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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
SL Ideas #5: Gender-o-Matic
So I was reading an amusing Herald article by noted SL personality and fashion designer Aimee Weber. It was a comic look a gender issues and romance in Second Life. Of primary concern was the RL gender of an apparently female avatar. Aimee's (facetious) answer was a simple quiz. She showed three items typically only associated with the female RL experience, and challenges the players of apparently female avatars to identify each from three multiple choice answers.

In the grand online tradition of creativity, I propose ripping off Aimee's excellent idea and running with it. (Okay, I'd give credit, which as far as I can tell is something entirely new and unheard of in SL. I've always been a trailblazer.) I envision a little booth with curtains, like an old style voting booth or a changing room at a department store. The user enters, closes the curtain, and activates the questionnaire. The machine then shows a series of ten to fifteen images, each with three possible answers shown. (Probably the simplest method would be to include the question and answers in each image. Instant messaging could also be used, although the inherent one second delays between each IM could be irritating. Says and whispers should be avoided, to prevent excessive spam and to avoid giving away the questions.) The machine would tally the answers and spit out a result. Perhaps something like: Certified Female, Probably Female, Unknown, Probably Male, and Certified Male. Maybe there would be T-shirts involved. A pink "Certified Female" or a blue "Certified Male" tee could be amusing. Perhaps a green T-shirt with a big question mark- and no explanatory text at all- would be amusing, too.

There are a few hitches to be worked out. The first, of course, is the quiz design itself. Ideally, the pictures would be half-and-half: half male-centric items, half female-centric. Aimee's examples are ideal for women. While many males (myself included) probably recognized them, they would all feel a little hinky about admitting it. I find I'm at a loss for similar items for males. Perhaps athletic supporters and fragments of porno mag covers? Cleverly creating two plausible (or one plausible and one amusing) wrong choices would be a bit challenging, as well.

The scoring could go two ways. I envision a general scoring range system, say from -7 to +7 (for a 14 question quiz). You would assign a point value for each of the three possible answers to each of the questions. In the first scheme, a "male" answer would be worth +1 point, a "female" answer worth -1 point, and a "neutral/weird" answer worth 0 points. The score would be tallied at the end, with number ranges being assigned to final scores. Say -7 to -3 is female, +3 to +7 is male, and -2 to +2 is unknown/indeterminate gender. (No judgments as to the author's opinions on the relative value of a given gender should be inferred from this scheme.) Or, if the five categories mentioned above are to be used, -7 to -5, -4 to -2, -1 to +1, +2 to +4, and +5 to +7.

As an aside, it occurs to me that the five category scoring scheme might be more useful if a nominal fee (say $5L to $10L) is charged for the test. Some players might be willing to run the test again in order to try for the coveted "Certified Male" or "Certified Female" tees, as opposed to the more ambiguous "Probably..." shirts. But, if the service is to be offered for free, the three category system would be more satisfying for the user. I think it'd be funny as heck to install these on tiny 4x4 plots (in small, tasteful, clearly non-griefing kiosks) next to the more popular dance clubs.

But back to the scoring. In the second scheme, a score would only be assigned to the correct answer. A +1 or -1 would be applied, depending on whether the item shown is male-centric or female-centric. The final tally would be the same as above. Here's a sample question:

What color is this?
A. Fuchsia
B. Purple
C. Kool-Aid Grape

The correct answer is Fuchsia. The underlying assumption is that no guy would know this, since most men operate off of a 3-bit color palette (or, in non-techie terms, the cheap box of crayons). Under the first scoring scheme, an answer of A would receive -1 point, an answer of B would receive +1 point, and an answer of C would receive 0 points. Under the second, A would receive -1 point, while B and C would be worth 0 points. The correct answer to a male-centric question under the second scheme would receive +1 point.

As you can see, the quiz is wildly inaccurate and all in fun. It's not intended to be a serious diagnostic tool. You may notice that, with either scoring scheme, a knowledgeable person of either gender can come out with a perfect 0 indeterminate score. To add a little more accuracy, perhaps the quiz taker should be instructed to pretend that a group of friends of his professed gender are watching his answers. A male among males would be less likely to admit to knowing what a pantyhose sizing chart looked like, while a female among females would probably be less likely to admit to recognizing a jockstrap or the "P" from a Playboy magazine cover. However, this kind of mental pre-programming may encourage meta-gaming the system to get the gender the user wants. Does this matter? If this were a serious psychological analysis, yes. But in this case? Probably not.

Oh, and I whipped up a logo for the Gender-o-Matic, too. Ain't it spiffy?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005
SL in Stereo
Just a quick one today. I was sorting through some old screen shots, and ran across some more accidental stereo pairs. As you may remember, these came up before. Taking stereo pairs is remarkably easy in Second Life. Simply center your rotation on the subject object (by using Alt-Left-Click). Take a screenshot. This will be your left eye image. Then, rotate slightly to the right, centered on the subject (using either the camera control rotate-right or Alt-Right-Arrow). This is the right eyed image. From there, it's just a matter of adjusting the image sizes in your favorite art package and glomming them together side-by-side. Put the right eye image on the left and left eye image on the right for cross-eyed viewing. Keep the right eye image on the right for wall-eyed viewing. (See below.)

There are two basic types of stereo images: "cross-eyed" and "wall-eyed." The former requires you to cross your eyes such that they converge in front of the image. The latter requires you to focus beyond the image. I've decided to present these and all future stereo images in cross-eyed format (link is to a tutorial for viewing them). My apologies to all of you experienced wall-eyed viewers out there, but I had to pick one format or the other, and I can't free view wall-eyed images to save my life. If you can't make it work (the first and third ones below turned out to be especially easy to see), don't stress about it. You're just not missing that much.

