Monday, January 14, 2008

Aley's Privateer Island - Part II

I welcome this two part story by guest author Lauren Weyland because it sheds new light on both the work and its creator, Aley Arai. In Part I, (see the previous blogpost) Lauren has not yet met Aley, and provides an interesting rationale for all that she sees and learns... Now, in Part II, Lauren has spoken extensively with Aley, which both confirms and dramatically alters her initial speculations. Since this was an entirely different take on Privateer, I thought the photography should be, too, so I appealed to Flickr-fave Stephen Venkman who produced these exceptional captures of the sim. Altogether, I think we have one helluva story. - Bettina

By Lauren Weyland
all photography by Stephen Venkman

"i developed this sim like a sci-fi disneyland. Everything must serve a usable purpose to visitors. Every prim has to earn the right to be here.”

Soon after drafting Aley's Privateer Island - Part I, I spent nearly three and a half hours talking with Aley Arai. The first of the two conversations started out of the blue with Aley stating, “Planet Bob is developing nicely.”

Although she had accomplished so much with the build - a work of art in progress - she was still dreaming of the challenges that lay ahead with completing this sim. She had determined that Privateer would be leveled “if i discover a new way to create a deep vast space; the whole sim will be ripped out and redeveloped from scratch.” (sic) Aley used the term ‘procrastinate’ in regards to her building out some of the unfinished parts of the sim, as well as her lack of knowledge in how to make a future industrialized city based on New Detroit.

“I live for sillies,” said Aley, referring to her idea of making the truck stop floor phantom (at 600m altitude)

I showed her my draft for the first blogpost and she laughed saying she has dozens of close friends at NCI. She felt that her leaving the sim open to the public during all stages of development indicated that she was hardly reclusive. However, “I'm old, slow and cautious with people… with building I'm faster than a whole army.” “Should I change the blogpiece?” I asked. She replied in the negative, because, “stories must evolve!’

“So what is Privateer about?” I asked. The sim gets its name from “Wing Commander: Privateer.” She enlightened me on some old game genre called, ‘Space Traders,’ which apparently started with Elite and moved on to BBS’s, Tradewars 2000, and finally became Privateer. Privateer got a big boost with freelancers leading to the “behemoth of Eve Online.”

“The sim exists as a kind of a honorarium to the old space trader games,” which she plans to fully script in time. “This sim is to *moon* other SL developers who just make crap to get payed and don’t care about the art” (sic), something she compared to static content on the Internet being death.

I think many of us in Second Life realize that SL is probably the browser of the future, which will both do away with static content and also produce some of the horrid builds. We talked about the corporate sims which Aley finds have done something right in hiring experienced in-world developers. But, “unfortunately those developers got greedy and gave them mostly crap product knowing they wouldn't know crap from good.”

Many times during our conversations I found myself laughing at her Aley-isms, such as ‘bling=stupid,” and, “i have a psychiatrist, but really go to my house-cat for meaningful life advice.” She dislikes the default plywood even more the bling.

I wish I could paraphrase what comes next so I will just recant what Aley said:

"What happens when you set the material definitions is the prim, or root prim in a connected object, takes on some properties of it, like sound on collision, and minor ways it behaves in physics. If you bump into any object and it's textured to NOT be wood, if it sounds like wood it means the builder is a lazy poohead :).

Yes I'm mean, but only about professional builders. When you create in a virtual world you control every aspect, every last atom, to a degree that will show you why God is now on a long vacation. You control the sounds and physics of all objects, you control the ambiance and energies that fill the virtual air. Lights and shadows, colors and motion, if you ignore any one of the details you have a kind of half finished feel. When you find a sim where all the details have carefully been catered too, you will have a strange instinctual reaction. The *something is missing* feeling will vanish."
She is also dismayed with the Lindens, saying they have now gone against all they once stood for. She said, “I openly challenged them several times over the fact that the whole entire reason for creating mainland sims was public access and transport, yet they don’t even make the gesture now of setting aside areas for roadways when earlier they actually did public works.” (sic)

According to Aley, a town is ‘official’ with a population of about 10,000 people (see my blog on civilization and society), and you need one civil employee for every 50 people, but SL has only 9 Lindens for 50,000 people on line. She feels the system itself can only really handle 30,000 regular users and that all the original developers of SL are now gone.

