Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Descender


For some reason I'm no longer able to take snapshots in Second Life-- 
in either Phoenix or Firestorm. Things just freeze up.  For this article 
I  resorted to screen captures until I realized I could e-mail snapshots to myself.

The Descender

Written 26 October, 2012

How did Sweetie and I managed to get ourselves below the grid of Second Life?

I'm glad you asked. We did it in The Descender.


The Descender is modeled after the bathysphere, the first deep ocean submersible. It's considerably larger than the real baythsphere because, lets face it, we avatars like our creature comforts. My bathysphere features a silver bucket that holds a bottle of champagne, a pot-bellied stove for warmth, and a large windshield for viewing-- and it's large enough not to trap the camera.


The bathsyphere was conceived by the American naturalist William Beebe and designed by American engineer Otis Barton. It made its test dive on 27 May, 1930 to only 45 feet, but it set increasing depth records, reaching more than 3000 feet in 1934.

Before the bathysphere, the deepest human divers had gone was about 100 feet; deeper dives weren't possible because of the tremendous pressure. Submarines had reached 328 feet and a diver in an armored suit had descended 538 feet, but the submarine had no windows for viewing and the armored suit allowed only minimum vision and movement. The round shape of the bathysphere was able to withstand pressures far below those depths and three windows made of 3" thick fused quartz provided views.

The steel walls of the bathysphere were made of 1" thick cast steel. The vessel was just 4 3/4 feet in diameter and weighed 2 1/4 tons of out the water and 1.4 tons in the water. It was unpowered, lowered from a ship-based crane by cable. Oxygen was supplied from canisters inside the bathysphere, and communication with the mother vessel was possible through wires attached to the cable.

Today's deep-sea submersibles operate under their own power, without cables, and reach depths in excess of 12,000 feet. That's about the same vertical distance as it is from 0 meters in Second Life to the top build height-- 4096 meters (13,438 feet).

Unlike the bathysphere, my Descender is self-powered-- but like it, The Descender gets its oxygen from a cylinder. It's made of brass rather than steel (because, let's face it, brass is so much more steampunk), and has a large windshield and two round ports.

Brass Rocks. Note the Rungs at Left. They Allow Acess to the Motors at Top
I could have scripted The Descender to operate with the arrow keys on the keyboard, but I chose to instead use touch controls mounted to the vehicle. They can be a bit difficult to grab while in motion, but I like that.


The Descender can move up and down, forward and back, and from side to side. It can turn left and right, tilt up and down, and can teleport to locations set by the owner. It can be set to operate by owner only, group, or anyone.

A button starts the engines, but the engines work only if an avatar is seated; that way The Descender won't sail off into the sunset, as an early version did after a particularly rough sim crossing. Buttons operate the door (when open, a ramp appears), interior and exterior lights, the sonar, and the stove, and the window can be resized. Other buttons turn on sounds and a creature rezzer; these function only when the vehicle is submerged.

When descending, the vehicle will go right past zero meters. Engines stop when the root prim, which is placed as high as possible, goes to zero.

The interior of The Descender is richly appointed with Victorian wallpaper high up and burnished black metal down low. The floor is made of polished wood.


A silver bucket sits between the two back seat. A touch to the bottle of champagne it holds will give passengers an ice-cold drink of bubbly. The Captain, of course, must not drink.


A gas stove provides warmth. A lamp (visible above) provides light.


The Descender is fully functional. It's controlled by touching the instrument panel. When it motion that can be a bit problematic, so I've been working on a supplementary HUD.

Environmental controls include:

Door open/close
Interior lights on/off
Exterior lights on/off
Heather on/off
Radar on/off
Motors on/off
Phantom mode on/off
Underwater creature rezzer on/off
Underwater particles on/off
Underwater sounds on/off
Windshield size small/medium/large
Control by owner/group/anyone
Set teleport points 1-6
Jump to teleport points 1-6

Movement controls include

Speed low/high
Face compass points North/East/South/West
Ascend/Descend
Forward/Backward
Left/Right
Right
Turn left/right
Pitch forward/backward

The descender can move in any direction, going as high as 4096 meters and as low as 32 meters below the surface of Second Life (52 meters below sea level on most sims).

Every 24 hours The Descender IMs the owner, giving the sim in which it is located and its coordinates. The owner can turn this function off, but that can be risky if access is set to anyone. Until I got access function working I would sometimes come back to find someone had sailed The Descender away!

Movement is non-physical, so The Descender isn't limited to 30 prims. Its prim count is 95, but much of that is frou-frou-- rungs for climbing, stove, lamp, champagne bucket. If I ever take it to market I'll include a low-prim version with HUD-only control, or perhaps voice control like my Cubey Terra balloon.

I plan to make a special Descender so visitors to Whimsy Kaboom can tour the sim, flying above the water and then submerging to watch the whales, then teleporting to 3000 meters to see our low Earth orbit build, and then jumping to 3500 meters to our famous (or infamous) robot sanitarium. Visitors will have the option to descend below the grid. That's truly a unique experience.

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