Monday, December 31, 2007

Jopsy Pendragon's particles - the most fitting way to bring in a New Year - Happy 2008, everyone!

I have a confession to make. You know how some people take on what can only be called celebrity status in Second Life? Generally speaking, they have a few things in common. Their rez date goes back to 2005 or before, and they are terrific and knowledgeable content creators in some special way. Now, I’ve had the good (or bad, depending on the person) fortune to work with many celebrities in Real Life throughout my career, but never have I been more excited than the day I met Jopsy Pendragon. Happily, he turned out to be everything I imagined and so much more. Not only is he gifted at content creation, and teaching, but he is also one of the nicest celebrities in any life.

Jopsy Pendragon (aka John P. Crane, rezzed 1/15/04) is the founder and owner of the Particle Laboratory in Second Life... a mecca for particle lovers and script learners in the metaverse, largely because of the seemingly exhaustive and excellent tutorials available there, as well as its intimate sandbox for "script tinkering." Teleport directly from here, and take the hot air balloon to any of the local destinations offered there.

The San Diego Reader recently published an extensive interview with the Real Life man who operates his avatar, and while there are some inaccuracies, it is well worth reading.

I met with Jopsy this weekend at the Cloud Chateau, one of two places at Ethereal Teal - Jopsy's sim - where you can experience his gorgeous particles... to learn more about the man and his work.

Bettina Tizzy: According to The San Diego Reader article, you were already on BBSs and involved with other virtual worlds before you rezzed in Second Life. Were you on The Well, for example? And what brought you to Second Life?

Jopsy Pendragon: I was near and by and around the Well, but never actually in it... In the days when it was hot and hopping, I was nurturing my own fledgling text-based VR, (a TinyMud called DragonMud, which turned 18 years old a month ago), so any time I spent away from there made me feel neglectful.

I was dragged into Second Life kicking and screaming, protesting all the way, "No, I'd rather not try yet another lame VRML hack with blinking textures and kludged- together-features..." but my friend insisted, gave me a demo and I grudgingly admitted that there might be promise.

My early days... wow, well, I went a week, maybe two, before I found and bought land: 512m for the-then-high-price of L$2 per square meter. From Stroker Serpentine, if I remember right. I still see him around. I built a small home and lurked, trying to create interesting things to get people to stop and visit.

It was very quiet and lonely in Second Life back then, honestly, but I like to tinker so that let me be creative with fewer distractions =) I'd build things and stick in strange functionality hoping people would discover them... walls that opened, fountains that launched people into hidden rooms... all sorts of silly stuff. Most folks didn't explore thoroughly, but it made giving tours fun. :)

Bettina Tizzy: Your first particle... What was its genesis? Were there any particles in Second Life when you arrived?

Jopsy Pendragon: Particles were one of those things that just seemed to have no useful documentation at the time. I hadn't done much scripting at that point. A few modified door scripts, some animated texture stuff... so my friend (the one that dragged me into SL) and I were beating our heads against this particle thing.

We had a *very* early version of Ama Omega's particle script, which helped, but there was so much guesswork still. Our first particles were awful... imagine a hat with exploding bacon.

There were particles, but mostly it was the old llMakeExplosion, llMakeFire, llMakeFountain, llMakeSmoke kinda stuff. llParticleSystem was still a new function, apparently.

Back then we had 'dwell income,' and since I liked to upload textures, and wanted to buy more land, I was doing anything to get traffic to my space. Holding particle classes back then was *VERY* effective at that.

And then... my life shifted. I got a new job, one that I knew would hold me away from Second Life for several months. So before I started the job, I put all my class notes into a standing exhibit, called it The Particle Laboratory, and pretty much vanished for a year... (between June 2004 and June 2005)

I checked in from time to time, but went from 18 hour days here to 1-2 hour days in Second Life. I'm wrapping up that job now, (and trying to find my replacement so I can resign with honor. ;) and then I'll be back to my foot-loose and fancy free play-in-SL all day mode. I still go kinda dormant in the summertime. Hard to be indoors and online when it is nice out.

