Monday, May 19, 2014

Sinister Lovecraftian Formlessness

First, a little update: Land Baron contacted me last night with an actual apology, so fair play to him for doing that.  He also told me he was winding up his operations, so my "hunkering down" strategy has paid off, or will come the end of next month.  This may leave me as a single island of habitation in a sea of abandoned land... well, we shall see how things go from there.

Anyway.  Last night, the talk at Oxbridge was mostly of the new mesh avatars, which are (as previously noted) not entirely an unmixed blessing - especially from the point of view of the tutors, who will have to explain to baffled new people that their avatars do not actually look like them, they are merely piloting human-shaped skin suits like the Slitheen in Doctor Who.  I foresee confusion arising.

One part of the conversation turned to making more and better (and more ethnically diverse) mesh avatars, and in that context, Tali (who is brilliant and well-informed and I would say that even if she wasn't my girlfriend) brought up the MakeHuman program ( www.makehuman.org ), an OpenSource project for creating human-shaped meshes.  And I sat in the lecture hall in unwonted silence and stillness from then on, because I was downloading this thing and having a go.

And, actually, it is pretty darn nifty... and it includes several features which are meant not only for creating avatar meshes, but for uploading them as wearable rigged objects into Second Life.  My reputation as a mad scientist positively demanded that I try it out...

... and shortly thereafter, I appeared in the Oxbridge plaza as a cloud of shapeless protoplasm the size of a bus, the only distinguishable features being a pair of shoes.  As Tali put it, "a shoggoth in bathroom slippers".

Well, these setbacks will happen.   It may be a problem with the tool - it is still in early stages, officially a Version 1 release, and the Second Life compatibility tools may not yet be proven.  On the other hand, a mesh expert I am not, and it might be somewhat hubristic to expect a perfect result based on one evening's playing around.  So, I may persevere with this.  (If nothing else, I'm sure I can export the mesh product into Blender, and I should be able to rig it from there...)

In fact, the more I think about this, the more I am tempted to utter those words which, spoken by people like me, make sensible people blench and hide their breakable items before running for the hills: "Oh!  I think I see what I did wrong...."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Miss Bulmer is Positively Fuming

People who have nothing better to do, and also good memories, may remember that a while back I acquired a little pied-a-terre on the "Adult" continent of Zindra.  I found a 512 lot going cheap, put together a simple cave dwelling that was vaguely in-theme with a much larger neighbouring parcel, and prepared to enjoy a little creativity and/or naughtiness.

Well, that was then and this is now... during my period of Not Getting Into SL Very Much, a land baron type started buying up the sim my little parcel is in.  And as this person's tendrils spread across the sim, the friendly lesbian vampire dominatrices all fled away, to be replaced by - quite frankly - distinctly mean-looking rental units.

You can tell where this is going, can't you?  Finally, it reached the point where there was this guy, and there was my little parcel, entirely surrounded by the new development.

Well, obviously, overtures were made on both sides regarding me selling off the parcel... however, from my point of view, they didn't go well.  The way I see it, I want a small plot in Zindra; if I sell the one I've got, I'll have to buy a new one.  And Land Baron's best offer never got anywhere near the price of a new one.

So, I figured, my options were to sell at a loss - not very appealing - or to play a long game: hunker down and wait for Land Baron's development to dry up and blow away in the wind.  Annoying, but that's not why I'm cross right now.

I have, from time to time, been keeping an eye on the place, you see.  Up until my last visit, things stayed more or less constant, Land Baron having considerately plonked massive landscaping prims around my little plot and put a barbed wire fence around it.  However, last night, teleporting in, I found myself stuck in something, and contemplating a fountain and a tree directly over my head.  Yes, folks, Land Baron had stuck a chunk of landscape prim right on top of my little parcel.

And, yes, that is why I am fuming.

