After kshandr mentioned it yesterday I decided to have a look at Second Life. After the first hour, unable to believe what I was seeing I simply had to give it some more time and now I can confirm without reservation that this is the worst thing I have ever seen
In theory it is an amazing idea. Those of you who have read Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" should be familiar with his idea of the metaverse (not uniquely his mind you, but his is the closest approximation that comes to mind). A computer generated reality that behaves as a parallel dimension where people can buy land, build items and houses, buy and sell them, upload files and sell them too - what everyone imagined the internet would eventually become really. Thats the theory anyway, what has actually developed is a realm of blackjack, hookers and piracy, not necessarially in that order.
Now before I go any further, the good points. You can make money off this thing it seems. Game cash can be turned into real money and some people actually have a day job making crap for this thing, anything from clothes and textures up to vehicles and customised avatars like japanese robots. Having seen the stores though, I have to wonder *how*, I mean given that the average clothing item seems to cost 500L$ (Linden Dollars, the game currency) which equates to 2 euro (I think, I'm open to correction here) you're going to have to be moving a metric assload of assless chaps to make the rent. Maybe if you were some kind of crazy person who owned their house, and didn't have a mortgage and had dozens of cats which you used both as pets and source of food....
Another positive is that it has a powerful scripting language allowing you to string together a series of animations and sound samples into a unique sequence you can play out later with a single keystroke. You can also create items using the in game 3D modelling engine.
The major plus to Second Life as I see it is that it is possible to create a game within the game, for example when World War II online closed its doors a couple of years ago a number of the players bought up a load of land within SL and rebuilt the game there - we're definitely talking about limitless possibilities here. The most interesting of all, to me at least, was the virtual clinic of mental disorders where you can walk through the same area several times but each time is is subtly altered to depict how someone suffering from a different mental illness would see it. Some government agencies have used the system to simulate real life emergencies and the CDC recently used it to train doctors across america in the proper hospital crisis response to a biological weapon attack.
Now, on to my favourite bit, the bile spewing criticism.
The Blackjack, hookers and piracy. The top ranking most popular places in Second Life (assuming you are allowing the game to list "mature" locations) are "Night Clubs" and gambling emporiums, all of which have booths selling clothes and items outside them along with shops selling time restricted access to movies - I have no idea how this works, even if I had the 1000L$ (4 euro) to hand I wouldn't be spending it on what advertised itself as "3 Day acess to teh movei. Unlimited views!!!". Honest to God, if theres such a thing as philosophical herpes then I have it after seeing that. Needless to say, these movies aren't legitimately being distributed by their producers but I find it hard to be concerned that the producers and distributors of "Meat Injection 5" are losing money. It goes further than that though, ten minutes in thise "game" would have the RIAA bleeding out their ears. I must have visited about fifty places across all types of area, from shopping to war simulators and each one had something copyrighted in it somewhere. I'm not overly worried about that, but I know some folks are.
Now I buy into the whole "Information wants to be free" thing that gets offered as an excuse, but this is mental - anything digital that can be transfered into the Second Life is transfered and then sold by whatever genius did it. This isn't information being free, this is information being hijacked and sold on by someone else.
Anyway, enough of the piracy and moralising, on to the fun bit - the blackjack and hookers. As previously mentioned, the most popular places in the Second Life are gambling emporiums and strip clubs. You can toss your cash down a black hole here on machines that aren't even remotely regulated like more legitimate gambling websites around the internet and if you're so inclined you can hire yourself a hooker for half an hour for roughly 1000L$ to do dirty emotes at you - heck, for an additional sum you can even rent a room and be emoted dirtily at in a poorly modelled featureless bedroom.
Like I said yesterday, nothing gets a fella hot like the glassy eyes and distorted limbs of the low resolution avatar of a hairy trucker. Even moreso when he/she has a tail and cat ears. Actually, somehow the furries are less creepy than anything else.
Thing is, you can ignore all these things - if someone acts the gimp then you can take measures to ensure you never see anything they ever say or do again and it seems impossible to coerce someone into doing something they don't want to. You don't have to go to those areas I mentioned before and you can take steps to ensure that anything you search for does not contain "mature" themes so in essence you could treat the whole adult nature of certain areas as an optional extra and just go off to enjoy things like the WW2 Online remake or any number of other virtual games that have been built in the Second Life.
In theory. This wouldn't seem to pan out thanks to the problems with the game engine itself. The 3D modelling engine is dire - I'm becoming *fairly* adept at 3D modelling using other packages, I have a few projects on the go at the moment and I'll grant you none of them are as complex as a car and they don't employ many curves beyond simple spheres but I've got the hang of it y'know?. I could *not* grasp the modelling in Second Life - no doubt theres some way to transform something made in an external package into an in-game object but if thats the case then there seems little point in having such a rubbish modeller *in* the game.
Not that it'd matter even if I could because the graphical engine is so abysmal that anything more than a couple of cubes on screen at any given time is enough to cause my computer to pitch a fit. This might be okay if I was running on minimum spec but this thing can handle Half Life 2 and F.E.A.R on medium to high settings without any problems and let me tell you, this thing ain't no looker like Half Life 2.
Its ugly, damned damned ugly. Most characters have the walk of the diarrhea quickstep for starters and due to the limitations of the 3D modeller even the most complex buildings are little more than a series of simple geometric shapes stacked or stuck to each other - you're not getting any gothic cathedrals here. The limitations on character textures mean that everyone is a fairly uniform colour and even though clothes seem to manage some more detail and colour variation the fact that the game has to download these textures to your computer before you see them means that for anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes after you first see the character their skin and clothes are going to be unrecognisably blurry at best.
So, in summary - it is an amazing idea, and technically speaking it is well executed but in a sense it was doomed to failure from the start - once you give people the choice between crafting detailed environments and unique characters OR a series of thonged barbie dolls you've pretty much condemed the world to be occupied by a stripper army. Worse still is that the scripting language and modelling packages are so open that they allow people to create utter crap that needlessly takes up memory with large, grainy images because they don't know anything about optimising images and keeping their size down when the intention was obviously to let people host high resolution art/photo galleries rather than pointlessly detailed floor tiles.
Despite all the downsides, from a tourist perspective I'd reccomend at least a quick look at this, its free after all. Some of the displays, galleries and games are fascinating and despite all the dodgy crap in there I still think you'd be missing out if you skip it, if only for the mental diseases clinic thingy.