Continuing Adventures in Second Life

Girding myself for another encounter with sentient hair-beasts from outer space, I returned to Second Life. This time, I was prepared! Thanks to Van Hemlock, I had a travel guide. My first port of call was Spaceport Alpha, an International Spaceflight Museum with an impressive collection of rockets. It’s very well done, but somehow felt slightly lacking… You don’t get an awesome sense of “wow, that’s *big*” scale when you can manipulate the camera so easily to zoom in and out and pan around, and it’s all very static. I wanted to climb into a rocket, and blast off into orbit, and land on the moon, and drive around there in the buggy and play golf at low gravity, and, and… Now I know full well I’m being an ungrateful git, and it takes a lot of effort and care to create these things, they’re provided to the world for nothing, and I’m casting a cursory glance around and going “it’s kinda OK I s’pose”, like someone going to a museum and saying “well, it was all right, but I wanted to climb into that suit of armour and ride around on an animatronic version of the dinosaur skeleton shooting lasers at robotic Egyptian mummies”.

After Spaceport Alpha, I went to the Lost Gardens of Apollo. And… they’re… very nice again. Very beautiful, but I’ve been strolling through virtual landscapes in various guises for a long time, and without something to actually do there, I’m afraid I lose interest fairly quickly. It did look like a lovely setting for a date, though, for couples who can’t always get together in First Life.

My final spot for the night was The Shelter, a “newbie friendly” club. The first thing that caught my eye was a jukebox; wandering over and clicking brought up a web interface, and selecting “Comfortably Numb” there, it was soon playing, and I was strutting my stuff on the dance floor… OK, so maybe not the greatest choice for dancing (don’t talk to me about the Scissor Sister’s cover), but still. That piqued my interest more than beautiful, but largely static scenery. Another great thing about The Shelter was the very friendly people, happy to help those getting to grips with Second Life. Unfortunately, I have a terrible sense of pride, and find it incredibly hard to admit there’s something I can’t do with ‘technology’… however, by nonchalantly lounging around in a chair and paying attention to other conversations, I did learn a few things.

So I’ve seen a bit more of the world, and there’s some good stuff there, but nothing’s quite hooked me yet. I still haven’t quite adjusted to the pace of Second Life, and its need to shunt a lot of data around, so I’ll sometimes be frantically clicking away trying to interact with things that haven’t necessarily loaded, shouting “COME ON! COME ON!” OK, so not the shouting, but I find myself in the position of certain users of my own systems who expect thousands of rows of data to be manipulated in picoseconds (“I clicked this button, but then nothing happened so I clicked it again and again and again then I clicked it again then still nothing happened so I clicked this other button and then this other button and then these two buttons here and then I clicked it again and then lots of things happened and now it’s gone weird”).

Van Hemlock’s Examination of Purpose has it spot on:
“I’d have to say the Second Life is a lot like the greater Internet itself – many things to many people, and best appreciated by identifying a particular aspect of it you like, and narrowing the focus somewhat. But just rolling up to ‘The Internet’ as a whole, and wandering aimlessly for half an hour is unlikely to be a particularly satisfying or rewarding experience in and of itself.”

Thinking back to my early experiences of the Internet, as I recall I’d been playing around with Gopher and newsgroups (getting into a flamewar about something, no doubt) on dumb terminals, as Computer Scientists were wont to do, when a friend showed me… The Web! A Star Wars fan page, probably, with pictures! And colours! And stuff!

This is 1994, so Google didn’t exist, and I was surfing with Mosaic. I can’t remember what the home page was set to… either something worthy like the University site, or possibly there was no home page, Mosaic just said “‘Ullo! Type in a URL!” Either way, in those earliest days, the only way I could find pages was by following links from other pages (which raises the question of how I started at all… I really wish I could remember). As Wired put it at the time, “By following the links – click, and the linked document appears – you can travel through the online world along paths of whim and intuition. Mosaic is not the most direct way to find online information. Nor is it the most powerful. It is merely the most pleasurable way.” It was a fun way of killing half an hour between lectures (or killing an hour instead of going to lectures), but not much more than that.

It didn’t take too long before I stumbled across Yahoo!, then there was Alta Vista, Google a couple of years after, and the rest is history. I tinkered around learning HTML, and made the obligatory “Hi! This is my homepage!”, with list of links to “cool stuff”, and that’s something I’d like to do in Second Life: get into the building and scripting side of it. I had a look at a few tutorials, and played around for a few minutes in a sandbox, so I think I have some of the very basic concepts. The problem now is thinking of something to do… Years back, some computer magazine gave away a free 3D modelling program, and I followed the tutorial, and got moderately competent (I like to think) at making and manipulating basic items. I think I ended up with a teapot, or a table and chairs, or something equally exciting. After finishing the tutorial, I thought “I can make anything at all, now! Whatever amazing construction my most fevered imagination can produce!” Turns out my most fevered imagination got a bit stuck after putting a pyramid on top of a cube. With HTML, after making my amazing page of links, I had a couple of vague ideas, but after finding out 38,000 other people had made Led Zeppelin fan pages, there didn’t seem much I could add to the world of “Under Construction” signs and lurid background GIFs. I’m sure I’ve seen a quote along the lines of “every fleeting thought you’ve ever had is somebody’s lifelong obsession… and they have a web page”. It wasn’t until, at work, they wanted someone to help on the intranet that I got back into it, so maybe Second Life will be the same. I’ll make my pine box that says “Hello World!” when you click on it, and leave it there until they need my help with a “Virtual Online Meeting Space”, or whatever they’re working on at my company…

Oh, and to keep those Google hits coming in, if you’re looking for “Slave Pens blue loot”: don’t bother, it’s rubbish. For a sword rogue, there’s a 1/5 chance of some half decent gloves on the final boss, everything else is junk (other classes may have differing opinions, the value of your loot in the auction house can go down as well as up, your sanity is at risk if you do not keep up repayments). Have I mentioned how much I hate random loot at all?

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