Sunday, September 7, 2014

One Man's Odyssey

          If you trap lightning in a bottle, is it still lightning? Man Michinaga would probably say no. The academic and artist Patrick Lichty has been researching and making art in virtual reality for over twenty years now, and is probably best known in SL for his work with the Odyssey group. They use the sim to put on performances, like this one, Dido's Lament but the region risks extinction later this year through lack of funding - they're paying the Lindens a whopping three hundred bucks a MONTH to stay open! (how can that make any sense when you can get a Zetamex hypergrid enabled region for three bucks? *shakes head*) Anyway, Patrick's entry to SL is an interesting and erudite variant on the common theme.
Teleported rubberneckers
Patrick Lichty: About 9 of us were interested in doing performance art in Second Life based on what Marina Abramovic did in 2005 with her Seven Easy Pieces decontextualization of performance art into the Guggenheim, and then our friends' Eva and Franco Mattes' further decontextualization of performance by taking the flesh and blood out of it in their Synthetic Performances in 2006. Around then, Jeremy Turner, Doug Jarvis, Scott Kildall, Liz Solo and I though all of this was a bit absurd and we formed Second Front as I was building The BitFactory, an art center that gave rise to Odyssey.  We thought that from our previous work, this seemed like Dada performance, so let's explore the absurdity of the whole thing a bit. Jeremy also convinced me that 27,000 early adopters online at any one time was a solid audience, although a lot of my work had been anti-capitalist, and I had misgivings about SL's economic underpinnings. So, instead of just trying to restage performances here, we wanted to try to, as David Antin would put it, explore the "distinctive features of the medium".

          To watch Synthetic Performance on YouTube in 2014 is a chastening reminder of how, in the intensity of the virtual moment, you could stop noticing the poor animations and cheap appearance of yourself and other avatars back in the day. Is it possible  Or to rediscover that level of engagement, after years of SL? Or to get beyond it? The giggling RL audience suggests maybe not. It is always tricky with Performance Art to know if 'not very good' is just a lack of talent/expertise on the part of those producing or performing the work, or if it is meant as a statement; in the case of the camera work on this machinima, I have to go with the former. The serendipity of glitches and improvisation is what makes each piece unique, but unless you subscribe to the Conspiracy of Mediocrity, you'll admit that not everything unique is worth looking at. But it was a long time ago, and must be viewed in the light of the wooden scratchy transmissions of early television, stripped by time of the thunderbolt effect of exciting novelty.
Patrick Lichty: In 2006, logistics were a nightmare - asset server performance was a nightmare, teleports were impossible to cue, and lag was ridiculous, let alone crashing a sim pretty easily. So we relied on process and what John Cage called aleatoric principles, or chance operations. I mean, Mozart did musical experiments with dice. In short, we created a script that was the barest skeleton of a scenario, went on skype off-channel to converse while performing and watch as things often fell apart. We created a lot of "square lakes".
          Perhaps you're thinking: Second Front on a par with Mozart seems a bit of an overstatement. Every performer, from a dad reading a bedtime story to his child on up, occasionally has to weave unexpected interruptions into an unrepeatable entertainment. But you know what he means. And that inescapable sensation of retro about Second Front may simply be a way of paring down the externals, even the reference in Dido's Lament to Cicciolina, rather than Mara Carfagna who took over as Italy's premiere political bimbo almost a decade ago, may be a nod in the direction of North American general knowledge. Clinging to SL when so many artists have found better or at least second homes in art loving grids like Metropolis or Pgrid may simply be a case of being too busy to see how virtual worlds are opening up, and yet all of this seems to reveal Lichty's ability to get his audience to enter that hall of mirrors that is a meditaion on perception, inviting them to ponder on the layers of meaning inside the phrase 'You just had to be there.'
          Synthetic Performance proved a motor for the eventual creation of Second Front, and their performances have been turned into (much better quality) machinima by Lichty, who dismisses them as being made simply for archival purposes, 'derivative' and often 'not following the same plot as the original performance'.

