Monday, 7 June 2010

My Spaceship Project

When I came onto Second Life as a child avatar I was inspired by a story I wanted to tell and a roleplay I wanted to create, and I was looking for a kid friendly sim with land to rent and a beach to build on.

Over the last six months I've been developing my building skills and looking around lots of different places. But I really wished that Loki Eliot's Goony Island, the best place on Second Life for adventurous kids, was a full sim open to builders because it was the perfect place and had the audience I wanted for my story.

About three months ago Loki started talking about plans to change Goony Island from a homestead into a full sim, open to builders who wanted to make their own projects fitting in with the adventurous theme of the island. I immediately started pitching my idea and making sure that my particular requirements for a parcel that overlapped a beach but was mostly underwater would be possible.

Well this weekend Loki made his plans for Goony 2.0 public. There's an introductory blog post up at the moment and a fantastic interactive in world presentation that I recommend you go and visit, and a video version of the presentation online here. I'm sure Loki will be making more blog posts soon about his exciting plans to make Goony Island into the best adventure sim in Second Life.

For Friday's presentation, Loki asked me to also present my story and concept art, to inspire people with the sorts of far out ideas that will work on the new sim. I did this in two parts. The first part was an illustrated retelling on the first part of the story, that will be revealed in world through reading diary entries left at beach level. Think of this almost as a 'trailer' for the bigger story that'll be revealed through exploring the build. The second part was presenting a set of concept images I'd created that show what I plan to build, and talking about how it'll work and the influences behind it. Here is that story...

The Back Story...

Alien treeThe story starts with an unconscious boy, washed up on a beach, waking up to see a weird, unearthy thing growing out of the sand dunes like a giant alien mushroom. The boy doesn't remember how he arrived on the island, he wasn't on a boat, last he remembered he was in the city.

For a few days he lives wild on the island, foraging for roots to eat, knocking coconuts from the trees. He's very hungry but he finds he can't bring himself to kill the deer on the island, or even use his knife to escape from the sharks in the sea.

He's explored every part of the island but he keeps finding himself drawn back to the alien tree on the beach. He can't explain it but he feels like he's meant to be there.

One night he dreams of the alien growth, towering over him, calling his name, calling out so loud that he shouts back, shouts until he wakes up...

Alien spaceship under water...and sees the sea below him has lit up with a strange light...

He swims beneath the surface and discovers there's something huge and alien down there, something fleshy and alive, poking out from below the beach.

Alien tree with closed doorAlien tree with door openingHe surfaces and feels compelled to dig below the alien tree. He has to know what's there, what lies below. He digs at the sand with his hands until he uncovers a puckered round surface.

As he brushes the sand away to get a better look, his hand strokes across the skin-like surface and it twitches under his touch, then begins to retract, to open like a portal into another world.

It's dark inside, he leans in to get a better look, but he slips on the inner rim and falls inside like Alice down the rabbit hole...

Alien spaceship designInside the boy learns that the mysterious object under the beach is an alien spaceship. By exploring and interacting he learns the secrets of the ship, where it came from, how it came to be buried under this beach, why it came here and how he came to be on this island, drawn to its call...

The spaceship is alive. It was grown. It's as much a creature as it is a vessel ...and it has a story to tell...

The Concept

The build will tell a story you learn by exploring and interacting. There will be two different paths to the story, the items, sketches and diary entries left behind by the boy and the secrets to be revealed within the ship.

At the end of the story you learn about a roleplay group based around the secrets of the spaceship, and you find out what happened to the boy, how he came to the island, why he was called, where he's gone now and if he will ever come back.

The Inspiration

The spaceship design is inspired by sea creatures. The exterior is modelled on a 'sea pig', fleshy pink sea creatures with stubby growths coming out of them.

Alien tree with door openingThe interior will be very alien, full of organic shapes without any corners or straight edges, illuminated by bioluminescent glow, inspired by deep sea jellyfish. Think alien looking glowing veins, think 'organic Tron'.

The last concept image shows a cross section of the spaceship allowing you to look inside and see some of the bioluminescent interior.

The Next Step?

As well as making dozens of iterations on the concept art, and working out the story I want to tell, I've also started building experiments as proof of concept that I can make the sort of organic shapes I've imagined.

So far I've built a smoothly animated, scripted organic door that opens and closes like something between a sphincter muscle and an iris. You can go and try this yourself for the next week at the Goony 2.0 Presentation.

I've also experimented with building under water and worked out how to work around the challenges this raised; made a proof of concept oraganic room with no straight lines and an organic doorway using combinations of twisted prims with different cut settings; and produced some early bioluminescence tests.

I'm planning to give progress reports and some tantalising glimpses of the spaceship here as I build, so keep a look out for those!

But Goony 2.0 and my spaceship build can't happen if we don't get enough people involved with the island, adding their projects. So if you're interested in Second Life and have some exciting adventurous build ideas of your own, please get in world and take a look at Loki's presentation this week!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

First Things First

Welcome to the blog recording my avatar's adventures in Second Life. In world I play an adventurous 'almost 12' year old, a member of Loki Eliot's Second Life Goonies and a sometime Dickensian street urchin roaming the steampunk city of New Babbage.

So first things first, the obvious question most people will be thinking is why do I spend hours of my free time pretending to be a kid when it's 'Your World, Your Imagination' and anything is possible in Second Life?

Why Play A Child Avatar?