Some pipes in the ANWR Prim Drilling Platform

King Kong and Faye Wray, La Musee de la Crescent de L’ile de Montmarte

Picnic in the Park, Part One

Picnic in the Park, Part Two

Friday, March 25, 2005
Moriash Gets Bounced
So today, during lunch, I did a little work on the Sky Arena. It now has the ability to rez two different kinds of stages on demand. Currently, it can bring up a small (10m diameter) round stage, surrounded by 16 cylindrical stools. It can also create a larger (20m x 10m) rectangular stage with 10 level, 10m x 20m bleachers in front. Eventually, I plan to add a large octagonal stage with built in size change and starting position markers for combat events.

There were a few minutes of my lunch hour left after I finished troubleshooting, so I decided to do a little aerial sightseeing. I picked a direction, bumped up the flight speed on my warp belt, and started flying. A few sims away, I ran into a lag spike and decided to land and wait for the world to finish rezzing around me. Soon after I touched down, a chat message flashed on my screen.

"[Name withheld, mostly because I can't remember it]: Why don't you take a picture? It'll last longer."

I whirled around to face the (previously unnoticed) green dot on my mini-map, and discovered another player standing on the other side of a slowly rezzing window. She was a naked-to-the-waist female av, standing in the distinctive floating spread-eagle pose of an appearance edit.

Long story short, I was ejected from that land. Curse my occasional literal-mindedness. And doubly curse that stupid screen-capture animation!
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Give me land, lotsa land...
...And the starry skies above. Don't fence me in!

Yesterday was a productive day. I slightly increased my land holdings, did my part to help keep Louise green, and added some fancy teleporter coding to my holdings.

Over the weekend, there was a bit of a shakeup in Louise. The Tavern on the Green, a larval dance club, apparently bit the dust before they even finished construction. So Louise dodged a bullet there. Their several thousand square meter complex disappeared, and all of their land was sold to a couple of real estate developers. The yellow rectangles in the overhead view below are land parcels for sale. You can't tell from this vantage, but they are in fact groupings of 512m residential parcels. While there's nothing keeping someone from buying multiple plots, it is more likely that these will be sold singly to small residential occupants. At least, that's what I hope. I always get a little nervous when land comes up for sale in my sim. There's no fair way to enforce them without seriously distorting the game, probably for the worse, but it sure would be nice if SL had zoning laws.

The red areas are owned by other residents. And the green swathes are owned by yours truly. I made two land purchases in the last few days. The first was the 256m meter strip in the upper left. This segment was left over when the Tavern property was subdivided. It was actually two shorter strips, possibly intended as prim land (land purchased solely to harvest the additional primitives allotment for use elsewhere in the sim). I purchased it, partially for that purpose, and yesterday I planted several trees and shrubs on the plot. There's also a large, mossy boulder with an embedded script to play bird songs (daytime) or crickets and owl hoots (nighttime). I have no intention of ever selling this land. It's my hope that this will keep a larger complex from moving into the plot. The red plot with the red and white heart-shaped building is actually a rental, which could be sold easily to an interested buyer. (The heart house is a mystery. I have no idea what they are intending for that structure.) With any luck, this enforced dividing line will discourage the more ambitious, lag-inducing mega-builds.

I'm not certain if I feel entirely comfortable with this practice, though. At one time, installation of green belts like this one was a major goal of the Louise Volunteer Zoning Board (aka the LVZB, a nearly-defunct group dedicated to controlling sim construction through strategic land acquisition). It feels a little bit like grief building now that I've actually done it, though. As much as it makes my blood boil to hear people say it, it is their land, and they have every right to do what they like with it. (Which is precisely why "It's my land!" has become the battle cry of every griefer, blackmail builder, and aesthetically challenged idiot in the game.) Deliberately dictating the building choices of a third party is perhaps a bit dubious.

As it stands, a few of the trees do actually creep over the edges of the 4m wide strip. This is decidedly objectionable, especially adjacent to a small plot with limited build space. It's frustrating to have a neighbor's phantom tree limbs waving through your walls. As a nod towards being a good neighbor, I've added the following to the description lines for the trees: "Let me know if this tree is interfering with your adjacent build, and I will remove it immediately." I confess that I wouldn't feel too guilty if these trees ended up pushing back the adjacent builds a couple of meters, though. Or, even better, attracted buyers who embrace the radical idea that a few trees actually add to their build, instead of just taking up space.

This all reminds me of an old Civil Engineer's joke:
Q: What's the best place for a tree?
A: In your neighbor's yard!

(Because tree roots cause upset the moisture balance in the soil, causing settling and upheaval problems in the foundation. They also break up sidewalks, crack driveways, and puncture water lines. In short, they're pretty to look at, and provide shade, but you don't actually want one growing near your home. Okay, it's funny if you're a civil engineer.)

So, anyway, that was one of the purchases. Long way around for that, huh? The other purchase was one that I've been trying to arrange for a month or more. There was a plot of First Land just to the south of mine. If you look in the just to the left of the big grey building, OmegaX's Librarium, between SkyPod 1 (the wooden flying construct with the propellers) and the grey circle with the tree in the middle (the LVZB bulletin board area), you'll see the general area. This First Land was purchased by a Mercure Ingersoll, the day after I bought my first chunk of land. He built an odd white floating platform, supported by equally odd floating pine trees, then apparently left the game. I'd been trying to purchase this plot from him for weeks now, but received no responses to his IM. Earlier this month, the land reverted to Governor Linden, indicating that it was about to be resold somehow. A quick IM to support told me that it would likely be sold on auction at some point.

