A garden of delight in Second Life

Crystal Oak Falls, Tobias; Inara Pey, December 2013, on FlickrCrystal Oak Falls, Tobias (Flickr)

Melinda Palianta recently revamped her private home with an autumnal build and graciously opened it to the public for a short period. I’m glad she did (open it, that is!); it’s one of the most stunning and natural builds I’ve seen in Second Life; a perfect blending of season, landscape, influences and more.

The essence of the build may well be New England in the fall, but there is also an oriental theme and look running through it, touched here and there with and almost English country feel, all of which is beautifully blended into a whole which really is marvellous to witness. It is also perfectly framed through the use of water to create streams and rocky channels which cleverly and very naturally break the garden into individual areas that flow into one another via footpath and bridge, providing a feeling of continuity as you wander and explore while also allowing the various aspects of the garden to exist on their own as more intimate, quiet spots one can enjoy in their own right.

Crystal Oak Falls, Tobias; Inara Pey, December 2013, on FlickrCrystal Oak Falls, Tobias (Flickr)

Crystal Oak Falls is another tour-de-force demonstration that one doesn’t need to own an entire region in order to produce something really amazing. Yes, the parcel may be a little larger than the average offerings supplied by estates, but it’s still well under a 1/4 region in size and has a lower land capacity than a Homestead. Nevertheless Melinda has packed an incredible amount into it, and with nary a hint of lag for the visitor.

From the ocean side arrival point at the front of the house, you can explore the garden at will; simply let the paths, bridges and steps lead you around, and drink in the settings. Part of what makes Melinda’s design so alive and rich is the way in which the garden changes as you wander through it; rather than being entirely pristine and looking like every minute available is spent tending it, this is a garden where  – just like in real life – things can get a little wild if left alone for a while. There are tall wild flowers growing near the stables; further towards the back of the garden, the steps leading up to the tent and camp are looking mossy and starting to get a trifle over-grown, all of which adds to the charm and realism of the build.

Crystal Oak Falls, Tobias; Inara Pey, December 2013, on FlickrCrystal Oak Falls, Tobias (Flickr)

With its oriental touches and use of water, this is obviously a place which very much appeals to my personal sensibilities, something which might be taken to mean I’m a tad biased in my point-of-view. However, I’ll wager a pound to a Linden dollar than Crystal Oak Falls is a place that can capture the eye and imagination of all but the hardest of hearts, and is a place that SL photographers will delight in seeing and snapping.

However, those who wish to see for themselves will have to move quickly; Melinda will be closing her land to public access on December 8th, after which she will be working on her winter build. I hope she’ll consider opening that to the public for at least a few days as well – it is bound to be as equally as gorgeous.

Crystal Oak Falls, Tobias; Inara Pey, December 2013, on FlickrCrystal Oak Falls, Tobias (Flickr)

If you do visit Crystal Oak Falls, do keep in mind that it is a private home;  while the gardens are free to explore, the house may not necessarily be so.  If you do enjoy your visit, consider leaving a small donation at the arrival point.

Related Links

Crystal Oak Falls, Tobias; Inara Pey, December 2013, on FlickrCrystal Oak Falls, Tobias (Flickr)

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A virtuoso performance and a Dickens of a tale

Dickens-2013Sunday December 1st, 2013, Saw two special premieres take place in Second Life and in the same time-frame. The first was for the opening season two of The Blackened Mirror. The second was a very special presentation of A Christmas Carol, forming the return of The Dickens Project to Second Life – and its first presentation in real life.

The presentation took place at the Greek Archon Theatre in Cookie, where Caledonia Skytower, Shandon Loring and Kayden Oconnell took to the stage before an audience of invited guests to present Dickens’ most popular Christmas tale. At the same time, Caledonia’s real-life persona, Judith Cullen, was seated in the Pythian Lodge in Tacoma, Washington, before an audience who had also gathered to hear the story, and who could  watch in-world activities via a large screen. As is the magic of Second Life, Kayden joined her via voice from Minnesota and Shandon from Nebraska.