I submitted an immediate AR for encroachment, of course... then I remembered that landowners can return encroaching objects, these days.  So I sent them winging their way back to Land Baron, along with a notecard of liquid-nitrogen politeness raising my objections to his little scheme.  What effect, if any, either of these things will have, remains to be seen.

Obviously, there are two sides to every story, and Land Baron presumably sees me as an obstreperous dog-in-the-manger obstructing the Grand Commercial Design for the sim.  Which is, actually, fine by me.  Just so long as Land Baron realizes that he is, in fact, a Walt Disney villain.  Specifically, he's Keenan Wynn's character in Herbie Rides Again, the arrogant developer riding roughshod over the rights of the small property owner.  Does anyone have a white Volkswagen Beetle I could borrow?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Any Colour you Like, So Long as it's White

So there I was at Oxbridge, enjoying the traditional sight of a new avatar going up to anyone even vaguely female and asking for a date.  (He gave me a chance to use the "my girlfriend's just TPed in" excuse, which is always fun... and receives a special Clueless Award for trying to chat up one lady with her very obvious husband standing right next to her.)

But, both Clueless Boy and the husband-and-wife - and several others who wandered through - were wearing unfamiliar, and rather sophisticated, avatars for new people....

The reason being, of course, new default avatars from our noble benefactors at the Lab.  So, it became necessary to take a squint at these and see what is what about them.

What we've got, you see, are mesh avatars.  The basic body is rendered invisible by a full-body alpha layer, and a mesh shape attached which acts exactly like your basic SL body.  It's rigged, so it can change to reflect alterations in your basic underlying shape... up to a point; you can't do anything fancy like changing the face, for instance.  And of course system clothing and other system-layer stuff like skins won't work on these things. 

What are they like?  Well, they vary.  Some of them have really good detailed skins, others are... less good.  They come with various bits of rigged mesh clothing, some of which is very good, as in "cannibalize it for other outfits" good.  (Tali and I both fell with glee on Kate Beckinsale's "Vampire Hunter Alison"'s leather trenchcoat.)  There are other components which are worth nicking - one (otherwise fairly naff) female form has a set of included shoe alphas which might work with a bunch of pumps I can't currently use because they're invisiprim based.

The design of the avis is quite interesting.  By and large, although some are traditional SL Barbie-dolls, there is a tendency towards more naturalistic sizes and shapes, which is rather gratifying (says the seven-foot blonde stick insect).  The male avatars are pretty good looking, and certainly better proportioned than your usual SL man-mountain with very short arms.  One thing I noticed, camming around them, was that the faces are, in places, a little bit asymmetrical.  This is good: real faces are a little bit asymmetrical.  On balance, we may expect a more interesting and (arguably) more attractive set of new people running around SL.

Oh, they'll all be white, of course.

Well, no, that's not strictly true - Tali found one vampire avi who is unmistakeably African male, apart from the fangs.  So that's one unambiguously non-Caucasian.  And some of the others might look vaguely Asian or Latino, in the right light... or might at least look as if they know someone who's Asian or Latino....

It is at this point that I heave a sigh, because this is an old, old rant, but it still needs to be ranted.  It would not hurt, dear people in the Lab, to be a little bit inclusive.  Just to the extent of offering options for non-Caucasians.  Just to the extent of admitting they exist.  One non-Caucasian avatar in the new batch.  One.  And even that one isn't fully human.

The excuse for this, apparently, is that the selection of new avatars is based on an analysis of what people actually go for when they're developing an initial look.  The problem with this, it seems to me, is that defaulting to the majority choices makes the alternatives invisible.  SL gets flooded with lookalikes, and the next batch of new people to come along adopt the same look, to fit in, and eventually we all look the same....

