SL8B: The Preview That Almost Wasn’t

So, I’ve blogged casually about SL8B. I’m a member of the SL Press Corps. I see there is a Press Preview commencing on Saturday 18th. I contact Pete Linden to ensure the SLPC are included. We Tweet; things seem fine. All that is missing is a time.

To the rescue: Pete Linden

Saturday comes, and I find myself constantly hovering on the computer, leaving myself logged-in to SL, expecting some form of announcement that the “gates are open” (being unable to actually Tp to the sims). The day passes….and passes…and passes….and I start to feel somewhat miffed. I Tweet forlornly asking if anyone knows what is going on, as I still can’t access the sim and am left assuming whatever might be happening to kick-off the preview hasn’t happened…when suddenly my co-SLPC groupies start Tweeting from the SL8B sims.

In keeping with English attitudes as (allegedly) described by John Cleese, my mood swung from “miffed” to “peeved” in short order, threatening to edge towards “irritated” as blog posts on SL8B began to appear (not so much that they were posted before me – but because I’d effectively been waiting all day to have a mooch, and as such was, well, irritated, by the fact that I’d allowed a Saturday to pass semi-chained to my computer).

I gave vent to my general state of peevedness not really expecting anything to happen. I was wrong. I was IM’d. Apologies were given, and in short order, Pete Linden was swinging to the rescue and delivering me to the main Welcome Area for SL8B, and apologising profusely for the mix-up. Who said the Lindens don’t listen?

So, was it worth all the aggro? Well yes – it was.

A Walk in the Park

One of the things that has always struck me about previous SLBs is that, away from the main stage area, they’ve tended to be..well…a mess. Builds tended to be hog-podged together.

The sims – echoes of Burning Man?

Not this year. This year the 20 primary sims for the celebration are all neatly laid out and presented, with a core of exhibition sims mixed with several water-based sims, all of which have something of a Burning Man feel to the layout when viewed on the map, with “head” and “upraised arms”, etc – not altogether inappropriate given the ties between SL and that event.

Zoom, Zoom

The tour hover pods are fun – if a bit laggy

Getting around is relatively easy: the broad walkways create an easy-to-navigate grid system. If you prefer, there are automated tour pods that hover their way around the sims following the walkways, and which provide information on the exhibits you pass.

Lag is a bit of an issue and given there were few around during my visit, it is going to be interesting to see how things balance out. Even going through sims with just one or two others and my draw distance dialled down, I was either sitting five steps behind or five steps in front of the hover pod I’d grabbed, as you can see in the picture. That said, sim crossings both on foot and in the hover cars were relatively smooth – providing you don’t attempt to hit them at a gallop.

The theme for this year is the magic of Second Life – “magic” here being those elements of SL that captured people’s imagination enough to bring them into SL, or that caused them “that” moment of clarity when they “got” SL and became a part of it. As such, I have to be honest here, I was expecting exhibits that gave a narrative that drew you in to an understanding of the “magic” that gripped the exhibitors. It’s fair to say that some do this, but many, well, don’t. As a friend commented after he’d managed a sneak peek (the result of helping an exhibitor to set-up), some seem to stand (as pretty as they are) as little more than static adverts for businesses. There are a lot of magic motifs, to be sure, but in some areas I have to say that things came across as … flat.

SLCC 2011 at SL8B

Of course these is a fine line between advertising and promotion – and there are exhibits at SL8B that are openly and rightly about promotion. One of these is SLCC 2011, which is represented at SL8B, with some decent information on the event itself as well as a call for sponsors – although I’d personally be looking for local companies in the Oakland area to take up that particular challenge.

I won’t be attending SLCC 2011 for reasons I’ve mentioned elsewhere – but I do wish them every success. 2012, with the venue being Boston, is a better year for me to put my bum on an SLCC seat, all things being equal.

There are some interesting and informative interactive exhibits – when you can find them. This is perhaps one of the biggest issues at the moment – although in fairness, it may well be dealt with before gates open on the 20th. However, with 20 main sims (plus Bear Island), 700 exhibitors and 300 exhibits, the lack of any directory anywhere of where to find things makes getting to see anything pretty much a pin-in-the-map exercise. To be honest, I’d expect to find this information on the official SL8B blog. However, as of Sunday 19th June, there is nada. Obviously, on the one hand, this promotes wandering and exploring. On the other, if you are looking for something specific, or have a specific interest that encompasses multiple exhibits (music, say), then hopping directly between them currently isn’t on the cards.

NY Healthscape roller coaster

One exhibit worth a visit – assuming it withstands lag – is the NY Heath Scape roller coaster. Here you can ride (up to four at a time) around a quite hairy roller coaster (try it in ML), and learn about self healthcare.  Just be careful at the end of the ride, however, I got summarily tossed from the car and ended up under water – and stuck under the walkway bordering the ride, which left me thinking, “Learn about healthcare…and drown…” – A landing zone might just be prudent here!

The Chimes of Big Ben

The Clock Tower from the Houses of Parliament

Further around the sims, I found a reminder of home: a reproduction of the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, complete with a replica of Big Ben hanging inside. You can Tp up through the tower, and it is a good vantage point from which to see many of the exhibits.

And on the subject of seeing – it’s a good idea to keep your Draw distance relatively low. There is a lot going on across these sims, and if you have Draw up high, you’re doing yourself no favours whatsoever. Flick it up when you need a good look around, otherwise just slide it back down. I found I could double my fps (which was averaging around 11 fps) simply by dropping my draw range from its usual 256m to 96m.

There are lots of freebies to collect as you make your rounds of the sims – and some interactive exhibits. You can get a head start on what’s on offer, but there are doubtless others.

Overall, a lot of care has gone into the physical presentation of SL8B. I’m not privy to the behind-the-scenes aspects of the organisations, but I am surprised the SL8B blog isn’t heavier on details, given we’re a little over 24 hours away from the event kick-off. Details of events are beginning to pop-up, but again – these could really do with Surls to the actual locations being given as well. Some of the stages (the Cake Stage, etc.), are pretty obvious to find (actually bloody hard to miss once you start moving around) but others less so (the DJ Stage, the SL8B Auditorium).

SL8B Auditorium

And again, without wishing to appear churlish, the events themselves are light on details. A list of names means nothing to me (outside of the obvious ones); I hope that more information will be supplied on each of the events / acts / appearances ahead of time.

Event locations: DJ Stage (left) and Park Stage (right)

There’s certainly a lot of eye candy to take in as you wander the sims – a lot of thought has gone into many of the exhibits, and this does make a wander worthwhile. I’ll be planning on getting along to the main events around the 23rd – would very much like to hear what Rodvik has to say – and will try to get to a few of the parties, information willing.

Two more views of the SL8B sims