Instead, it was returned to the First Land program yesterday afternoon. At this point, I had to do something fast and sleazy to grab it. My alternate, who I've mentioned before, just so happened not to have purchased land. So, a quick upgrade to Premium and 512 Lindens later, and my main parcel was complete. The land was transferred to group ownership, and the account downgraded soon thereafter. I wouldn't want to make a habit of this, though. While I am within the TOS, and I am paying all the necessary fees to Linden Labs, it is a bit of an abuse of the First Land program. I suppose the proper way to do this would be to wait for a first time buyer to settle in, then offer him market price for the plot. But, well... Ahem. So much for my ethics. I'll donate some Lindens to VERTU later as a salve for my karma.

As an aside, check the current rates at the Gaming Open Market (about $4.05US to $1000L as of today). Compare my profits ($2000L in stipends until the accound is downgraded, $1000L bonus for upgrading) to my expenses ($9.95US for the upgrade for one month and $512L for the land). I seem to have somehow made a $31L/$0.13US profit on the deal (neglecting GOM transfer fees). The mind reels at all the schemes and shady dealings that could be made with a bevy of alts, the discounted quarterly or yearly Premium fees, and the real estate market. I'll leave the exact methods as an exercise for the more unscrupulous readers in the audience. I am absolutely certain that I am not the first to have noticed this bit of dodgey bookkeeping, and I expect that there are intrinsic safeguards in the system to prevent its excessive use.

Official Disclaimer: Moriash Moreau does not condone or endorse abuse of alts and/or the First Land program for the purposes of procuring cheap land or for any other dubious profiteering purposes. So there.

So, I now own 4,356m in Louise. This includes the main plot (3072m) and the plot of prim land further to the left (1024m). Hopefully, this will last me a while.

Here is a side view of SkyPods 2 and 3. I don't think I've mentioned them before. SkyPod 2 is the silver blob of mercury at the bottom. It's at an elevation of about 120m. It doesn't do much, actually. I mostly use it to house one of my two upper-elevation security devices. Since the land ban function stops working at above 40m, I had to install scripted devices to deal with a few griefers that took an interest in me and my neighbors (especially the Librarium). But it does have a nifty irising roof and an observation function to make the interior completely transparent. It's kind of a nifty vantage point for observing the sim.

SkyPod 3 is the multi-story structure at the top of the picture. Mostly for yucks and giggles, it's suspended from three hooks that apparently grab onto the clouds. They have a white misty particle effect around them, as if they are hooked on the clouds, and are labeled "Sky Hooks." I know, it's a lame joke, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. You can see the bedroom (which is never used- it was just installed for appearances) and the board room on the left side. Both are behind glass that can turn opaque on demand, for privacy. The Board room is kind of neat, I think. Each of the chairs is scripted to swivel on demand. The table has a "holographic generator." With a touch, it displays a floating map of Louise (a particle effect with a screenshot of the map as a texture) and up-to-the-second statistics on the performance of the Louise sim. I don't use it for anything, but it looks cool!

The top floor (below the glass dome) also contains a living room and a large cylindrical fish tank. The bottom floor is currently open, aside from the conference table. It does have a "holo tank," which is scripted to display floating images of whatever screenshots I choose to add to the list. I've got something like 30 or 40 screen shots waiting to be processed and added to the holo tank. One of these days, I'll get around to it.

And here's a shot of the latest addition to the Garden of Mo: the Sky Arena. It was originally intended for Volcano Ball/Grav Ball (before I found out it would be too laggy to implement). But, it turned out reasonably well, so I've decided to keep it around for a while. I may use it for open conference and event space. I've already got plans for creating summon-on-demand stage space, with several different configurations available. After building the holodeck on SkyPod 1 (which I really should add to some day), I believe it should be easy enough to add multiple stage configurations. I already plan on a round stage with circular bench seating in the center of the field, and a larger stage at one end with stadium seating. The latter may require some form of PA system to extend the range. I'll have to come up with a series of overlapping chat radii to see how this will work.

I've added a clearly labeled teleporter at ground level, to prevent some of the confusion that arose while gathering players for an informal Primtionary match in the partially completed arena a couple days ago. It's a simple refinement of a common script, but I'm kind of proud of the ground-to-arena teleport system. I've scripted the ground level teleporter to select a different corner of the arena each time it's used. This will prevent a slow moving player from being launched into an adjacent sim by the arrival of a second player on the same teleport site. (The Pauli Exclusion Principle in action, SL style.) I learned this lesson after accidentally launching poor Blueman Steele all the way across Kasba in a transporter accident. With this refinement, the up teleporter can handle four times the traffic without inconvenient accidents. The four teleporter locations are concealed in each of the cylindrical corners of the arena. These corners are part of a balcony that leads around the entire arena, and also conceal teleporter pads back down to ground level.

Well, anyway, that's what I've been doing for the past couple of days. Exciting, huh?
Monday, March 21, 2005
Volcano Ball Update
Well, I just ran a quick stress test on the new arena. Chres, Lars, and myself climbed in three of the alpha-test globes and ran a few laps. Under the load of the physics calculations involved, the sim frames per second dropped by over 20% (from an already mediocre 480-500 FPS to a near-stuttering 380-400 FPS). And that was running with just three out of the six balls. After all of my grousing and worrying about the sim becoming too laggy to enjoy living in it, I can't very well become the largest single offender. Well, I could, but I'd lose that oh, so satisfying feeling of moral superiority. Mere SL-wide fame and popularity as the next great game inventor pales by comparison!

