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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Osculation Documentation
So what did you do last weekend, Uncle Mori?

Well, kids, I spent a bit over seven hours on Sunday poised over my snapshot button, taking pictures in Second Life. In particular, I took over 160 pictures of 320 people swapping spit at the SLRFL carnival kissing booths. That comes out to an average of one picture every 2.5 minutes. Actually, there were somewhat more than 160 kisses dispatched, and considerably more than 160 pictures taken. But I'll get into that later.

By necessity, kissing in SL is something of a mechanical process. To receive a kiss, the donor walks up, pays the booth the required amount of money for the kiss he wants, and a pair of appropriate poseballs is rezzed. He then has 40 to 60 seconds (depending on the kiss) to sit on the poseball. The kissing booth volunteer does the same, and the animation starts. Net result is their avs are driven through the motions of kissing each other until the timer runs out.

It's cute, and everyone seemed to get a kick out of it. But, like all such av-on-av interactions, it continually reminded me of the marionette sex scene from Team America: World Police. Kind of breaks the mood, to say the least.

There were four booths setup. Each booth had three possible kisses, in increasing levels of steaminess and associated cost (remember the exchange rate is something like L$270 to US$1, and all proceeds go to the American Cancer Society):
And where was I during all this smooching? I was hiding off to one side, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Originally, we'd intended to make a prop camera for the photographer to stand behind. But, for a variety of reasons, this never came about. And I'm kind of glad of it. I think people were pleasantly surprised when they received their souvenir photos (generally delivered within moments of breaking liplock). At least, I was told as much by a couple of the organizers. But I have no doubt that there would have been issues if someone was standing there very deliberately and obviously intending to take pictures from the beginning. Player/avatar psychology is a weird thing.

As it was, I ended up running a basic bury animation, and hiding my avatar under the ground. That seemed to be enough to render myself practically invisible, in spite of the fact that my nametag still gave away my position. Quite a few people assumed that the photos were automatic, and somehow scripted into the kissing booths. After the second time, I swallowed my pride and stopped disabusing them of the convenient misapprehension. Unfortunately, there is no way to take snapshots by script alone. At the very least, a custom client would be required. Add to that the human judgement required to line up the perfect shot, deal with bystanders in the way (had to do some fancy alt-click-and-pan work in many cases), and an automatic photo booth rapidly becomes impractical, if not strictly impossible.

The picture frames around the photos were courtesy of a nifty (if I do say so myself) little HUD I whipped up for the purpose. Basically, it superimposes the picture frames (seven of them, changeable on demand) on my screen, where they'll be visible when "Show HUD in Snapshots" is checked on the camera settings. I also stretched my client window such that it was square, so that the resulting image uploads would also be square (as opposed to the normal 4x3 image that would be squashed disproportionately to fit 512x512 when uploaded). Net result is a nicely presented, distortion free image, without need for any Photoshop post-production work. I have no idea if I was the first to come up with such a tool- almost certainly not- but it seemed to work pretty well for the purpose. And it was certainly better than a bare snapshot, I think.

The HUD also has four preset camera locations, changeable as required. This let me line up the shots in advance, so I could simply jump from one booth to the next without any manual camera panning (unless required to deal with obstructions). Much faster. And that speed turned out to be vital, as timeframes proved to be quite short. My only warning that a kiss was incoming was a chat message: "Your kiss is being rezzed. Enjoy!" Then the countdown starts. I had very little time to figure out which booth was in use, line up the shot, snap the picture, upload it, paste a "Thank you for supporting SL Relay for Life!" message in the description line (probably an unnecessary refinement, I'll grant), and deliver it before the customer wandered away. (That last bit was important, as I couldn't afford to pan my camera around. I'd invariably miss shots while searching out customers, especially given the lag caused by trying to pan across a sim with 60+ people in camera view.) During busy periods, it was like a particularly frustrating game of whack-a-mole, or a bad RPG mini-game.

Worse, the whole operation was plagued with technical difficulties, from start to finish. Much of the carnival took place while SL had a concurrency of over 40,000 residents. As such, probably one texture upload in ten failed outright. Or, rather, it paused for 30 seconds (remember the kisses were only 40 to 60 seconds long), then flashed an error message informing me I should try again later, forcing me to reshoot and/or hit "Upload" again. Between that and the interminable delay required for the texture to become fully visible once it is uploaded (so I could tell if the picture needed to be retaken), most of the pictures generally became ready with only seconds to spare. Quite stressful, really.

Then there were issues with the poseballs failing to render (another lag issue), causing folks to join the kiss late (leaving me with a scant few seconds to catch the kiss before it was over) or miss it altogether. Unfortunately, they had to implement a no-refunds policy. As it was, many times I saw soft-hearted booth volunteers footing the bill for do-overs when a newbie couldn't figure out what to do the first time. (In spite of the fact that there were huge instruction signs in four different places.) Were it me, I wouldn't have scripted the timer to start until both parties were on board, and given the booth operator some method of manually cancelling them if required. (I only saw one or two people wander off unkissed after paying.) I'm sure there were solid reasons for doing it this way, not the least of which was it moved the line along. Still, it was kind of gut wrenching to see folks lose their money, time and again, because they were too new or too lagged to do it correctly.

And, of course, there were issues with folks forgetting to turn off their accursed animation overrides (I have a deep and abiding hatred for those mobile resource hogs in any case), and getting locked in some contorted semi-kiss while the animations duked it out over priority for each joint. You can see the bright yellow signs reminding folks to disable their AOs. Sometimes, they even worked.

Then there were my own technical issues. Many times I couldn't even risk moving my camera outside of the preset positions, for fear that I'd inadvertently pan it across the dense group of avatars on the dance floor behind me, and get lagged to a standstill for the next minute while my machine choked on the rendering data. And every time I answered an IM or attempted to participate in chat, I'd invariably miss a picture while typing. I'm sure all of my relay group members thought I was a little creepy, or at least massively antisocial, as I sat there under the ground for seven hours straight, watching them in stony silence as they cycled through their gyrating come-hither dances and kissed their customers. Sorry, guys. I'm not some kind of socially maladroit voyeur, honest! I just couldn't afford the time to chat!

I'd say that maybe 10% to 15% of the kisses delivered were undocumented, for one reason or another. And probably a half of the remainder had to be photographed more than once, for a variety of reasons. Given the conditions, I'd say that's pretty good. Still, I'm glad they didn't advertise the "...and get your picture taken while you're kissing!" part of the package. There would have been a lot of disappointed customers.

All-in-all, I can't say that the pictures themselves really added much to the profitability of the endeavor. I don't think anyone went in with the express idea of getting a picture, barring those they snapped themselves. But I think it did make them feel better about their donations. They have a nice little souvenir to stumble across in a few months, when they're shuffling through their inventories. The carnival raised over L$360,000 (approximately US$1,335), within additional general donations of around L$291,000 (US$1,080). Not too shabby! I'm proud to have been a small part of that.

And it just now occurs to me that, after seven hours of watching a few hundred folks exchange lip-locks, I never did get around to getting a kiss for myself. Not that I care overmuch about seeing my avatar get an awkward mechanical kiss, but there's something fundamentally unjust about that. Ah, well.
I just wanted to say that yours is on of the most enjoyable blogs on Second Life that I've found so far.
Hey, thanks!
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