The Whispering Winds of Marathon Caye

Marathon Kaye
Marathon Caye

I’m going slightly off my usual beaten track with this travelogue in order to try to cover two interlinked regions through a single post.

Marathon Caye and Whispering Winds are two regions operated by Shaylin Yordstorm / Mrs (Taylee) Aldrin and Cranston Yordstorm / Cuthbert Aldrin which, while physically separated on the grid, are unified into a singular whole by the magic of teleporting. So much so that it really doesn’t matter which one you opt to visit first in your explorations; you’ll likely end up moving back and forth between the two as you visit the various attractions and features.

If I were to define both regions at all, it would be as a rural entertainment / amusement park venue, located in a woodland setting. Both offer a range of rides – log flumes, roller coasters, slides, bungee jumps (a first for me in SL!),  – as well as opportunities for paddling around on the water and to meet Dwarfins.

Whispering Winds
Whispering Winds

With a total of six music venues across both regions (The Pavilion, The Rock House and The Ranch on whispering Winds, and Club CTO, the Amphitheatre and The Arboretum on Marathon Caye), keeping track of all that might be going on across the two regions is probably best achieved by checking the various Facebook pages Kaylin / Taylee and Cranston / Cuthbert have created, or through joining one of the relevant groups for the regions. Invites to the latter can be received on your arrival, while links to the former are available throughout both regions. In addition, there are Flickr groups for both regions for those who want to share the pictures they take (again, grab the links when visiting both regions).

For couples out for a quiet time together, there are various secluded spots to be found and various quieter rides to be enjoyed – such as the hot air balloon, a trip out on the water on a pedalo or rowing boat, floating soap bubbles, horse rides, and so on. Keep an eye out, as well for teleport links to the beach, the log cabin and so forth.

Marathon Caye
Marathon Caye

The landscape in both locations occupies a mixes of elevations, and if I’m honest, some of the building seem a little precariously perched in  places. However, this is SL, a place where we can change the laws of physics if we like – or at least get them to look the other way – so who says everything must always be entirely natural-looking. Certainly the higher plateaus offer plenty of opportunities for a little exercise.

The various rides offer an additional level of fun to the regions, and having tired them all, I can say they work pretty well, and the water slide, roller coaster and log flume are quite effective in Mouselook, while the bungee jump certainly adds a new perspective on Second Life when viewed that way!

Marathon Caye
Marathon Caye

Given both regions are so full of things to do and see, keeping draw distance turned down might be in order for you, should you visit and depending on your system’s capabilities; I did note my own frame rates constantly dipping into the low teens during my explorations.

If you’re looking for a venue offering a range of live music events and activities to enjoy either on your own or in the company of friends, and which offers plenty of opportunities for retreat on the ground and in the air, a visit to Marathon Caye / Whispering Winds might well be the ticket.

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Lights! Camera! Headset! – Oculus VR opens movie studio

Image: Oculus VR / Story Studio
Image: Oculus VR / Story Studio

Oculus VR came, in a manner of speaking, a full circle with this Year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is currently taking place in Park City, Utah, and ends on February 1st, 2015.

In 2012, journalist Nonny de la Peña showed (what was then) her latest journey in what she calls “immersive journalism”, Hunger in Los Angeles. The film utilised a head-mounted display unit developed by a 19-year-old student. So convinced was that student of the potential for VR, he started putting together ideas for a commercial, low-cost headset. A kickstarter campaign followed  and … yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m talking about Palmer Luckey.

This year, Oculus VR are back at Sundance, in the form of their new in-house film studio, Story Studio, which is showcasing the first of five animated short films the company plans to make under the Story Studio banner over the course of the next year.

Located in San Francisco, Story Studio numbers around dozen film industry veterans from the likes of Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic under the leadership of Saschka Unseld, formally of Pixar. The company started to come together around a year ago, although as Josh Constine notes over at Techcrunch, the idea for the studio was already on the Oculus VR roadmap from the earliest days. Indeed, the very potential for VR in films as indicated by Oculus VR in their plans, many have been one of the added attractions for Zuckerberg in acquiring the company.

Certainly, Oculus VR’s CEO, Brendan Iribe is in no doubt that Facebook has been crucial in accelerating the film plans, noting to Constine, “this is another example where as a smaller, independent start-up it would have been hard to spin up an effort like this.”

Lost, showcased at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, is the first in a series of films from Oculus VR's new in-house film studio: Story Studio
Lost, showcased at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, is the first in a series of films from Oculus VR’s new in-house film studio: Story Studio (image: Oculus VR / Story Studio)

Lost, the title of Story Studio’s short, runs at between 4 and 10 minutes, the length being determined by the level of engagement in the film and what the decide to explore within it. As such, it is said to be a powerful demonstration of the added depth that VR can bring to a film. It is being shown in the Festival’s New Frontier programme, which this years see no fewer than 11 of the 14 submissions attempt to utilise VR.

Not all of them succeed, as Casey Newton and Bryan Bishop, writing in The Verge note. Some mange to do exactly the reverse, and demonstrate the inherent weaknesses in VR if not used correctly, and the need to learn entirely new approach to filming, interaction and editing in order to properly create and maintain the desired level of immersion needed to make the use VR worthwhile.

It is because VR as a medium is so difficult a concept to grasp and successfully integrate into film-making that drove Oculus VR to create and develop Story Studio, as Iribe notes in a conversation with The Road to VR’s Ben Lang.

“When we started to show people [the Oculus Rift] in Hollywood, their question was ‘how do we get started?’… We said ‘you pick up these gaming tools like Unity or Unreal and you start making something’ but that’s not natural for [cinema creatives],” Iribe said. “Right now the focus is to support and inspire the community—share with them everything we’re doing, opening it all up. Over the next two months, we’re hoping to educate the community on how we did this and how we got started. We still have a ways to go before people are making longer film experiences.”

Saschka Unseld (image coutesy of skwigly.com)

Unseld picks-up on this line while talking to Techcrunch’s Constine alongside of Iribe.

“Everyone who starts a project in VR encounters the same things in the beginning,” he states. “They try to figure out ‘How do I make these things I know from film work in VR? How do I do a cut in VR?’ The resounding answer is that porting film concepts straight to VR just doesn’t work.”

Thus, Story Studio will be a studio in both senses of the word. Not only will it be a engine for producing a series of short animated stories over the courses of the next year, it will also be something of a “open-source” VR cinematography “school” presenting and sharing insights into the use of VR in films, offering examples of how the technology works or doesn’t work within the framework of a film, and so on.

This is actually a clever move, as it allows Story Studio to both offer a roadmap on how other studios might involve themselves in VR and present them with the kind of finished product which can be seen to work, both technically and with audiences, thus giving them something they can understand, replicate and even enhance as the technology matures.

Of course, all this will also be helped by actually having the technology – the headset itself – actually available to use by more than a few thousand people world-wide. And even here Story Studio may offer a small clue as to when the consumer version of the Oculus Rift might appear.

According to Reuters, via Fortune On-line, Lost is the first of five animated shorts Story Studio plan to produce over the next year. Furthermore, The Guardian suggests that all five will be released “in the run-up” to the release of the commercial version of the headset – which Iribe refers to as “Oculus Rift CV1”, while Iribe himself, when talking to Ben Lang, says all five films will be available for the CV1 product.So perhaps one way of counting down the time to the release of the commercial headset is to count off the Story Studio films as they appear…

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