So, no Grav Ball/Murder Ball/Volcano Ball for me. Besides, after seeing the massive skyborne Hamster Sumo stadium in the adjacent sim, I fear my (independently developed) idea may appear derivative.

Oh well.
SL Ideas #4: Scavenger Hunt
There may be some technical hurdles to this one, as well as some creativity required on the part of the event hosts. This is similar to an item collection quest designed for the fifth anniversary of EverQuest. Basically, the event host writes a series of clues, and the player searches through unique, interesting locations in the game world to find the objects in question.

Now, in EverQuest, this was a relatively easy proposition. The quest simply involved solving riddles involving game lore, visiting several little-seen places (for nostalgia and tourist value), killing certain mobs in those zones, and picking up specific pieces of loot. Turn in these items, and get a prize. But all the objects in EQ are predefined. In SL, it becomes a bit more difficult. However, each object in SL has a unique key identifier (or UUID). And apparently, with the right sensor script, these UUIDs can be read externally. More research is required here, but I believe that it should be possible to scan an area for all objects, and list their UUIDs. More on this later.

I propose an SL sightseeing scavenger hunt. Players would be given an attachment that would feed them clues, one at a time. These clues would lead the player to a specific location in the game world. This is the tricky bit: the clues would have to lead to one specific location in the world. It wouldn't be sufficient to say "Go find a vehicle." The clue would have to lead to a specific, unique object in a unique location. Further, these hints would have to obviously (at least as obviously as a crossword puzzle clue) result in keywords to be used in the Find Places utility. This would require considerable work on the part of the event designer to choose locations that were inobvious, challenging to find, and not simply vanity. ("Now go to see my Prim Hair store in FooBar Sim!") Ideally, this hunt would take players to interesting locations in the process.

As for the player interface, I envision a simple voice controlled attachment. This attachment would contain a notecard (suitably locked and inaccessible to players) which contains the hints, the sim location, and the UUID of the quest object. For example, one (somewhat mediocre) entry in the notecard might be:

Hallucinations and the spectre of the gun.
[The key for the hallucinatory gun]

This would direct you to the hallucinatory gun in the Virtual Hallucinations project in Sedig. If the player has never been there (and if you haven't, you should), he can still use the Find Places function to locate it. (Of course, the clue would have to be tested to make sure that other options for search key words don't lead the player astray.) The player teleports to the appropriate landmark. When the player enters the appropriate sim, his scavenger hunt attachment gives audible and visual indications that he is close to his target. (Thus saving him time in chasing down false leads.) This will also activate a short range sensor to check for proximity to the target object. When he gets even closer, the attachment sends out a stream of particles pointing at the object with the appropriate UUID (using the particle system's point-at-target functions- will need to check the maximum range). Then, when the player gets within visual range (say about five meters), the attachment will confirm (by sensor) that the object has been found and read out the next clue. (The player will always have the option to have the clues re-read, of course.) And, perhaps, he will have seen something new and interesting along the way.

The last clue would return the players to the starting point, where the event coordinators would be on hand to officiate and judge the final winner.

To add a bit more excitement, the scavenger hunt attachments (which will be no copy, no modify, no transfer) could be placed in a modified vendor. This vendor would track all the people who purchased attachments from it. The total pot would then be given to the winner of the hunt, and the device would IM all of the contestants with a status report and directions for receiving a copy of the solutions list (if so desired).

For creating the destinations lists, perhaps a separate utility object would be required. The event creator would stand near the object and call for a scan. The scanner would list the nearest object, say its name, say its UUID, and point a stream of particles at it. If the UUID is correct, the event creator notes the UUID. If not, he calls for the next nearest item, and the next until he gets the correct object key. Obviously, stable, permanent objects would be required.

My only concern is the stability of UUIDs. I know that keys of objects change every time they are rezzed (this includes when they are created, pulled from inventory, and teleported along with an avatar as an attachment). Some testing would need to be done to see if these keys remain constant from one sim reboot to the next. I suppose that physical locations (XYZ coordinates with appropriate tolerances, say within 5m) could be used, but this would reduce the amount of help the attachment could give in finding the objects (no use of the particle stream mentioned above). I suppose some method of hot and cold games, manually directed particle streams, or compass arrows could be used when you are in the right area, but this is less satisfying and more difficult to implement.

There's several interim problems in design and execution that need to be solved, of course. But with a little work, this could be an interesting new type of event.
Volcano Ball
So I spent a few hours last night building out a prototype Volcano Ball arena. It's a 58m by 24m by 11m enclosure with an open balcony, and currently resides at an elevation of 290m above the Garden of Mo. It's mostly chrome and steel, but there's a large slab of my customary Brazilian rosewood motif on the underside. It just wouldn't be a Moriash Moreau build without the rosewood. I'm debating calling it the Mo-Rena, or possibly something along the SkyPod theme (SkyPod 4 would work, I suppose). Anyone have any ideas?

I had an idea this morning while I was in the shower. (If you know me, try not to picture that, for the sake of your own sanity and the health of your libido. If you don't, well, I look like Tom Selleck from his Magnum, PI days. Picture away.) It might be interesting to give the balls the ability to roll on the ceiling, as well as the floor. This would effectively double the play area (kind of a concern, given the limited size of the arena).

I tinkered with this a bit during lunch, with limited success. Simple application of a constant force doesn't seem to work with a loose avatar inside. It will lift the ball and rider to the roof when the rider is seated, but immediately drops to the floor again when he stands. I expect that I could manage it with a continuous series of impulses, but that seems inelegant. We'll have to see. If nothing else, it would be neat to give the balls the ability to jump. And it'd be nice to be able to come up with a pithy name, perhaps "Grav Ball," or something else that'd head off the inevitable ball-related locker room humor. As it is, I've had enough trouble with selecting colors. I finally had to settle for blue and green. I'll just have to deal with the blue ball comments.