Aley further believes that “evolution only works when the animal needs to fit its environment. Mankind changes its environment to fit its need. This is a big reason why animals are inherently saner then any human.” It seems her cat is always happy, always cheerful and that anyone seeking true happiness must learn from her cat. I concur. In my opinion, humanity could gain a lot from napping-a-lot therapy, and chasing plastic bags around really can give you an adrenaline high.

Getting back to Privateer, I mentioned that the cave tunnels remind me of Myst and Star Wars and Doom... all games Aley has played. She cited Pot Healers Adventures as another source of inspiration. Mars on Privateer is Aley’s rendition of Robinson Crusoe, and she challenged me to look around and explain to her where the food, water, oxygen came from on such a planet as Mars.

Although I didn’t get the soap - Borax can be found on Mars - she did posit for me my idea that the earth had been destroyed and the spaceship was first marooned in space and then had crashed below. The oxygen came from the rusted iron ore… Mars being red because of the vast amounts of iron ore, and looking pink from earth because of the CO2 in the upper atmosphere which reflects back the ground colors. So, to get oxygen you select the most rust and heat it in the electric oven (see windmill generating electricity). This releases 02 and you bottle it. There’s plenty of wind on Mars to turn the windmill, and the water is in the air but you need to condense it out. “Mars is about survival and what happens if a civilization can’t make it,” said Aley.

Apparently Aley watched a half season of ‘Survivors’ and threw her TV out saying, “those guys are total morons.” We talked about global warming and the environment and she echoed the same beliefs I have on the subject saying, “global warming is big time scape goat. And forest fires and/or a single active volcano puts out many many many more times the Co2 then human industry does. It’s just more of the human need to sound like there bigger then the earth,” Aley quipped. Aley also stated that she has given up on the real world and makes her world in Second Life. Speaking for myself, I’ve often said that if Descartes were alive today, he would say, “I think, therefore I digitize.”

You may have noticed the green outlined box in several locations. One of these is in the racetrack area. This box is three dimensional showing where each person in the sim is. Aley watches the movement of the visitors and notes that so many never descend but instead congregate on about 10% of the overall sim, high up at the truck stop. Many leave never knowing, “there is a whole universe here.”

Another Aley-ism: “If you live and breathe only for the art, you’re happy and nothing else matters.”

If you have visited Privateer, in-depth, you know the upper part (the landing zone) is a “Truck Stop.” Below is the ‘Hotel California’ playing the Eagles song. There are Spaceships. There are the planets (Planet Bob, New Detroit, DaMoooon). The Borg station. An empty city, a satire on SL. Mars, the tunnels, the command center where the Jellyfish lives and so much more.

Aley reduces lag in the sim by using ‘distance and occlusion.’ Auto return has been set to 256 seconds since she ‘likes binary numbers.’ I mention this because in my prior piece I said I believed Aley doesn’t do or build without a purpose. This one act I can hang my hat on.

Some may have discovered another feature of Privateer, the SL Kessel Run. (See Millennium Falcon and Hans Solo). Aley has made the SL Kessel about 50 times in a ship she has built. Her fastest time was nineteen minutes. It’s the longest straight away (before the two new mainlands were connected) that you can possibly fly in a physics vehicle.

Per Aley, “It's fraught with terrible dangers and if your a stubborn pilot it's the biggest challenge you can get in SL. This sort of challenge is like walking along a fence post over a sewer, you will fall in and have to restart dozens of times. It's boring and frustrating. The challenge is in your self belief and self reliance that it has been done before and you can do now. People complain that there are no challenges in SL to make it give the fun interests of a game. But thats because they’re to lazy to try and make the games themselves in SL. And SL is what the users make of it. Sadly that means miles and miles of garbage and mediocrity.” (sic)


Lem Skall said...

My favorite sim right now and I think it still doesn't get the attention it deserves.

Interesting perspective on the sim with the focus on the artist behind it.

Anonymous said...

Hey great article... I still have many more pics to finish and go back for. I loved this place and plan on taking my whole sl family for many visits.

Fantastic build and amazing textures...what's not to love!!?!

Anonymous said...

I found Aley's sim incredibly immersive! The views outside the windows of the moonscape or the jellyfish creatures sailing by - I really felt like I was a visitor there in my EVA suit. And Aley's sense of humor had me laughing out loud many times. Click on the wastebasket in the SL operations room!

One quibble though - Aley needs to do some serious fact-checking if she actually thinks that humans emit less CO2 than a volcano. The current estimate is we emit about 150 times the total emissions from all active volcanoes each year.