         They remain, however, a link to the actual event, one that highlights the dichotomy at the heart of the performer. Does the audience matter, or for the purposes of Second Front, is the Happening an end in itself? From the start, that pool of 27k potential watchers was more like a stream of folks trickling through the virtual doors a few at a time, since they are living in different time zones around the world. Second Life has grown, and that reality has remained. A lot of performers use bots or alts of one kind or another in an attempt do reach people no matter when they are online. Is that a strategy Second Front uses?
 Patrick Lichty: No. we're all live, every time, and if people don't see it, well. IMO bots aren't a performance; they're an installation. Most of the time we don't even announce our performances. Except when you have a really special event, performing in Second Life has a lot of the tree falling in the forest quality.
          That tree in the forest quality has lent Patrick a reputation for being a bit of an SL curiosity. Part of you wonders why he calls himself a sim's nightmare, rather than taking a few seconds to turn his particles down to a more group friendly level, this being the author of Translation of Art in Virtual Worlds and the artist whose collection of QR code portraits  delighted those of us with smart phones with a glimpse into innovative cross-media representation. People want to come and take a look at him in the flesh, as it were, rather than popping in during a durational art performance, they wanted to say hi, even stand in his car, something he graciously accepted, taking a moment to point out one of Odyssey sim's attractions, the Spindle.

Patrick Lichty: The actual Spindle was in Berwyn, IL where I used to live, which is why it was in Wayne's World.
               Liz Solo, long time collaborator and fellow Second Front member, whose mixed reality machinima "The Machine" comes out later this year, has nothing but praise for him as a friend and artist.
Liz Solo: I’ve been working with Patrick since 2007 and look forward to many more years of collaboration. Patrick is unnaturally prolific, a total badass (not really), a shit disturber (like me), and seems to me to be continuously producing.  He has introduced me to a kazillion new ideas, artists and techniques. The work we do together is usually spontaneous, timely, responsive and fun, playing with the boundaries of performance art and experimenting as artists. It is an adventure exploring virtual places with Patrick and our compadres in Second Front and other artist collectives.
        And for the future? His exploration of new media and transmedia art  shows no sign of slowing down. His track record of residencies, articles, activism, and machinima stands for itself.
Patrick Lichty: I have my solo work, my Second Front work, and the Virtual Fluxus work with SF and Bibbe Hansen.
       They are talking about a possible move for Odyssey to Macgrid, if funding to keep the sim in SL alive does not materialize. There is  Patrick's Oxford handbook now out in print. And of course, there will be more performances.
          Keep watching. Who knows what will be next.    

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bridge Span

          It was a tie dye goodbye.
          Four Bridges has been in Second Life since as long as most of us can remember, and sadly today, it is no more. The region offered a home to harmonious ideals, activism, to awareness of real life issues, both social and ecological; many fine builders have worked here, notably Trill Zapatero, and there have been countless ensemble art pieces, expos, poetry events and concerts. So why is it closing? The reasons are the usual ones - time and money. In a good way, really, because Four Bridges founder Millay Freschi is busy getting a Master's degree in RL, and also in a good way because change offers a challenge and new opportunities.
            That doesn't make it easy to say farewell, though. Even when you have Ultraviolet Alter weaving her usual magical music. And sparkly particles everywhere. That's Apmelina in the stripey yellow dress. She has issues; don't tell her I said so.
Magique: I've been squatting here for 4 years, it's meant everything. This is my home, going away. I think we went through a life cycle. When we started in 2008 all things were possible and in time we found rough edges, some activists thought it perfectly acceptable to be backstabbing and nasty to other activists.  Juni, Medora, Millay, Cotton, and I never found that acceptable. I called their bluff, and the leftist leaders quit SL. This is the end to that era and the beginning of something new and hopeful. SL activism shall never be the same. We are moving on to bigger and better things. RL will be a focus for a while and we might end up back here or on the New Platform, or High Fidelity or OpenSim... lots of possibilities...