My biggest concern, however, is whether I'll ever run any games as events. It seems like a huge pain in the ass, for little return. I'll post screenshots when I get done with the arena, either way.
Friday, March 18, 2005
SL Ideas #3: Murderball!
This one is simple. Take a giant, hollow rubber ball. Make it physical. Build a large, enclosed arena with goal boxes at either end. Get two teams of maybe three apiece, and arm them with small push guns designed to only affect the ball. For extra fun, equip the ball to push players it contacts out of the way. This would create interesting offensive strategies: gang up to force a high speed murderball into your opponents, then redirect it to the goal when they are trying to regain their bearings.

Or, an alternate version: enclose all the players in their own hollow balls, like the common clear plastic hamster play ball. Make sure the shells of the balls are nice and thick (80% hollow, perhaps less). This seems to help keep the player inside the ball. (Laura and I tried a cross-sim road trip this way a while ago. It failed utterly at sim boundary crossings, but worked surprisingly well otherwise.) This would require extensive testing under high-lag conditions. The ball could be entered (or re-entered) easily by setting its sit position in the geometric center, then immediately unseating the player when he uses it. Have small teams (maybe three apiece) run around trying to bump a larger ball into the goal.

Perhaps the second version doesn't even require a ball. Players would simply attempt to force their own balls into the goal. The goal would be a hole at the top of a shallow cone. Perhaps you'd score one point for forcing your opponent into the goal, and two points for getting your own ball into the goal. Or, alternately, make the goal only accessible (via collision controlled doors?) via the opposing team. The design would need to incorporate features to prevent defending players from merely parking their spheres on their own goal.

Perhaps it would be handy to include code to force the balls to return to predefined starting positions after each point. Again, testing would be required to see how this interacts with an unattached player inside the sphere.

The goal could be very showy. Perhaps have the hole in the conical endzone area deep enough to completely cover the balls. When a goal is scored, the ball drops in and a burst of fireworks jets out, volcano-like. Bells and whistles sound. Then the ball is launched out of the goal with a resounding boom! Perhaps Volcano Ball would be a better name for the game.

The arena would be simple, if prim intensive. The enclosure for the arena could double as a spectator surface. Perhaps a railed balcony could surround the clear walls, as well. The balls could be opaque from the outside (or nearly so), and nearly transparent from the inside. Perhaps they could be numbered, as well. It might be a good idea to equip them with floating text to display the player names above them, since the occupant would be invisible.

Now if only I had enough land to build such an arena... Sigh.
SL Ideas #2: SL Sumo
Laura and I went to a King of the Mountain event a few days ago. It was generally a good idea, although the implementation was only so-so. Basically, they just created a 10m wide prim and piled all the players on it. Say "go!" and they all try to push each other off.

The biggest problem I had with it is the "mountains" were too small. Most of the losses were due to SL's clumsy controls, combined with lag. It is impossible to move your avatar with any precision when the smallest keypress moves you half a meter or more. It would be better if the mountains were, say, modestly convex surfaces 20m to 30m in diameter. This would be large enough that the player's skill, strategy, and fancy footwork would be the determining factors. Transient lag effects would not. A slow reduction in the mountain's diameter would assure that players could not just run around in circles indefinitely.

As Laura mentioned, this kind of event would be ideal for the Don't Panic Coffee House, which is located some 600m off the ground. The prospect of falling to your doom would add a little extra thrill to the proceedings. Actually, a safety net with a teleporter would be nice, so that the losers could easily teleport back to the porch to watch the remaining players. The elevation would work nicely to stop normal flying (although fly assist attachments would need to be closely monitored). It might be useful to construct a simple gantry or a teleporter to the center of the mountain (maybe 5m to 10m above it), to aid in quickly setting up matches. It seemed like an inordinate amount of time was wasted while players performed the precision flight maneuvers necessary to reach their starting positions.

Laura and I came up with some other improvements, as well. Arming the players with modest push guns, push bats (I say Nerf, Laura says real), or even snapping towels (for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy feel) would add some fun to the game. This would require somewhat larger arenas, as well as close scrutiny to avoid the use of shields.

I'd like to see two players square off wearing giant novelty sumo bellies, equipped with modest push impulse scripts that fire on impact. The impulses would be proportional to the avatar's velocity. The push would be small, perhaps only enough to bump the opponent back a couple meters when struck at full run speed. Ideally, the players would carom off in the opposite directions, accompanied by comical "buh-WOING!" noises.

The arena could be fully automated. I envision something similar to the sword fighting arena in Darkwood. Each player would take a seat in their starting positions on opposite sides of the ring. OnSit events would signal when each player was in position. When both were seated (actually standing in an appropriate ready crouch) the ring would count down, sound a gong, and unseat both players at once. The sumo bellies' push functions would be activated and the match would start. The ring could even be surrounded by collision sensors to determine when one player or the other leaves the circle. (The keys of the participants would have to be broadcast to the collision sensors prior to the match, so that false losses wouldn't be broadcasted every time an onlooker got too close. It might be useful to use these same keys for on-collision event checking for the sumo bellies, too.) Then, the match could either continue until one player or the other left the circle, or until the time clock ran out. I suppose the arena could also shrink, but given the unpredictability in pushes, the matches would quickly degenerate into sudden death collisions and split-second rulings to see who left the arena first.

