|THE GRID IS FALLING! (not)||2007-04-30 10:14:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
Cristiano Midnight's "Open Letter to Linden Lab" is making the rounds of all the usual whiny twits. I won't be signing it.
When I became a Resident 18 months ago, people were whining that the newest updates then had added bugs, and the Grid was unstable, and the end was nigh. Each new update comes out, right up to the present, same routine. It's really, really old by now.
There's a certain type of neurotic personality that ignores anything good and improved, cannot experience joy at things getting better, and can only see negativity, darkness, and corruption in any change. Unfortunately, these people also tend to whine the loudest, and they all sit around circle-jerking each other until they're convinced they're right. They're not right, they just all have the same mentally defect, and are fantasizing about a perfect Grid of the past that didn't exist.
18 months ago, the Grid sucked. You could trivially crash a sim, you'd drop an object and sometimes it'd rez and sometimes not, the client went down like a L$10 whore with herpes lesions and bad teeth. Client performance was negligible; on a good box, you could set your draw distance to 64m and turn off the few graphical features that existed (local lighting and ripple water didn't exist yet), and be happy to get 10 fps in most areas on a fast computer. Now, I fly around at 256m draw distance with everything on, especially local lighting and ripple water, and get 15-30 fps. It was very easy to lag a server to death with scripted objects; now it's quite difficult. Back then, 40 people per sim was an unattainable upper limit, and 20 would start to cause problems; now you can routinely do 40+, and many routinely handle 100.
Remember the big grey goo attacks? The firebreaks of dead sims across the mainland in a desperate attempt to keep them from spreading? Seen one of those lately? No, you haven't, because LL changed SL to make it significantly harder to make gray goo now. The only times I've seen a sim go down lately have been because of griefer attack. I expect eventually that'll be reduced and then wiped out, too.
Almost all of the specific complaints in the "Open Letter" are spurious.
Linden Lab does make mistakes. The group IM bugs of the last week have been really, really irritating. I can barely use group IM right now... And just when hope is lost, here's Torley announcing a bug fix ready to go soon. They do in fact fix the stuff they break. When it comes to bug-fixing, they do about as good a job as you could expect from such a small company and such a large, complex program.
Despite the occasional bug, I'm having fun working on my adventure game sim. I'm bringing in friends and co-workers from First Life. I may soon be doing SL work as a day job. Things are looking good. And why? Because I don't have the mental disorder that makes me a whiner.
|Mainframes For Virtual Worlds||2007-04-30 06:30:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
IBM and Sun are making specialized mainframes for virtual worlds (and additional details from 3pointD).
This is pretty damned cool!
Consider a system like Second Life, with a physics engine on the server where the enemy (malicious users) can't reach it. A virtual world can and generally should be more than just a chat room with some textures. That requires more server-side CPU power. This is why SL requires all those servers, even when nobody's present--physics and scripting simulation goes on constantly. Mainframes and minicomputers have always had superior IO capabilities compared to microcomputer-based servers, but until recently lagged far behind on per-user CPU power. This could be a really big improvement. I don't think the Cell is the greatest CPU choice for this, but IBM can make them in such bulk now that the cost for massively-parallel machines is dropping rapidly, so it must make good economic sense.
The end result is more detailed and realistic virtual worlds.
People hunger for detail and realism (or rather, "comprehensibility from comparison with reality"; fantastic realism is good, having to mentally translate the experience into something comprehensible is bad). Consider:
The one part I can't comprehend is the use of WebSphere. WebSphere is an appserver tuned to running many apps with individual configurations on one or more boxes; great in concept, but in practice, you should be running one app across multiple boxes on the lightest and fastest appserver you can find, and never share a box with two apps. WebSphere just eats your resources and is painful to manage. I dealt with it in my last project at work, and it's a disaster.
|Sheepsearch and Private Property||2007-04-17 09:50:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
I'm trying to listen to the latest SecondCast (#57), where they're discussing the SheepSearch. Lordfly Digeridoo and the Sheepdroid keep making strawman arguments that simply don't apply, and fail to consider the real consequences.
First, the comparison with real-world land ownership rights. In the real world, we have pretty precise boundaries of what's trespassing:
If you trespass in any of those cases, you will be arrested, tried, and sentenced to some months in prison, more if you can't at least fake remorse and an understanding of your crimes to the parole board; the Sheep have been nothing but arrogant and sociopathically insensitive about this entire situation, so they'd clearly be doing the entire sentence.
