It’s hard to fathom how fast it all happened: Linden Lab doubles prices in the middle of an academic and fiscal year, The University of Richmond decides not to renew its Second-Life contract, I talk to a few people about their grids, I pay a very reasonable six-month rent out of pocket, Nevermore sim is born in Jokaydia Grid, the walls of The Virtual House of Usher rise again in a new place.
The new grid offers me advantages I had never considered in SL, such as the ability to control an entire region and design all of it to a theme. To avoid juxtapositions with other campus buildings, we put the SL House of Usher in a Megaprim “bubble” far above the rest of the virtual campus, in order to create the mood of isolation essential to Poe’s tale.
Now, with a whole sim and 20,000 prims to torture, as a builder I have applied several lessons from SL even as I learn new ones:
Lesson 1: Have a Master Plan and Job Out Each Structure to One Master Builder
This applies to walled-garden grids like SL as well. We reveled in the collaboration with students in building Usher in SL. Now, I want my colleagues and students to decorate my built. I’ve called myself “Frank Lloyd Wrong” before, but I do share the prima-dona (in my case, prim-dona?) architect’s believe that a consistent vision must guide a site. I don’t share his belief that even chairs must be placed under the Master’s watchful eye.
Beyond fussiness, however, there’s a practical reason for at least designating one builder for every major structure. In SL, one cannot make off-system backups of objects not created by ONE person, even if others give the items to the project-owner. And even in OpenSim, the perms must be set so I can manipulate a balky wall or window. I want to avoid the problems I had in SL when I waited hours, and wasted more, hunting down perms when students were less than diligent about setting them as instructed. In one case, mixed-permission items changed perms seemingly at random, even when our student builder had been very careful.
With these woes in mind, and wanting to be able to port our build to another OS grid if needed, I decided that I’d build all major elements on the island but leave room for new builds by others.
First, I did not go wild terraforming, a Promethean temptation that comes with one’s first piece of wholly controlled land. I restrained the urge to hurl mountains into the blue, and did little beyond sinking the tarn from which the House rises and sculpting a range of rugged escarpment and inlet for a shipwreck called The Grampus, linked to the gruesome (and finally, heroically flawed) novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
Lesson 2: Understand The Technical Differences For Building in OpenSim
OpenSim builders love to talk about the availability of megaprims, a boon for avoiding one’s quota of prims and a potent weapon in the war against lag. Linden Lab only allows such large prims on private islands.
On the other hand, the technology of OpenSim is a bit less stable at times than SL, though upgrades from the community of developers lead to rapid improvements. One area of continuing concern during my build has been what I’ve referred to as “The Case of The Premature Linking,” and solving it required some prim-acrobatics that led me to assess several OS shortcomings (some with a silver lining):
- Beware of playing with a worn or linked prim. If you resize a shoe or hair on your head, you end up with something like the photo. My advice is to link a large build into segments (outer walls, crypt, attic & roof, say) that could be easily unlinked to adjust one balky prim.
- Back up constantly. This would be just as true in SL if you were exporting builds with the Imprudence client or another permitting export. But I also mean in-world duplication. I rezz a prim called “Usher Texture Backups” and periodically dump all of my uploaded textures in it. If you are VERY paranoid, leave one copy in your inventory and another on the sim. I plan to put them in textured cargo crates in the flooded hold of The Grampus, where they can do double duty as flotsam bobbing about in the water.
- If you want it, you will probably have to make it. I was lucky to find a tall ship to ruin at Virtual Caribbeana, the sim of VWER member Oronoque Westland. I’d have had to settle for a bunch of debris for my shipwreck, otherwise. I also found chairs (and had to add a sit script) but they are all of one style. So for other furniture, I’ll be making it and, when Mesh imports arrive, bringing in goodies from Google’s 3D Warehouse.
- Do Not Go Wild With Prims. Roderick has many familial heirlooms noticed by Poe’s narrator, “sombre tapestries of the walls. . .phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode.” The tapestries are easy. What about those trophies? Gee, I could MAKE a suit of armor with my 20K prims, right?? Um, no. Instead, I did this shadow-box trick, until I got some mesh armor for Roderick’s family collection!
1) make a shadowbox of two prims. The back prim is a flat rectangle; the top prim is a hollow cube aligned to show the back prim.
2) color the inner surface of the box black and give its outside a wooden texture.
3) put your “model” (some armor, a skeleton) on the front surface of the back prim at the rear of your box. I used Photoshop to simulate, in the 2D .jpg, the 3D interior of a box. I tweaked the color of the inside of my shadowbox from all black to a shade that matches the perimeter of the Photoshopped .jpg.
4) I’m still playing with how to tilt the back prim inside the shadow box to make the 3D effect most realistic. From close up, of course, it vanishes.
Extra credit awarded if you put the shadow box behind an archway. I made one of those with a single prim as well, using alpha-layers and other geeky Photoshop tricks that require their own post, if not a full-on tutorial.
If you try making some shadow boxes, send me the pictures! If you are in Jokaydia Grid, stop by for free decor. Both suits of armor are full perm so help yourself to a copy.
Lesson 3: Leave Room to Grow
Usher is only the start. By including elements of Pym, that adorable tale of cannibalism, disease, madness, rapid decomposition, shark attacks, mutiny, and starvation, I’m going to play with Poe’s own habit of what scholars today call intertextuality. In Poe’s case it was the inclusion of real and invented works, in ours the inclusion of Poe’s tales and poetry within the Usher storyline.
Poe’s world could be seen, to use the title of Ray Bradbury’s anthology, as a continuous “October Country.” I want our visitors to be immersed in that spooky and sad world of the writer’s obsessions and his (and my) native city. Richmond is a place of many losses and shadows, despite the suburban cancer of cheaply made homes and throwaway consumer delights that now grows around it like a moldy crust on a once-fine loaf of bread.
Thus Nevermore needs to be more than its centerpiece and less than a museum of all things Poe (to be honest, I really don’t care for much of his poetry!). So I made our House of Usher smaller than the SL version. Students noted that the SL build is a frightfully effective labyrinth but some did not, get this!, find it oppressive enough! It had a lot of empty spaces, too, that we’ll avoid in the new build by the judicious use of textures in the place of prim-based objects.
For a build like Nevermore, consistency of theme counts, though I put in a bit of whimsy. I have a hand-drawn map, like one of Poe’s crazed narrators, for the rest of the island, including lots of blank space but also a graveyard based upon Hollywood Cemetery, most of which postdates Poe. Including Hollywood permits us to erect the tomb of W.W. Pool, a “thrice-buried” Richmonder and, according to legend, a vampire. He was a real-life accountant, so depending on your personal experiences, he may have already been a blood-sucker.
I think Pool’s Tomb will be our hypergate portal to other grids. As modern madman like to exclaim, “Muahaha!” Poe’s shout things more like “The Teeth! The Teeth!” (we won’t go there).
Well, Pool probably would. Perhaps you will, too, when Nevermore is done.