an exploration of the Secondlife platform as an immersive environment, a poltical space, and as a generative medium for architectural design.

Friday, November 04, 2005

what is j-wu up to?

to speak of my interest in Second Life, i have many. i have come to enjoy the instant socialization SL presents, and have made many friends, associates, and even a few entertaining rivalries. early on SL provided an amazing model in helping me digest a lot of the readings i was doing on technology, specifically information technology, questions of public space and the challenge of the spaceless network upon spatially bound architecture, the cyborg and post human metaphor, and other topics dealing with politics and agency in the information age. along the way this game economy became a USD economy, and i found my self become fascinated and involved in it, learning a lot about business and entrepreneurialism along the way from my own experiences and those of my friends in SL. and finally, i am one of those that believe SL is a precursor to the 3D interface to the internet, much like HTML provides the basis of 2D support. i feel like the current community of players fiddling around with the SL toolset scripting cars and planes, modelling houses and furniture, or baking avatar clothing for fun to create their fantasy hobby world are tomorrows 3D developers making large sums of money making sims for offline businesses, big and small (very much like the recent Wells Fargo project, which i wasn't at all surprised to learn about).

my favorite example that i give my friends when i show them this hobby of mine is my diverse car collection in SL. the inworld economy for selling these things is great but as this kind of game evolves into a platform or protocol, i ask them to imagine a much more sophisticated model of a fully customizable Ford Mustang in a virtual showroom, with a sales rep logged in world to provide any support you need. you click your colour, your engine, your accessories and you see it in 3D, quite possible with polarized goggles or some gadget for the full effect. you might even take your virtual car for a test drive in a smartly programmed virtual environment before authorizing payment through your paypal account to have the physical analog delivered to you in 5-6 days.

another is of branding cyberspace. this is already happening on the internet at large, and is not recent revelation in virtual worlds either. in my brief time exploring the VWs such as the Sims Online and There i very quickly encountered prominent brands such as McDonald's and Nike. There is no reason why the shopping malls of SL could not one day be selling or giving away these brands for virtual consumption and similarly to my automobile example, also using SL as a venue to sell physical products.

i feel like SL is the at that cutting edge. and as a recent architecture school grad, i can see even more immediately practical applications of this environment that i've experienced first hand. the SL toolset is incredibly primitive in relation to the modelling and drafting programs i'm accustomed to, but it has some advantages as well. the first is the immersive experience the avatar provides for which i am still trying to articulate why it is so compelling and the second is the shared space SL provides.

although the architects contemporary practice is a virtual one, one of conceiving of a vision, and then providing images to communicate it to others, and not of actually building, CAD software is bringing architects closer and closer to reasserting control over every minute detail of a project, much like the master builders of a former age. sl provides a different twist, not yet capable of the kind of detail other toolsets provide. the avatar becomes a human reference to the design, constantly walking, climbing, falling, jumping, and bumping in, out, through, over, under, and around the interventions we place in the virtual world. whether this immersion is providing a step away from virtuality and towards the embodied, or if it is a deeper layer of virtuality is something i am still reflecting on and trying to get a grip on. i wonder whther this sense of embodiment serve as something generative of degenerative to a critical design process. i plan to make a serious RL linked experiment with this idea with the firt possible opportunity to explore this idea further.

the sharedness of the SL environment is also very liberating to me relative to other CAD mediums. when i make a physical model or drawing, my colleagues can simply manipulate the same model with me or draw right on top of my drawing. in CAD it is the struggle of who is in control of the pointer and keyboard. it is a very awkward situation. in SL, the sharedness returns. a colleague can log in and start manipulating the same object or adding to it. they can tear away a copy immediately to make a divergent iteration. at this point, the SL toolset is probably too primitive to truly be able to draw the ideas of major architecture projects beyond the most early conceptual ones, but nevertheless, that possiblity is apparent to me, as i have experienced it in the back and forths between many of my SL friends while we build, and particularly on a recent project i completed with nicola escher.

this is what i see in SL. these are the reasons i'm so passionate about this game. this should give an idea of the kinds of discussions i want to engender with this blog :)


  • At 11/04/2005 10:35:00 a.m., Blogger Prokofy Neva said…

    Um, I realize you have an architectural degree upon which the ink isn't dry and you think you're very, very clever, but here's a clue-in -- my 13-year-old son on the teen grid figured this out on day one: "whether this immersion is providing a step away from virtuality and towards the embodied, or if it is a deeper layer of virtuality is something i am still reflecting on and trying to get a grip on."