Many of us have told the Sheep to leave our land. Anshe's told them to leave her entire estate and stop running their spying and thieving bots, and they ignored her wishes. Many people, as soon as they were aware the thing existed, banned Grid Shepherd. A responsible, ethically mature company would have informed the public of the exact details of what they were going to do, and how to keep it out, long before they actually did it. Sadly, we have the Electric Sheep Company instead, who've never heard of "business ethics" and wouldn't care if they did. If a responsible company had informed people first, people would have grumbled a bit about the opt-out, but not taken deep offense to having to ban Grid Shepherd (as long as they don't start adding Grid Shepherd 2, Grid Shepherd 3, Grid Shepherd 300, etc.).
Instead, the Sheep sent their agent out as a peeping tom in the night, looking through peoples' windows to see what they have. They came into private homes, possibly while people were upstairs having sex, and examined their property for price tags.
If we consider SL land identical to RL land, the Sheep clearly belong in prison. They have committed thousands of felony trespassings. If they did this in the real world, they would already be in prison, and there would be a long line of people waiting to file civil lawsuits against these criminal scum. Assuming some heroic landowner didn't just shoot them, which would be likely, and the landowner would never be charged in any civilized state.
Worst of all, though, is that banning them doesn't protect you. They scan at long range. They can see your products from off of your land, even if you've banned them personally. They're standing off your property, peeping into your bedroom. So now you have to go to Sheep Island and hit their opt-out button, and maybe shout "FUCK OFF, SHEEP" at them while you're there, and hope that they'll actually honor that. But they're honorless peeping tom cowards, so why would they?
All of this begs the question: Is SL land identical to RL land? Probably not. We don't have the full range of protections afforded to RL landowners, at least until some legal precedents are set, so we can't imprison them yet... It's entirely possible that, with the right judges trying the first few cases, we could establish some decent private property rights. Or Linden Lab could step up to protect us, since they're the ones who keep allowing this stuff.
Or we can take matters into our own hands. If there's no law, that works for us as well as against us. We can shoot or imprison (cage) Grid Shepherd, and set up automated systems to do so when we're not home. I can't see how it's a TOS violation to kill their bot, since it's not abuse against a person. If their bot is endlessly abused until it no longer works, maybe the Sheep will learn the Spam Lesson:
Opt-in takes more effort, but pays off because it doesn't make anyone despise you.
Opt-out only works if you think people have no means to express their displeasure with you.
|What's Wrong With Sheepsearch?||2007-04-10 19:34:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
The Electric Sheep Company's new search engine/automated grid privacy invader is upsetting quite a lot of people, myself included. Prokofy Neva covers it in The Greed Shepherd over at the SL Herald, and Anshe Chung has banned them from Dreamlands.
The fundamental problem here is the lack of respect for other peoples' wishes. If I want to be listed on a search engine, I'll go list myself and my products. If I know that an automated scanner is out there, I should have warning and the ability to block it if I decide to do so. For someone to do it and insist that everyone suddenly adapt to their decisions is an obnoxious imposition.
The web went through this early on. Early search spiders just grabbed everything, and often tried random permutations of numbers and words. People screamed and got pissed off about the invasion of privacy, the revealing of corporate secrets from intranets (one accidentally-linked page, and your entire intranet was exposed!). So now there's the robots.txt protocol, which tells spiders they're not allowed in various places. Even so, a smart site will have a ban list of several dozen known criminal hostnames and user agents who don't respect robots.txt.
Only spammers and thieves search sites in secret and then promise to let you "opt out", a promise which is almost always a lie. Honest people offer opt-in, or provide plenty of warning and an obvious escape mechanism. If the sheep had announced this tool, and made sure everyone had a month or so to take care of it, nobody'd be too upset.
We already have several opt-in search systems, and they're more than adequate. I willingly sign up for some of them. This, however, is just groteseque and abusive.
What's most revealing about it is its limitations: it doesn't scan vendors, including ESC's own SLBoutique vendors. This makes it worthless for any serious product searches. But it doesn't have to work, it's not for residents of SL; it's a checkbox on the ESC's marketing resume. All of this abuse, is for nothing except the sheep's self-aggrandizement.
|Shiny New Blog||2007-04-08 02:08:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
For this blog, I've been using a terrible old version of the terrible "PHPosxom" rip-off of blosxom. For a few posts, it was okay. Then it started to really suck. Linking to archives was wretched, so I just kept everything on one page, to hell with bandwidth.
