”Blofeld: James Bond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong.
James Bond: Yes, this is my second life.
Blofeld: You only live twice, Mr. Bond.”
MMORPGs – or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, are immensely popular. Many of my friends have fallen casualty to the beast that is World Of Warcraft (WoW), and are nothing short of addicted to this virtual world of goblins and magic spells. This is something I’ve managed to avoid so far, as I’ve seen what it’s done to their social lives.
One of the problems with WoW, is that it takes a lot of time to get anywhere in the game. One of my biggest gripes with modern games, MMORPG or not, is that it’s getting harder and harder to just pick up a game and go. The learning curves seem particularly steep to get anywhere at all – let alone make the most out of it. That’s why more and more, I find myself playing retro games, and as such, I quite enjoyed the GP2X Console.
In the Massively Multiplayer Online scene, the virtual world that is Second Life has been causing a lot of stir recently. Since removal of the subscription fee, popularity has risen dramatically. As of writing, there are 1.7 million residents, 688,000 of which have been active in the last 60 days. In the last 24 hours, over $650,000 US dollars have been spent inside this virtual world. That’s some impressive figures.
The hardware grid on which Second Life is run, is made up of some 3,000 servers and that doesn’t pay for itself. For a monthly cost, you can become a premium member, which comes with a small piece of land you can call your own and do what you like on. You can buy quite a bit of land if you see a need, and the more you buy, the cheaper it gets. However, one of the beauties of Second Life is you don’t need a house, you don’t need to eat, sleep or even require a job to lead an active lifestyle.
Second Life, is vastly complex and there is so much to it that there is no possible way that I can write about it all in here. All I can do, is talk about my experiences, and give you as much of an idea as I can of what it is like to help you decide if it is something you want to pursue. For the past week, I’ve been experimenting with a free account, while also reading through a copy of the Official Second Life Guide, published by Wiley at a price of £22.99.
The book does an excellent job of talking through the history of Second Life, explaining all the concepts involved in the game, introducing you to places that you should check out, and people who are particularly well known in this virtual world. It tackles creating your own objects, making money, changing appearance, scripting and many other factors to Second Life. Although much of this information in available on the Internet, even through the official Second Life forums, somehow having all this information in a single place, written in a tidy, verified, “official” manner seems worth the money. It’s generally quite a good read and feels more like a book than a manual. It has definitely helped me in places, but I wouldn’t deem it an absolutely essential commodity to anyone attempting to enter the world of Second Life.
So what is Second Life? It’s not a game, as it has no real purpose, or goals. I think of it in two ways, firstly as IRC in 3D, and secondly as a creative outlet. If you’re unfamiliar with IRC, it is basically a protocol for chat. Upon connecting to any number of IRC servers, you would join a chat room, usually based around the topic or name, and talk to people about that topic. In Second Life, you can talk to anyone in your vicinity, in the same way you can in a chat room. Groups of people huddled together talking about a topic, are not uncommon. Just like IRC, you might meet in the same places every night to see regular people, and you might hunt out different locations, to chat about different topics.
One such place I frequented was a typical English pub called The Three Lions, where just like a real pub I saw the same faces time and time again while we listened to 80’s music. I also stopped by a rock club, called Sanctuary Rock where people were very friendly – if a little odd looking. One night, the DJ was taking requests – often when I make requests in real clubs, I get strange looks as I suggest bands they have never heard of. This DJ went out of his way to download the songs I specified and played them! I’m unsure of the legality of this, but having uncommon requests getting played in ”any” club always puts a smile on my face.
This is just one example of how strong the community spirit is in Second Life. After adjusting my initial look (which changes two or three times throughout this article), I ventured towards the Holly Kai Golf Club. This is the first Golf Club in Second Life, and I was really impressed. For L$150 (Linden dollars), which is around 50 cents, I played golf for 30 minutes. Afterwards, the very friendly woman who was showing me around the course, gave me a bicycle after I told her about my love for cycling. It was very basic, but a great start.
Objects in Second Life have certain properties that stop people from modifying or copying them. These are useful if as a creator you don’t want people to change or make profit from your creation. However, many objects are completely free and can be copied as many times as you’d like. If you hunt around, you’ll find you can get a free version of almost anything – from houses and cars, to clothing and body parts.
Wandering around with my bike certainly caught people’s attention – especially when you are dancing in a club with it still attached to your pelvis. However, this “Safety Bicycle” was little more than a show piece with no real use. By wearing my bike out and about though, someone noticed it and gave me a copy of a BMX they happened to have. This had scripting behind it, to allow for a number of basic tricks such as back flips, G-turns and rear wheel spins.
I was starting to define my Second Life character quite well, so to go with my bike, I felt I needed a t-shirt. Making clothing is a popular way of making money, as well as a way of making your avatar truly unique. To make the t-shirt, I used a combination of GIMP, the Second Life template, and an “SL Clothing Previewer”. The previewer is useful for seeing how clothing looks, prior to uploading it. It’s very convenient for fine tuning. In about 30 minutes, I had made my T-Shirt in GIMP. It is rather basic though!
The template is fairly obvious when making basic clothing, but there are more sophisticated templates around that explain some more of the complexities. As a 2D image is wrapped around a 3D object, things get distorted and there can be a problem with seams. Coping with these issues is very difficult and is takes some skill. The SL Clothing Previewer really helped speed things up though. In the picture, you might notice the top and bottom of my arms don’t quite match but after a bit of fine tuning and refreshing, I fixed this.
