All Change!

Those who regularly read this blog…assuming they exist….know that for getting on for 2 years, we’ve lived in-world in a house inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater”. True, there was a period after the OpenSpace sim debacle when we switched to an i-Squared skysphere, but we went back to the ground and FW pretty quickly.

Well….all good things come to an end…at least for a time….at some point. so it is that today, Fallingwater vanished from our current land, to be replaced by a house from the i-Squared range: the Caprican Ultimate.

There are many reasons for making the change and packing FW away for now. One of them is simply to get a change in home style. Another is because I’d very much like to bring back the i-Squared showroom and, frankly, I do not trust LL sufficiently to invest in a large parcel of land at  this point in time.

So it is that today I entertained myself making the change. I have to say that, while FW will always remain my favourite house (and will be subject to a complete top-to-bottom rebuild in the New Year), I am very pleased with the way the Caprican houses came out, and the fact that the style of the house fits the theme of our home sim pretty nicely.

The new house and altered land

Installing the new house required extensive changes to the land itself….FW is designed to overlook water, so I’ve sculpted a large north-facing bay, while Ina had installed a river and one set of falls (in keeping with the house’s name). For the Caprican to fit, the bay and falls had to go, although the size of the parcel means I could sculpt another bay to the immediate west of the house, and so break-up the land into a more natural form.

With a 50x30m footprint, the Caprican is actually bigger than FW in terms of ground space – again, with the front terrace and part of the lounge overhanging water, FW has a surprisingly small footprint, (dry) land-wise, this makes the norther frontage of the property a little more bland compared to how it was, but the installation of a waterfront deck hopefully overcame at least some of this.

The lounge

One of the things I like about the Caprican (if I say so myself) is the lounge with the sunken seating area. Beyond this is a raised area, which is now the the home to my grand piano, supplied by Persephone Milk, who produces – frankly – the FINEST musical instruments in the whole of SL.

The grand accurately reflects my genuine loves of both the piano and classical music (it has a marvellous selection of loaded pieces). Seriously, if you have any interest in music at all, and wish to have a fabulous concert grand in your home, you should make a point of visiting Musical Alchemy, Persephone’s store.

As well as the grand, the lounge is home to our various business accoutrements, with the added benefit that they are so much more unobtrusive than with FW.

Night time, with the sun deck in the foreground

While the Caprican comes with a kitchen, I’ve opted to remove it, and leave the central kitchen area as an entrance hall, featuring one of my all-time favourite SL “paintings”, Kay’s Lair, by the fabulously-talented Rena Sakai.

It’s going to be quite a change living in the new house. Doubtless, FW will return in the future, but for now as 2009 draws to a close, it seems appropriate to mark the start of 2010 with something new in our lives.

Looking at Linden Homes

Jack Linden has gleefully announced the preview of the new Linden home scheme. For those not in the know, here’s the detail – but essentially, Linden Home is a kind-of revitalising of the old “First Land” scheme that formed a part of Premium Account “benefits”. Currently Jack’s latest “beta” programme, the idea is that people taking up a Premium Account (or who have a Premium Account) have the option of using their 512 sq m “free” land to grab a “cosy” home in one of (currently) four themes and “break into” land ownership.

The scheme is broadly questionable for a number of reasons – some of which I’ve touched upon elsewhere. However, given that one cannot fairly judge without at least having seen, I thought I’d hop over to Nascera (the “continent” on which these new homes are all gathered) and have a gander.

My initial reaction? If you’re an existing Premium Account holder and have been in SL for more than a couple of weeks – use your “free” 512 tier elsewhere (assuming there WILL be an “elsewhere” in the future, given the state of Mainland).

The four “themes” are broadly: “fantasy” (aka “Lord of the Rings knock-off”); “Tahoe” (A-frame-themed houses), “California” (aka “modern” apartment-style homes), and “Japanese” (pretty self-explanatory).

LL’s take on LoTR “inspired” homes

The “fantasy” theme products a range of houses averaging at the 80-90 prim mark, together with sculpted and other trees and weirdo vegetation (giant mushrooms / toadstools). The houses themselves are of  – frankly – so-so build quality, and have names that could well have JRR Tolkien making around 6,000rpm in his grave (“Shire Hearth”; “Wizards Retreat” and “Elven Treehouse”).

The houses are uniformly ordered into rank and file on their assigned sims in a manner that Saruman most likely would copy if he were ever to get his hands on The Shire again, and given that these homes are supposed to promote a feeling of “neighbourhood” and “community”, there is little overt sign that they will: no charming paths winding between properties, no focal points for community….a total lack of any real landscaping…in short: soul-less.

Welcome to the “hotel California”?

The “California” theme is equally insipid. The “apartment style” houses are essentially boxes again laid out in a grid-like form with little in the way (aka “nothing”) to pull them together into any suggestion of being a “community”. No paths, no gardens, nothing to even break-up the monotony of the land. If California really inspired this style of build, then I can only assume those responsible for it have either gathered their knowledge of California from seedy cop shows…or don’t get out much. I’ve been fortunate to travel California extensively, north-to-south, coast to east, many times. I have friends in Sacramento, LA, Frisco, Carmel, San Diego…and while there are bland and depressing areas in the state, on the whole, it is vibrant and alive.

On the plus side, the houses do slam the “fantasy” themes in that the texturing is somewhat better, and the heavy prim-counts (around 100-118) mean the builds provide much more in the way of space and light.

You’ve been A-framed

The “Tahoe” theme presents the A-framed house. Here is something of a broad improvement in build quality and the houses give the illusion of being roomy.