Assuming new people do come in, of course.  I have to wonder just how appealing SL looks, based on its available choices, to people of anything other than Caucasian origin.  My guess would be, not very

Seriously, LL.  Options.  Inclusive options.  From the outset.  There is no excuse for failing to do this.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reviewing the loot

I didn't get organized enough to do a full-on survey of all the stuff from the Fantasy Faire hunt, the way I did with Steam Hunt.  Never mind.  Let me just ask myself the question: given that the HUD for doing the Hunt cost me L$ 250, did I get anything in the Hunt gifts that I would have paid L$ 251 or more for?  And let me answer myself: yes, definitely.  So there we are.  Value for money.  (Let us consider, also, the cost in time for doing the Hunt, the benefit from enjoying doing the Hunt, dismiss them both as imponderables, and move on.)

It was a pretty wide range of stuff, from bits of jewelry to massive chunks of buildings, from old-school prim work to high-efficiency mesh design.  Most of it was good, or fun, or some combination of the two.

It did lead to a certain amount of confusion as I unpacked clothing items and other attachments and became, in short order, a patchwork quilt of disparate styles, and even disparate species.
There's me on the sea floor at Burroughs in the form of a furry mermaid.  Like I said, it got confusing.
Eventually, the confusion became too much for me and Tali and we both flaked out.

So, anyway.  The Palace of Tears Hunt is still on at the time of this writing, it is a fun event, and there is good stuff to be had from it.  And it supports a good cause.  So, I must grant it the Cavorite weight of my official endorsement, I guess!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I am Woman, Hear Me Roar

So, about that protuberance mentioned in my last...

Well, I was at the Fantasy Faire, in Hope's Horizon (the Gondor-themed sim, if you recall), and I went in a shop, as you do when you are not setting yourself on fire and jumping off high things.  The shop was MD/ND, skins and avatar accessories and stuff, and they had these lioness avatars on display....

"Hmm," I thought, "that skin actually looks like pretty good quality, especially around the face."

Now, like a lot of people, I have acquired some freebie neko stuff over my time in SL, but I get rather embarrassed at the thought of wearing it and standing next to Tali, who is such a carefully and beautifully crafted example of a feline avatar.  But these things didn't look embarrassing at all.  And there were demos, so I decided to take one home and try it on.

And, I thought, it actually didn't look bad.  It was a style I could work with... and one of their lioness avis was in an RFL vendor, and the whole point of the Faire, really, is to raise money for RFL....

So, a donation to RFL later, there I was, assembling the various bits and pieces required to become part lioness.

This meant opening up the shape editor for the first time in something like two years, ever since I fixed that glitch that was making my eyeballs come through my eyelids sometimes.  While I was quite definite about keeping the same basic Glorf shape that has stood me in good stead over the years, a small pointy human nose simply didn't fit the shape of a leonine muzzle, so a great deal of flattening, broadening and general softening of outline was needed there.

I know a great many people think nothing of chopping and changing their appearance on a whim, but (as people who've read my rubbish for a while may remember), I'm not one of them.  An actual change of The Way This Bulmer Woman Presents Herself Inworld is, to me, a significant event, necessitating a certain amount of consideration and introspection.  I know, of course, I can always change it back if I don't like it, but....

Anyway, you can see for yourselves.
The rounded lioness ears are not as mobile and expressive as Tali's, alas, nor are my whiskers as impressive as hers.

Snapshots taken while reloading on the sea bed at Pooley.  Any remarks about wet pussies will be treated with the contempt they deserve.
 
Of course, how I feel about it is by no means the only factor... there is also the reaction of the important catlady in my life to consider.  (By the way, the readership-at-very-small does realize that Tali and I are a couple, right?  That we weren't testing all those couples animations in the Steam Hunt out of a spirit of purely disinterested academic inquiry?  OK, just checking.)

In a sense, that is the important part of the whole undertaking.  Most people who opt for a furry lifestyle in SL, I gather, do so out of a deep-seated emotional connection to a particular kind of animal.  It's not something that I have, myself - I've always been quite adamant that if I have a "spirit animal", it's of the species homo sapiens.  But it turns out I do have a deep emotional connection with a particular feline... and the experience of being feline is something I'd like to share with her.

