Monday, November 10, 2008

CREAMSHOP: It has been raining there for a long long time now...

Posted by Alpha Auer ;-)

A very special thank you goes to Naxos Loon, who alerted us to the existence of CREAMSHOP...

Charon is the ferryman of Hades who carries the souls of the dead across the river Styx that divides the world of the living from the world of the dead. A coin to pay Charon for the passage, is placed on or in the mouth of a dead person. And those who can not pay the fee, are to wander the shores for one hundred years - so, tells us Greek Mythology. And then, there is this little girl who is bored of sitting on the riverbank when suddenly she sees a rabbit in a coat, holding a pocket watch run by, lamenting that he is running late. She follows him into a rabbit hole and falls very slowly down a tunnel lined with curious objects... And so, tells us Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland.

Now this may only be my fanciful imagination but it would seem to me like as if it is a bizarre hybrid of these two archetypal characters who greets you at the gates of CREAMSHOP: A rabbit on a raft, who tries to paddle you across a dark river of rain water. The attempt fails, you wind up going round and round; so you decide to make it on foot like one of those long gone souls that have been unable to pay their coin.

A walk in a dark tunnel, sloshing along up to your knees in water, all too quickly leads you to a courtyard - and sadly here the mythical part of your journey is pretty much over. You are very much back in Real Life - and a tormented one at that! Indeed the extraordinary success of the designer of the sim, SAZAE Yoshikawa, lies in that within the limited boundaries of a Second Life island she has managed to bring to life the desolation of the aftermath of a very real, very natural disaster. These things do happen in Real Life! Very much so, in fact.

Creamshop is tormented by rain. It has been raining for weeks, if not indeed months: A once lovely, but now flooded courtyard is deserted except for a flock of desparate ducks and swans paddling in the flotsam of toppled over bookshelves and soaked cardboard boxes. Weeds and flowers sway helplessly in the deluge. And in fact, so long has the rain been here that aquatic flora such as weeds, water lilies and bulrushes have now begun to join them.

The usage of space as metaphor is one of the key elements of SAZAE Yoshikawa's success. Enclosing the disaster within a courtyard considerably heightens the sense of surrendering to the inevitability of a natural disaster, of there really being no way out, of claustrophobia... A second design element used with well grounded knowledge here is color: Yoshikawa has chosen two colors that form an almost complementary contrast - violet and green, throughout the colorization of the sim. This could have become a mine field of error, however since the designer uses only very slightly saturated, almost grayish values on all of the large surfaces, what ends up happening here is that the contrast, while heightening our sense of doom, manages to still achieve great harmony. An unsettling harmony! Indeed, I hereby take my virtual hat off to SAZAE Yoshikawa for this stunning palette. Third, is the usage of detail and the integration of ready made objects into the overall design system: The flora, the fauna, the flotsam, the debris and especially the weather system - for the large part these were probably created by people other than SAZAE Yoshikawa. Which is precisely as I think that it should be. If you can integrate the design work of other content creators into your work - do it! This is how economy in the metaverse works! So, again, well done! A very special mention also needs to be made of the way in which lighting, achieved particularly through the usage of the glow effect, that has been implemented in the flooded courtyard. And finally the usage of sound: Again, this mainly comes from the objects, such as the weather system and the ducks but the sound scape created with these is once again of SAZAE Yoshikawa's own fine work.

The record shop is not the shop proper, but part of the mise-en scène of the courtyard. I wish the mayhem in here had spilled over into the shop itself as well...

But now, onto some criticism - alas: The stunning effect of the courtyard is left behind pretty much the moment that you walk up the steps and enter the shop proper. Suddenly you are in a perfectly clean and well designed - but all in all, ordinary looking Second Life shop, selling highly predictable Second Life gear. With the deluge outside, wouldn't it have been great if for instance the electricity had gone and we had to fumble our way around in the dark a bit? If there was a bit of water on those pristine white floors? A bit more than the odd tumbled over tailors dummy and a couple of dry (?) cardboard boxes scattered here and there to follow through on the theme so successfully instigated outside? And when it comes to the merchandise, I have to say that I am truly disappointed: The level of imagination that created Rabbit-Charon and the level of narrative skills that would have managed to create the flooded courtyard surely could do better than that? Please do not get me wrong: Everything is well designed. In fact there is a balloon-skirt mini dress there, that I may go and get before too long myself. However, here is the thing: I already have that dress in Real Life. In a virtual life, where the sky is the limit, coupled with the fact that, quite obviously, SAZAE Yoshikawa has what it takes to reach for the sky - why stay earthbound?

You can teleport to CREAMSHOP directly from here. You can see more and larger pictures of our visit there here.