This morning, I got tired of it sucking, so I rewrote it from scratch, mostly keeping the same URL interfaces. You shouldn't notice any problems, but let me know if you do. In particular, I'm curious to see how or if the RSS feed works for everyone. If you notice anything peculiar, please let me know.
|My Own Private Island||2007-04-04 06:21:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
You emerge from mysterious tunnels deep underground, and find yourself in bright sunlight, but it is not the sun which warms the Earth's surface...
The inner sun hangs over your head, timeless, for this is not the surface world, but Pellucidar, the world of the eternal sun. In the skies above you, on the land nearby, and in the water below, you see monsters evolved from the beasts of prehistoric ages, extinct for millions of years on the surface world, but alive and hungry in this savage lost world...
The temples and cities of an ancient, inhuman, advanced civilization surround you, as do those of more recent waves of human invaders. All lost to the dangers of the hollow Earth, or perhaps moved further on...
I finally did it! I paid Linden Lab their exorbitant setup fee and got my private island, Pellucidar! It won't be visible or searchable from the map for a few hours or days, but soon you'll be able to visit and see how much work I have yet to do on it.
I've just started terraforming, building the first puzzle island, and put up a workshop temple in a corner, so I may observe my domain while banging away on new stuff.
I'm hoping to have it fully functional and ready for play by June 1st, but I may have a few areas open by May 1st. If you're interested, join my group Pellucidar (currently L$25, which is quite the bargain, as eventually it will go up significantly, and permit access to advanced parts of the island and protect you from dangerous wildlife).
I can't tell you everything about Pellucidar yet, I want you to learn by exploring it. The setting owes much to the stories of E. R. Burroughs, of course, but also to Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, Lin Carter, Philip José Farmer, Karl Edward Wagner, and Michael Moorcock, and there will other surprises, as well.
While in some ways I am reacting against the folly of Myst Online: Uru Live, there's a lot more to it than that; my goal was always to make this place, but I didn't have the tools, the spare cash, or the advanced knowledge of LSL to make this possible until recently.
Most of Pellucidar will consist of a series of puzzle and adventure areas, and a few action games. Some will be obvious in function but difficult in execution; others will require careful observation and logic to even perceive.
|Review of Myst Online: Uru Live: Ha, you can only dream about flying.||2007-04-01 00:38:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
I'm a fairly serious Myst fan, going back to The Manhole and Myst. The worlds are beautiful, if a little lifeless, and the puzzles are usually good, if hampered by the lack of inventory. They're not nearly as good as Infocom's games; few people can write well enough to make good text-only adventures, so I'm no text-only purist, but Planetfall, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Zork series, and the Enchanter trilogy are far beyond anything Cyan has ever done for Myst. But Myst is a solid second-tier adventure game series, and if you care more about beautiful scenery, Myst is the A+ title.
Last week, I downloaded the newly released Myst Online: Uru Live for Mac OS X, and started playing.
I was hoping for a vast world full of puzzles, archeological mysteries, and social interaction in the character of these archeologists. What I got was a rather small Myst game with some minimal multi-player elements.
Before starting play, read the Recommended Info For New Players, watch the video, download and read the manual.
Where to even start? The UI is hideous. For a company that makes such lovely worlds, their user interfaces have usually been pretty bad, but this one is beyond the pale. It looks like something from Windows 3.0, run through a blender stuck on "Uglify". Giant blocky square computer buttons, low-contrast blocky fonts, and random stacks of buttons in a box went out of fashion on Macs and Unix before 1990, and even Windows had mostly caught up by XP in 2000. Second Life's UI is ugly, but at least that looks like a professional, boring computer app, and is easily controlled. The Lounge UI beats the crap out of this, so far that it's not even funny. When I first saw this UI, I was about to just quit playing right then and there, on the basis that the game must suck just as bad. Cyan should fire whomever they put in charge of UI design for Uru Live, it's almost malicious.
The KI (so-called for the ludicrous reason that it has the number 3 in D'ni numerals on the back, which looks like the word "KI"... Now, why is 3 on the back?) is your personal information manager, message device, and camera, just like a cell phone but not as advanced. The photos are small and grainy, and Uru only lets you keep 15 or so, and then you have to delete some to make room for more. It's nice that they can be shared with others or posted on the staticy public image viewers, but it makes note-keeping in the game impossible. In my old Myst games I kept dozens or hundreds of photos, because I snapshot everything and make notes on them, so I can figure stuff out. Now I have to use screenshots, switch out of the full-screen mode, go label them by hand as to where and what they are, and go back. 30+ seconds per photo instead of 5 seconds. Journal entries are also limited, which is insane, with as little space as text consumes, and the massive amounts of notes you need to keep in Myst games; instead, I have to keep it all on paper. [Glyph of Annoyance]
Anyway, YOU MUST HAVE THIS DEVICE TO PLAY. If you don't get your KI, you can't proceed; once you get to the Bevin neighborhood, it's easy enough to find, but making you run around to get your user interface is insane.