Besides which, she can do amazing things with her tail and her whiskers (no, no details, this is still Not That Sort of Blog), and I'm looking forward to trying those out for myself....

So, there we are.  An explanation for the tail.  Will this be a permanent change, or just another costume to wear in SL?  We shall see, as time goes on.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fantasy Faire: L'envoi

So I finally managed to complete the Faire hunt, and this gave me the key for the next stage - which takes place in the adjacent Palace of Tears sim, and requires the same HUD thingy that I paid L$250 for, and which might prove to be money rather well spent.

I won't go into specifics about the Palace of Tears hunt here, because, well, spoilers and all that.  But I suppose it's worth putting up some pictures of what is, in any case, rather a nice build.

 
Here's the arrival point, where you TP in or walk in from Fairelands Junction.


It's not giving too much away to say that you will be directed to this throne room early in the quest.  The d├ęcor is fairly typical of the palace as a whole.

A slightly better shot of the full palace building.  As you can see, it's pretty realistic, not overtly fantastical.

There are, though, sort of art installations in the surrounding garden, which are worth a look at.  Apparently you can pick up these centaur sculptures, or something like them, for free in the Fairelands sims.
 
It's also not giving too much away to reveal that completing the hunt will lead you here, and that once your HUD knows you have passed all the stages, clicking on that big chest in the centre, lying on the pile of gold, will have beneficial results.  Beneficial unless you are trying to reduce your inventory, that is.  I have not yet begun to process all the swag, but there are some very promising store names on it.  Very promising indeed.
 
"But hold hard, Glorf," I hear the readership-at-very-small say.  "What about you yourself?  In those images, there appears to be something dangling down behind you - have you grown a tail?"  More on this topic anon.
 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Miss Bulmer is Displeased

OK, so the Fantasy Faire hunt is in two parts, it seems - the first one involves travelling to all the Faire sims, interacting with an object in each one, then returning to the NPC type chappie at the Jolly Crocodile in Wiggenstead Mooring, who will then give you the key to start the main Hunt.

That isn't why I'm cross.

This hunt involves wearing a scripted HUD with which to receive clues and cutscenes, and track your interactions and thus your progress.  It is a lurid purple thing involving a unicorn, but, well, Fantasy Faire, if you get away with only one unicorn you're doing well

That isn't why I'm cross.

The clues are, for an experienced hunter like my good self, not too difficult.  One, in Blackwater Glenn, was a bit of a pain, but only a bit.

That isn't why I'm cross.

The problem seems to be at Fairelands Junction.  This sim is either wonky or massively overloaded, or very possibly both.  Closing in on the last clue, at this sim, I've found myself being violently disconnected.  Or teleporting in, finding myself in a semi-disconnected state (unable to move or chat), and then being disconnected when I try to TP out.

That isn't why I'm very cross.  This is SL, that sort of thing happens all the time.

What is making me cross is that, almost uniquely in my experience of SL, the state of the HUD is being lost when I'm disconnected.  When I finally get back on - an exciting experience involving cache clears, blue limbo, and skulking around in Pooley while things reload - I find that the HUD has reset to the state it was in at my last normal logout.  This HUD, remember, is tracking my progress through the hunt....

So, every time I get kicked, I have to re-do the hunt stages I've done since the last attempt.

This is making me cross.  Obviously, the thing to do is going to be to clear the non-wonky sims, then log out normally, hope that state is properly preserved that way, and then tackle the Fairelands Junction.  Since TPing in causes me problems, I may have to walk in from Wiggenstead Mooring and walk back out.  Assuming I can walk.  Which is not a safe assumption.

I am cross.  Did I mention being cross?  Well, I am.