Bettina Tizzy: So you left your scripts in a place you hastily called "The Particle Laboratory?" Still on that same 512m parcel of land?

Jopsy Pendragon: It was kind of modelled after the Exploratorium in San Francisco... exhibits to interact with and such. Oh no... I was already up to the half sim allocation I'm at today by then. I was worried at first... nothing to 512sqm, 2 weeks. 2-3 weeks later, I went up to 1024. A month later 2048, a week later, 4048, 2 days later 8096sqm...

Today, the Particle Laboratory is a busy destination for scripters and particle lovers and, of course, anyone who wishes to learn how to make these totally Not Possible in Real Life miracles of beauty

Bettina Tizzy: The Particle Laboratory has a long and important history in Second Life. Did you ever record its milestones on a notecard or celebrate anniversaries and have 'cocktail parties' and such?

Jopsy Pendragon: (No notecard or recording of its history) and there's been no real anniversary party for the Lab. I have held a grand opening (even had a ribbon cutting ceremony, complete with particle ribbons. =)

While the Particle Laboratory has always been where it is now, it has grown, and been almost completely rebuilt 3 times now. I'm often changing minor things, the fencing and such. It didn't always have a dedicated sandbox in the middle; it used to allow creation anywhere but too many griefers made me lock things down. Not deliberate griefing... more the self-replicating-waves-of-annoying-objects-passing-through kind of griefing. I tend to get very few hostile types looking to grief up this way.

Honestly, I was really surprised that the Particle Laboratory became so popular. I didn't advertise, never took out a classified for it... it's all just word of mouth =)

That "word of mouth," led to my own discovery of the Particle Laboratory, a place where I have spent blissful hours hacking away at someone else's scripts - most often Jopsy's basic free ones - to make my own little pretties.

For weeks I became obsessed with learning how to make this particle effect (shown here at the Cloud Chateau), and I have both Vandalite Defiant (and Jopsy's tutorials, of course) to thank for guiding me - a scatterbrain when it comes to scripts altogether - through the process

Jopsy Pendragon: My first brush with voice chat was with two Lab visitors who were curious what it was all about... not really ready to start learning but just exploring. They were talking about me saying things like "Wow, he must have a lot of free time... " and other such things, not realizing the person next to them was the person they were talking about. ;)

Bettina Tizzy: Ha! People who make particles today are often called upon to do "shows" and such... did you ever? And what has driven you to create such extensive particle script tutorials?

Jopsy Pendragon: I've done a few utterly unplanned, unannounced tinker-jams. Sometimes I get caught up in the music and playing with particle scripts... and just go a little crazy. The workshop deck used to be a big black box that I would create particle-scapes in for anyone that happened to be with me at the time.

Bettina Tizzy: Please send me an unannounced TP if ever you do that again!

When you visit Jopsy Pendragon's Teal sim, be sure to explore everywhere. If you are lucky, one of his "followers" may decide to tag along

Jopsy Pendragon: And why do I keep putting more effort into the tutorials and such? Hmm... I figure the better I explain things there, with visual examples that really show what's going on, the faster people will pick up the material... so that the questions I do get are the interesting ones and not the mundane ones. =)

A lot of the stuff I came up with has ended up in here, in the Cloud Chateau =)

The Cloud Chateau! Simply my favorite hiding place in Second Life! It was here, in this fantastical room filled with swirling, colorful particles, that I completely fell in love with virtual worlds. It was... love at first sight.

I'm not the only one who likes to dance and spend hours at the Cloud Chateau, as these three photographs (above) by NPIRL Flickrite Suzanne Graves will attest

Bettina Tizzy: So you have learned from this process of teaching, too?

Jopsy Pendragon: Of course! Like any fluid medium, practice is essential =)

Let's hope that Jopsy continues to "practice" for a long, long time...