The KI also violates one of the most basic commandments of Myst: THOU SHALT HAVE NO INVENTORY. Now, I like inventory, and not just because I'm a gadget-obsessed geek. Inventory massively expands the range of puzzles you can make. As an indie games designer, even in otherwise very low-state adventure games (i.e., no stats, no skills, not even traditional inventory management), I've always made sure there was at least the possibility of setting flags and describing those as inventory items. But okay, that's not how Myst normally works. You fiddle with machines, and that's your only state. You don't carry stuff... Except in Uru Live, where you can't proceed, or communicate, if you don't have your KI, and there's a side-quest based on collecting markers in your KI.
The user interface is hard to use at first; mouse in the left hand, arrow keys under the right, but now you can't type to anyone without moving your right hand back to home position. Hit F4 to open the options panel, click Navigation, then Advanced, then Key Map, and you can set the keys to something sane (I use WASD, Q/E for sidestepping, space to jump, and / to activate chat--your preferences may vary). There's a long list of emote commands somewhere online, which you might want to print out. At the very least, memorize that F1 switches first/third person view, F2 activates your KI, F3 opens your Relto book, F4 opens the options panel. You'll use those a lot.
The KI interface is totally different from the client UI, and while it's complicated and tedious to use, it's attractive enough, sort of in-genre, and almost usable. First thing, hit F2 a couple times until you see a full screen display, then click the gears icon, and change the chat fade duration to maximum. Now your list of nearby people won't vanish on you.
There's a long backstory to the D'ni civilization's rise and fall, which is all in the game in various notebooks you can read, and most of it's pretty well-written and interesting stuff. Despite being a graphical adventure game, Myst has always done its most interesting stuff in text, and this one is no exception. You'd get 90% of the content in a pure text adventure.
As with all Myst games, the world is divided into Ages, pocket universes which are created by and teleported to by linking books. Earth, aka "D'ni" (pronounced "Dunny") is itself an Age. Normally, when you touch a linking book page, you teleport to that Age and the book stays behind.
One unusual element in Uru Live is a teeny-tiny little island Age, Relto, that you have your own private instance of, and you carry the book for it with you even when you teleport through it (unlike any other linking book ever written). This is especially important because you will reach down to your belt and link back to Relto if you're in danger (say, plummeting to your doom in lava pits). You can't ever be hurt in Uru Live. In some ways this is a tragic flaw, because many areas would be quite creepy and exciting if there could be some terrible creatures out there, or deathtraps... But no, one of the other commandments of Myst is THOU SHALT NOT BE HARMED. So instead it's all pretty boring. You can't even be eaten by a Grue!
You will also have private instances of most of the Ages, and there are shared multiple-instance Ages like your Bevin (neighborhood). It is possible to bring other people to your private instances, but mostly you'll be in them alone. Absolutely, terribly, soul-crushingly alone.
The first major quest in Uru Live is "The Journey". Yeesha, the daughter of Atrus and Catherine from Myst and Riven, has left behind clues that lead you through a series of worlds, seeing some of the underbelly of D'ni civilization, with the intention of bringing you into her faction; it's not clear yet what her plans are (she's never met in person, only recorded holograms of her), but they involve the inhuman Bahro and the D'ni "Least" slave caste. Certainly her plans conflict with those of the D'ni Restoration Council (DRC), which seems to want to turn the Ages into a "Dunnyland" theme park...
The Cleft is a very small and simple Age. There's a desert, with the bones of impossibly large animals, a crashed ship, a trailer home with an old man who listens to Peter Gabriel, and a chasm in the ground... Naturally, the adventure is always in a hole in the ground.
Setting the pattern for the following Journey Ages, you'll have to wander around, solving puzzles, in order to reach and touch seven "Journey Cloths" tacked to the walls. When you've touched all seven, you can open a big metal door...
The Cleft was trivial to finish, and most of the seven Journey Cloths were easily located. Basically any large object, go check out all sides of it. "Oh, there's a big landmark object in the desert, I bet there's a cloth on it!"
After finishing the Cleft, you have to subscribe to proceed to anything interesting.
