Cathy Foil is a creator of note. Among her many talents, she was the first to introduce fully sculpted foot in SL and put it in a high heel; she is the creator of the MayaStar mesh rigging plug-in for Maya, and she is, alongside the AvaStar folk, one of the prime movers in the Bento project. She is also a huge fan of The Original Series of Star TrekTM.
How big a fan, you ask? Well, let me put it to you this way: in 2008, before the birth of mesh in Second Life, she start started building an avatar-sized, scale replica of the Enterprise itself. Almost two regions in length, with interiors from the Bridge to Engineering, it was a huge undertaking – albeit unfinished.
Part of the ship is currently once again rezzed in-world, although unfortunately in a location that is not open for public access. However, given July marks the 50th anniversary of when Star TrekTM first aired on US television, and marks the release of the 3rd film instalment from the “Abramaverse”, I took the opportunity to join Cathy on a tour of the original starship Enterprise NCC-1701.
“You best be in Mouselook when we beam up to her,” Cathy informed me as we arrived at two innocent-looking transporter disks lying in the sand. Following her instructions I stood on a pad, brought up the menu and slipped into Mouselook before alt-clicking my destination: Mr. Kylie’s Transporter Room 6. For a second, nothing happened; then a familiar hum filling the air, the beach before me started to sparkle, my universe flickered for a second, then the sparkling and noise faded and the transporter room emerged out of the glow.
Never have I felt quite so “on” the Enterprise as I did at that moment; stepping off the pad, I expected to see Mr. Kylie himself behind the transporter station and then hear that magical high-pitched hiss of the doors as Kirk and Spock arrived.
“The entire project took about eighteen months to get this far,” Cathy said as I admired the transporter, the control console and monitoring station, all beautifully re-created in prims and sculpts. “Most of the ship is rendered as sculpts with prim walls and floors,” Cathy said, leading me to the door which did give that squeaky hiss of opening at we approached. “That way we could reduce the prim count and make things manageable.” Sculpts they may be, but sculpts designed with care: no waiting for things to pop into existence in my view at all during the tour.
The corridors outside were equally marvels: the familiar bold colours born of 1960s colour television programming, the intercoms at junctions, the gaudy doors (behind which, and depending upon which deck you’re on, sit crew quarters, officers quarters, the sickbay, briefing rooms, offices, and main engineering), doors hissing in greeting or departure as you enter / leave. At the end of many of the corridors sit the familiar triangle archway of a turbolift station.
“These are all a single sculpt,” Cathy told me, as we walked to one of the arches, triggering an automatic call for a turbolift. “It includes the walls that connect the archway to the sides of the corridor so everything blends.” The car arrived and we stepped in. Touching the familiar handles gave a choice of destination. We headed for the Bridge.
“Most of the ship, including the textures, I made,” Cathy said in answer to my question as another spine-tingling sound – that of a turbolift in operation – filled the air. “Lora Chadbourne also contributed the shuttlecraft bay and some of the consoles like the monitoring console in the transporter room, another builder produced the interiors of the warp nacelles.”
The detail is extraordinary. The bridge stations are all painstakingly reproduced, the centre seat has the expected wood trim, Spock’s science station has the familiar scanner. Elements within the bridge are interactive. Touch the helm console, and up come a range of options – go to warp, fire phasers or photon torpedoes, accelerate to warp 8, etc., while the viewscreen offers a range of images, including that of the destroyed USS Constellation, as seen in the episode The Doomsday Machine and the Romulan Warbird from Balance of Terror. And all around are the familiar background noises.
This level of detail and interaction is present throughout the ship – as are the ambient sounds. Back in the transporter room for example, you can toggle switches and operate the famous transporter activation sliders, while in Engineering, you can examine the ship’s dilithium crystals in their rack. A clever “stacked” use of textures gives an excellent a 3D effect in grilles and grates.
Drop into the briefing room, and you can flick individual rocker switches, call up images on the tri-screen, or use the intercom to call someone elsewhere in the ship. Down the corridor at the ship’s medical facilities you can work out to “Bones” McCoy’s satisfaction or pop into his lab where he has one of the parasites from Operation: Annihilate! under observation – although the little bugger is not averse to getting loose! Against the back wall of the lab sits the decompression chamber from Space Seed nearby. With working food replicators in the mess hall (fortunately tribble-free) and all the ambient sounds from the original, this is s ship that is really alive.
To ensure accuracy, Cathy used a mix of the Franz Joseph blueprints from the ship, together with plans from the studio in laying out the interior spaces, although as she notes, she had to upscale things a little. “The whole ship is like 115% to scale, she said. “Had to be bigger than 100% because average male avatar in SL is like 7 feet tall, and then there is the camera position on top of that!”
As note above, the ship isn’t a completed model. Circumstance brought the project to a halt in 2009 when the two regions over which the Enterprise was located were let go, ending all Trek role-play there. When touring the ship, signs that it is still a work-in-progress can be found on the floors, some of which are textured with copies of the original Desilu Studio set plans from the show. Rather than detracting from the model, these add a further layer of authenticity and care in its construction.