          Did you ever wonder, why four? Turns out they're the four core principles behind the project. Click here to read what they are (and maybe join the group). The Four Bridges Pproject's website is a lovely example of how important issues raised in Second Life can be presented to the outside world in a seamless, serious and classy way. For even more information, Millay gives a lovely explanation of her philosophy and her approach to activism and virtual worlds, in this edition of  Talk! with Marie back in 2010. She has a nice voice, and some lovely ideas.
          Six years in Second Life is a pretty good run, many projects and regions can't boast similar longevity, and Luna Branwen has many fond memories of the place over its lifespan.
Luna Branwen: ...reading at Red's, when I was a fair noob, also more recently, spring this year I think, Magique's gathering people to rally for peace. It's a place of spirit and a place of peace but also always high energy with Magique and Medora. There is Cafe Wellstone.. and then there are many meditation places, but Four Bridges.. seems all encompassing.
          By the time we got to the party last night, the poetry bit was over, the music well on its way, and LL had already removed Aurakyo Insoo's Imagine Nest, here's a photo of it by Medora.
 Medora Chevalier: For more than 6 years Four Bridges has brought together people from many continents and creative areas to share their thoughts and inspirations to make the world a better place.  Under the leadership of Millay Freschi it has hosted many of SL's leading musicians, artists, poets and campaigners. It has raised issues including peace, the environment, violence against women, social justice, child soldiers, poverty and human rights. None of this will be forgotten and its impact continues to ripple out in virtual and real worlds.
          And on a personal note?
Medora Chevalier: there is a grieving for a loss - for 4B but especially AuraKyo's work which has just disappeared now. But I'm determined to bring people together around these themes. First of all we must remember that 100 years ago "the war to end all wars" broke out- yet wars still rage. Time to for us all to speak up and not be equivocal about some wars being 'good'. Each one makes an enormous shadow on the future.        
          Whether you're a keen activist or simply sympathetic to the general principles behind 4B, you'll be glad to know that the members of the group will not be stopping their efforts to inform, soothe, delight and enlighten any time soon. Perhaps later today, you can go to hear Jana Kyomoon's 'Moonday' concert and on August 4th at Medora Chevalier will be holding a World War I memorial event here  at her home on sim Heckroth.

Friday, July 18, 2014


They may be taking the proverbial, giving her LEA 1. Because nothing could be further from her mind than using just one prim, or even one thousand.
Wizzy Gynoid: let's just say there are more prims on this sim than you have seen on any sim in Second Life.
          How does she make a place like this? In InWorldz, she put up a 80k structure using a rezzer, but here the 0.7 diameter struts were all lovingly placed by hand. Or so she claims.
Wizzy Gynoid: It's true! I did some calculating obviously.
          Obviously. And it's not finished.
Wizzy Gynoid: Still have to do some work on it; I want to install elevators that you can ride up and down, and thru it.
          The build is called Ctrl Shift R, better known as Wireframe.

Wizzy Gynoid: You see the idea is that we are all made of these triangles.  It's why i have the triangle tattoo on my own skin.
          It's not compulsory to go into Wireframe when you visit the build, but it's fun, and more than that.
Wizzy Gynoid:  It's suggestive. It's in the background. It's surrounding you, even as it underlies our virtual reality, until Philip and his whatever they're called... voxels. The idea is that he can solve the latency problems. Which I for one would welcome, as long as it is free to play.

               Interestingly, Wireframe doesn't really work with Ultra graphics settings, which is what I usually walk around in. And lag is something I rarely experience, even in Ultra, with the draw distance set to 1000, as in these pictures. But of course, as Wizzy pointed out, there weren't 100 avatars present, as there will be on the day of her opening party.
          But that raises an interesting question. Well, maybe two, but my laptop is none of your business. The second question, what really causes lag, is more interesting. It's not entirely prims that cause lag. It's people. People who have their sim full of timer scripts, not Art wearers. Folks who don't restart their regions often enough. Idiots with overblown particles coming off their bodies. People who put a script in every prim of a 120 prim hair, for example, because they are terrified if it is Mod you're going to steal it, when anybody so inclined could just bot the thing and be done with it. Or, do what I did for open sim, take the time to construct something very similar, in which case, the hair creator lost out on the cash I was willing to pay to get a full perm copy, and (after 17 trial versions) I gained a heck of a lot of building and texturing experience.
          Ctrl Shift R stands out in the LEA landscape like a cloud billowing above the LEA performance space, which is reminiscent of a tin foil hat to keep out the alien radio waves. Don't let them know what you're thinking!