On the bright side, once you pay, you can change your appearance and clothing. While you're customizing yourself, be sure to hit the camera icon to save a better mugshot for the character selection screen.
I'm not going to spoil anything for you, just summarize and review the following Ages. I could insert a bunch of my own screenshots here, but the official screenshots are just as good and don't use my bandwidth. The only caveat is that most of those screenshots show multiple people. You will never see that.
As adventure game quests go, it's okay. I've played better, but I've played worse. By normal Myst standards, it's much too small and easy.
Gahreesen is a continuation of the facility where you first picked up your KI. Now there's another section open, and from there you can get outside and over to a prison facility... Though most of the gadgetry there can't be turned on, which is rather lame. But you can't complete the Age just yet. You'll have to take a break and go on to the next Age.
Teledahn is a big industrial facility in the middle of a mushroom-infested swamp. Once you get the machinery working, and figure out how to access a flooded area, you can finish it off, and you will be able to finish Gahreesen. This is by far my favorite of the Ages. The machinery's satisfying and logical to work with, Sharper's journal is a treasure trove of information about the Age and gossip about the DRC's internal politics (just don't let him catch you reading it!), all of the clues you need are in Teledahn or in Ages linked from it. I've even been able to get a good sighting of the Shroomie sea monster. I wish there was even more here, and more in this style.
Eder Gira is a live volcano, with a fun but very, very easy steam-based puzzle, and lots of plummeting towards lava and panic-linking back to Relto. Then there's the waterfall... With a cave behind it. Has there ever, once, been a waterfall in an adventure game without a cave behind it? That would be a surprising, mysterious location. "Come see the waterfall that just drowns and crushes you! No cliché hidden caves!" The rest of it requires finding a light source... This being Myst, you can't just pick up a torch from the ground, LOOK IT'S RIGHT THERE, go light it on fire in the lava, and come back in. No, that would require the demon inventory. The only solution they implemented involves a very subtle effect in the linked Age, Eder Kemo. Eder Kemo is a lush garden Age, with giant black scorpion-slug things that luckily leave you alone. Nnnnggh. I hate bugs. I REALLY hate big bugs. Other than my desire to hose it down with DDT, Eder Kemo's lovely and has more backstory about the D'ni, but aside from one impossibly hard and un-Myst-like platform-jumping problem, doesn't have any puzzles except your light source problem. There's a giant levitating, rotating stone obelisk, but you can't do anything with it. Who makes a giant levitating, rotating stone obelisk that doesn't do anything? Once you get back to Eder Gira, there's no more puzzles, just go turn on lights and touch Journey Cloths. [Glyph of Boredom] Very lame Age, all things considered.
Kadish sucked. Kadish is almost the archetype of the worst possible puzzle design imaginable. The answers to all of the puzzles are in the temple, so you go copy down all the diagrams, then replicate them in Kadish, with no way to figure them out from local clues or by experimentation, and no feedback to tell you if you're getting close or not until something unlocks. Most of the scenery is gigantic curving bark walls, or oppressive stone chambers. The final piece of backstory at the end is interesting, and clearing the Journey was good, but I want the couple hours of my life that I wasted in Kadish back. This Age is a crime against game design.
And that's it. There's a bit more running around to do, and you can return to the Cleft and pick up a couple of new shirts and some goggles. They're adding more content, but it's very slow growth. As of this writing, there are two smaller Ages with one puzzle each, and two new "pod" Ages, with nothing you can do in them except look out the windows at the wildlife.
The whole Journey took me 3 nights of playing to complete. Maybe 15 hours, including exploring every inch of D'ni Ae'gura. That's not what I consider a complete game. My own goal for "short story" single-player games is 20 hours, a long-form single-player game should take 40-80 hours, and an MMO like this should be able to keep you occupied for several hours a day, every day, for as long as the game is supported.
You can play Final Fantasy XI or World of Warcraft forever, essentially, and never see all of it. Uru Live being released with just this one quest is like if FFXI was released with only Hume Warriors, a level cap of 10, and only Sandoria (the most boring and cliché-fantasy of the cities) and the nearby field.
Actually, there'd be more to do in that mini-FFXI, because at least you could make parties and big combat alliances to fight the tougher monsters, or fish, craft, work the market at the auction house, complete quests for townsfolk, and gamble at player-run casinos (before I quit FFXI, when I had hit the "bored of level-grinding" phase, I used to run a casino in an empty house in Windurst, and was trying to get some chat hookers to set up shop next to me, for better business for both of us). There's no comparison at all to Second Life, which I expect I'll be in (or in its replacement) for the rest of my life, just as I expect I'll be on the Web (or on its replacement) for the rest of my life.
