vehicles, weapons (for the few game areas that allow that kind of thing), clothing, and so on. And you can script it to behave as realistically (or as unrealistically, as the case may be) as you like.

So, for example, my avatar above (at least until I change it- avatars are highly mutable) is equipped with blue jeans, tennis shoes, a turquoise belt buckle, a leather jacket, and a rumpled button-down shirt. These are all from a freebie box I found in the corner of an obscure bazaar. Many items created by other players cost in-game dollars. These include fancy cars, designer clothes, original artwork (images can be uploaded from out-of-game, for $10 in-game bucks a pop) to hang on your virtual walls, and so on. But someone in-game compiled a huge box of free items and set it up for anyone to take a copy. So I lucked out there.

The wings also came in the freebie box, along with several other script-laden items that aren't visible. The clothes have nothing special intrinsic to them. The wings, however, come with a built-in script that grants increased flight speed when you are above a certain socially acceptable altitude (it can even make sonic booms if you tweak a couple of script toggles appropriately). Everyone can fly, as well as make use of the in-game teleportation system. Travel is not really a major issue. The wings are a simple luxury item, though, should you want to make short jaunts more quickly. I've tweaked them a bit so that they are a bit hazy and give off a faint glow, as well. Same with the halo, which is the first item I've made from scratch. (I ultimately want to make it spark a bit, and possibly pitch and yaw off axis a bit, when I learn scripting.) And you wouldn't believe how long that took. The object editor is idiosyncratic at best. It's going to take some getting used to. I'm hoping for an off-line editor somewhere with better tools.

There are many downsides, though. First is the lag issue. Unlike Everquest, where all of the items are pre-made and can be stored on your local hard drive, all of the object information must be streamed to your computer as you go. So broadband is a must. And even then, often you find yourself entering an area and bumping into invisible walls until the object data catches up with you. Pictures are sometimes maddening, especially when they contain useful information, because they stream in iterative stages of detail. First, just colored blobs. Then then slowly resolve themselves over a matter of tens of seconds into the actual images. In short, no movements can be done in a hurry. Not if you want to actually see the scenery, anyway.

But this is endurable, if you have a reasonably good pipeline. The other issue that concerns me is in-game money. Permanent object creation costs. Basically, if it costs the server extra processing time, it costs in-game moolah. You're given a modest weekly allowance ($500 in-game), but decent objects all seem to cost something in that order of magnitude as well (which, of course, is no coincidence). So if you want to have any real purchasing power, you have to make original items to sell, and get people to buy copies. Most of this is done by automatic scripted vending machines, parked either on your own property or in rental stalls in popular areas. So many of the heavily used areas feel like being trapped in a shopping mall. You can also flip money back and forth between real and in-game dollars, or so I understand, but I haven't really looked into that in any detail.

And, of course, there's the in-game property. I think I've argued in favor of purchasing in-game items with real money before, in Everquest. It's akin to purchasing software upgrade, or clip-art packages, or iTunes, or CDs, any number of useful software artifacts that make your time more productive or enjoyable. In this case, though, my belief in that analogy is stretched. Here, if you want to buy land, you have to pay rent. A small plot (512 square meters) costs an extra $5 a month (on top of the $9.95 a month for access- initial software is free). The largest plots (65,526 square meters) go for $980 for 16 acres, with monthly land fees of $195. I'm still deciding how I feel about all this. The basic subscription plan comes with a 512 meter plot. Maybe I'll feel different when I start building my own architectural creations, but for now paying property tax on virtual real estate feels kind of hinky. It's undeniably appealing to leave your mark on the world, even if it is a virtual one. Perhaps that would be worth the cost. For a while, anyway.
Saturday, January 01, 2005
Who Am I?
A Rambling Introduction to this Weblog
(Written April 8, 2005)

Hello, and welcome to my Second Life weblog. To help put all this in perspective, let me tell you a bit about my online self.

I'm a thirty-something mechanical engineer from Houston, Texas. My chief claim to fame is being one of the Web's foremost experts on homebrew lava lamps. (See Google for proof. I'm right up there at the top!) I maintain, and sometimes even update, an obsolete vintage hand-coded vanity site called PsychicGoldfish.com. The name was the result of a late night session on a WHOIS server, beating my head against the wall and trying to find a memorable domain name that wasn't already taken. Nobody forgets my URL now, but I've found that a truly depressing number of people can't spell "psychic." Some of the projects on that site (such as Office Bricolage: Micro Claymore, Improved Breast Enhancing Ringtone, Everquest Keypressing Robot, and What's in Nathan's Pockets?) are responsible for burning up a few more moments of my Warhol time. If this is all I get, I demand a refund!

I've been online, one way or another, since the late Eighties. Sometimes I miss the good old days before the Web and before AOL disks came in every Happy Meal, when you had to either be a student or have an in with a major university to get access. People seemed to take a little more care in what they wrote and how they presented themselves. In short, nobody had even heard of LOL, or ROFL, or STFU. If they liked what you had to say, or thought you were an idiot, or wanted you to shut up and go away, they told you so in great and eloquent detail. Those were the golden years.

As for online games, I've been involved with them off and on for over a decade. Back in the halcyon days of the pre-web internet, I spent an inordinate amount of time neglecting my studies and playing MUDs like Medievia. Most people nowadays haven't even heard of MUDs. They didn't get much press, even before they became hopelessly outmoded. They were text-only virtual worlds, with prose taking the place of the fully rendered, high-res visual experiences we take for granted nowadays. But they were no less immersive for that limitation. A well written description is easily as evocative as a fully rendered picture. Perhaps more so. MUDs, and their close cousins, MOOs were an important step on the road to modern MMORPGs and virtual worlds like Second Life.