Wireframe is fun, but the dance floor is best seen in normal view -it's in the heart of the building. Shockingly there was no meeroo barbecue on display. How come?
Wizzy Gynoid: they take up too many prims.
Fair enough.
Ctrl Shift R opens on LEA1 whenever Wizzy's ready.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Adieu Le Cactus

          Dense. That's what it was. That's what I was, too, come to think about it, for not going back more often, for not reading all the material. Because there's always so much in a Maya Paris build.
          Last night was the last night of Le Cactus on SBCC after an outstanding 2 years on the sim; this morning, there's just mist and Art Blue, still falling over dead drunk on a sky platform. But last night... Maya and Simotron Aquila (shown above) were dancing when we arrived, and together with Art Blue, cautious about putting on any attachments that might mess up his hair or teeth (teeth? he has attached teeth?) we were a group of five.
          A few IMs soon put an end to that. Without exception, everyone contacted zoomed over - the words 'Maya Paris' were enough. The build was born to be a rollicking hullabaloo, and that's just how it was as one by one friends arrived, put on a record, and went bananas.
             Around the black vinyl dance floor were ranged a number of platforms and perches, where you could be swept up in crazy dances and particles. Among the party-goers were art wearers, like Eupalinos Ugajin who look his elephant for a ride on the Banana wheel....
and showed us his dinosaur...
...and Kikas Babenco, who brought a window onto the record stand
          In this whirling wonderland, perhaps none of us took the time to check out the HUD and watch the two fascinating documentaries on YouTube, one about Josephine Baker and one about Valaida Snow the two remarkable women who inspired, in part, this build. One must say 'in part', because this is a series of surreal moves that those two fantastic ladies might have loved, but surely could never have imagined. It takes a powerful leaping creativity to reach these heights, these curves, these fancies. In this Maya is surely unmatched in any art milieu for her eye for detail, and the multiple levels on which her work can be enjoyed.
          In the cold light of this morning, I returned to find that yes, Le Cactus was no more, and only Art Blue continued to wobble and wheel on the bare sky platform. Watching the two documentaries was like reading a book about a place where you went on holiday, or in a dream. 
          Suddenly it all makes more sense, and your memories are enriched by getting a bit of the backstory.  But on the night, on this last night of Le Cactus, Maya's genius was all color and movement and light. Her depths are like the ocean, we sail gleefully across the glinting surface that would not be there, were it not for the dark waters below.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Big Country