Fantasy Faire: all the way around

The last two sims of my initial traverse of the Fantasy Faire, here.  Last time, I was sure that something Steampunk was about to happen.  And indeed, when I went to Asperatus (sponsored by NeoVictoria), it duly did.
Asperatus is a giant airship, floating over the clouds, with a whole city complex suspended beneath it.  Made me all nostalgic for the glory days of Caledon Steam SkyCity, it did.

At the landing pad, there's a boiler room, where the city appears to be powered by a vaguely feminine idol with a fire burning in her crotch.  You can get ointment for that, you know, dear.

 
I duly cranked my draw distance out to suicide level and took a shot of the whole thing.  There's the blimp, we will be visiting that thing sticking out at the back later.  But what are those yellow things for?

Oh.  OK then.

The visitors' centre, with information about the NeoVictoria RP setting, and a view of the shops.

There's a sort of tram affair with teleporters to bits of the build.  Like that thing sticking out at the top that I mentioned, a landing pad for this... futuristic... umm... vehicle, I guess.


The other destination is this lookout pod at the lower front.

There are rusty pipes and narrow gangways and unsafe stairs.  It made me feel at home, I can tell you.

Stairs go down to Medhir Woods.  They're not grey at the bottom because the textures haven't rezzed, they're just sort of lost in the mists and clouds.

I should show an actual shop at some point, shouldn't I?  There we are.  (The tenants include some Steampunk staples - Unzipped, Lassitude & Ennui, and Grim Bros. among them.)

And, on the other side, the sim crossing to the last one, Wiggenstead Mooring.  Dare I...?
 
 
I dared.
 
Wiggenstead Mooring is sponsored by Tiny Inc., and has a lot of tiny/petite/etc themed shops on its floating islands connected by walkways.  At a shade under seven feet tall in my socks, I'm not massively into tinies, but there's no denying the ingenuity that goes into these builds and these designs.  Wiggenstead Mooring, in itself, is darn cute, and well worth a look around.
 

 
This innocuous looking store, though, contained something that made me blench.  "Tiny Kajira Dancer Fatpack" - yes, folks, we have Gorean tinies.  I predicted it a while back, but was still appalled to be confronted by the hideous reality.  (Am I being silly?  Possibly.)
 
Although the main shopping action is on the floating islands, there's a fair amount of stuff going on down below too.


The shop is a shop, though attached to some sort of RP area.  The campfire area turned out to be something to do with the Faire Hunt, of which more anon.  I don't know what the ominous dark cave is for.  Perhaps it is a metaphor for the heart of darkness that lies beneath the Tiny exterior.  Everyone in SL knows you should never cross a tiny.
Finally, here is the Jolly Crocodile, where you can talk to an NPC and start the Faire Hunt, which goes on across all the sims, and where I should, therefore, have gone when I started out.  Yes, folks, I have done Fantasy Faire in the wrong direction.  Never mind.  I had a good time anyway, I bought some stuff, thereby contributing to RFL, and I took in some pretty amazing sights along the way.  And will continue to do so, since I have various bits of hunting still to do....
 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fantasy Faire - two more sims

When last we left our dim blonde protagonist, she was being impressed by the Hope's Horizon sim, sponsored by Dwarfins, and... well, basically, it's an attempt at Gondor.  And by no means a bad one, given the constraints of a single sim (full of vendor objects) in SL.  Not a bad one by any manner of means at all.
 I had to up my draw distance to "cause of death" levels to get that shot in.  Some of the textures are probably blurry.  Blame my connection.  Don't blame the designers.  This is impressive stuff.

Get past that gateway arch, and you're on the shopping streets and face to face with the Dwarfins main store.


The ground level features spacious boulevards, and shops, and, at a couple of points (like, next to Talevin's, there - that store gets a namecheck because I have tons of its stuff, mostly pillaged from Lucky Chairs and mini-mania boards, but tons of its stuff anyway)  there are stairs!  Which go up!
And up
And up
And, you guessed it, up.
 