Bettina Tizzy: Is there anything *new* happening with particles?

Jopsy Pendragon: Actually yes... Thanks to Blakar Ogre and Nicholaz Beresford (and several others), a whole slew of particle issues have been tuned up. I'm seriously in awe of their efforts. I've yet to peek at the open source client... I can and will at some point, but there are projects ahead of that. They've actually submitted fixes and patches that have had a phenomenal improvement on particles.

While it's hard to point at any one thing and say "That... there, that's what's better"... I can tell. Density is stronger, transparency is more controllable, speed seems better... and, well, particles can fade into existance now. Before they could only fade away...

Bettina Tizzy: Interesting... these are two modest fellows. You would never know about these activities from their profiles, but that's awesome news.

Jopsy Pendragon: They're deep into the internals of the client... I think that's where they have their fun with SL. Some folks socialize, some create, and some lift the hood to see what makes it run. :)

Bettina Tizzy: Particles and Windlight... your thoughts?

Jopsy Pendragon: Love it. With 'glow,' particles really pop nicely. Fire looks like fire, finally. I still can't get over how great water looks. The most recent Windlight finally fixed the "my face is made out of rough clay" effect that previous Windlight clients had.

There are changes though, which I'm very happy to go back and tune for. As I said earlier, particle density has increased... effects that were ephemeral and wispy are now more like heavy smoke or blinding glare.

The two photographs above were taken at the Cloud Chateau by ColeMarie Soleil who has reveled in Windlight

Bettina Tizzy: All FIC jokes aside, do you work closely with the Lindens?

Jopsy Pendragon: I love that a certain infamous someone thinks I'm FIC. I do know that a few of the Lindens know me by name and vice versa. I respect what they're trying to do enough to try to use their support system just like anyone else would.

The only exception to that is when people come to me with a discovered exploit. I've yet to find a consistent way to escalate exploit style bugs to Linden Lab privately and effectively... You don't want to just throw them in JIRA for everyone to see.

Bettina Tizzy: You make the best particle textures in Second Life. Are you going to make us more?

You can buy Jopsy's amazing particle textures for a handful of Lindens at the Particle Laboratory.

Jopsy Pendragon: =) Thank you... I have every intention to do so.

One of the biggest sticking points for me with SL... and one of the few issues over which I actually got a little snarky at the powers that be, is over permissions... and, on their recommendation, I'm going forward with a different kind of DRM (digital rights management) method. Granted, it's an honor system, not programatical, but perhaps that's not so bad after all.

The problem is this: You have scriptors, 2D artists, modellers, soundsmiths, animators, etc., and while each of them may excel at their narrow speciality, few people are talented in all the areas that go into creating a superior Second Life product. Then, add in the power to market, advertise, manage sales and support...

Bettina Tizzy: Truer words were never spoken... yep yep...

Jopsy Pendragon: I dabble in everything. I can muddle by on my own fairly well.... but I would prefer to be a supplier. Someone that has scripts and textures that other people aquire rights to and incorporate in their products.

As things are now, the DRM in SL pretty much says that if I give you rights to incorporate my work into your product, your customers can rip my work out and then incorporate it into their products, and the deal "you and I" negotiated did not specifically say all your customers and their friends could sell my work.

The particle textures I sell have traditionally been no-transfer. I get a fair number of requests for full perms and handle them individually, but I'd prefer it if I could sell "Re-seller" friendly versions that were no-transfer to their customers.

The alternative method I'm adopting will finally allow me to automate the sales of full perm textures, copyrighted and such, so that the customer gets the texture KEY itself to use as they like... so long as they don't pass it on.

The funny bit, of course, is that I can't copyright the texture KEY... that's assigned by Linden Lab - their bits, their property - but to have permission to use the copyrighted work (the image), the secrecy of the key needs to be preserved.