The bleak splendors of these remote and lonely forests rather overwhelmed him with the sense of his own littleness. That stern quality of the tangled backwoods which can only be described as merciless and terrible, rose out of these far blue woods swimming upon the horizon, and revealed itself.
Algernon Blackwood, The Wendigo
               In the middle years of the 1800's, Europe was revolting. Tired of the old autocratic regimes, sick of an expensive, drama-filled existence where new technology threatened their way of life, many dreamed of a life with more freedom, autonomy, and the chance to make a place of their own. As the Old World lurched from one paroxysm of uncertainty to the next, many wondered: is there a better way?
           To leave home, however crowded and drama-filled it may be, is not easy. It takes courage to face the unknown, get rid of your stuff, leave behind the comfort of familiar surroundings. You have to be willing to adapt to new customs and circumstances, which may be good for the soul, but can be hard on those with a weaker constitution.
            And on the other side of the Atlantic, things weren't all only sweetness and light. The New World experience in Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit may be a caricature, but plenty of people made the trip, didn't like what they found, and returned to the devil they knew.
          But many stayed, and pushed beyond the cities by the sea  and went further West, out into the big wild empty places, not quite empty, inhabited but sparsely, where what you had was mostly what you made yourself, or shared with neighbors. The path less traveled can be rough going; self determination has its price, but also levels of satisfaction with which no amount of soft living or online shopping can compare.
        The expression 'open sim' means different things to different people. Some think of a standalone region, a sim on a stick, a boring private playground on your home computer. Others use it to mean any grid that rivals Second Life. Still others think it is the name of a specific grid, InWorldz, or ReactionGrid, or (more logically, but still wrongly) OSGrid. To those who have not been there much, or have not been there in a long while, 'open sim' means: no quality content, a lot of bugs, stability issues, and no people.
          Things have changed. It's not your grandfather's open sim any more. For example, JayR Cela's recent post on the subject reveals he knows as much about open sim as he does about the correct use of apostrophes. It is not a place standing still, far from it. Jumping from grid to grid, occasionally one comes across a region frozen in time, just as you do in SL, but on the whole it is a community project, moving ahead on the strength of imaginative believers committed to improving their chosen art form.
          And if you were wondering, all these pictures were taken in open sim.
          Open Sim is an archipelago of independent grids, not a monolithic corporation. There are more than 300 known worlds out there; I personally have visited 86. Each grid is as different and varied in character and appearance as the Louisiana swamps are different to the Cascade Mountains. Some are commercial, like Kitely or German Grid.
          Most don't use money except perhaps to pay rent, at a fraction of the cost of Second Life. Most people are there because they like to build, and they 'sell' their creations without charge. The idea is that you will find something you're good at, and donate that to the common good too.
           In the past two years, the quantity and quality of open sim content has gone through the roof, and while it doesn't have the same 'Search' feature we rely on in SL, there are plenty of people writing blogs who can point you toward shops and showrooms and interesting builds, for example Virtual Christine, Minethere, and the Hyperzette. And every grid has several teleport 'stations' which will take you to the goodies in a single leap.
You need a completely different mindset for this place. If you're into gossip and poker and preying on naive women, you may get bored. If you want to create, it is paradise. If you can't live without constant fawning praise, you'd die here.
The natives are friendly but cautious - many have been burned by SL and the wannabe crowd. The snob factor won't cut it here; don't look for committees or vendettas. The lack of commercial imperative means there is less drive to outdo other fashion houses, so if you're life's goal is to be runner-up in next year's Miss Uruguay competition, this is not the place for you, but for your average freak or geek, there's more than enough choice.
          With the latest version of the open sim software, variable size regions, improved physics and many other features have come online. Not all grids use the same version; there are no rules out here about that. Grids vary in size; they may be just a few sims, rather like a farmstead on the prairie, like Jamland or Miki Kiti Tiki, or they may be Great Grids like Metropolis, Craft, Francogrid, Kitely, and the greatest of all, OSGrid.
          Each has its own flavor, credo, level of reliability and respectability. Some are Dodge City, some are New Harmony. Depending on your smarts and people skills you can be as lonely or as busy as you want. Just like Second Life.
          The 'real' Open Sim is perhaps the 150 or more hypergrid enabled worlds. You can log on in one world and visit many others, picking up content, networking with new friends, visiting builds or going to concerts. Hypergridding is still hit and miss, which is why we have HG Safari, a club for hypergrid jumping. When it goes well, it's a hilarious romp, and when we can't jump, it's hilarious anyway. We of open sim are rough riders, used to a few challenges. Out in the wilds, we are free, free to make prims as big as a sim, free to make mistakes in textures without paying uploading charges, free to have as many avatars as we want, to control our creations without consulting LL's ToS, to be grown-ups and treat others as such. For those who know what they're doing, there's the delightful freedom of choosing not to upgrade if you don't want to. The latest is not always the best, despite what the iPhone lemmings believe.
           After the everything-on-a plate existence of SL this may seem the life of the backwoods, perhaps; the exultation of pioneering, foraging, learning and making do, and moving always onwards, aware that there are places too big and too far off, out there, potent, uneasy, exciting. But between home comforts and wild adventures, it's not an either or situation. There is no Atlantic between Open Sim and the fleshpots of Second Life.
          Scifi maven Lani Global describes it as a sort of 'Second lifeboat' - a place to keep your precious OARs and objects, should LL pull the plug, a summer home to escape drama, a workshop in which to perfect for free your mesh and textures (yes, there is NO CHARGE for uploading in open sim!). Having a foot in both SL and an independent grid - or many grids -  is very common, and probably one in three of the SL people you know already have at least one open sim account.
          You should try it. Join us on HG Safari, perhaps. You'll find details in Facebook and Google+.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dream Girl: Kiana Writer

