Going down The Well

Loki Eliot is renowned for his scripting and building abilities in Second Life – and rightly so. His ideas, designs and builds stand at the forefront of what can be achieved in-world in terms of games and immersive activities, and he is always quick to embrace new platform capabilities and opportunities.

In The Well: Sollicitius, he brings all of these talents and abilities together to present an immersive and engaging experience, complete with a special guest star.

The Well: continuing the story
The Well: continuing the story

Given the time of year, The Well is a little bit of a horror story mixed into a mystery you must solve. It actually expands on an experience Loki created last year,  which he has now enhanced to include more twists in the story and which makes use of recent SL innovations such as materials processing.

This does mean that the game is best experienced with Advanced Lighting Model active, and preferably with Sun/Moon + Projectors enabled. Loki has placed the entire experience as high up in the sky over his region as he can in order to minimise lag and the performance hit running with shadows enabled can create, so if you have a moderately good graphics cards, it’s worth giving Sun/Moon + Projectors a go if you can. If you still find yourself struggling, try disabling that option, but leaving ALM active. Also, do make sure you have sounds on, they are very much a part of the experience.

The backstory to The Well is that a young boy fell down a well, and he and the rescue team which descended to recover him vanished without a trace. Now, a year later, you have arrived at the scene to join a scientific team sent down to the cavern and caves beneath the well in an attempt to understand what they are and discover what happened to the ill-fated young boy and the rescue team.

Except that, by the time you arrive, the science team has also vanished…

The Well: Yes, he's talking about you being late. Now he and the rest of the team have vanished...
The Well: Yes, he’s talking about you being late. Now he and the rest of the team have vanished…

The Well is a HUD-driven experience, and as such makes for very immersive game play in that there is no need to click on anything in-world once you’ve started; as you move around, the HUD responds to your position and offer-up choices and information – and a few other things as well :). All you have to do is click when a choice is required, or click to clear any message. The HUD cots L$100, and can be purchased from the vendor at the start of the experience.

Note that once started, removal of the HUD means you’ll have to return to the start and begin again. So if you want to enjoy The Well to the fullest, set aside about an hour of your time.

Once worn, the HUD  unlocks access to the experience and presents the opening credits before setting the scene for you. This is very imaginatively done through a BBC News 24-style bulletin.  Once the titles have rolled and you’ve cleared the instructions, you’ll be teleported down into the cavern beneath the well, where your adventure begins.

The Well: Can you help him...?
The Well: Can you help him…?

I don’t want to give too much away in terms of what to expect – that would spoil the fun! Suffice it to say, the main rules are, walk around the opening scenes carefully. There are clues and aides to be found which will help you along the way. The Well make use of SL’s experience permissions, so teleports are prompted as a part of the game’s progression, again making the moves between scenes as seamless as they might be, allowing for the necessary permissions being granted.

As the instructions note, you have a Sanity Meter. This starts off in the green, but will drop down and eventually arrive in the red if you let the Shadows get to you too much. If the meter  reaches zero, you’ll be teleported back to the start. I’m not going to say too much about the shadows, other than they tend to travel in pairs, so if you see one, keep an eye out for the other when dodging! Oh – and you really should have the sound on ready for when they do grab you :D.

The Well: Beware the shadows ... if you can see them ...
The Well: Beware the shadows … if you can see them …

The name of the game in The Well is choices. As you progress through the tunnels, you’ll come across additional caverns where you’ll be given choices. Some may lead you onwards, some may set you back to an earlier part of the game, some might simply put you back where you started just before reaching them. Hence why you need to set aside a reasonable amount of time to complete your explorations.

Those that do find their way to the end face one final choice. To go left or to go right. It sounds simple, but given the nature of the one offering the choice, don’t expect things to perhaps be as straightforward as you might think. Once you have completed the experience, you will be returned to the starting point and offered your reward.

To call The Well a game isn’t really doing it justice, per se. It really is an experience, and an enjoyable one at that. It combines some of the genuine strengths of the platform with some of its latest features to present an entertaining and engaging means of spending a portion of your time in-world. Sure, it can be subject to the vagaries of the platform at times, but there is nothing that really impacts the experience to the point of distraction, and it is clear from the way the various “levels” have been spread around Loki’s region, coupled with the height at which he has placed them, that Loki has worked hard to minimise as many causes of lag which may otherwise occur as possible.

The Well: The caves will lead to a number of mysterious caverns, each with its own look and feel, and also with its own ... perhaps you should find that out for yourself...
The Well: The caves will lead to a number of mysterious caverns, each with its own look and feel, and also with its own … perhaps you should find that out for yourself…

This is the kind of experience which would be ideal for the Oculus Rift. As everything is proximity-based in terms of the in-world interactions, and HUD- based in terms of actual interactions via the mouse, The Well would seem to naturally lend itself to a fully immersive first-person experience. Loki and I briefly discussed this idea after my “rite of passage” through The Well. Sadly, he’s a little hampered in terms of Rifting the experience, as a “Rift-ready” version of the viewer with basic UI support has yet to appear for the Mac. However, the potential is there, and while I’m unlikely to opt for a Rift headset myself in the foreseeable future, The Well has left me intrigued as to exactly how Loki will be working with the headset in the future.

In the meantime, I highly recommend The Well if you’ve not already tried it. It is more than worth the time taken to visit, explore and experience.

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