The past is really almost as much a work of the imagination as the future.
– Jessamyn West
There are times when we all mourn for the past; it’s a place, to paraphrase another saying, we cannot revisit, no matter how much we desire.
Except in Second Life.
Much has been written over the last twelve months about what has been lost in SL, regions, builds, places that stirred memories – and it is true that much has gone. But it is also true that much has been preserved and still stands today as living reminders of what Second Life was, how it began and how far it has come. Visiting them can be a magical mystery tour of delight.
The SL Historical Museum
Contained in a modest build, itself a reminder, perhaps of simpler times in-world, the SL Historical Museum is a goldmine of information and images that offer a unique look back to the earliest years of Second Life. Here are logs from town hall meetings (remember those?). There is also an archive of release notes from the early days which reveal a lot about Second Life’s development. Take these extracts from the release of version 0.2.0, on December 16, 2002:
For best performance, close other applications before running Second Life in order to free up your computer’s memory. If the computer runs out of memory, Second Life has a tendency to become unresponsive and you will move through the world in 10 second halting steps.
===Improved World Performance===
* Objects come in faster when you are flying.
* Avatar make-up can be applied during customization.
* Underwear automatically removed when you swap outfits so no more unsightly incidences of cotton briefs peeking out from beneath your clothes.
* More reliable sitting behaviors.
* When holding Alt key and moving camera, you can more easily zoom in on objects without losing focus on the object ? it?s magic!
Within the museum you can also discover the meaning behind hippos! and how they became a part of the SL subculture (and still are, just try CTRL-SHIFT-ALT-H!). There is also a gallery of images from the early days – and some of them are real eye-openers. Take the World Map, for example.
In the museum you can also find out what it was like to be a Primitar – there is actually a Primitar avatar, complete with HUDs, available, and learn about SL’s original taxi service and why i came into existence (and I have to admit, that’s a part of SL lore that had passed me by!).
The museum is associated with the SL Wikia (not to be confused with the “official” wiki), which provides further and deeper insight into the entire history of Second Life, including the development of avatars, the Viewer, and so on. It was actually through the Wikia that I became aware of the in-world museum.
Before there was an Orientation Island or Welcome Island or parrots squawking at you, there was the Orientation Station where newcomers could discover and how and what of using Second Life. Created by Yuniq Epoch (who was also behind the original Yamato project), this Japanese castles provided information boards notecards and practices routines (such as putting a beach ball on a table) to help people get to grips with the fundamentals.
The information is now well out-of-date, but you can visit the Orientation Station at Dore – if nothing else, some of the images stand testimony as to just how far SL avatars have come, appearance-wise!
Governor Linden’s Mansion
No trip into SL’s past would be complete without a visit to the home of SL’s mythical Governor. The mansion dates from 2002 and may well look utterly primitive by today’s standards, but back then it stood at the forefront of building techniques within SL.
Here there are no sculpties, no scripted doors (all doors that can be used stand conveniently ajar) and the textures are fairly basic. For those that worry about Land Impact and prim counts on houses today, the Mansion is an eye-opener, where every single step in a staircase is a prim, as is every single cross-member in a lattice roof. Windows are glass-less (although I have no idea as to whether this is because SL didn’t support transparent textures at the time, or simple to save on prims!) and the furniture simple in design.
In the basement are more pages from history – FAQ notecards from 2003, a time capsule stamped “Do not open till June 2004”. On the lawn in front of the mansion you can find a plinth naming some of the earliest Linden employees, including one “Hacker” Philip Linden, the much-missed Robin Linden and Cory Linden.
The Corn Field
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.
So opened the TV series The Twilight Zone – at least in part. It is from an episode of that series – It’s a Good Life – that SL’s most mythical destination was born: the Corn Field, a place where those avatars who had been bad would be banished to contemplate their wrong-doing.
The star-lit field of corn, cut-off from the rest of Second Life original existed in the Northwest corner of Orientation Island 1. Today, it has been recreated across four sims, all spookily identical, which you can wander through and meet the poor, lost souls.
Another example of early SL architecture – this one dating from 2004 – is Nephilaine Protagonist’s Mocha Cathedral. The simple, elegantly clean lines of the cathedral were of huge influence to other builders in 2004, especially those striving for a “real” look and feel to their work. Here you can wander through the cathedral, and if you are so-minded, light a prayer candle, naming it for whatever is in your heart.
There are several other examples of early SL to be found around the grid – Baffin Island, the Climbable Beanstalk, the Stillman Bears. Many may seem quaint by today’s standards, but as historical pieces, they help remind us just how dynamic Second Life is. If you have some time you’d like to spend exploring, why not take a dive into SL’s origins via the Destination Guide.