...that's about levels after levels after levels of puzzles and monsters
Kiana Writer
It's 2007. At La Cittadella, two newbs observe the line of people waiting to camp at the Discoteca.
Newb One: What this place needs is something to do, kinda like WoW-lite, an hour-long mini quest, along the lines of a disaster movie. Like The Poseidon Adventure. Look at all these people queuing to camp! Suppose 10 of them paid, idk, 20L to play. They'd be the cast of the story facing hazards and obstacles; along the way, 8 of them 'die'. The two who make it out alive get 50L. They meet new friends, have fun, and we make some money.
Newb Two: It's an idea. Do you know anyone who could script something like that? Or build it? Or find the land to do it on? Or deal with the complaints from disgruntled players?
Newb One: Um, no, no, no and no.
New Two: I thought not. Let's go dancing.
         He was right. I hadn't got any of those skills. But around the same time, across the grid and in Finland, Kiana Writer was taking a broadly similar notion and turning it into a dream come true. Not the Poseidon Adventure, but the Harvey Hunt.
Kiana Writer: It took me a while to figure out this place and what was possible here. I was a cop at a race track, then a host at Dance Island. It used to crash nonstop and you'd have to wait a long time to get back online but people would still do it and not whine so much. I started writing for magazines and exploring a lot, and I wondered why there weren't things to do that I enjoy. Point and click adventure games for example. I wanted to try something. A friend and I brought out Where the Hell is Harvey Wayne on Feb 22nd, 2008. I used the connections of the sim owners I had written about and placed a lot of posters around.
          They funded the cypher-driven hunt by charging the venues involved, so they didn't put RL money into the game at all. On the back of that success they then set up a Survivor-type game with two tribes competing for a prize. After a while, though, Kiana's partner got fed up with all the whining and quit, after ejecting all the members and flattening the land. Even that setback didn't dampen Kiana's spirit. She determined to carry on alone. Alone, up to a point. She set up a hunt by herself, but soon others were volunteering themselves and their friends to get involved. The Zodiac Killer was the next venture, and soon it was called MadPea, and Kiana found herself surrounded by a team, many of whom who have come to be like family. So many personalities, so many ideas. Does she have to be tough?
Kiana Writer: Well, there's only one 'Queen'! You could say I'm here for my people skills. There's no room for egos in our group, that includes mine too. We co-exist happily and have roles; everyone has enough creative freedom in their role that follows the concept idea. I have people coming to me all the time with ideas, and I'm like sure great thanks, but how would you actually make this happen? Come back when you have something concrete. We have a never-ending chest of ideas already.
          The Zodiac hunt was how she met builder/3D Artist/designer Waghorne Truss.
Waghorne Truss: Kiana showed up at my store one day asking to put up posters for her Zodiac Killer game. I was interested in what she was doing and eventually got involved with it myself. I worked on all the original games: Mad Mines, Swamp Hotel, Notes from the Voyage, Firefly, Reaction, Within. My favourite was The Kaaos Effect, mainly because its use of "holodecks"- it was pretty innovative at the time. Building all the different time periods was a lot of fun. There's always the element of surprise working with talented builders and scripters.  They come up with ideas and approaches that I would never have thought of working alone. Working as a freelance designer can be a bit lonely sometimes; this is exciting and interesting. Money would be nice but I'm more interested in helping Madpea expand to its full potential, maybe spreading to other platforms eventually.
          Not every working relationship goes as smoothly as that, and as with any long-term organization, Kiana has had her share of headaches; people with serious issues who have done everything from sabotage builds, to threatening blackmail, to arguing with themselves during team meetings. There's also the sadness of bring someone on board, showing them the ropes, getting friendly only to then have that person leave SL or move on to some other group. Just like the real world, then. With one huge exception: no big money.       As Harter Fall,  Creative Director at Mad Pea, puts it, "We put more into this than we get out. This is all about dedication and passion for me."
Harter Fall: Kiana and me accidentally ran into each other at a party  2 1/2 years ago. Back then my focus was mainly on art, working on my LEA Sim. I showed Kiana my work and she showed me hers and the rest is history. Together with Kiana I organize and plan our designers' work and much of the visual concepting. I do also a lot of 3D Modeling, 2D and Level Design, Video Editing and Audio Engineering. The most challenging aspect for me is to keep all we build performance and low lag. The most fun is to work with brilliant designers and scripters from all around the world.
At Unia - still a work in progress, hence the pink prim, part of the team's construction setup
            Kiana has a killer imagination. Almost all her games involve murder mysteries, and the biggest, baddest MadPea project is no exception. Called Unia (Finnish for 'Dream') is has been more than twelve months in the making, and promises to make every other so-called immersive installation you've ever seen seem small and shallow by comparison. In this preview there aren't going to be any plot points given away because the whole point is, it's a mystery, but a mystery on loads of levels.
             Even seen on the run, without grasping all the backstory, it was easy to tell that Unia is an ocean of thought-provoking adventures that will keep people coming back again and again, trying to get to the heart of the matter. Think Lost meets Inception meets Twin Peaks meets Stephen King. And they all run into the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