Until you get to the top.


 
Which is, like, all Gondor-esque.  Complete with a White Tree, even, and - what?  That red and orange stuff?  It's... err... a JPEG compression artefact.  That's what it must be.  It is definitely not me putting on a bunch of particle poofers that make me burst into flames, and running off that promontory to re-enact the death of Denethor in The Return of the King.  Because that would be silly.
 
Moving on, we come to Medhir Woods, sponsored by Solarium, who, if I remember rightly, did a build last year that was very similar in tone.  Nice designs, peaceful summer-evening sky, all very calm and quiet and sedate.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing.  It just fails to grab me because I am a shallow silly person who wants bam and pizzazz and gosh-wow and spectacle.



So anyway, there's me on the mean streets of Medhir Woods, and there's Solarium's central store, and there's a shot of the streets with the ground fully rezzed (it is my connection's fault and not the designers', let me be quite clear about that).
 
Still, the build does have some nice little touches about it.  Like this seating area behind the arrival point, or the painter's gazebo on the bay.

And then I made my way to the next sim boundary, and saw the sign for NeoVictoria, and the giant airships, and many, many, oh so many cogs!  Something Steampunk is about to happen.  And I figured that if I tried walking across that boundary, something horrible would happen to my viewer, so I refrained.  Until next time!
 
 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Fantasy Faire, continuing on!

I'm told by a friend (the excellent Vulpine Eldrich) that there is good stuff to be found in a Steampunk-themed sim... which, if I continue on my current path, will be the last one I get to.  So I suppose I'd better continue moving on, then.

Next up is The Faery Court, sponsored by Cerridwen's Cauldron.  Their sims in past Faires have been pretty spectacular, and this one is well up to standard.  I swear I could actually hear my graphics card scream in pain.  (Pain is good, graphics card!)  But anyway.
Here we are - well, I am - arriving.  You will note the different coloured lamps to right and left.  This is because the sim is sort of divided down the middle, into the Seelie and the Unseelie Faery Courts.  I don't think it counts for much besides colour scheme, but it's a nice touch.
 
 
Looking the other way from the arrival point there.
Here's the Cerridwen's Cauldron store, where - among other things - you can buy copies of the buildings and general sim decoration.  I'm not sure I have the money, or the spare LI, to indulge in that.  But I would if I could.  Oh yes.

There's me looking at one of the smaller store buildings, and climbing to the top of another one.  The textures are much crisper than that when they finally rez, by the way.  As you may guess, I was having problems by this stage.
 
For the second evening running, I could see the next sim from some distance away, but when I actually got close to the sim crossing, it winked out... and, when I tried to teleport there, winked out.  So, once I'd relogged, I found myself teleporting from dear old Pooley to the next sim, Heavenslough.
 
This one's sponsored by Creators of Fantasy, who are new to me, at least when it comes to putting Fantasy Faire sims together.  I have to say, they've done a bang-up job on this one.







Yes, I was moved to take quite a number of pictures.  There's a definite structure to the build, with the main store and the arrival point up at the top, with those nearby large tree-stores, and then you go down lots of stone stairs to a sort of swampy level with wooden paths leading to the adjacent sims.  And there is lots of interesting detailing along the way, like those little archways shaped our of living wood, or the occasional giant gem glinting in the undergrowth....
 
... and the windlight settings are moody and atmospheric, and the textures are deeply and richly detailed, and the twisty-turny layout means there's something new to explore, half-glimpsed through the foliage, with every few steps you take....
 
Um.  Basically, I was impressed.  I was wandering along, snapshotting away, and murmuring to myself, "well, this could very easily be this year's standout build".
 
Then, for once, I made it through the sim crossing intact, and found myself standing next to a pretty respectable effort at the city of Gondor.
 
I mean, I might still end up rating Heavenslough as the stand-out build of the Faire.  But it's got competition.  Oh yes.  More of this in our next.