This could be a lot of fun! And, as we all know, Second Life could use more intellectual events like this.
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.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
The Aging Project
Tonight, Laura, Chrestomanci, and I finished the aging avatars project I mentioned in previous posts. We ended up reshooting all of the age groups, without my customary halo. After some discussion (initiated by me), we decided that the quasi-religious overtones would muddy the theme a bit too much. Laura is in the process of PhotoShopping the results. I'll go ahead and post my preliminary shots now, and post links to Laura's final versions when they are available. I think they tell kind of a nice story.

Administrativa and Serendipity
First, a quick administrative note: This is the first actual post directly to "Moriash Moreau: My Second Life." All entries up to this point were created in another forum and transferred over. This should make little difference in the content, but I thought I should note it for the sake of historical accuracy. Welcome to the new blog!

As I was sorting through some screen captures, I ran across a couple of accidental pictures that turned out surprisingly well. I was pleasantly surprised with the level of facial detail available in the avatar editor. Take these two attempts at a geriatric avatar, for example.

Also, while rapidly shuffling through the screenshots, I discovered that the SL camera is ideally suited for generating stereo pairs. The linked image is a cross-eyed view stereographic image (cross your eyes until the images overlap). The left and right images were taken unintentionally, as I rotated the virtual third person camera slightly from one capture to the next. I will have to experiment with this further.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Age Progression Continues
Just a quick one tonight. Laura, Chrestomanci, and I all made our teenage avs tonight.

Teenage Moriash

And here's the beanpole Moriash teenager av. Note the '80s style Michael Jackson jacket, garish shirt, and the near-mullet. The latter two are pretty close to my own teenage years. Mind you, mine wasn't a deliberate mullet. I just went about 6 months between haircuts. But I got better. Now I'm down to 4.


That's pre-teen Laura in center, and Chres on the right.

How the tables have turned.

And now Chres and Laura teens, complete with layered flannel shirts. Of course, there's a bit of a generation gap between our respective teenage fashion choices.

I am just having too much fun with this age progression thing. Next will be middle age, then geriatric. Probably a bit more depressing for Chres and Laura, who modeled their avs more closely on themselves. As for me, well, no relation whatsoever. So I don't have to fear the ravages of avatar age. One of these days, I'll be brave enough to try and make a RL Nathan avatar. If nothing else, it'll be handy for Halloween.
Notes: Virtual Crime
I was doing some housekeeping in my mailreader, and ran across the following in my Drafts folder. I commonly write my weblog posts in a disposable e-mail, and cut-and-paste them over later on. This one has been sitting there since early 2004. Clearly, I'm never going to finish, but here are my initial notes. Basically, I planned on outlining my first person accounts of crimes I have witnessed (or have been involved in) that took place in a virtual world, and contrasting them with their real world equivalents. Might have been cute, but after several false starts, I put it aside. Here are my notes, if anyone is interested.

Recently, I read a BBC News article titled Does virtual crime need real justice? It describes, in broad terms, how crimes are taking place in online games, and how the authorities (at least in some countries) are starting to take them seriously. There's nothing particularly enlightening in the article. Anyone who has played a MMORPG for any length of time knows that there are con artists in the virtual world, just like in the real world. And I can see most of you shaking your head now. Some game geek somewhere loses a few pixels, ones, and zeroes in his computer game, and he wants to call the cops?!? Please! He needs to step away from the computer and invest his monthly game fee in getting a life!

And, even though I'm a longtime online gamer, I agree... To a point. Most "crimes" in the online world are petty annoyances. Even acts that would be considered felonies in the real world are seldom met with more than a complaint to a Game Master (GM, referred to by different titles in each game) and a "Duuude! That sucks!" from fellow gamers.

Since I just finished My Tiny Life by Julian Dibbell, this issue has been on my mind.

A Rape in Cyberspace
The In-game Economics of Ultima Online
Rare (at the time) Horned Tribal MaskCoveted True Black Robe (simulated)
noctalis.com :: Ultima Online :: Rares :: Dye Tubs
noctalis.com :: Ultima Online :: Rares :: Gift Item List
noctalis.com :: Ultima Online :: Rares :: Rare Item List

-Medievia: CPK zones. Not whoever was best, but who had the best macros. Often entire combats were fought by machine, using TinTin scripts. Grey area (at the time), but not strictly illegal.
-Theft of bedroll in UO. Petty annoyance, but could have cause real problems. Frustration at having no recourse.
-Cornering and harassment by player using an illegal macro and illegal speed increasing package. Explain how he repeatedly tried to steal from my inventory in order annoy me enough to attack, thereby skirting the notoriety hit for player killing (after a theft attempt, a player can retaliate without taking a notoriety hit, and the defender can defend himself without a hit- shortlived hack, Byzantine notoriety laws). Explain CPK vs. NPK vs. Lawful. Detail why: the rares. Explain ultra-rare status of tribal mask (at the time). Explain the origin of the black robe (1997 Christmas, low notoriety score gets a lump of coal, lump of coal and dye tub makes extremely rare "true black" dye tub). Neither item gave any kind of stat or power boost. Just looked cool. Liken to killing someone for their tennis shoes. Could have called a GM, but that seldom works, they seldom show up in a timely fashion, and I had no way to prove the crime- he'd just stop using the illegal software add-on when a GM showed, and act innocent and slighted. GM policing is laughably ineffectual.
-Vigalante justice. Hovered near a corpse too long. Thought they saw me steal from a corpse. Ultimately led to irrecoverable character death in a remote location. Loss of all goods. Quit the game in disgust soon after. Player solutions are unsatisfactory, too.
-Fraud in SWG. Early on, when characters were able to make items and edit the item titles. In the first month or two, the item inspection tools were lacking. So for a time, an unscrupulous player could fashion a cheap item and sell it as an expensive item to a newbie. Quick technical fix, but not before dozens were defrauded.