Well, while the original concept of Second Life was that anything is possible, most people seem to spend their time in world shopping at the mall, dancing at night clubs or flirting, dating and even getting married. Most people's Second Lives are a lot like their real life...

Don't get me wrong, there are artists, builders and roleplayers in Second Life who embody the original 'Your World, Your Imagination' vision of Second Life, but for me, the community that fits this the most, and most importantly is the most fun to be a part of, is the adventurous child avatar community.

Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

After a long day at work, I come onto Second Life for some escapist fun, and kids are all about having fun. In 'mainstream' SL spaces, most people's socialising is all about flirting, dating and sex. If I socialise in kids spaces, even if we're just hanging around at a friend's SL home or dancing in a club, everyone's telling jokes and having fun. Being a kid is the perfect way to avoid being chatted up, which is not something I'm interested in wasting my Second Life on at all.

Being A Kid Is The Best Way To Explore

As I said before, there are some amazing artistic and imaginative builds in Second Life, and to me the best way to explore these with the wonder and excitement that's appropriate is through the eyes of a child. It's common in fantasy stories that the stranger in the strange land is a child, seeing the weird and wonderful sights without the baggage and cynicism of adulthood. So what better way to explore fantastic new worlds than with a gang of other adventurous kids?

And kids are friendly. If you go to a new place and meet someone else playing a kid, most likely they'll treat you as a new friend and show you around. The child avatar community feels strong and welcome. If you meet a new kid, it's a new friend, after all, we're all there to have fun.

Roleplay Worlds Need Kids Too

Second Life is only open to players aged 18 or over (younger players are able to join the 'Teen Grid', a version of Second Life separated from adult players). A well rounded roleplay world such as the steampunk city of New Babbage or even the alien world of Pandora would be incomplete if all the residents were adults. Having kids in your roleplay setting adds colour and makes the world more complete and believable.

And roleplaying a kid is more fun. Playing a kid I can slip into complex scenarios and not have to act like a character who knows things, or needs to follow the stricter social mores of the setting. As a street urchin in New Babbage, I don't have to follow the strict formal Victorian gender roles that adults have to follow. I can roleplay in the style of a cheeky kid, or act like a Terry Pratchett Discworld character, asking innocent but amusing questions from a position of childish ignorance that entertain the adult characters I interact with.

We Like It This Way...

I've been spending a lot of time recently asking friends who also play child avatars why they do it. Most people said much of what I said here, that being a kid is just more fun and less complicated. More than one actually said they can't understand why anyone would want to be an adult in Second Life. Many said that when designing their perfect avatar on their first day, they just naturally ended up being childlike, others thought they'd hit on the most amazing idea to be a kid, then later discovered others were too. A common experience is to join up as an adult avatar, explore Second Life for a while but then to change to a kid as soon as the possibility was revealed. I personally had an account for three and a half years that I barely used until I stumbled across the YouTube videos of Loki Eliot, and made my own child avatar the next day, and I've used Second Life every day I've been home in the six months since then.

So there's definitely something that captures the imaginations of some people, making playing a kid seem right.

A Second Childhood?

Some people play as part of a family, meeting people who want to roleplay their parents or brothers and sisters through Second Life 'adoption agencies'. These players tend to talk about how they're reliving aspects of their childhood they have fond memories of, or working out issues with an abusive or unhappy childhood, trying to live the childhood they never got to have.

The type of kids I spend my time with don't tend to have parents in world, possibly brothers or sisters. We're more like Peter Pan's Lost Boys, Pippi Longstockings, or a gang of adventurous kids like The Goonies. In New Babbage, we're like street urchins from Oliver Twist, everyone basing their character in some way on The Artful Dodger or Oliver himself. This type of player tends to talk about having an affinity with children's literature, movies and TV.

I personally prefer to read either completely out there science fiction and fantasy, or fantastic stories where the protagonists are kids. I'd prefer to read His Dark Materials, Diana Winne Jones or the Harry Potter series over most well regarded modern literature. I don't think it's any secret that I'd rather watch Doctor Who than The Wire, and I'd rather watch The Goonies than The Godfather. It's not just nostalgia, although of course that's a factor, some of my favourite kids books, TV series and films are those I discovered when I was well into my twenties. And it's not just that I prefer escapism and fun (although I do like TV shows I watch to have humour and likeable characters as well as a good story), there's definitely a level at which I relate better to stories about kids, or at least to protagonists who don't yet have all the answers in life.

Young At Heart?

I long ago realised that when I attempt to write fiction (or interactive fiction games) I end up writing young adults or kids stories. This used to bother me, because I usually wasn't setting out to do that, it's just where my imagination ended up taking me.

I'm a happy adult with a good job that I enjoy and, while I'm currently single, I've been in committed relationships in the past. But I've realised that I'm very much in touch with my inner child, that a big part of my imagination has remained in childhood. I think this is the creative part of me, the part that falls in love with stories and imagines escape into the fantastic. And, although it used to bother me, playing a kid in Second Life has helped me to come to terms with this aspect of myself. I don't think there's anything wrong with keeping the child alive inside yourself, I think some of the most creative minds in history were the same. Lewis Carroll and J.M. Barrie were the same, some of the most creative people in Second Life are, and I'm sure some of the authors and film makers today whose work I love are too. And there's nothing wrong with that.

And like I said earlier, playing a kid is just more fun! :)

"There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes" - The Fourth Doctor, Doctor Who

Amy Pond: "I grew up."
The 11th Doctor: "Don't worry, I'll soon fix that!"