In the closet in your Relto, you get a few sliders for how old or fat you look, and a rather minimal amount of clothing. Men get: 10 hair styles, 8 beard styles, 3 glasses, 14 shirts (4 designs have some variations in material), 5 few pants (3 with variations), 3 gloves, and 4 shoes (no variations, no boots!). Most of the clothes can be color-tinted. Women get: 15 hair styles, 6 kinds of jewelry (why don't guys get bling? UNFAIR!), 10 shirts (3 with variations), 3 gloves and a nail polish color, 6 pants (4 with variations, including pajama bottoms, which is... creepy), and 4 shoes and a toenail polish color (again, no boots, no heels). There's no slider for breast/butt size for women, so everyone is a C-cup.
The hair and skin can be tinted, but only within mere human ranges. I dislike being limited to human skin colors, because I'm not human. In SL, my current skin is a snow crash static pattern. Last month, it was a repeated fractal pattern. Tomorrow, it might be something else. The lack of height and build sliders beyond how fat or thin you are, relative to some generic pudgy academic body, is very limiting. I don't look like that. Most people don't look like that. Even with color-tinting, it's a really depressingly small wardrobe. I have hundreds of t-shirts in SL, and quite a few good suits and nightclub clothes. Why can't I even have a suit? My Real Life persona doesn't wear them, but in SL I like wearing a sharp suit when I'm working and doing business with people, then change to something else for play time. And how are Nekojin or Kitsune or Nosferatu or cyborgs supposed to live in a world that makes them look like Humans, which they so clearly are not? Human supremacist racist oppression is what that is.
On the bright side, you do get some additional clothes as you explore. A hard hat here, a few shirts and goggles there, it adds up a bit. Good explorers can be identified by their clothes, just as in Second Life, you can identify newbies by their newbie outfits and oldbies by their increasingly freakish or realistic appearances. But all Uru avs are pretty much alike, and don't even have nametags floating above their heads; you have to mouse over them to see who they are.
Visiting the city of D'ni Ae'gura is an odd experience. The environment is huge, and beautiful-looking... But most of it is inaccessible, blocked off by traffic barriers until/unless the DRC opens them up (i.e., as Cyan adds more content). So you're really wandering around a dozen streets and buildings, at most. There are typically 10-20 people present, but it's eerily silent.
I've come to realize that Uru Live is populated primarily by massively introverted people. Almost nobody talks, they turn and run away when confronted by the horror of another person. Most people were pretty friendly if you asked for help, but they didn't shout spoilers out. So they're not antisocial, they're just totally withdrawn, and behave as if this was still a single-player game. Shockingly, there are griefers, or at least people being dicks, in D'ni Ae'gura. Who's so pathetic they grief in Myst?
There's occasionally some newbies in the dedicated helper Bevins, but rarely very many helpers; both times I was there, there was no help. The city was much more useful. There's supposedly some regular events, but I can't hold out any hope for them to be better at this point.
There are some forums and podcasts about Uru Live. Sadly, these tend to be pretty dull. A handful of people do some creative writing about the world, which is great; it's tragic that that creative ability can't go into the world as more content, but at least they're creating something, somewhere, rather than being mere consumer sheep like most Uru players. Mostly, though, they obsess about the actions of the DRC, who are the sole source of new stuff in their world. Mentions of user-generated content or Second Life bring out responses of absolute terror and fear: "Nonononono, we're nothing like those Second Life people! We don't want user-generated content, because those people will just make flying penises!" It would be funny, if it wasn't so very sad.
Back in D'ni Ae'gura, you'll see the odd sight of people trying to jump on boxes and up walls, just for something to do. Sometimes this even works; whether by bug or intent, you can get yourself in some weird places. This doesn't help you explore, any, it's just something to do to relieve the unbearable boredom. Witness, for example, the "art" of arranging traffic cones: Conehenge! That's... Great Cthulhu, that is sad. It's horrific that this is just about the most creative and awesome thing you can do in Uru.
Nobody visits my Bevin, except me. Apparently there's 20 people sharing it, and yet the recent visitors list is just Kami Harbinger, over and over as I pass through. I saw someone there once, early on. He immediately linked out, perhaps to avoid talking to me. He's never been back. There's a tabletop game of some kind, Heek, which needs more than 1 player. I may never learn how to play this game. There's a bright inflated beachball down there, too, but playing soccer by yourself isn't much fun.
