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?