My Week In Second Life: A Total Klutz Tries Out Building - InformationWeek

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5/26/2007
04:42 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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My Week In Second Life: A Total Klutz Tries Out Building

When I started in Second Life a few months ago, I wrote regular updates of my personal adventures. I got out of the habit of doing them, even though people seemed to enjoy them. But now they're back -- I'll do 'em every Saturday.

When I started in Second Life a few months ago, I wrote regular updates of my personal adventures. I got out of the habit of doing them, even though people seemed to enjoy them. But now they're back -- I'll do 'em every Saturday.

I'm calling the feature "My Week In Second Life," until I can think of a better title.

This week, I'll talk a little bit about my halting first efforts at building.

I'm not, at the moment, interested in having a house in SL, mainly because I don't see a need for walls and a roof in a world where I don't have any need for privacy or protection from the weather. That could change in the future, but that's where my head is now.

Basically, what I want is an attractive-looking platform, on which I can lay some rugs and furniture. I may want to float the platform high up in the sky, out of immediate visibility of the neighbors (hmmm, I guess I do want some privacy after all).

I expect I could buy something like that -- and, indeed, I'm looking forward to looking around to see what's available -- but, for now, I'm interested in building, mainly just to have the experience and have something, at the end, that I made, even if the thing I made is not as nice as what I could purchase.

You build in Second Life by using building blocks called "prims." Prims are based on the basic Euclidean shapes we all learned about in grade school: a cube, a pyramid, a sphere, a torus, and so forth. You can make them very, very small, or scale them up to 10 meters. You can twist them or shape them in all sorts of ways. You build complex objects by linking multiple prims together.

Then, you apply image files -- called "textures" -- to the surface of the prims to make them look like what you want.

Nearly everything in Second Life is made of prims: clothing, vegetation, even hair.

I built a simple platform by creating -- or, in Second Life jargon, "rezzing" -- four cube prims, flattened them down to 0.01 meters in thickness, and expanded the sides to 10 by 10 meters. I joined them together at the corners and edges until I had a square 20-by-20-meter platform.

I decided to put low walls at the edges of my platform, as a safety measure. When Second Life is unresponsive, which is often, it's easy to overshoot where you're going while walking. I didn't want that to happen on my floating platform -- people could fall down, break their keisters, and sue me!

I created low walls out of eight cube prims, stretching each of them to 10 meters long, a half-meter high, and half-meter in thickness. I laid them all out at the edges of the platform, so if your avatar walks into them, it will take a great deal of effort to go over them, and hopefully nobody will fall down.

To change the platform's appearance, I applied a texture called "old wood" that I found lying around in my inventory.

How'd the result look?

Terrible!

The old wood texture really isn't attractive; it looks like a splintery old wooden crate. And, try as hard as I could, I was unable to align the corners and edges of my platforrm straight.

I'm surprised my neighbors in Carnforth didn't complain. They have some lovely little houses and buildings there, including a model of the Statue of Liberty that looks to be about half-scale.

I cleared everything off the land earlier this week, and this weekend I'm going to try again.

I got some advice on how to do things right from my colleague John Zhaoying (Dr. Dobb's Journal's John Jainschigg in real life). Using the Second Life client, you can easily discover the precise position of any object. He said the trick to getting things aligned in Second Life is to not rotate anything until it's actually built. That way you can look at the X, Y, and Z coordinates of each object and line them up using simple arithmetic.

For example, if you want to line up two 10-meter-square panels for a floor, you make sure that the X and Z coordinates are the same, and offset the Y coordinate of one 10 meters from the other. Or you can do the same with any coordinate -- keep two coordinates the same and offset the third precisely.

Don't rotate anything until it's already built, he said.

As for furniture: Late Friday morning, while I was working in RL, I got an instant message from Rissa Maidstone, a.k.a. DDJ's Kim Smith. She said: "You HAVE to see this furniture. It's so you." I was about due for a break from work, so I logged in.

She'd discovered a store called Woodshed, which has a lot of great furniture in the Winslow style. She was right -- the furniture looked terrific. I bought a desk, chair, some clutter for the top of the desk (papers, quill pen, candlestick), dining table with matching chairs, and fireplace. I spent about US$10 on it.

Yes, in Second Life you don't eliminate clutter -- you seek it out. You have to make it or buy it. In the Times Square build -- which has, alas, been incomplete since I started in Second Life in late January -- they've gone to the trouble of digitally re-creating the wastepaper that blows around in real New York subway entrances and exits.

One thing I'll need to watch out for when furnishing my little plot of land: prim counts. Linden Lab throttles server usage by limiting the number of prims that can be used to build objects on any particular parcel of land. My lot, which is 1,008 square meters, is limited to 230 prims, which is pretty scant.

I'm thinking about selling the plot and buying new land. I paid only about US $40 for the lot a couple of months ago, and I'm confident I can make that money back if I decide to sell. That's the reason I bought land rather than renting it.

I might even be able to turn a profit on my land -- enough to treat myself to a latte in real life!

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