There's a photo-journal Kiddofspeed - GHOST TOWN - Chernobyl Pictures - Elena's Motorcyle Ride through Chernobyl. The rapidly-decaying, slightly-radioactive city abandoned and empty, reminds me of everything in Myst. It's an unbearably sad, lonely place. Not because nobody's there at all, but because nobody's together, ever.
SL lags to death at 40 people on old sims (2 sims per server), and just over 100 on new sims (4 sims per server). Uru says it supports 40, but really gets painful, seconds of lag between stuttering moves, after 25 or so. They don't tell you exactly what servers you're using, but I would expect that D'ni Ae'gura is on its own server, and they clearly move users between servers as you travel between Ages. I don't think it's scaling very well at all.
As I was writing this article, I wanted to check some facts in Uru... But I couldn't. The system's down. Found this on the forums:
It went down early Sat morning, prime playing time. Here it is late Sat evening, still not fixed, might not be for days. If you ever feel the need to complain about Second Life's occasional database issues which last for a few hours, read that again.
There are many emotes in chat, like /dance, /wave, and /doh. /look tells you the name of the Age, and a silly bit about exits, as if it was a text adventure... And then there's this, the most depressing emote I have ever seen in my life:
... But ... I can fly. Really.
I'm a Second Life avatar. Flight is one of my most basic abilities, like cam-panning and IMing. I can live with limited teleportation, but a world without flight terrifies and depresses me. I don't care how beautiful your world is, if you can't fly, you're a prisoner. I can understand that a game designer might take that ability out to make level design easier, or because mere humans can't fly, but to then mock you for even trying is unspeakably rotten. I can't conceive what kind of sick, twisted mind would write such a thing. I had to go fly around SL for a while to wash that horror out of my brain.
When I compare Uru Live to Second Life, I just feel sad for Cyan, and then go get some beer and visit my favorite dive bar in SL to cheer up. Sure, there's no quest in SL, no overarching vision, and except in a few themed regions, everything's a mess of what people made for themselves mushed up against each other. And that's what's GLORIOUS about it. It's everything wonderful and terrible in the human and transhuman condition, packed together like Neapolitan ice cream, something tasty for everyone. Political offices next door to strip clubs next door to gun shops next door to shops selling tiny Kirby avatars. There's casinos and all-day-all-night dance parties with live DJs. There's an infinite variety of clothing and skins to choose from or create for yourself, or you could buy or make a total replacement avatar like the furries do.
Cyan says that "Uru" means "deep", as in the cavern city, but also "U-R-U" in retarded teenager l33tspeak, as in "You Are You". Linden Lab says "Your World, Your Imagination". Cyan wants you to be stuck in the body you were born with (or for many of us, one that's much dumpier and more boring), and stuck in a world they create and control. I want to choose the body I live in and create the world I inhabit.
Then I exit from the dank, dark, lonely caverns of D'ni, blink at the light from the Linden sun, and truly appreciate my Second Life. There are things I want in SL now, but I want them in SL, not in the crippled solitary confinement of Uru Live.
The greatest consequence of my playing Uru Live is that I'm inspired again. Driven, even. I know we can do better in our world than they can in theirs; we can all create stuff, we all have far more power and better tools than anyone at Cyan does. All their users can do is stack traffic cones. So I'm back at work building puzzle gadgets.
In the days and weeks to come, I'm going to be adding a section to my Shoppe that sells scripted devices and in-SL routers and PHP web services for persisting adventure information. I'm also going to post the background and pencil-and-paper RPG rules for my World of the Eternal Sun science-fantasy setting, which I'll be using as the source for some of my adventure areas, but most of the devices will be reusable in any setting.
If that sounds interesting to you, I suggest that first, you go try out the demo of Myst Online: Uru Live, and play through the Cleft, at least. You don't have to sign up, just try it out and see what an attractive, well-designed puzzle area looks like. If you didn't grow up with Infocom's games, download and play Zork for free, and see what really top-notch adventure design is like. Then start thinking about making stuff of your own. Don't steal anything from Myst, I want us to do better than that.
Robyn Miller has written a few times in his blog about Second Life: Pattern Languages in the Cyberverse and Selenitic Second Life. His claim is that Second Life has potential, but there's nobody dictating anything, so there's no theme, and therefore "it is not an evolutionary design, it is cancerous growth." Yes, he actually compared SL, the SL created by the users, to cancer.