 Kiana Writer: I'm a lucid dreamer and most of my ideas come from my nightmares. It's like movies in my head so I thought that I will make my nightmares into a game.
In this case, the cream of SL artists like Fuschia Nightfire, Jaimy Hancroft, Bryn Oh and more have been brought in to turn Kiana's dreams into magnificent and wildly varied scenes. Other scenes  have been built by MadPea regulars like Fae Varriale and RAG Randt. Each one contains puzzles, dangers and clues to help you solve the overarching mystery of Unia.
          Kiana kindly allowed these exclusive photos to be published, and they aren't in the windlight you'll experience when the project opens, and they also show, here and there, prims that are part of the construction process. They reflect the fact this is still a work in progress, but more, they hint at the professional level of communication between team members. The vast size and number of different scenes is literally astonishing.
It's obvious this is going to be one of those build you will visit over and over, for days maybe weeks, trying to solve all the pieces, getting sucked in to the story, probably working with friends, or making new friends as you work your way around the different chapters of the story.
Kiana Writer: I am deep inside an optimist. I like to believe in the good of people, yet I kill them in my games :D
          Another member of the team is all round artist graphic designer and Blender buff, RAG Randt.
RAG Randt: I experienced a cool Madpea game a few years ago that took me to various really cool builds. I was impressed by the quality of the games and particularly of the builds. Fast forward a couple of years and Harter Fall and I shared a LEA sim. I knew Harter's work and liked it very much. as we were building, we became better acquainted and he said he was working for Madpea. I believe he asked me if i would be interested in working there as they needed builders for their new homebase, Carnival. At that time I was getting into Blender and mesh and I thought this would be a great opportunity. Harter introduced me to Kiana and then I was hired.
          His contribution to UNIA was in collaboration with Abramelin of Abranimations, and his wife Wildcat Snowpaw - the intense building experience, which included an actual RL injury! - comes through in the haunting, intriguing build. Normally, this scene alone would be considered a triumphant interactive installation that you'd be talking about for weeks - yet it's just a fraction of what Kiana and her team have in store for you at UNIA!
          It's a hud-driven adventure, and you're going to have to use all your ingenuity, observation and problem-solving skills. You will also have to walk. Or swim.
          It's not giving anything away to say that if you're at all afraid of old people, flying bugs, burning furniture, small spaces, drowning, acid, guns, or scary rabbits, this environment is going to frighten you to bits, in the best possible way. Fae Varriale agrees. She came on board around the time of Carnival, and also helped build the INCA hunt - her fave, since she loves caves; but Unia is special. So is working together.
Fae Varriale: Some people think it would be a glamorous job to work as part of the MadPea team,  but it is actually very hard work a lot of the time and real staying power is needed to see projects through with a high level of quality. I personally have been working on UNIA for a year, plus various other projects alongside that. Without the amazing multi talented team we have none of this would come together in the way it does, everybody plays an important part, and after all the hard work the sense of achievement when we see the finished project is amazing.
          She's not exaggerating, or just speaking as an interested party.
This is hands down the best build you've ever seen in SL, for the size and quality of the build, the behind-the-scenes technical magic, and the deeply complex and compelling story. And it's all for a nominal fee. Unlike my newbie idea of an hour long game, you'll be able to lose yourself in Unia for weeks.
Kiana Writer: Some come thinking that this is just fun and all we do is play and have no idea how much work it is some of the ppl do 12 hour days here that's clearly not expected but the workload is a lot for very little money in return it truly takes a person to believe in the concept and what we're doing and to understand that we're not going to be rich by doing this... and we're not doing this for money.
          Beyond the cost of the HUD, you can contribute, should you wish, by leaving a donation at The Green Mire. It's the least we can do. When you've seen it, you'll know what I mean. Kiana's dream - the dream to create an effective company in SL, the dream to bring people engaging entertainment, and the way she has taken bad dreams and turned them into something outstanding, while remaining a modest single mum,  just goes to show what an exceptional person she is. And Unia expresses it on a philosophically metaversal scale.
Kiana Writer: I strongly believe that there is so much wrong in the world at the moment and many things make people be so selfish and not give a shit about each other nothing feels like anything anymore. Each of my games has a little lesson no matter what, they make people feel. If I can make a person feel something during the game.. anger, hate, joy, happiness.. then I feel that's a success. There are too many zombies walking around without emotions to themselves or the people close to them. In this game for example, you have to figure out would you sacrifice someone, would you die for someone? Will you bring your friend in to rescue you?
I guess we're going to find out.
Check the MadPea blog and inworld group for announcements about the opening of Unia, and - see you there!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Back in the rhythm: Feathers Boa