    Uh, what it is isn't any of those college-boy thinky things you're writing, what it is, is just a pain in the ass. Instead of allowing you to design something without your goddamn avatar in the picture, it foists him into the picture where he just becomes a bloody nuisance. I showed my son, who is 10 times the builder I am of course, that what the smart uber-architects like Barnesworth Anubis do is make little chairs for their avatars to sit -- or even just rez a prim cube -- so that they aren't bouncing around in the picture.

    One of the biggest full-time annoyances of SL is when you right-click on something in a room or building to edit it, the camera catapaults you up on to the roof OUT of the picture you're trying to edit. Dumb. You are then forced to go alt-mouse-left click to zoom in on the thing you're trying to work on. Annoying as heck. These are not full-body experiences. This is just crapping game-making, please, let's not sanctify it.

    Yeah, it's fun to bob around like an idiot having um rich multi-culti-mcnulty immersive experiences in 3-D soup, especially grey pea soup. Yep, I, too have an awful lot of trouble getting a grip on this rich cerebral right-brain hectoral multi-sectored panoptic synergic synaesthetic experience (and I am the proud possessor of at least 4 kinds of synaesthesia) BUT I suspect that it's because the LL people have taken this jello out of the fridge too early.

  • At 11/04/2005 11:50:00 a.m., Blogger jauani said…

    for the record, prokofy, since you mention it, i have two architecture degrees. however that doesn't make me any more an authority on 3d modelling tools than any other user.

    i agree with your sons insights on the tools but, having many years of experience with a variety of 3d and 2d CAD tools i also find myself comparing the various tools and finding some benefits in SL. perhaps down the road it might just be a matter of creating more feature options to get the best of all the various tool sets under one platform.

    at the moment SL is definitely not a slick designer toolset at all. it has a lot of kinks in it. it's crashes uncontrollably at times, which is hardly a reliable platform for a designer. it requires an incredibly annoyingly and labourious work flow for texturing and modeling complex shapes. there are some of the other problems you've mentioned ( though i think the camera bouncing problem has been fixed in 1.7). at the moment it just isn't at all practical for a commercial design practice for any purpose.

    there are times when the avatar does becomes a nuisance and i wish i could just turn him off. this is very troublesome when i'm working on large projects where i need to get a view from greater distances. this forces me to go back to my avatar and move him to accomodate my new camera angles. also it becomes very difficult to move between camera angles in a practicle way. setting them up with prims and scripts is tedious and using them is even more so, such that i don't know anyone who tries this.

    other times i find the avatar a boon. i design a space and i can instantly scale it to my avatar. i can enter mouselook and move easily get a sense of the resulting experience. many of the 3d softwares i've encountered allow you navigate the camera in a perspectival view, but it ignores the building, with the camera slipping through walls and floors as if they are not there. there is always the option of exporting the model into another platform such ar virtools but this is to add a time consumign step. with sl the experience is instantly available. furthermore, walking in av around the building sometimes generates ideas about possible experiences or interactions that can then immediately be worked on. just because sl has it's share of problems doesn't mean we should rule out looking at these possibilities it does offer.

    definitely you will see your uber-architect friends sitting on prims to build their little shops and houses. but then sometimes you will see them stand up and walk about them to compare the experience to there initial vision. the vision is then reasserted, or maybe the experience redefines the vision.

    i see this as a way in which the the design process is enriched. whereas the masterbuilder would have the craftsman build and rebuild parts of a building to his satisfaction, the contemporary architect makes a set of drawings and once they are in the hands of the builders there can be very little change. as i stated earlier, computer aided offers architects a renewed ability to insure their vision in the final product. this is through the various mediums of digitial visualisation. i am simply putting forth the possibility of the instant immersion an avatar offers as an added enriching feature in the design process.

  • At 11/09/2005 12:26:00 p.m., Blogger Prokofy Neva said…

    TWO degrees even, wow! Then why do you waste time in SL? It must supply SOMETHING for you, and the tool set can't be THAT horrid. The fact is, with all this gushing about SL, I felt a corrective is needed: the camera rocking you up into the ceiling is NOT a problem fixed in 1.7 and in fact I never hear anyone else complain about it. I don't understand why, in this eye-see-hand-do world of SL, that there isn't instant clicking and zoomability on an object, without that idiotic rockingup into the sky.

