Sunday, November 9, 2008

Second Life's Future: Islands, Not Mainland!

Mainland Elegance

Island Elegance
Written 9 November, 2008

Second Life's Future: Islands, Not Mainland!

We all know the problem with the mainland-- it's ugly and laggy and full of red fences and no-build flags. There are no covenant restrictions, so the land is a hodgepodge of neon-colored skyscrapers, ugly castles, linden plants, sex clubs, campers, rotating ads (fewer now, thankfully, due to new mainland policies), prim walls, and stores filled with poorly-textured goods. The terrain is often bizarre, and would be more so if Linden Lab didn't place severe restrictions upon terraforming limits.

The mainland was the original terrain of Second Life. Unlike private islands, which often follow a theme, it's a hodgepodge of textures, tastes, and builds. One can find pretty spots, but they are usually spoiled by texture screens or the butt-ugly phosphorescent house next door. And as if ugly wasn't enough, many mainland sims contain one or more parcels with lots of laggy scripts and high avatar counts. This bogs down the sim, making life more than unpleasant as the sim frame rate drops and time dilation approaches 0.

A mainland makes some sense, however, especially insofar as traveling by vehicle or on foot. Many of the early mainland sims, in fact, to this day have Linden-owned and maintained roads. They're pretty and  alluring, but alas, they all seem to be set to no-build. This makes it impossible to rez a vehicle.

To drive the Linden roads, one must find a privately-owned lot that will allow build and drive cross-country to reach the road. If you don't hit an overloaded parcel which de-rezzes your vehicle or a red fence, you can (barring a sim-crossing disaster), have a pleasant drive.

If you fly across the mainland, you'll need to maintain an altitude that keeps you away from red fences. This is like flying coast-to-coast on a Boeing 747: you cross a lot of terrain, but you can't see much.

The idea of a large land mass through which one can easily travel is intriguing-- and, I suspect, a large part of the Lindens' vision. The only problem is-- it fails. Any trip through the mainland is bound to end in a crash or an involuntary trip home.

Paradoxically enough, the best places to travel-- the best places to get a sense of distance-- are the private islands. There are hundreds of private estates with multiple sims-- and they are designed, many of them, to provide a constancy of theme and unrestricted travel. It's possible to sail by boat across more than 150 United Sailing Sims, or walk for more than a half hour on the trails at Bliss Gardens, or fly across dozens of Caledonian sims.

For some months now, the Lindens have been busy developing the mainland areas of Bay City and Nautilus. They've enlisted the help of residents, and they have instituted zoning to achieve a consistency of appearance and functionality.

The Lindens have succeeded in the latter. Bay City and Nautilus indeed look like places. But I found them uninspired and, more importantly, empty. And why? Because they offer absolutely nothing that isn't available on a multitude of private estates, and, more importantly, because competency does not equate to fabulousness, they are, bottom line, boring overpriced places.

Here's the big question: why in the world are the Lindens spending so much time and money to (unsuccessfully) make the mainland a bizarro copy of the utterly fantastic islands? Why work to make public space when so many island owners maintain large portions of or even the entirety of their property as parks, beaches, and ocean? Why bother, when the very thing they seem to be seeking already exists, and better than they could have done it themselves?

The Lindens' behavior makes a perverse sort of sense, however, if their vision is for a mainland and a mainland only. If they see islands as somehow unsuitable for the virtual world they want to build, then the recent debacle with openspace sims makes a sort of sense. What better than placing a price constraint on the number of openspaces to lower their number?

One would think that with openspaces and full-size sims selling like hotcakes, the Lindens would take that to the bank and just keep on raking in fees. Perhaps they might make minor adjustments to prim or avatar limits if there are indeed performance problems on the openspaces, but it seems they have good thing going. Why muck it up?

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