          It feels, she says, a little odd. Kind of like stepping back through a time portal. Nothing much has changed really; yes, there's mesh (which games have had for years) but it seems like Second Life has stood still. Kind of like seeing an old friend that never seems to age. So what has she been up to while away?
Feathers Boa: I've been doing art and graphics for games. Everything from casual games for smart phones and tablets to console games. I am working on a game right now that is all sketches that look like a talented child drew them colored with different color torn paper and crayons. I am animating these to make sprites and it is totally unique looking. It's the most fun I've had at work in a long time. I hope to do some more of that here.
          And by 'here' she means here in SL, where, after her three years' hiatus, she's jumped in with three different interventions in about as many months. She contributed some pieces for a show over at LEA, and that was something of a catalyst.
Feathers Boa: I thought it would be fun to do something big and bold after so long away. I did some mesh sculpture for it, but mesh seems finicky and difficult in SL. So, I think I will be using it sparingly. The tanks looked cool though. Fabilene Cortes saw me online and asked if I would like to be in the newly resurrected Crossworlds, it was always one of my favorite galleries so I said yes. I will be swapping out some of my old stuff for new there in the coming weeks.
Feathers' current Crossworlds corner.
          There's something of the junkshop layout at Crossworlds, all kinds of two and tree-D treasures and vintage items scattered about, reminders of past builds and shows, halfway between wistfulness and glee. It's the kind of place one can imagine Feather's alter ego, the RL Mary, enjoying to rummage through. That love of bits and bobs, shards of the past, is reflected in her brand new series of works made exclusively for her new show at Studio 33
          Feathers (nowadays 'Silky' Feathers) prefers the word 'react' rather than scripted, for the effect that she is using to engage the viewer on - quite literally - several levels. Fabricated in succession, they suggest aspects of a single notion which she has titled 'Dancing Faces', and while they work well as a group, it's easy to envisage a single canvas on the wall of a second life home, and for about the price of a reasonably good mesh dress. It's curious how much SL art these days counts on installs so big you need an empty half-sim to accommodate it, and no surprise that few artists working on that scale manage to break even on their expenses.
Feathers Boa: Monroe Snook was one of the first people to take a chance on my artwork when I was a noob. So, it's for sentimental reasons really. If someone asked me to do a solo or big show, I am primed for it now. But this Studio 33 one was nice because it's a small crowded space. So I came up with something a little more intimate.
          When left to herself, Feathers seems to take a more pragmatic, avatar-sized approach to expressing concepts, in this case, another adventure into the female face, through a veil of history, represented by found documents, one might guess stolen, or photographed on the sly - newspaper titles hinting at old news, or Bank receipts, or old crumpled letters speaking of grace and gratefulness - all this animated and masked by free flowing brushwork in pastel colors.
Feathers Boa: The canvas layers created a kind of rhythm. Each canvas is like step in the dance. The canvases spring to life. I like things that challenge expectations and I love trying out new techniques.To be honest, I've been doing a ton of 3D modeling and I so sick of making things look more and more hyper-realistic. So my new thing is natural materials and loose hyper-kinetic brush work. I want to more impressions than polished almost photographic work.
Feathers Boa: I have mixed feelings about doing art again in SL. When I was here before, the art stuff seemed to take over my life, gobbling up my free time. I have to be careful to keep it in perspective and say 'no.' But, yeah I could see doing some shows here and there just to challenge myself a bit. Test my limits and try new things hopefully. Stretch some art muscles.
          Check out all five canvasses over at Studio 33 from this week.