I say instead that our lack of theme, our lack of central control, makes us mighty. It means there's not just one small team of brains creating the world, there are thousands, tens of thousands. We're not cancerous, we're an ecosystem. Evolutionary competition will drive people towards the interesting areas and away from the boring areas, and we'll be able to make suggestions and improve each other.
Copyright © 2007 by Kami Harbinger. All Rights Reserved.
|Tea Timer||2007-03-04 18:10:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
Speaking of overengineering, this morning I was making some tea, and was tired of fiddling with the Meditation Timer Widget I normally use for timing my tea steepage. So I started making a tea timer in SL. By the time I was done, I had a menu-driven tea timer with a soothing color-fading display and pleasing chime. And my tea was cold and too strong. <sigh>
Now available for L$100 in my curiosity shoppe. Drink your tea.
|CafePress store||2007-03-04 17:54:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
I recently wanted an AFK shirt for myself, but couldn't find one in black (I only wear black). As always, rather than just solve a problem like any sane person would, I overengineered and went way past the original problem into a whole new problem space. I opened a CafePress store. I'll be adding many more SL-related shirts and paraphernalia in the weeks and years to come.
I get a few extra bucks on each item; certainly won't get rich, might make enough to buy some lattes. You like capitalism (and lattes) as much as I do, right? Buy my stuff! If you don't buy my stuff, the communists win! And I won't have lattes!
I won't know for sure how these look until mine arrive in a few days, but aside from years of only having white shirts, I've never had trouble with anything from CafePress.
|Tyra Banks Virtual Boob Lounge||2007-02-22 06:09:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
It scores well up front, because it has Mac and Windows versions. They list the Mac version as alpha, but it worked perfectly on my machine, and was a very easy install and run. There are two city servers currently: San Francisco and Miami. Unfortunately, they're identical, and SF had 200+ people while Miami had 80.
Graphically, it's pretty lame. Very primitive cell-shaded cartoon avatars, with limited selections of clothes and hair from their closet; you can't make your own. The sim is tiny, and has blocky, low-polygon-count models with low-rez textures, portraying a nightclub district.
Moving around's pretty smooth, and the interface is very simple and easy to use (once you hit F1 and find out what keys to use to make the screen bigger on the Mac!). The chat system's good, and it hooks into AIM (or .Mac, which also uses AIM). That's pretty cool. I wish SL hooked into any real chat system. Heck, I'd like SL to just steal that interface. It's nice. It's easy to activate gestures and start dancing and emoting and chatting. You forget, after a while, just how much SL's interface really sucks, but this really points it out. Go play with this thing just to see how easy the interface is.
The music starts playing smoothly as you approach the clubs. Most of it was teeny-bopper pop crap and some mediocre hip-hop, but in the sushi bar, they were playing New Order. New Order in a sushi bar. Awesome. That is cooler than midnight in Antarctica.
Unfortunately, there's not much to do there. You can wander aimlessly and find the various music hotspots. There are touch-spots that'll let you lean on bars, lounge on chairs, or even turn you rainbow-colored or solid black for a while. There's a skating rink, though it's hard to reach, and there's no hockey pucks, or anything else to interact with. There's bots all over the place, tending bar or guarding club entrances, but they don't seem to react to anything; damn it, how do I get them to give me the Unagi Sushi Quest?
You can't build anything, there's no activities except standing on a dance floor and bump-and-grinding on each other. I did start jumping onto the walls to try to reach the elevated train that passes by, but you can't reach it. If you fall in the water, you die and reappear in the starting area.
As Richard Bartle wrote in Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit Muds, there are four major player types: Socializers, Explorers, Achievers, and Killers/Griefers. The Lounge is only aimed at Socializers. Explorers will run around for maybe 15 minutes, get bored, log out. Achievers log out immediately. They do have quick, easy tools for muting and abuse-reporting troublemakers, so they clearly have had problems with Griefers.
I'd almost want to recommend this as someone's first non-game MMO. Ease of use, interoperable chat, and simple emotes are killer apps. Music would be, if they had more selection, maybe even some personal control. They supposedly have live DJs a couple times a day, so I may go back in and report on that this weekend.
But the primitive graphics are distractingly bad, even by SL's amateur-hour "I made this!" standards, they need activities to prevent boredom in non-Socializers, and they need to add entirely different cities, maybe with activities that require you to travel between the cities. They don't have to go to full player-created content, though that'd be nice, but being able to customize clothes and maybe make your own apartment by arranging their furniture would be cool.
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