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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Friday, March 18, 2005
SL Ideas #1: Return of the Crimson Room
As a public service, I've decided to dump my various and sundry pie-in-the-sky ideas for random SL widgets here. This saves other players from being forced to listen to them in real time.

You're welcome.

Anyone remember that old web flavor of the week, Crimson Room? Or the sequels, Viridian Room and Blue Chamber? (Or the several dozen imitators since then?) Seems like there ought to be a way to do something similar in Second Life.

Of course, there are hurdles, both technical and conceptual. The primary problem is, of course, that there are dozens of ways to escape locked rooms in Second Life. Teleporting home, various sit hacks, phantom prims, sitting on and moving objects through walls... All will remove an avatar from an inescapable prison with ease. But I don't see this as a real issue. Part of any game is the gentleman's agreement to obey the rules. The primary rule in this case is to use the tools provided within the game to escape. Anything else is either an admission of defeat or a hollow victory. Still, it would be worthwhile to create some form of reward for completing the puzzle and escaping according to the internal rules of the game. This reward can be any number of things. A spectacular pyrotechnics display, or similarly rewarding special effect, that is only activated upon completing the room's hoop jumping would work. Perhaps a commemorative item of clothing could be generated, too, although an "I ESCAPED!" T-shirt seems rather lame.

Technically, there's the issue of creating an interacting collectible inventory. Like Crimson Room, et al, pieces of the puzzle would be hidden all over the room. The game inventory would need to be visible at all times, or at least easily accessible without putzing around in your avatar's inventory. One idea that comes to mind is to create a backpack with the required number of boxes displayed on the surface. To access, the user would just click on the appropriate box.

However, this requires rethinking the concept of game objects. Maybe the objects are just appearing and disappearing pictures/objects within the world. For example, say you have a key hidden in a corner. The player finds the key and touches it. The key object disappears (sets alpha to 0), broadcasts an appropriate signal (via llSay on an inaudible channel) and the appropriate slot in the backpack changes textures from empty to full with the same key. When the inventory box is activated ("lit"), it gains appropriate actions when touched. The key inventory slot broadcasts an unlock code when touched, for example. All objects would broadcast a reset when touched, to deactivate the inventory slot on use. So, for example, to unlock a dresser drawer, the player would touch the appropriate key in his inventory, then touch the drawer. If the key is correct, the drawer opens and the key in the inventory deactivates. If the key is not the right one, the drawer indicates that it is locked, and the key inventory slot goes back into standby.

When the game is exited, or completed, a signal is broadcast to reset all objects to their starting states. All of the hidden items reappear, all objects return to their initial states and positions (ie locked and closed). A sensor would be required to periodically check the room for occupancy, and reset when the room was deserted. Perhaps this sensor could also be used to disable the entry method for the room, to prevent multiple players from entering at once. This aspect requires more thought. A second player running around at the same time could seriously mess up the game.

The puzzle itself would be a series of states. Objects would assemble themselves by restoring invisible parts to visibility (on appropriate signals from the backpack). Then, when all parts are installed (visible), the device would switch to a working state. Doors would open when unlocked. Carpets would roll back, curtains slide open, and cushions would lift to reveal objects, then return to their previous states. All of this would culminate in a clever, sideways method of achieving the primary objective: opening the heavy locked door out of the room.

Another problem with the import is the camera angles issue. Back when I was beating my head against the wall to solve the original Flash games, I often referred to them as "adventures in bad camera angles." Half of the game was figuring out how to place the wonky game camera so that you could see the various items strewn about the room. SL's more flexible camera will get around this, provided people are willing to use it. Would this take most of the challenge out of the game? Puzzles would need to be designed such that they were challenging even after the parts were found, on the assumption that a skilled player would be able to easily search the room. Objects would also need to be hidden cleverly, under furniture, behind cabinets, inside drawers, and so on. At the same time, extreme care would need to be taken to make sure that the objects are not merely hidden by awkward camera angles. This was one of the biggest flaws in the Crimson Room series. And it could prove too difficult and frustrating to be enjoyable for the novice player with a shakier grasp of his camera controls. Perhaps a quick note advising players how to use their cameras in the explanatory game instructions notecard would be in order.

I suppose this is all doable, but it could get exceedingly complex.
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