Through my incessant jabbering about it, I've now coerced three of you into free trials of Second Life. Thanks! I also found that, while you need a login to get the to the Guides and Tutorials page, the documents themselves are entirely unprotected. For your perusal are these Adobe® PDF™s:
- Starter Guide: good introduction if you don't plan to use the free trial. If you do, you get an interactive tutorial (called the “Prelude” in the Starter Guide), and what from here isn't covered there, you can figure out if you know how to use a computer and have ever played an FPS or adventure game.
- Reference Guide for the client and world (5 MB!): there is material in here you won't learn on the fly. When I couldn't figure out how to “Link” objects1 together, the reference told me how; there are five entire pages on the economy of SL; et cetera.
- Beginner's Guide to LSL Scripting: shows you what the language looks like. You'll see a lot of “Java/C-like” in this and the reference manual. Interesting is the explicitly state-based design of the language: you write different functions for different object states.
- Fashion Design: Using the Templates: a brief manual with hints for making avatar and clothing textures.
The last is curious, especially with the charge SL is KiSS: the MMORPG. Players of open games have four main motivations: achievement, exploration, socialization, and imposition. Designing your avatar and building a home are achievement activities. I've had plenty of fun simply playing with the freedom afforded in avatar design.2 People have already set up shops where you can buy outfits for in-game currency.4 However, I would say the primary achievement activity is to earn reputation; to some extent that's a function of your building prowess, but you also earn reputation through being a good citizen of the world.
If this sounds like socialization, that's because it is. That's the mechanism for the game. Second Life is not specifically a roleplaying game, but it is in that it's about playing a role in society. In fact, the activities for the three other suits are subactivities undertaken in the overarching social milieu. Exploration of others' building is another activity;5 as you find neat building, you can vote for them and improve the builder's reputation. You can also “explore” avatarspace by meeting people with new and interesting designs. There are few enough people using the service currently that finding anyone is a formidable challenge at times.
Bartle also calls the fourth activity “killing,” which sounds more apropos of SL's games and areas where you can be killed. However, the initial name imposition implies you can have social griefing: you must account for being a jerk for the fun of being a jerk. Balancing the social imposition goal with others' right not to be hassled is a difficult line to walk. In SL you can mute other people, similar to MU*
ignore. I don't think you can do anything about avatars wearing big costumes, though.
- Occasionally I had problems flying. The server would get ahead of me, or me the server, or something. I would hit F to stop flying and the client would show it thought it did, but it was still zooming ahead in space. With a combination of key mashing (F for fly, WASD for control parallel to the ground, and E and C for up and down) I eventually broke out of it, and found myself back somewhere much earlier. That's the only case of desyncing I've found, but it has happened twice. Perhaps it was a lost-packet issue (though surely they have some protection against packet loss, as UDP itself doesn't).
- You can remember landmarks (which are kind of like teleport destinations, to you MUCKers). You can teleport to any landmarks you have, but it costs L$. The most I saw was L$10 though.
- Pie submenus don't work as they ought. If you mouse to a submenu, you still have to click to get the submenu to show up. That's annoying, being used to the Firebird extension RadialContext that opens a menu on mouseover but only selects an option on (un)click.
- I couldn't figure out how to buy something at Kenzington's,4 even though it sure seems to be a clothing shop, not an art shop. I couldn't get the “info” object to work, though after reading a little I decided maybe you have to speak to it.
You can get an illicit, gzipped copy of the LSL2 reference manual here. The manual comes with the client so it isn't too illicit, but still, I have no permission to distribute it. I consider this sort of document promotional material, but as with the PDF guides Linden Lab has cloistered the technical documentation. Presumably that means more people use the trial to find out about the game, but some people would only care to read about it (and this is for you).
- High system requirements. I tried Second Life on my parents' woefully underpowered PC (unfortunately the only one at home that has broadband) and got rather poor results.6 So, yes, you have to be at the tip of the technology curve (like the lab computers I was using previously) to really use the thing fluidly. As the normal PC upgrade cycle continues, more people will be able to run the thing—unless Linden Lab keeps upgrading the client to keep pace, that is. Ideally they'll provide new features as frobs that can be off for consumer PCs and on for gaming PCs, though. (Already all the nice things like shadows and local light sources are off by default, which is why they're missing from my screens.)
Avatar accessories. You can “attach” objects to various points of your body, to wear wings, cat ears, etc. (Someone I invited just told me people are, in fact, selling attachable penises.) For L$300 I bought a slinky catgirl outfit that included cat ears and a tail, but the only good part was the cat ears.3 I probably should've made them myself instead.
I tried to make a fox tail, but it looked blocky,3 and I ended up destroying the black tip when changing the color to a darker red to match my avatar's hair. Neither tail actually moves, which would be the #1 way to make one you could sell for L$, I think. I might try to do that Tuesday, though the Reference Guide says roughly, “Joints are hard.”
Costumes are used, though, as you can tell from pictures in Hamlet Linden's weblog. Monkeys seem popular. “NIMBY!” features a hippo ex machina. In “Crashing the Party,” a dragon attends the wedding of the virtual year.
Hacking. At the lowest level, Second Life is a UDP application. If someone decodes the packet protocol, we'll see all sorts of add-on tools to “possess” the client, on the same principle as FPS targeting bots: sit between the client and the network connection, augmenting surreality.
The biggest win would be the ability to build objects in a real (or at least better) 3D modeler, and “play back” construction instructions. Building that lighthouse was a pain, because you can't click into wireframe mode, or select an object from a list (so you need good mouse aim). You can't use an arbitrary mesh, though there are options to twist and deform the default primitives that might let you get close. POVray would be my vote for interoperation, as it's free, there are (nonfree) modelers available, and in the end it's a real language you can parse and translate into building instructions. The author could provide a POVray include file that lets you easily use the standard shapes and textures.
Bots providing services to other users would be nice, but you won't see them because they'd have to, as above, sit on top of some real actual person's interaction. You won't see anything performing an entirely different function; only enhancements for the user's interaction.
With the protocol decoded, you'll also see third-party servers. However, you'd have to hack or possess the client to use them. I imagine you'd see the same reaction from Linden Lab as from Blizzard against FreeCraft, more or less: more because the service, not the software, is Linden's bread and butter, and less because they aren't as big.
- I built something; barberio suggested it was a lighthouse. The latter is the only shot I've posted containing the entire window.
- Avatar design T&A (may be NSFW—see what I do for you people?).
- Trying out gestures. Also a good shot of the cat ears; here's the tail I made.
- Kenzington's had some neat outfit stuff: various tattoos and shirts (“Internet killed the video star” and “I'll be too busy looking good,” a quote from Enter the Dragon; there were at least two quotes from Princess Bride), and some slinky outfits.
- Some nice buildings.
- It didn't run on the PC at home.