I'm almost to the point where, for my higher end stuff, I might upload the same image multiple times... so that it'll get different keys... one unique key to a customer. If they let their key get compromised, ... I *THINK* I can use the DMCA to request that Linden Lab void out the image pointed at by that key... an extreme case to be sure... but still.

Bettina Tizzy: What are your plans for Teal (the sim on which the Particle Laboratory sits)?

Jopsy Pendragon: Since my early days in Teal, I've always wanted to make it more "Dark Crystal" like... (the Jim Henson movie from the 80's.. ). There have been several from the early days (who) were enthralled with trying to bring that world into this one with little to show for it (unless I've been uninformed!). There are themes in that movie I would love to adopt into Teal... paraphrased somewhat so that it's not a direct rip off... but still somewhat of an homage =)

Bettina Tizzy: Do you get bored with particles and want to stray a bit from Teal and go do other things? If so, what might those things be? Would you consider project collaborations with other content creators?

Jopsy Pendragon: Particles are atmosphere and illusion. I totally love them; wish I had them in Real Life, but I am sort of feeling I've kind of tapped out. Finding new things to do with them often depends on changes in Second Life which makes new things possible.

I still love playing with them, though. At this point I'm looking into vehicles and such as well, and having tremendous fun with them... and eagerly looking forward to Havok 4. =) I have played with it in beta, it's a vast improvement. Sim crossings are still sticky, but that will likely always be an issue. But otherwise, it's like silk. :)

I have built elsewhere, but not much. As for collaborations, I must admit (that) I'm a bit of a control freak. I'm either in the drivers chair and I pick the station, speed and destination... or I'm in the passenger seat and I help navigate. I'm weak at 'partnership.'

Bettina Tizzy: Your avatar...

Jopsy Pendragon: The simple short version? People in virtual worlds either play an idealized version of themselves... OR, (quite often) they play with a character that they find attractive. (Why else would straight guys play a game where their character is Lara Croft from Tomb Raider? Because they identify with her? uh... Nooooo)

In my case... well, it's both. ;) though I admit an "idealized version of myself" has been granted a lot of artistic license. ;) In the other realm I run - DragonMud - the founder/creator spirit is a dragon. I'm solitary, territorial... I hoard, I know how things work, and tend to be firey when provoked... It's not that I feel like I'm some dragon spirit, I just have traits in common with them... so that's what I identified with.

Here however, elves age slowly. They live a very long time. They tend to specialize in various things... particles being my 'mystical art' as it were... That's pretty much why I've got the long ears and fae/somewhat androgynous style: Hermetic Elf. I don't get bogged down in court intrigues. ;)

Jopsy Pendragon as satyr in his early Second Life days...

As this is surely my last blogpost of 2007 (it's almost 2008 in Europe as I hit the "publish" key, and the new year has already arrived in Asia and Australia and New Zealand), please accept my best wishes for a year in which all your First and Second Life dreams will come true. Many thanks to Suzanne Graves and ColeMarie Soleil for allowing me to use their photographs for this blogpost...

...and, may you embrace the dance of life!


theresecarfagno said...

Dear Bettina

What a wonderful post. I admit parts of it were a little too techy for me to grasp, but still it's a very good presentation of a no doubt creative artist. I'm looking forward to visit Teal.

A happy new year to you too – I hope your blog will continue to be as exciting as it already is.


Suzanne Graves said...


Thank you so much for this post, as always full of behind-the-scene stories. The Particle Laboratory is an incredible place, and the Cloud Chateau one of the best places I know in Second Life.

Your blog is a real goldmine, as always. If there was an official SL travel guide, you could provide most of the content !

Cheers... and happy new Year !


Bettina Tizzy said...

Therese and Suzanne... you two just made_my_day. Thank you for your kinds words. Fact is, all this is just a contrived excuse so that I can hang out with the people I so admire, and Jopsy is right up there at the top. Happy New Year to both of you!