I say “illusion” as, despite their height, the houses only have ground floor living space, despite the fact that one upper level COULD have been included, and thus allowed for a differentiation between living / sleep areas, should they be preferred by users.

As with the first two themes, the “Tahoe” regions suffer from a uniform blandness and lack of landscaping that leave one feeling, well, bored.

Indeed, if there is one thing that links these three initial “themes” it is an overall lack of imagination. Walking around them, I couldn’t help but feel that all three were indicative of how some in Linden Lab would prefer to have their residents: bland, uniform and ready to be shepherded in whatever direction “the powers that be” choose. Even the “fantasy” themed sims offer little in the way of a break from this: one again feels that someone is saying, “play out your fantasies – but do so on our terms.”

So, is the final theme – the Japanese theme – any different?

Feudal for the fire

Well, actually, if only to a point, yes.

Here, at least, some effort has been made: the houses are still regimented, but at least there are cobbled footpaths leading around and between them. These alone give the impression of little interlinked neighbourhoods.

The houses, too, are relatively pleasing on the eye and feature nice textures that fully compliment the builds. While there is (again) a lack of imagination terraforming-wise, the trees at least add welcome (and complimentary) colour, giving the sims an autumnal feel.

Indeed, of the four themes, this is the only one that has a feeling of purpose about it; flying over the houses and walking between them, one gets the impression of a 17th century Japanese village, or perhaps the “suburbs” of ancient Tokyo. Indeed, with a tad more imagination in the landscaping and contained within a single sim, or perhaps 4 joined sims, the theme would work admirably as an overall oriental environment that would encourage those so-minded to adopt the lifestyle while in SL.

The overall lack of any attempt to landscape these sims is a shame. While prims are at a premium being allocated on a double prim basis to each lot, thus leaving few prims available for sundries, one cannot help but feel that if those responsible for the scheme had dropped just 3 or 4 houses from the very intensive builds, so much more could have been done to build a sense of the “community” Jack harps on about in his initial post. Indeed, why insist on orderly rows of houses at all? Do people entering SL have to be confronted by the regimental blandness that blights so many housing estates the world over? Cut just a few houses from the equation, stagger the builds into small groups (say 6-8 houses per group) and you have the ability to establish something that does have a sense of community – and you have the prims to add to this feel simply by laying down uncomplicated footpaths, a bench or two. Simply by giving each grouping of houses a focal-point of some kind (a natural water feature here, a little lawned area there, a fountain somewhere else), and you help draw people into identifying with the places in which they live, something to encourage mingling and meeting.

At the very least, everything didn’t really have to be so damned flat. And why the god-awful ground textures? But c’est la deuxième vie, so to speak.

Beyond this, there are many other issues around the concept that, frankly, few seem to be considering. double-prim land hardly reflects the reality of land ownership across the grid as a whole, and so could be setting up new users for something of a disappointment *should* they move on. Many of the houses are so closely packed (some in California actually have adjoining walls!) that privacy outside of IM is going to be impossible. The sheer volume of homes could make these regions a prime target for griefers. these are just some of the more obvious issues.

However, I don’t have an issue with any of them perse. As the saying goes, you gets what you pays for. No, my issue with this idea runs deeper.

When I first read Jack’s whimsical notions that this is a way to stimulate people’s interest in land and home “ownership” in SL, I – like many others – dismissed his comments as wallpaper designed to cover the fact that LL are simply looking at a means to bolster Premium Account numbers.

However, the hole in this theory is that Mark Kingdon is already on record as dismissing Premium Accounts as being “immaterial to [LL’s] business” – in other words they are irrelevant to LL’s turnover or profits. Now, granted, he said that 12 months ago and things may now have changed – or it could have simply been an off-hand comment made at the time to cover the fact that Premium Accounts were (and are) in decline.

BUT….if Kingdon’s comment is true – and lets face it, it has been more than a year since Tom Hale asked what could LL do to make Premium Accounts more attractive and bugger all has been done to “improve” them despite the plethora of constructive comments his posting generated – then the idea that Linden Homes is a sweetner for those considering Premium Accounts doesn’t actually add up.

So I’ve come to believe Jack when he says Linden Homes are (quote) “”to create an on-ramp so new Resident can learn how valuable and simple owning land can be, but then move naturally on to larger parcels elsewhere”. I really think he is telling the truth. My problem with all this is where Jack’s “on ramp” is going to lead people.

In pushing these homes, in driving people into them, LL are (again) funneling new users in a specific direction. Where might this actually be? Where, precisely, do Linden Lab see these user moving on to?

We already know that none other than … Jack Linden … is beavering away on various deals “beta programs” with various major-league land barons both over the discounting (grandfathering) of tier and on bulk sim purchases, and it has been alleged elsewhere that LL are looking into deals that could see some land barons directly involved in Mainland.

Thus, could it be that the real aim in this is to create a market of new users, all nicely tamed and eager through their use of Linden Homes, who can then be funnelled into the waiting hands – err, sorry, lands – of these favoured land barons? Will we see certain organisations given preferential treatment in reaching out to these “new home owners” to encourage them to move onwards to dream(land)y pastures with azure blue skies – much as certain land barons were given “beta program” access to the log-in MOTD several months ago to drum-up trade (in a move that doesn’t appear to have been extended to lesser mortals among the landed, despite assurances from, ummm, Jack Linden that such would be the case).

After all, what better way is there to entice the big players into buying more server space than by showing them a nicely corralled market chomping at the bit for their products…..? It certainly stands to dwarf the penny-ante amounts that will trickle into LL’s coffers as a result of any Premium Account upswing (not that such a trickle wouldn’t be welcomed anyway).