On Monday July 14th, the Lab announced the opening of their new Experience Keys activity – The Cornfield. I didn’t have much of a chance to look at things myself at the time, but simply had a quick nose around. This being the case, I hopped back when time allowed and took a closer look.
First, the new Portal Park. Whereas the Linden Realms Portal Parks were fairly minimalist, being intended purely as waypoints to get to that game – which, I understand, the Lab has plans to update at some point in order to take advantage of Experience Keys – the new Portal Park design is far more of a hub, and so has a richer design.
A central landing point offers a paved area with seats, flowerbeds and access to eight areas reached by short paths. These are: The Cornfield, Linden Realms, the Premium-only Magellan Hunt, the Wilderness Experience (which I missed noting during my brief visit on July 14th), what appears to be an as yet unnamed entrance to a sci-fi / post apocalyptic experience (not currently open), a social area, a Gnome Village and a Tea Party glade (where the LDPW and members of Linden Lab were enjoying themselves following the opening of the Park on July 14th). Whether these latter two are intended to become the entrance-point for future experiences or simply places for users to meet and chat, I’ve no idea.
Each of the active games has a dedicated teleport portal, and the area in which the portal stands is themed on the game itself; so The Cornfield has an old barn containing its portal, for example, and the Linden Realms portal sits in a little meshy / cartoony space. Only The Cornfield is currently Experience Keys enabled – Linden Realms, the Magellan Hunt and the Wilderness Experience are all pretty much as they always have been since each opened in SL.
An interesting point of note with Experience Keys is that until such time as the viewer-side updates have filtered through to all viewers, you don’t actually need to run the Project viewer in order to participate in an experience; any viewer is capable of receiving an initial invitation to join and Experience, and will allow you to do so. However, as the Experience Keys project viewer provides a lot more information about any given Experience and allows you to see what is happening with your avatar, it is perhaps preferable to use it until the viewer-side code is more widely integrated into viewers.
As you approach the teleport portal for The Cornfield, a dialogue box is displayed, asking if you wish to participate. The information displayed by this dialogue box will vary, depending upon whether you are using the Experience Keys project viewer or not.
If you’re running the Experience Keys project viewer, clicking on the name of the Experience in the dialogue box opens the Experience Profile, allowing you to find out more about it.
Allowing the Experience via the dialogue box will permit you to pass through the portal and be delivered to the start of the game area, inside another barn. Here you’ll find yourself equipped with a large basket, some basic armour, a large plank of wood, and a HUD. Clicking the “?” on the HUD will deliver the game instructions to you.
The Cornfield is, at its most basic, very similar to Linden Realms – you spend your time running around, avoiding monsters (mutated “griefers” in this case), collecting corn cobs, jars of moonshine, and coins, rather than different coloured gems. However, there is also a lot more going on here.
For a start, the griefers come an a variety of forms, and are far more persistent than the rock monsters in Linden Realms. Some of them are also more cunning. Not only will they pursue you, they will gang up on you, stalk you and – if given a chance, kill you. The latter will cause your avatar to be teleported to the Safe Zone of the graveyard in one corner of the game region.
Collecting corn, coins and moonshine jars is a case of running over them. Moonshine will act as a restorative for you if you’re losing lives, but only up to the value of the armour you’re wearing. Coins – called corn bucks – are instantly bankable and added to your score. But it is the corn you need to take care of. When collected, this goes into the basket on your back, and you can carry up to 20 corn cobs at a time. When you reach this limit, you have to return to the barn (another Safe Zone) and deposit them in the corn bins, where they are converted to corn bucks and added to your score.
But let the griefers kill you, and any corn cobs you’re carrying in your basket are instantly dumped and you lose them as you’re transported back to the graveyard.
Corn bucks themselves can be used in the General Store (reached via a portal at the back of the barn), where you can buy additional armour to protect yourself from the marauding griefer monsters and arm yourself with better weapons for killing them.
Oh? Didn’t I mention that? Yes, the griefers can be done away with – providing you’re careful and / or well-armed; hence the plank you’re given on your arrival. Left-clicking when in proximity to a griefer will stun it. hit it enough times, and you can kill it. However, given the griefers often pursue in packs, getting the better of them with a plank of wood can be – pardon the pun – hit and miss. Hence the shotgun, chainsaw and even Grey Goo grenades (another inside joke for those familiar with anti-griefing techniques used in SL).
If you prefer, you can use your corn bucks to buy a range of gifts on offer in the General Store. Rather than being temp attachments, as with the gameplay elements (armour, weapons), these are delivered to your inventory for use elsewhere.
Gameplay itself is horrible. And by horrible, I mean horribly addictive. I intended to spend no more than 15 minutes trying The Cornfield out, and ended up sticking around for well over a couple of hours. Each time I got killed, I swore blind the next basket load or corn would be the last, only to gather-up 12 or 14 cobs only to get myself battered by griefers, leaving me making a lot of fast, short runs to pick-up half-a-dozen cobs at a time and pounce on any coins (the latter seem to have particular places where they pop-up).
Collecting corn cobs was also slightly frustrating in that running over the corn didn’t always register; I frequently found I had to disable running and walk back and forth over the corn when coming across a pile dropped by others who had been “done” by the griefers. I also experienced the occasional viewer freeze when using my plank on griefers which tended to result in my winding-up in the graveyard – although could have been me getting a little left-click happy.
When you have finished with the game, you can simply teleport home (or elsewhere). When you do so, all attachments should be automatically removed and deleted – although if any end-up appearing to be stuck, a relog might be in order if you cannot manually detach them.
Don’t worry about losing any weapons or armour you’ve acquired or your stock of corn coins – all the information relating to your game-play is stored in the Experience database, so that the next time you visit The Cornfield, everything will be correctly restored – scores, coins, weapons, and armour.
Some may sneer at this approach to gameplay in SL and use it as a means to question Experience Keys – but games like this, while very simple, are perhaps only one end of the spectrum of what might be achieved using the capabilities, and it will be interesting to see what comes out of the creator beta by way of non-game experiences. And it has to be said (again), that while it might appear to be simplistic and hardly “what SL is for”, The Cornfield is surprisingly addictive. As such, I can see it becoming popular in the same way as people still enjoy Linden Realms – a means to just have a little fun when the mood takes.