Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Intelligent Sim Design: Whimsy Secrets

Written 29 September, 2010

Intelligent Sim Design: Whimsy Secrets

Someone asked me yesterday to tell them our secret. What did Sweetie and I do to make Whimsy so vibrant, so much fun.

I thought about it. Click more to see what I told her.

Chey Wanted Whimsy to Look
Like the Inset Photo of Hawaii
1. Planning. Rather than plonking down a bunch of prims on flat ground, Sweetie and I spent a couple of days pushing prims around on a board, discussing just what Whimsy would be. I sure wish I had taken a photo of that board.Oh, wait! I just found one!

No Checkerboard Map Here!
2. Terrain Design. The last thing we wanted was another flat, boring sim-- not that flat is necessarily boring, but often, it is. Now did we want a sim cut into square chunks divided by a narrow channel of water. We wanted to mimic natural terrain, and our target was the volcanic equivalent of an archipelago (archipelagos are formed techtonically). The volcano was a foregone conclusion because I had promised the volcano goddess Pele a home.

3. Terraforming. Using Second Life's land tools, I shaped the land into an approximation of our land design. Then, using the Estate Tools, I downloaded the terrain as a RAW file and e-mailed it to Sweetie. Upon receipt, she loaded the file into a free Mac program called Backhoe and re-shaped the land. Backhoe allows much more precise elevation control than does the Land Tools, so she was able to achieve precision with the terrain. Then she e-mailed the file back to me and I uploaded it. After upload, we tweaked it with the land tools.

Whimsy's Waterways Are Boat-Friendly
4. Waterways. When we got Whimsy, we had no plans to ever acquire another sim. And so we planned waterways around the perimeter that would easily accommodate the sailboat The Flying Tako. We offset the land by a few meters all around to allow a boat channel.

Landscape Textures Set the Tone of the Land

5. Land Textures. Of many potential regions (arctic, desert, forest, meadow, tundra, prairie, urban), we chose Polyasian. The terrain textures we chose, from lowest elevations to highest, are standard beach sand, two types of grass purchased at Botanical, and the black lava texture from the Library. We toyed with the idea of black sand (which would be appropriate for a volcanic island), but chose to use standard blonde.

Heights Create Drama
6.  Drama. Our terrain design was planned to allow sweeping vistas and include dramatic land features. Pele, 70 meters tall and volcanically active, took care of the drama on the southwest quadrant. To draw the eye, Sweetie created the Whimsy Sungate to the northwest. The ocean provided drama along the beach to the northeast, and a small island on the sim edge created a bit of drama to the southeast. In the center of the sim we created underwater lava beds.But perhaps most dramatic of all is the hollow center of the volcano, through which our train runs.

Even Simple Circling Animals Catch the Eye
Pictured: Julie Hathor's Bald Eagle
7. Movement. To keep Whimsy from being static, like a photograph, we created movement in a number of ways. First, we made liberal use to flexible pants, which sway gently in the Second Life wind. Second, we added birds above the land and sea creatures under the water. Some merely circled; others patrolled, but all caught the eye. Along the land's edge, we placed waves and eddies, simulating the interaction of ocean and land. Finally, we used particles-- liberally at the volcano and in the underwater lava beds, and more sparingly elsewhere.We placed tiki torches here and there, providing not only moving flame, but local light.

Intermittent Sounds Enhance The Immersive Experience
8. Sound. Many of Second Life's sims are eerily silent. Not Whimsy! Aboveground, one hears bird cries, the sounds of insects, and sounds of flowing water. When near the sea, one hears waves sounds. Underwater, one hears bubble sounds.At the volcano, one hears lava percolating. The campfire at the beach crackles happily, and the mast of the sunken pirate ship creaks in the wind. In the lagoon, the humpback sings. The steam train chugs happily as it passes. All of this adds immersiveness, helping our visitors imagine they really are on a tropical isle. Oh-- and we keep a radio stream available.

Chey Just Loves to Watch a Good Argument
8. Interactivity. Much of Second Life is wonderful to look at, but sterile. You can't do much more than look at it. We wanted visitors to be able to interact with prims while on the land. Consequently, we added a few couples poseballs and some singles poseball. We installed Intan couples and singles dance systems, with remotes here and there around the land; made signs that, when touched, give notecards providing details of Whimsy's fictitious history or give freebies like SCUBA gear and  boots that glow and hiss when they come in contact with lava. Pele can be convinced to erupt and throw hot smoking lava rocks. Underwater, piranha will be happy to eat you.

Kitto Flora's Steam Train is a Favorite of Visitors
9. Playfulness. We wanted to appeal to the imaginations of our visitors, and to bring out the kid within. Consequently, we laid an extensive route of Kitto Flora's steam train (people come to Whimsy just to ride it), added two canoe rezzers, a hang glider rezzer, and a jetski rezzer, and put playgound rides on the beach.Visitors can dive from cliffs, fly above the volcano, or swim all around the sim.

10. Humor. We wanted to make Whimsy a sim with a sense of humor. Consequently, the land is sprinkled with "historical" markers which describe Whimsy's fictitious history, complete with the nefarious actions of the Whimsy Transportation Authority. For 10L, visitors can buy a riotous Whimsurance policy from vendors. Even the covenant is funny.

11. Safe Space. We wanted above all for Whimsy to be safe space for all avatars. Except mimes. Just kidding. Consequently, we make it clear in the covenant that all avatars are welcome, even ones we might find distasteful. Our rules are few; we ask avatars to remain clothed and not display private body parts (because we're PG), to pick up any prims they might rez, and to be courteous to other avatars. Harassment and griefer aren't tolerated. The only other requesst we make of visitors are not to display slave/owner tags and to stay out of the few zones marked private..

12. Drama-Free Zone. We've never had any drama on Whimsy-- nor do we wish any. Our residents are mature and considerate, and we take pains to show them and our visitors every courtesy.People who act like idiots-- they're few-- are asked to behave properly, and banned if they refuse. We patrol the land daily, returning the few prims which are left on the land. We also work hard to make the sim stable-- there have been no dramatic changes of terrain or theme or feature. All of this makes Whimsy a great place to visitor or on which to live.

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