The in game preview gives me a final idea of what it will look like, and I pay the L$10 to upload the file. That’s a very small amount indeed (they give L$250 just for starting an account).
Finally, I springboard myself in to a new modelling career, with me posing for the camera in my new clothing. To quote 101 other SL residents, “Nice Bike Spode”.
As I mentioned before, Second Life is a creative outlet. Making clothes is just one aspect of that – almost anything is adjustable, and you can create anything you can imagine using the inbuilt 3D designer. It’s very simple to use, but lacks the power and complexity of a true 3D package.
Any primitive object, can be extruded and then textures can be applied to give it personality. You can add more “prims” to the object, but there is a limit to the number of prims a server can handle, so it’s best to use as few as possible. If you’ve ever played with Lego, you’ll feel right at home.
Once you’ve created your object, you might want to leave it at that. A piece of furniture for instance would be finished and ready for use or sale. But for the more adventurous, you can then take advantage of LSL – Linden Scripting Language. This is a very powerful language and you can create anything from simple cash machines, to complex games. These can obviously be sold for money, or just used for your own amusement.
You might have noticed on the previous page, my bike changed colour from picture to picture. By editing the object, you can do everything you can do during the creation process – such as change its colour or move bits around to alter the proportions. At some point, I’ll adjust the bike a little bit so it looks less like a BMX and more like a trials bike.
One issue with a virtual reality such as this, is that pretty much anything goes, and there are some very dodgy things going down. People are free to indulge in acts that would be inappropriate and completely illegal in the real world. There are sub-communities that believe in female slavery and virtual sex with animals to name a few.
In shops like the one above, you can purchase anything you can imagine. And if you have an imagination anything like some of these guys, get scared.
Virtual sex is rife in Second Life, as are relationships. One woman I was talking to is engaged in Second Life, and is pregnant. To simulate the pregnancy, she is increasing the size of her belly every day for nine days. Then at the end, she will adopt a resident being played by a child, to be her child.
However, not all sex is traditional. Prostitution is high on the list of jobs, and there are many areas dedicated to it. However, unless you go out of your way to wander in to these areas of town, you can stay fairly separate from it.
If you are under 18, there is an entirely separate grid, to stop teenagers from being exposed to such material. There are also rules to stop adults from being in the teenager world too – also for their protection. However, there is no full proof system against either rules being broken and I’m certain that it happens.
As a journalist, I felt I wouldn’t be doing Second Life justice unless I found myself a “lady of the night” to see what all the fuss was about. At this point, I’d run out of money, but I had already put my Credit Card details on file. So I bought L$1000 ($4 if I recall), which is about £2 with today’s exchange rates.
However, as you can see from the picture above, when it come to the crunch I discovered, that, like Action Man, by default, male characters don’t have anything to get in the way when riding our bikes. If you want a male appendage, you’ve got to buy one! However, aesthetic reasons aside, they have no function other than causing a bit of a giggle in the office (if you saw what I was given, you’d understand why..).
The image above, is of some kissing, which I think is probably suitable for a TrustedReviews audience. The rest of my screen shots don’t leave much to the imagination!
Virtual sex is just a sequence of animations and scripts. Quite frankly, if anyone actually gets turned on by it, they either have exceptionally good imaginations, or are very easily pleased.
In Second Life, you can either instantly teleport from location to location, walk or fly. Flying is amazing fun and when used in conjunction with the map, a great way of finding nearby people. Second Life is not particularly densely populated, probably because it can get a little slow when there are too many people in one area. In fact, at points I found it to be incredibly slow – something that I feel Linden Labs need to work on, as I’m using pretty top notch equipment!
Flying can get you in to some tricky situations though! Here I am about to back flip of a telephone booth. Unfortunately, back flipping while taking a screen shot was rather tricky.
Luckily, I found a parachute to help out in dodgy situations. Completely useless as we have the ability to fly, but why not?
Real life businesses have a presence in Second Life, and some are making a lot of money. However, to make money in Second Life, you will have to work equally as hard in Second Life as you would in real life. It’s certainly not a get rich quick scenario.
Many people use Second Life as an extension of their current life. Many others choose to be entirely different people (like the 20% of residents that play the opposite sex) or even an animal. You can choose to entirely escape from your real world life, and do things that you couldn’t usually do in real life (RL).
With the object creation and scripting language, you can do anything that your mind can fathom. The graphics may not be as good as ‘RL’ yet, but the social aspects of a virtual reality are more than real.
I almost feel odd in saying that I’ve really enjoyed my experiences in Second Life. I’ve had some interesting conversations, and had a good time fiddling with object creation and clothing. At this stage, I haven’t really delved into the coding aspect of Second Life, but I will definitely have to give that a go at a later stage – maybe I can improve the scripting of the BMX I inherited.
I don’t feel the book was essential, but it was a good read and definitely left me understanding the Second Life world a lot better. If you are intending on making a success in Second Life, then the book would be worth your while. I do feel that £22.99 is a little steep, and there is a certain irony in buying a real life book to aid your second life. If Wiley could sort out a digital distribution system for the book at a cheaper price, I think more people would buy it.
If any of this has sounded like fun, head over to the Second Life site and give it a go. It’s free!
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