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My first days in SL by RJ Kikuchiyo

in 2006, Second Life was still an experiment.  

After having broken my foot, I spent 2 weeks of bed-bound online looking around the web with my laptop for user guides, introductory statements, and general off-line information about this new virtual world.  I had seen a blurb in 2004 that mentioned a user-content 3D world, but it was a pay-to-play service.

I had read Snow Crash, and I thought I was hip to the ‘deckers’ and the ideas behind the cyberpunk genre of science fiction tales which had foretold of this new place.

Let me reminisce about the discovery of the Second Life ‘grid’ (SL) as I found it in August of 2006;

I can remember being disappointed in the amount of documentation of the product.  What I did find was a narrative about an avatar’s first experience entering the SL universe, offering a compelling advisory for ‘newbies’. (put foolish frost guide to SL link here)  I came away with the idea to jump in and try to follow the guidelines offered in ‘the big six’ (the Second Life Terms of Service Agreement, or TOS), liberally infused with the good-citizen common sense offered by the unofficial guide.

The SL world materialized in my computer monitor over a fast data connection, and the graphics were, in comparison to other 3D programs and games, less than impressive. The ability to transmit the information for a truly awesome computer-generated immersive environment was beyond the capabilities of my computer’s processor.  Still there was something about it that drew my attention.

With contemporary stand-alone 3D programs, you can achieve some amazing visualizations.  Back in 1998-9, after all of my intense, week and month-long sessions rendering crystal lenses (refraction and reflection raytracing), I wished to be able to share the sensations of mentally projecting into that space, actually ‘being’ there from the perspective of the camera’s eye. 

In Second Life, that shared space was realized.  When a cube is rendered into existence, or rezzed, as it is called in the 1982 Disney film TRON*, this cube is now visible to any other resident of SL within a few meters.  From this shared visualization, a great feeling rose up in me.  I felt as if the walls of my workshop had been taken down and the obsessive detailing over some minute part of the 3D creations I produce would have a purpose.  Now anyone could render an object in this world, and express themselves in whatever way suited them.

*(curiously TRON one of the first big films to use computers to generate film scenes or parts of scenes, the plot is about a programmer that is sucked into the game system he works on.)

I was impressed not just with the ability to create and share, but a physical environment that bore much resemblance to video games of the late 1990’s. The sense of place, it captured my imagination.  I envisioned creating the seacoast and a working light station of the 19th and early 20th centuries and then sharing this experience.

Creating the scenes was the easy part.  SL renders with OpenGL vector graphics in a ‘render pipeline’ that is transmitted over the internet and decoded at the end-user’s computer, from which a 3 dimensional world can be rezzed, or materialized, or instantiated, or otherwise delivered to the minds of thousands of users as a real-time existence that can be measured in time and, without a doubt, memory.  

The experience in creating an environment with 3D modeling software on stand-alone computers was not new to me. The transition from Bryce to SL was smooth.  It took those two weeks for me to familiarize myself with the tools available in the SL Viewer, a free download in 2006.

Second Life (SL) is a perpetual multi-person three dimensional simulation environment.  Started in 2003, SL has become one of the bright spots in the virtual landscape.  Large corporations have expressed an interest in the development of standards set forth in SL architecture.  With this, we can see the next generation of media interactivity, what some have named Web 3.0.  

more next post…

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