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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Babel Two
Well, as promised, I'm posting a few pics of my Burning Life 2006 build. To be honest, I'm a little disappointed with how the pictures turned out. I think Babel Two is one of those "you had to be there" kind of things. I know it sounds a bit pretentious, or perhaps it just sounds like an excuse, but the static images don't seem to do it justice. Oh well.

Here's the view from ground level. The general concept was simple: avatars built a virtual tower to virtual Heaven. God was displeased. Much babble and mayhem ensue. Babel Two is a 3-D snapshot of the destruction of the tower, frozen in time.

Even now, I don't know what the moral of this little scene might be. Perhaps it's an indictment against intellectual growth without spiritual development. Perhaps it's a cautionary tale, reminding us of the follies of hubris in the face if ever accelerating technological growth. Or perhaps I figured out a way to make a 4000 meter tall tower, and was looking for an excuse to try it out. You be the judge.

God is represented by a 20 meter long reproduction of the Hand of God, as depicted in the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. The hand reaches out of a storm cloud, and lightning periodically flashes from the finger to the base of the tower.

Due to my proximity to the Burning Man site (right next door) the Hand received considerable indirect coverage. Which is kind of cool. I'm glad I was able to contribute, however tangentially and unintentionally, to the fireworks.

The tower itself is 4000 meters tall, constructed of 400 prims (not including the room at top and various details at ground level). As I've mentioned more than once in this blog, objects created above 768m tend to disappear after a sim reset. In order to get around this, I ended up scripting a housekeeping robot. This machine periodically flies up the length of the tower, and scans for the presence of each piece of the tower (be they tower segments along the way or furnishings at the top). If it's not there (ie it was deleted for some reason), the robot rezzes another copy from its inventory. Kind of cumbersome, but it works. And it seemed to buy me a little awe from my SL peers who didn't happen to know the idiosyncrasies of high altitude builds, too. This isn't a bad thing at all.

Surrounding the tower are thirty two-dimensional cutouts of various avatars, frozen in poses of panic as they flee the scene. Each cutout has three different poses, some running, some looking on in horror, and (as can be seen above) some caught in mid-explosion. These scenes slowly loop on a random interval, creating an everchanging tableau of panic. When touched, the cutout plays a brief sound bite of random gibberish (twenty some-odd randomly selected WAV recordings from various movies and TV shows, reversed and filtered), as the Curse of Babel takes hold.

This, in short, was a heck of a lot of work! Each cutout required six snapshots (three poses, front and back), processed into animation textures, times over thirty different avatars. In addition to dragooning my friends into posing for me, I ran through every member of the Plywood cast, as well as all the library avatars. Fortunately, I was able to come up with a fixed-camera bluescreen stage and a simple canned animation poser, so it just became a matter of mass production.

The fleeing avatars turned out to be the least commented-upon feature of the project. This is kind of unfortunate, considering that they were by far the most time consuming aspect of the build. But I think they still created a solid backdrop for the destruction, even if they didn't really stick out in anyone's mind.

One a visitor enters the tower, he is encouraged to "Touch the Flame to Summon Wrath." Touching the flame (or actually the transparent cylinder around it) triggers a sit command and a ride on an elevator. As the elevator is triggered, a bolt of lightning is called, such that the force of the strike appears to blast the hapless visitor up...

And up... And up... And up... The 4000 meter climb takes around 60 seconds to complete. (Yes, just 60 seconds. Not five minutes, or longer, as some claimed.) Personally, I don't think this is too long a trip, but I confess I'm a bit biased: I routinely make the same trip to the SkyLounge. After multiple complaints, I did look into speeding up the elevator by various means. But, after some experimentation, I found that the tower tended to disappear if one flew past it at speeds faster than around 70 meters per second. The segments simply didn't have time to render before they were again out of range. Vexing.

At the top of the tower is a brass and stone room, overlooking a huge particle Aurora Borealis effect. (Thanks to Sophia Weary for the initial seed particle script, and for the concept.) Kind of hypnotic.

This room is not completely untouched by the havoc below. Even here, the Curse of Babel appears. Anything said by chat is instantly translated into a random language. Not a complicated effect, but it makes the point. And it generally gives bilingual visitors a case of the giggles.

Inside the vaulted dome of the tower is a 10 meter wide orrery. Each of the nine planets is represented in brushed steel and brass. While I wasn't able to faithfully capture their orbits (just not enough room!), I was able to keep their orbital periods intact. They move at a rate of about one Earth year per second.

Amusingly, current events conspired to complicate this part of the project. After some vacillation, in late August, 2006, astronomers announced that Pluto wasn't truly a planet, in spite of what we all learned in school. I decided to go ahead and keep Pluto in the planetary model, because it just looked odd to me otherwise. But, as a tribute to the whole mess, I rigged the planet-like-but-not-really-a-planet to appear and disappear at random intervals.

It made me laugh, anyway.

In keeping with the astronomy theme, I also created a model of the solar system of the metaverse. Conceptually, it is a square representation of the flat SL grid, floating in mercury. This is suspended in a large, hollow glass sphere. Embedded in the walls of the sphere are models of the SL sun and moon. This sphere is turned to follow the real (virtual) sun and moon by a three-wheeled motorized base.

Actually, the glass globe just turns itself to point at the sun, but I needed a mechanical rationale for it all.

Also in the tower is a simple telescope, for observing the two celestial bodies in the SL solar system. The telescope continually turns itself to follow the sun (or moon, at night). When used, it overrides the camera to track the heavenly body in its view, and instructs the user to zoom in on the object using CTRL-8, CTRL-9 and CTRL-0. Using CTRL-0, the sun or moon can be expanded to fill the screen, allowing for close observation of the pixellated craters on the moon and the static sunspots on the sun.

There are two ways to get down from the tower: the long way and the short way. The long way is simply a short-distance teleporter that dumps the user just outside the tower, and lets him fall the entire four kilometers to the ground. This was created as a favor to the base jumpers who discovered the tower early on.

The short way is both faster and more dramatic. Mechanically, it's very simple. The device just makes one non-physical movement (via llSetPos) and then drops. Any non-physical movement above 768m results in the object instantly snapping to 768m. So, the net result is the down elevator teleports the user from 4000m to 768m, shaving 80% off the trip time.

I suppose I could have made a regular elevator from that point, but my laziness inspired me to a more artistic solution. After the initial hop, the elevator turns physical and falls. It also triggers a "re-entry" flame effect, and explodes in a small dust cloud on impact with the ground. I suppose it's more theatric than is strictly necessary, but it is kind of fun, nonetheless.

This idea actually came to me in a dream. In college, and a few times since then, I had a recurring dream about falling out of orbit. Like the picture above, I dreamed that I was screaming out of the stratosphere, trailing smoke and flame from re-entry heating on my back (or sometimes chest- the down elevator also picks one or the other at random). I usually woke up just before impact, but every once in a while I'd be treated to a special-effects laden third-person view of myself carving a deep furrow into some isolated farmland first. I'm perversely proud of that. I should rent my unconscious mind out to ILM.

And then, once the smoke cleared and the dust settled, a dark-haired toddler would climb out of my torso, wrapped in red blanket with a big yellow "S" on it. Okay, not really. But you have to admit that'd be really trippy.

Given the standard interpretations of falling and flying dreams, I don't really want to think about the ramifications of adding orbital decay and re-entry burns to the mix. But the dream inspired kind of a nifty bit of SL hacking, in any case.

So, there you have it. My Burning Life build, more or less.
Wow. That was really cool.
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