So what's my point? Was I the victim of any kind of real crime? Maybe, maybe not. In some cases, I was robbed of time.


And that's it. Okay, I've posted it. Now I can delete it from my e-mail.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Playing with Time and Scale
Another long day in Second Life. Early this afternoon, I put the finishing touches on my in-game laser pointer. This is the first of many small utility objects I plan on making and selling under the Mo-Tech Industries line of products. One problem I found in game is that there is no easy way to indicate something at a distance. You don't have sufficient control to point your finger at something. You can broadly select an object, and the game will even provide a nifty little line of glowing particles toward the center of the object. But what if you want to point at one corner of the object, or one part of a big picture? That's where this comes in. You simply drop into first person camera view (aka "mouselook"), turn it on with a click of the mouse button, and move your camera view (and thus your torso and laser gripping arm) until the beam intersects the item in question. The beam is composed of a stream of particles (adjustable to be red, green, blue, or white) that fire out 20 meters or so before disappearing. I would have preferred a solid bar of light, but for a variety of reasons that didn't work out. (The main reason is your and anything you are holding become invisible to your personal camera when you're in mouselook. This lets you wear bulky masks and carry large objects without obstructing your own view. This option can be turned off, but most people prefer not to do so.) As it stands, the line of randomly spaced red patches looks like a laser beam passing through a dusty room. Kind of a neat effect.

Laser Pointer in Action

I don't expect to sell many of these, nor do I plan on charging much for them. But it does seem to fill a need within the game. And it's sophisticated enough that it's not completely trivial to duplicate. I guess I'll have to see how it does. I do have mixed feelings about bringing one of the single most annoying inventions in the Real World into Second Life. But, given the number of annoying things it is possible to do in game that cannot be done in RL, I suppose I don't really need to worry about bringing in something this comparatively benign.

About the time I put the finishing touches on the laser pointer, my doorbell rang. My neighbor came over to tell me that my driver's side rear tire was nearly flat. He was even kind enough to give me a can of fix-a-flat, so that I could hobble down to the Firestone to get it repaired. I did so, only to have them tell me that they were too busy, and couldn't take on any more customers. This was some two hours before they closed, and they just couldn't find 10 minutes to repair my tire. Gee, I'm so glad I paid extra for the road hazard warranty from these assjacks!

So I spent the next hour nervously driving from tire store to mechanic, trying to find one that was both open on Sunday and willing to take the time to do it. I struck out on all counts. So, I settled on buying a half dozen cans of fix-a-flat at the local 99 cent store, and swearing to myself that I'll take care of it on the way home from work tomorrow. I ended up giving my neighbor two of the cans to replace the one he gave me. It's nice to have folks looking out for me.

After that, I immediately went back to my computer to get back in game. No, I'm not addicted, really! About five minutes after I logged in, Chres and Laura showed up. Chres had agreed to guide a new player and show him the sights earlier, while I was dealing with RL issues. By the time I arrived, she had run out of ideas, and showed up on my doorstep with a Mr. Jonathan Shaftoe of London, England in tow. After shooting the breeze for a while, including a prodigious amount of double entendre from said Mr. Shaftoe directed at the distaff contingent of our party, we decided to take in a couple landmarks I'd run across over the last couple months.

First stop was a small haunted house ride. It's set up like a roller coaster, and takes you through a slick little pre-programmed trip through spooky lighting, eerie noises, and floating apparitions. It's designed for one at a time, but the four of us piled on anyway. ("Please keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times" doesn't really matter in SL.) These rides used to litter Second Life. They're small, only 512 square meters (16x32, or the smallest plot of land commonly sold), and make clever use of space, darkness, and shifting walls to make up for it. Apparently, the builder lost interest in the project, or possibly could no longer afford the upkeep cost of a couple dozen little haunted roller coasters throughout the game. The one we visited was the last one I could find. Hopefully, it'll stay around. It's kind of lame as a haunted house, but as a technical achievement it's one of the best in the game.

From there, we headed on to Back Stage, a private island designed on a huge scale. The entire island, some 32 acres, is one living room. It's littered with giant kid's toys and furniture, all blown up to huge proportions. The slot cars on the little track off to one side are large enough to drive, for example. It's easy to spend hours in Back Stage (no clue about the name), exploring every nook and cranny. There are little worlds-within-worlds hidden behind the sofa cushions and under the chairs. Horribly complex statues and displays are strewn across tables and bookshelves. It really has to be seen to be believed. After an hour or so, our British charge realized that he had to wake up in the morning, and bowed out for the night. Chres left soon after, leaving Laura and I to explore the remainder of the Brobdingnagian world ourselves. We ended our tour by examining the amazing bonsai tree placed on a desk top.

This tree alone was worth the trip. The giant sized, miniaturized scene is amazingly intricate. The pond has a small, run down dock running into the middle. Leaves fall from the fall-colored branches, and float briefly in the water. The shores are covered with tiny pieces of old crates, trash, tree limbs, and weeds. It's kind of an urban bonsai, I guess. We both spent a good 20 minutes just examining the details. This one display would have taken up about 2/3 of the primitives allowance for my entire property. I guess it's good to have an island to yourself.