As with the original run of The Dickens Project, performed over Christmas 2012, the reading took place in a specially created set representing a scene from Dickens’ time and which, when the project re-opens its doors to the public later in the month, will provide a special walk-through of Charles Dickens’ life, works and the times in which he lived. The outdoor stage, sans props, provided a simple and effective focal-point for the reading, with Caledonia and Kayden sharing the role of the story’s narrator and taking on the various supporting roles, while Shandon once again reprised the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Shandon Loring reprises his role as Ebenezer Scrooge
Shandon Loring reprises his role as Ebenezer Scrooge

Prior to the reading commencing, the audiences in both worlds were told something of the history of the Knights of Pythia and the lodge in which the real world audience were seated. To help them understand Second Life better, Judith / Caledonia gave a very short overview of the platform, and members of the digital audience were encouraged to interact – if only one-way – with the real-life audience through greetings, etc. Nor was the performance entirely static for the audience in Tacoma; to give them a greater feeling of involvement, the in-world feed was monitored by another SL user, who used the viewer’s camera to show actors, audience and setting.

The performance, using a text adapted and annotated by Dickens himself when he presented the story in person, together with some additional text from the full novella, was presented with aplomb and style by the three artists. From my own perspective, I found it to be as much an engaging and virtuoso performance as the time I saw Sir Patrick Stewart perform A Christmas Carol as a one-man show; so much so that, other than the need to flick away for some 20 minutes to take care of other commitments, the time simply flew by for me.

The Knights of Pythia Temple, Tacoma, where the performance took place in RL
The Knights of Pythia Temple, Tacoma, where the performance took place in RL

For Judith / Caledonia, who conceived, directed and produced The Dickens Project, I know that this is very much a personal triumph; she has been working towards The Dickens Project being both a real life and virtual experience for the better part of a year. If the audio feedback was anything to go by for those of us in the virtual world, the performance was very well received in Tacoma and generated a number of questions about the story, the idea and Second Life from the audience there.

While the presentation was, in terms of a combined SL / RL event, a one-off (at least for now!), The Dickens Project will be returning to Second Life for a seasonal run commencing on Friday December 13th. I’ve no details on the schedule at the moment, but will publish them here once confirmed.

Caledonia Skytower, Shandon Loring (centre) and Kayden Oconnell is an evocative shot of the perfromance by Bear Silvershade
Caledonia Skytower, Shandon Loring (centre) and Kayden Oconnell in an evocative shot of the performance by Bear Silvershade

If you’ve not seen a performance of The Dickens Project, I urge you to take the time to do so once the new season opens. Anyone with a love for literature and especially for Dickens’ famous tale of a miserly old man, ghosts, and ethical and emotional transformations, will love this performance. Kudos to Caledonia, Shandon and Kayden and to all those who helped make The Dickens Project a reality once more – and in both the real and digital realms!

Related Links

Both the real world and SL presentations of A Christmas Carol were free admission. However, audiences at both were offered the opportunity to donate to one of two charities: War Child North America in the case of the SL audience and My Sister’s Pantry for those in the real world audience.

Viewer release summaries 2013: week 48

This summary is published every Monday and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:

  • It is based on my Viewer Round-up Page, a list of  all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware) and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy
  • By its nature, this summary will always be in arrears
  • The Viewer Round-up Page is updated as soon as I’m aware of any releases / changes to viewers & clients, and should be referred to for more up-to-date information
  • The Viewer Round-up Page also includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog.

Updates for the week ending: December 1st, 2013

Official LL Viewers

  • Current Release version: no update.
  • Release channel cohorts (See my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself):
    • No updates.
  • Project viewers:
    • No updates.