But enough of Jurassic internet history. After (barely) graduating from college, I left MUDs behind and moved on to Ultima Online. From there, I moved on to Everquest (as Moriash Spindrifter, Journeyman Mage) for a couple of years. I'd quit EQ every few months, only to restart again when I forgot how tedious it was to level grind and spend hours looking for groups. My Second Life alias came from this game. It was the result of another late night attempt to find a decent name that was not already taken by other EQ denizens. I am amazed by how much of my online identity has resulted from stringing together random words and syllables at three in the morning.

Finally, in a fit of rage at the overwhelming amount of casual griefing and ignorant 1337 speak from all quarters, I quit EQ once and for all in early 2004. From there, I moved on to a brief stint in Star Wars Galaxies. Many regrettable things happened because of that, but I'll spare you.

However, I quickly lost interest in the Star Wars universe, and decided to give City of Heroes a try. After a couple decades collecting comic books, I went into CoH predisposed to like it. And I tried. I really did. But, sadly, it turned out to be another EQ-style level grind, dressed up in tights.

Then, on New Year's Day of 2005, I discovered something new. I was rounding out the end of my customary Christmas break, and fighting off a serious case of boredom caused by spending the previous few days watching TV. I dropped by Boing Boing to catch up on current events, and saw an advertisement: "Try Second Life FREE for 7 Days!"

I was hooked.

Since then, I've made a few friends, bought some land, made a couple of tentative posts on SL forums, and become a pretty fair journeyman scripter. Since Second Life has pretty much become my life, I've decided to document how I spend my time there. This is primarily to save my RL friends from having to hear about my zippy-neato-keen SL experiences in person, or on my personal RL weblog (which I won't link here, in the interests of keeping my RL and SL separate). There are few things sadder than an online gamer who spends all his face time rabbiting on about what Gwildor the 37th level High Elf Wizard did in the Pits of Karnor. And most folks don't see the difference between that and Second Life...

Assuming there is one, that is. I think that I'm going to table that for now. In any case, welcome to Moriash Moreau: My Second Life. Feel free to drop me a comment or two if the mood strikes, and I hope you enjoy your stay.

Here are some of the most common questions I'm asked in the game. Drop me a comment if you think of anything I should add.

What's with the halo in the early pictures?
(Added 4/26/05)
It has no particular significance, really. As mentioned in one of my earliest posts, I came across a box of freebie wings on my first day in game. I took a liking to a set of scripted white angel wings, and decided I needed a halo to match. It's the first object I ever built. I only wear the wings on special occasions now (they kept getting in the way when I was selecting objects), but I've become quite attached to the halo. Oh, and I know it's a little crooked. It's supposed to be! That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

What happened to the halo?
(Added 6/16/06)
Well, we all grow up. It was kind of a silly affectation. I still wear it, invisibly, and bring it out on special occasions. It contains an every-changing, Swiss-army-knife array of utilities that I use from time to time, so I was hesitant to take it off altogether. So, I settled for an "incognito" setting, instead.

What's with the glasses?
(Added 6/16/06)
They are a faithful replica of Spider Jerusalem's camera glasses, from the pages of Transmetropolitan. If you haven't read Transmet, and you're into such things, you really should. It's kind of Hunter S. Thompson meets Bladerunner, with a healthy does of WTF?! thrown in. Chrestomanci Bard made them for me a while back. And I've rigged them to fire ass-targeting laser beams, so watch your step.

Isn't it about time you found another shirt?
(Added 6/16/06)
I suppose so. This one has a bit of sentimental value, though. It's the first (and only, actually) item of clothing I ever made. And it's the last symbol of a doomed political movement.

Way back in my SL adolescence, in early 2005, a few Louise dwellers formed a group called the Louise Volunteer Zoning Board (aka the LVZB). Back then, Louise was a new sim, unspoiled by the accumulated detritus of black-box clubs, ill-conceived shopping complexes, and wannabe casinos. And we decided to try and keep it that way. Through a combination of positive peer pressure, good example, strategic land buys, residential-zoned rental properties, and general good vibe production, we set out to "Keep Louise Green."

Actually, all we did was talk about it. But that's beside the point.

As part of the promotional material, I made a little holographic (okay, particle generated) garden gnome. When you touched the base, it would say one of two phrases: "Help save the trees!" or "Help keep Louise greeen!" (Said slogans were voiced by yours truly, with aid of a held nose and creative filtering from a cheap sound editor.) It then dispensed a notecard explaining our plans and asking for donations from interested parties. And it gave out a black T-shirt with the LVZB logo: a pixelated abstract green pine tree.

The LVZB is inactive now, and most of the other members have either disappeared or moved on to other things. But at least I got a nifty T-shirt out of the deal.

How do you pronounce your first name?
(Added 11/21/06)
Well, since I invented it, I get to decide how it's pronounced: "more-EYE-esh." You can call me Mori ("MORE-ee"), or just Mo, if you like.

While we're on the subject, I would strongly advise any newcomers to heed my cautionary example and pick a more conventional name. I'm a little embarrassed by my chosen name, now. It just doesn't fit the world, or the relatively mundane identity I've adopted for myself. But, short of quitting and starting over, I'm kind of stuck with it. Give some thought to your SL name, and to how you'll feel about it months, or even years, down the line.