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

Friday, June 30, 2006


builders manifesto

in the virtual world, the fundemental architecture is the platform itself, its network, and how we are allowed to navigate it. the image of architecture in 3d is merely a suggestion in comparision. however it is still a very power as a guiding force. the architecture of the virtual world sets the tone for the activities it encapsulates, it creates a mood, it compels fantasy. virtual architecture shares with real architecture it's evocative presence.

architecture is paramount in fulfilling the escapist ambition of secondlife. virtual worlds are a form of tourism. they allow us to escape the reality of our everyday and venture into the unknown of cyberspace. more obliging than any real vacation, secondlife is available after dinner every night! that tourism however requires immersion. it requires one to feel that one has just stepped out of their home office and into a whole new world. the environment must be compelling. it must be fulfilling.

for many reasons, some of them discussed in the second life forums
what we find in secondlife is merely pockets of immersion. there are little spots along the grid and on islands where skilled and visionary building teams have descended on the mesh and put together moments of transcendence where for an instance i forget that i am sitting at my computer and actual begin to fly through the ruins of af a dystopic future of explore the secret pirates lair. how quickly it ends as i turn the corner into a see of flicker and seams. and so i push my immerssion agenda on anyone willing to hear my thoughts.

immersion requires seamlessness and attention to detail. architecture in secondlife, like the surface of the av, should be scrutinized down to the very last pixel. the best fashion designers wrap their avs with textures with acute attention to details. some of the details may go unnoticed to our concious eye, but the subconcious eye is much more discerning. any discrepency will break immersion. so it is true for architecture.

an immersive building is more than floors, walls and roofs. our eye is trained in rl and is accustomed to seeing structure, decoration, decay, trims, materials, light and shadow. our eye rejects the virtual world without these elements. there is a reason why the virtual world is built in the image of the real world. it communicates quickly and comfortably to us. it helps us move past the virtual world as an image constructed on our screen to a shared world to inhabit. part of that comfort is from light and shadow that helps us see forms and depth. part of it is from structure that gives weight to the virtual architecture. part of it is water stains, moss, or grass growing between flagstones. it gives the illusion of history and permanence, that the virtual world is not just a space but a place.

immersion requires depth. it's not sufficient for one enclosed space to be finely constructed. it requires that the next space be so as well. and the space after that. immersion works better when the surface of one space frames the next. it reinforces the notion of world.

what does immersion look like? immersion doesn't look like anything. immersion is an experience.

appendix A: personal examples

here are some experiences that impacted me immensely:

Makaio Stygian's Pirate Grotto.
Pirate Grotto
this was one of the first immersive moments i experienced exploring second life. it was full with finely modelled and richly textured pirate treasures. there were many carefully scripted events with sound effects throughout the cavern including the entrance, barrels bobbing by the pier and a cannon. the whole cavern was dimly lit with a couple of crack in the ceiling allowing in slivers of light.

Yadni Monde's village on stilts
Gorean Immersion
Nobody knows the value of immersion like the Goreans. There strict roleplaying lifestyle requires the highest order of immersion. To this end they don't cut any corners. This particular build was a simple village on stilts consisting of nicely rendered huts connected by walkways. The attention details to such as tilting columns, hanging rope railings, and meandering aquatic fauna were really essential to giving a soulfulness to this place. (there was some strange contraption under the water that someone had left behind that was a bit jarring)

Cory Edo's Neualtenburg House
N-Burger Immersion
i first visited this house when it was still under construction in mavericks and was immediately floored by the attention to detail. cory had baked lighting and aging details directly into the textures. each surface of the building was thoroughly deliberated. what made this even more fulfilling was it's placement in the neualtenburg sim where it became part of one of the more accomplished landscapes in secondlife's short history.

Neil Protagonist's Nakama
Nakama Immersion
opening this weekend, Nakama is, in my opinion, the most immersive experience created to date in secondlife, and the inspiration for me to revisit this entry after such a long absence. it is rich with high quality content as well as having a strong narrative. the sim is composed of four regions which bleed into one another, telling not one story but several interwoven stories of a fantasy world inspired by japanese manga and anime. the thresholds of these regions create transitional spaces of their own right.

i began my journey in the dystopic future city with its piranesian labrynth of buildings stacked and woven in a 3 dimensional space. as i walked towads the modern residential suburb in the distance, the character of the landscape moved with me. the transition was so seamless i could not pinpoint wthe moment i went from being a dissident of all encompassing tyranical corporation to a young college student fumbling with bashful teenage girls in sailor suits. this ambiguity repeated it self through the historic neighbourhood, where i barely ducked out of clash with a ninja clan, and right into the complete fantasy world which i can describe only as pokemon on acid.

white band flicker unaligned, mismatching scales, and stretched camera collision

details, Nakama has in spades! light posts, road signs, electrical wires, rivets, rust, fluttering curtains, chirping birds and bullfrogs, reflective pool, the list goes on and on. i even noticed details such as the lightening or darkening of the very edge of a few textures in the historic neighbour hood to better define the form of builds. there really isn't a single stone left unturned by neil. he has created worlds within our world that will take hours for visitors to soak in. the open spaces of Nakama could very easily become the meeting ground for secondlife's growing anime fandom.

projects like these aren't realized overnight. nakama, for example, has been in production for approximately 6 months! however they are for striving for.