Reenacting the Bamboo Grove Scene from
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the Bonsai Tree

Close Up on One Branch

From there, Laura and I killed some time at various events. We attended a sword fighting tournament in one of the elven conclaves (kind of lame, actually, given the huge lag and the limited mobility, but a neat idea), then moved on to a king of the mountain competition (pushing other players off a 10m wide platform- I lost badly). Nothing special to report there. Typical Second Life event fare, if you're not interested in Bingo, Tringo, or SLingo.

We adjourned back to the Garden of Mo to tinker with our own projects. Laura is starting kind of an interesting one. Another player (whose name escapes me) has decided to age his avatar from childhood to old age, at a rate of one day per year. He's starting at about 8 or 9 years old (about the smallest av you can create) and running into advanced old age. Laura has decided to do the same thing with a female avatar, and make a time-lapse photo documentary of it. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the pre-adolescent girl she worked out this evening. She's cute as a button, in a Becky Thatcher-esque, tom-boyish, playground heartbreaker kind of way. Since I already had an avatar of advanced years, I decided to go ahead and and make my own young Moriash avatar. I'm kind of pleased with how it came out. I almost never wear the wings anymore, but I had to give him a junior-sized set, just in case.

Young Moriash, Complete with Wings

Adult Moriash

Saturday, March 12, 2005
One Friday Night
So it was a typical night in Second Life. Made some pottery, did a little do-it-yourself plastic surgery, and then danced until dawn. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Ming Vase

First, I took a little time to finish up a project that had me giggling all the way home last night. (Yes, I know it's sad that I crack myself up.) As you can see above, this is my Ming Vase. Touch it, and it manifests a ghostly image of Ming the Merciless, nemesis of Flash Gordon, and plays one of three random quotes from the movie. Ha! I slay me!

Sad thing is, three of the four people I showed the vase to didn't even know who Emperor Ming was. Sigh. Don't the schools teach the classics anymore?

The Screenshot of Dorian Gray

Later on, Chres showed up and helped me find an appropriately somber suit for my old man avatar. Apparently, Laura had another idea for a photo shoot, involving a sad old man and the ghost of a young woman in early 20th century garb. I don't know the details, beyond that. (I'll post the pics later, should they pan out.) When I first started on the old man a couple days ago, I was surprised at the provisions for wrinkles and other signs of age in the avatar editor. (The picture really doesn't do it justice. The old man's face is realistically lined with deep wrinkles, which show better under indirect lighting, and age spots.) I didn't look at it much after my initial av construction, and evidently missed some little used sliders. And, since 90% of the avs out there look like 20-something fashion models (with most of the remainder being furries, aliens, robots and the like), I just assumed that was what the appearance editor was optimized for the under 30 set.

Unfortunately, the clothing selection is similarly geared for the under 30 crowd. The old man looks a little more GQ than I would have liked, or perhaps a little too executive vice president. Fortunately, three-button suits (which were in vogue a few decades ago) are enjoying a comeback, so I was able to find something with somewhat more conservative lines in the trendy shops that litter the continent.

Last Tango in Macy's

The end of our shopping trip found us at Vindaloo Designs, an upscale clothier on a semi-private island in the middle of nowhere. (Fortunately, it was equipped with a private teleport pad.) We had high hopes, as Ms. Vindaloo specialized in vintage clothing reproductions. However, everything there was both too early (roaring 20's era) and priced way, way out of my price range. We window shopped a bit, then ended up in the deserted club area on the first level. The lights were low, and the music was provided courtesy of Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack contemporaries. One thing led to another, and we ended up talking and dancing until dawn.

Okay, so night is only about an hour long in SL. Picky, picky, picky.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
My Virtual Modeling Career
My trademark halo got me into kind of an unusual situation this evening. One of my online acquaintances, Laura Ingersoll, is a part time artist and avid virtual photographer. Tonight, the Muse struck her while we were messing about in a local pose shop. (Players can create custom avatar poses and animations using the Poser 3D figure modeling package.) This shop specialized in particularly dramatic couples poses. Every item on display was suitable for the cover of the cheesiest Harlequin romance novels. I can understand playing with them a bit, as we were doing. But why anyone would want to actually own these poses is beyond me.

In any case, for better or worse, I was chosen to be Laura's Fabio for the evening. The provocatively dressed woman in the pictures goes by the name of Chrestomanci Bard. She's another in-game friend, and another enthusiastic virtual shutterbug. The scary thing is she just happened to have the body tattoo and thigh-high stockings lying around in her inventory. While we were waiting for Laura to setup the backdrop, Chres commented that these would make ideal blackmail pictures. I simply asked, "For which of us?" She didn't have an answer for that.

Angel and Devil

Angel and Devil, Test Pose

Getting Fresh with the Photographer
(While she stands on my foot and
contemplates kneeing me in the groin.)

As payment for my modeling services, I was taken to a small outdoor club to hear a live jazz guitarist (whose name escapes me at the moment). It's kind of an interesting idea. The musician sets himself up in front of his computer and streams live audio into the game. This way, he can respond to comments, work the crowd, greet regulars, take requests, and otherwise interact in real time with his listeners. It's things like this that restore my faith in the potential of this virtual world. Just when I think it's all virtual T-and-A and Tringo games, something like this comes along.

Some musicians go all out, running custom animations and such as they play. This one just sat his simply dressed, five o'clock shadow adorned avatar on a stool and had him awkwardly hold a symbolic model of a guitar while he played in RL. As far as I was concerned, this was fine. Having spent the last couple of hours locked in a static embrace with a scantily clad pixel-woman, I had had about enough of fancy poses and animations for the night. Spend too long as the marionette, and you start to notice the strings.

And right now, my first life avatar is tired. I'm going to bed.