    Re: walking around the avatar to get a feel for the building. Well, that's great -- but I suspect your uber-architect pals in fact don't do this much. I can tell because the inside camera-angles and liveability of houses and buildings often is teh suxxors. It's as if they are modeling on a little toy-train type of model on the outside, thinking of its beauty and showing off their skillz, but never actually living in the house. This is a HUGE problem. I often walk new builders and aspiring architects around and show them *what rents* and *what sells* and *how people actually live* -- the real avatars who really walk around your creations, not your lofty architecturey avatar for five minutes of mathematical ponderings.

    SL can afford this flexibilit and 3-D 360 o versatility but in fact, people don't use it. You go to much-touted places like the award-winning Linden Recruiting Center, or the UN reproduction in The Port they had for Thomas Barnett, or the Science Fiction Museum in Indigo, and you spend *forever* just finding the door. The door! Though you are an avian creature who is *flying* there, or being teleported most likely into the air. Why not openness, multiple entries?

    The main problem, Jauani, is that you are not given *choice*. You can't CHOSE to have the tool set be a mere canvas and palette of tools that you manipulate while you keep yourself out of the picture or, conversely, turn on your own immersion and enter the picture and walk around it.

    Re: renewed ability to insure their vision in the final product. You know, that's one of the many, many reasons why the fascistic potentials for Second Life type engines are so profound. It's scary.

    Forseti, let me take this station break to comment on your little smack-down on your little uncomment-enabled SLOG -- your "loving" of Juani Wu's answer to Prok could never have come about if Prok didn't challenge this budding architect.

  • At 11/09/2005 01:03:00 p.m., Blogger Cory Edo said…

    Hi Wu-J!

    I'm stoked about your new blog. I know just from our inworld conversations that you have some very insightful and interesting perspectives on SL and I'm excited that I have a chance to dig into them in a format a little more suited to these types of dissertations.

  • At 11/12/2005 01:51:00 a.m., Blogger jauani said…

    i'm having trouble understanding your comments. i clearly state SL is something i'm passionate about. architecturally trained professionals have been providing their unique set of skills and knowledge to help develop better hardware and software, more immersive movie sets and computer games for quite some time. i believe that if the metaverse takes shape and the internet develops an immersive 3d interface, the architecture field will necessarily have to branch into the virtual world. i really cannot comprehend why either you think i feel it's a waste of time or you think that i should feel so.

    if your uber-architect friends (i have no "uber-architect" friends, in SL or in RL) are not following your advice to consider "how people actually live" in the house, then i would advise you to reconsider the "uber" prefix that you confer them. any good architect will consider the utility of his or her work as well as it's beauty.

    i share your observation that people do not fully utilize the 3D avian nature of SL. i think one immediately possibility is that people are building what is familiar, what is confortable, and what they can relate to. another possibility to consider is that sl is a community of hobbiests who are not equipped or not concerned with critically engaing this new medium. i think a lot of people have tried openness and multiple entry but buy and large these buildings just look like unfinished or unfulfilling. i think the experiments have just began though, and over time, with trial and error, we may yet develop a vernacular for virtual existence.

    while there are problems with the second life toolset, there are problems with all toolsets. by my positive reflections on them i don't mean to suggest there is no room for improvement. all i'm saying at the moment is that there is a lot of interesting possiblities with this type of engagement and worth contemplation and criticism engage the feedback loop of technological development.

    i'm not sure what you mean about the facistic type engine. i welcome you to expand in this thread of comments or to post it on your blog as a divergent discussion.

  • At 11/12/2005 02:36:00 a.m., Blogger jauani said…

    thanks cory! i hope i can live up to your expectations.

    speaking of discussions, any thoughts on opening up your blog for comments and discussion.

  • At 11/12/2005 09:28:00 a.m., Blogger Prokofy Neva said…

    JWu, either your RL architectural degrees are relevant, or they aren't. You seem to want the best of both worlds, to flaunt RL credentials that you use to dump on the simulated world and its clumsy tools, but also to position yourself as an simworld architect as well. You've given such a list of annoyances and obstacles that it's a wonder you build as well as you do!

