Monday, September 18, 2006
Beck Is Ready for SL
Heard something interesting on the radio this morning. Apparently, alternative musician Beck has been touring with marionette puppets of himself and his band. Beck is, at least conceptually, all set to perform in Second Life.
See, all action in Second Life, including musical performances, is at its heart puppetry. And with particularly clumsy puppets, at that. (And I know I've said this before, in other venues.) You can't do it yourself and expect it to work. Clearly, it's too much to expect that a performer run his audio feed, sing, play his instrument of choice, chat up the audience, and trigger his animations besides. You can only do so much with two hands. And if you're doing a one-man show at your regular gig in the SL club du jour, that's fine. I heartily applaud the efforts of local (to SL) musicians in game, and am quite willing to overlook a half-hour guitar-strum loop in those cases.
But for a paid (in real currency), professional gig, there's no reason to settle for that! You're allowed to have someone else pilot your avatar. Maybe it's time for a new profession in Second Life: "virtual puppeteer." Team up an accomplished animation creator and a skilled scripter, and come up with a custom interface for the job. Then hire someone to run the avatars for the singer during his or her set. We already do this kind of thing with special effects. Take a look at the board for the lighting effects and dance floor next time you're at the local blackbox dance club. Just add the avatar to the special effects.
Then, and this seems to be where every single high-profile performance I've ever seen in SL falls down, practice. Plan ahead. Make sure your attachments all fit the avatars that will use them (there's no excuse for adjusting an attachment on stage- at the very least a copy of the avatar's shape file, if not the skin, could be provided to the attachment maker). Setup marks on stage. ("Move from mark one to mark two" can be easily scripted in advance, and repeated with machine precision.) Run through it a couple times. I know, big name artists are seldom going to deign to do a dry run for a piddly little Second Life two-song-wonder concert. But at least try to anticipate. A professional musician shouldn't be expected (or allowed, without considerable practice) to pilot his avatar any more than he'd be expected to run the sound board at his concerts, or do the edits and CG effects for his music videos. There's no reason why an SL performance needs to look like a born-yesterday newbie bumbling through Help Island.
Well, I'm getting irritated here, so I'm going to let it go with that. We're reaching the point where "Gee, we're performing in a virtual world!" isn't cutting it anymore. Second Life is on the verge of becoming a mature technology, and as such the mere novelty of being here isn't enough. Production values matter. It's time to stop using SL as a fancy webpage for an audio stream, and start paying attention to the virtual half of the performance.