An EQ friend, Caldabuse, and I were talking a few years back about what was right and wrong with MMOs. An individual player has no impact on the world, and has the same abilities as everyone else. In fact, conformity is seen as the perfect ideal in the MMO world. We’d both just started playing City of Heroes, which prizes individuality to some extent. But CoH was still just like the other MMOs. The devs plotted out your path, and pretty much all you could do was follow. Success was defined as how closely what you did matched what the devs designed.
Calbabuse suggested I try Second Life. Not a game, but a world, where anything you could imagine could become real.
It sounded like my days playing a PernMUSH back in the early 90s. There, you were whatever you could put into words. And what you could put into words became real items in the game, that could do whatever you wanted them to do. My specialty was toys made of colored glass that would crawl or hop around on their own mysterious errands.
I didn’t try Second Life. During my free time, all I wanted to do was play EQ, with detours to FFXI Online, DAoC, CoH et al for a few months at a time. I’d played MUDs and MUSHes back in their day, but the pull of “just one more level” kept me coming back to EQ.
That, and the friends I made in-game. They were and are like some huge family to me, and we’ve been through a lot together. I came for the game and stayed for the community.
Second Life is all community and no game, or at least, only as much game as you make it. I didn’t try it when it was new, but a few things prompted me to give it a shot.
Linden Labs does incredible PR for Second Life. They have a roving reporter who looks in on what people have created in the game. An island which is a complete biosystem with precipitation cycles and birth, reproduction and death among the island’s flora and fauna. A tower in the air which exists in four dimensional space. A government agency has created detailed climate models in game. Today, a politician is holding a meet-and-greet within Second Life.
It was time to see what all the buzz was about.
Linden Labs provides the Second Life client in Windows, Mac OS/X and Linux. Yay, Linux! If it weren’t for all the games I play, I’d never use Windows. My deluxe widescreen computer at home runs Gentoo Linux. My laptop and this mail server I’m using to write this post both run Ubuntu Linux. Linux is so much better than Windows for the sorts of things I do — except for games.
Can Linux handle a huge MMO game? That was my second reason to give Second Life a shot.
I downloaded their newest Linux client, still in Alpha test. They didn’t statically link the libraries and the versions they wanted were a little newer than the ones on my Gentoo system. I softlinked older versions of the necessary libraries to the versions they required, grabbed some libraries I didn’t have from Gentoo’s repository, ran ./secondlife and…
There I was, in the world, looking just like all the other newly-created toons popping into the world all around me.
Now, there’s no way a non-techie could have gotten this alpha client working. Unix and its cousin, Linux, come from a long tradition of getting your hands dirty. Gentoo Linux in particular is a distro for tinkerers. I’m sure the official release of the client will be tuned and ready-built for the most popular distros.
SL leads you through customizing your character, and it is no trouble at all to take the basic template and create something fairly original. It has the most powerful character creation system I have ever seen — and if you can’t find something you like, you can load in something new from your hard drive. It took about ten minutes to make my toon look at least somewhat like me. Hair is the wrong style and it needs glasses, but I’d wear that stuff.
While learning how to move, how to fly (!!), how to teleport (!!!), and how to make items of my own, possibilities assaulted me. Why…. I could take all of the fashions we make at Surya and put them in game! Sure, probably few, if any, of our customers would use Second Life to see our lines. But maybe if we put our stuff there, people someday would. Heck, maybe we could design our stuff there. Right now, it’s designed largely in Photoshop and Publisher, then we have to find the fabrics and have a variety of samples made. This means talking back and forth to Bali, with its huge time difference, the length of time it takes to ship stuff here from Indonesia and the time every package must spend in customs… designing something new takes a lot of time.
But if we could take that Photoshop file and wrap it around a real model in Second Life… Well. That would be something new.
I explored Newbie Island and Help Island, saw people with lightsabers and devil horns and littering the world, huge sculptures by artists working entirely in the digital realm, and had a long chat with a man from Buenos Aires who told me many times how much he loved California and the USA once he found out that’s where I lived.
The client was difficult to get running and it crashed a couple of times, but I could see Second Life’s attraction once I got there and started exploring. I haven’t left Help Island — once you leave, you can’t return — so I haven’t yet seen the extraordinary places I’ve seen on the web, in game. Someday soon, I’ll be in the background of one of those SL press conferences.
I’ll be the one with wings.