LL Viewer Resources

Third-party Viewers

V1-style

  • Cool VL updated on November 30th to:
    • Stable version: 1.26.10.2
    • Experimental version: 1.26.11.2
    • Legacy version: 1.26.8.39
    • Release notes (all) core updates: Legacy version: removal of SL mesh deformer supporter & addition of some support for Fitted Mesh; addition of “GetMesh2” capabilities support; FMOD Ex updated to v4.44.27; assorted fixes and optimisations; Stable version: as for Legacy plus rednering fixes imported from viewer-bear; Experimental: full support for Fitted Mesh; region caching fix; import of viewer-interesting fix for crashing when TPing across region boundaries; assorted fixes.

Additional TPV Resources

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The Blackened Mirror premieres

Blackened MirrorSeason 2 of The Blackened Mirror premiered on Sunday December 1st with a special showing to an invited audience at the Crescent Theatre in Seraph City.

As I’ve previously noted, the new season reunites the main stars of the show, Zander Greene (Scott Simpson in RL), Aisling Sinclair and Mavromichali Szondi, together with returning guest stars from the first season and two special guest stars in the form of Peter Jurasik and Gameela Wright (AvaJean Westland in SL), who will be making their presence felt in voice as the season unfolds.

In the first season, hard-boiled PI Harland Quinn, having been hired by Alais Alleyn, found himself drawn into a strange mystery as he attempted to help her to return “home” – a mystery which suddenly turned its focus very sharply upon Quinn himself as he, Alais and Mr. Biggins were confronted by Adam, Quinn’s bespectacled twin, in the season’s cliffhanger.

Gameela Wright and Peter Jurasik will add their voices to the show as the season progresses
Gameela Wright and Peter Jurasik will add their voices to the show as the season progresses. Gameela also pupeetered a number of the characters on behalf of those actors unable to be in Second Life for the actual filming

Now we rejoin Quinn to find him a prisoner in some kind of asylum or institution, held there by his strange twin, who both resents Quinn and takes a perverse pleasure in seeing him hurt. Doubtless, if left to his own devices, Adam would quite happily put an end to Quinn’s life. However, the choice is not Adam’s to make, because he answers to someone even more mysterious and potentially threatening – the Doctor.

The Doctor; dark intent where Harland Quinn is concerned?
The Doctor: one of the new characters introduced in the season opener

It’s a taut piece of story-telling, neatly opening-up a list of new questions, introducing new characters and which further and deftly twists the story a little more, a move which serves to both draw an audience already familiar with the story further into it, while also setting-up things such that anyone with only a loose understanding of season one will want to go back and watch it again.

Season two allows the show to make use of a number of additional tools to assist in the filming / production process. One of these is ReScene, an advanced choreographing tool developed for Second Life by Logan Bauer. This can best be thought of as a 3D “timeline” of a live cinematic scene that can be played and replayed with any number of avatars playing different roles, allowing precise control of avatar movement, animations and camera movement to be achieved.

“It gives the actors a chance to focus on things like directed looks, expressions and so forth,” series director Saffia Widdershins told me ahead of the premiere screening. “It’s incredibly hard to hit a mark like that in SL. Either you end up miles away, facing in the wrong direction, or looking in the wrong direction and having to turn awkwardly.  Throw into the mix the fact that someone’s lips don’t move, and we have to shoot it all again.”

Operated by season one’s VFx veteran, Terra Volitant, ReScene has allowed the production to aovid many of these time-consuming pitfalls, and has brought a further level of realism to the show.

As a season opener, this episode of The Blackened Mirror has it all: mystery, intrigue, suspense and drama. Just how can Harland Quinn have a brother he does not remember? Are they even brothers by natural birth? The clues are there to suggest they are probably not; but who can tell at this stage? What happened to Alais Alleyn and Mr. Biggins between Adam’s arrival in the bar at the end of season one, and Quinn’s incarceration in the asylum? And who is the malevolent Doctor?

But don’t take my word for it – why not watch the first episode of the new season for yourself? Just make sure you watch it right the way through to after the end credits!

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