    I'd like to stay on this issue of what you're calling the camera bounce and I'm calling the camera rock. I don't mean just something that slips or jitters like the prim rubber-band problem happening sometimes. And I don't mean something that is patchable. I mean the experience that when you go into edit, instead of remaining with exactly the same visible picture of the world you had before you decided to edit, you are rocked completely out of that picture into a roof-down view that usually then completely obscures what you are trying to work on. Only alt-mouse-click pulls you out of it, and often takes a lot of fussy adjusting. I'm thinking the only way to get rid of this is to have the game sense your avatar as x meters away and rock you to a view that is within that diameter. Or something. But I don't know why you don't find this a crippling obstacle, especially since it's a step that has to be repeated for *each prim*.

    Re: "sl is a community of hobbiests who are not equipped or not concerned with critically engaing this new medium."

    I realize that "hobbyist" is your greatest putdown. You've hectored me in the game by endlessly calling me a hobbyist. But you're overlooking that revolutions are often staffed by non-professionals. It's often students, housewives, and retirees in RL situations who bring about revolutions, not people who are professionals. The professionals are often the liberals or the conservatives left behind by more radical revolutionaries or just people with the time and desire to change things. The amplified computing/people power of the SL experience of all these hobbyists is already a revolutionary force. By creating a portal for people who aren't experts to enter and manipulate a world they can't manipulate in RL without expertise, the Lindens have created a window of creativity that is absent from RL. People who are just banking clerks or Walmart greeters by day could unleash their imagination and their hidden talents and even make money in SL. That's part of its compelling charm. I believe it can only take us so far, and is often over-hyped, but still, the fresh perspective that the non-expert brings to SL is very important.

    JWu, if the word "fascistic" invokes Godwin's law for you or too many unsupportable associations, then insert the word "authoritarian". But what is meant is an absolutely rigid, controlling, elitist, and condescending -- even oppressive -- attitude to be found in the creators. The ability to "ensure your vision" means usually that "no modify" is turned on. This is a huge brake on progress in a dynamic virtual world. SHOULD architects be ensuring their vision in this fashion? Most of the time, all they've done with this is ensure that people can't tint houses or change their wallpaper. Also, SL is a constantly changing INTERACTIVE environment in which your neighbours are -- or should be -- a factor. You're going to keep your architectural sculpture in place no matter what your neighbours do, never adjusting?

    As for the door issue, I agree that buildings without doors and windows and just hatches or openings can look too space-age cliche, and also unfinished.

    I think the tower that SuLuMor Romulus built for me in Ross on Pharos Island is a good solution, by puttng in these doorways without closing doors on all sides of the building, with landing ledges. Pixel Doll's tower has this too if I'm not mistaken. Others solve this issue with phantom walls, but you can't always know they are phantom and making anything phantom in a build can create problems.

    It can't be just about "comfort" because the comfort of the avatar would actually be served by having more openings and ledges and bird-like contrivances, not less. It's psychological comfort of course, to have versimilitude with RL.

  • At 11/13/2005 02:18:00 p.m., Blogger jauani said…

    i don't flaunt my architecture education. you are the one who's made it an issue. however when i discuss the RL applications of 3d design tools, my architecture education is very relevant and is infact the source of my interest in the topic. when i discuss virtual architecture, many aspects of my education become entirely irrelevant.

    i don't experience the problems with the building tools as you do. also, given any tools, i build as well as i do because i take the time to work with what is provided rather than just complain about it and build nothing. by demonstrating an ability to build in 3D, ones comments and criticism gains credibility. those who don't haven't built anything can't expect others to give their words any serious consideration on the topic.

    your comments on my using the word hobbiestwere completely off base since you unfairly edited out the rest of the passage which continued to state that,

    "i think a lot of people have tried openness and multiple entry but buy and large these buildings just look like unfinished or unfulfilling. i think the experiments have just began though, and over time, with trial and error, we may yet develop a vernacular for virtual existence."

    when people are playing sl as a hobby, we can not expect instant solutions. the main goal for most of us is to have fun, not to solve the problem of a 3d avian existence. i believe people will continue to tinker with this here and there and over time some great strategies will come forth.

    your comments on facism have no relevance to my initial blog entry as i was not speaking about virtual architecture. if you read my original entry, you will see that they are focused on eventual development of the second life platform for uses beyond an online community. i made it very clear i was talking about my interest in what the possibilities SL building tools might offer to the RL architectural practice.

    in regards to virtual architecture, it think everyone has the right to be as accomodating or unaccomodating as they like in regards to the permission they give on their content or the way they use their own land. what you call a "view blocker" or "griefer build" might be someone elses beloved second life utopia.


Post a Comment

<< Home