Yhorm: a stunning new role-play location in Second Life

Yhorm, NeoShoda; Inara Pey, December 2016, on FlickrYhorm, NeoShoda: the City of Vyhorm – click any image for full size

It stands like one might imagine Tolkien’s Minas Ithil might have looked before Gondor’s fading might failed it, and it fell into corruption as Minas Morgul. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, their flanks cold and hard, the old city of Vyhorm rises into the darkening sky, tier upon tier to a final crowning citadel.

Designed by Stark Osterham (of Insilico fame), the city forms a part of a new role-play environment – Yhorm – he is designing and building with his Second Life partner, Cailin Beorn. Although not officially opening until around mid-January 2017, Caitlyn and I had the opportunity to tour the city and the region thanks to our resident Sim Detective, Shakespeare (SkinnyNilla), who passed on news about the region. Our visit also gave me the chance to chat with Cailin and Stark about Yhorm.

Yhorm, NeoShoda; Inara Pey, December 2016, on FlickrYhorm, NeoShoda: the City of Vyhorm

“You are certainly a nerd!” Stark joked when I raised the Minas Ithil comparison. “Yeah, I had some sources that helped with inspiration!”

“It’s definitely Tolkien influenced,” Cailin added. “I’m a huge LOTR [Lord of the Rings] nerd! But this was originally a commission Stark took that fell through, and he’s such and incredible builder, I really went along with his creation.”

“The original design was for a city so large it goes out as far as you can see – but on a single sim,” Stark continued. “I said I’d try, but given the space available, it seemed more natural to go up rather than out, and we went from there.”

The city, and the vast cavern-state of Nurem beneath it, are to be the setting for role-play which brings together an interesting mix of flavours. “It’s a dark medieval fantasy,” Cailin said, “But with steampunk elements – flintlocks, airships, and things – here and there. Roughly, it’s about the curse and corruption which has befallen the old city, the lives of the people living within it, and those who can be found in Nurem. We have a backstory available for those who would like to read more.”

Yhorm, NeoShoda; Inara Pey, December 2016, on FlickrYhorm, NeoShoda: the City of Vyhorm

Vyhorm itself is massive and intricate. It – ans Nurem – are reached via a Welcome Centre landing point, which contains the expected elements for a role-play environment: rules, information on races and factions, etc. There are also two maps indicating the key locations within the city and in Nurem. Clicking on the names of these will teleport you directly to them – providing you accept the NeoShoda experience (which also facilities automatic teleport between Vyhorm and Nurem.

Covering almost the entire area of the region, the city is truly massive. It rises naturally on a series of rocky tiers from the great gates to the citadel of the Dark Chapel, separated from the world by high walls. Caught in a perpetual dusk, lights glitter and gleam from a myriad of windows – towers, houses, places of business – and the streets winding between walls and rock are lit by orbed lamps, their light reflecting off the heavy stone, illuminating doors and stairs, blood-red banners and alleyways.

Yhorm, NeoShoda; Inara Pey, December 2016, on Flickr Yhorm, NeoShoda: Nurem

From the well of the great gates through to its upper reaches, this is a city designed to be defended whilst allowing plenty of room of occupation by its citizens. It rises through districts and areas each with its own unique character. Many of the buildings are shells at this point in time, but that will be changing.

“Long term plans is to expand into the buildings and make them into rentable homes or role-play locations,” Cailin told me. In the meantime, the public locations within the city’s heights provide plenty of scope for interaction: the arena, the public baths, the academy, the barrows, and topping it all, the Dark Chapel itself, wherein grows the fabled NightRoot.

Vyhorm is a realm enfolded in darkness and shadow, teetering on the brink of a long plunge into darkness as corruption steals through its streets and alleyways. By contrast, the cavern realm of Nurem (located on the ground level of the region) is a world of light and warmth. This is where the Hunters reside. Recruited from the Tuatha (which I believe is an elven race), they were once seen as the saviours of Vyhorm, but now they are feared by the people of the city, and allowed into it under sufferance.

Yhorm, NeoShoda; Inara Pey, December 2016, on Flickr Yhorm, NeoShoda: Nurem

While it can be reached from the Welcome Centre, Nurem is connected to Vyhorm in two ways. The first is via the Cavern Gates – rocky arches seemingly leading into rough-hewn tunnels, but which are in fact teleport points allowing transit back and forth. The second is harder on the body – and strictly one way. “There is a large section in the heart of the city,” Cailin said. “If you fall into it, it will also drop you down into the cavern, as Nurem sits directly under Vyhorm.”

Like the city, Nurem spans the entire region, presenting a huge vista of rock and stone fingers rising from the watery floor of the cavern. Bridges span the air between these blunt needles of rock, linking the structures built upon them. These building offer an interesting mix of medieval  and industrial looks, while an airship adds a further juxtaposition between steampunk and fantasy.

Yhorm, NeoShoda; Inara Pey, December 2016, on Flickr Yhorm, NeoShoda: Nurem

Not all of the structures are in good repair; several – notably the central ones – lie in ruins, the bridges radiating outward from them also pitted, holed and broken. Might they have once been bombarded by the city high above? But more ruins rise from the flooded base of the cavern, suggesting some natural cataclysm may have befallen Nurem. Beneath the water lies a further realm of fish and creatures, further emphasising how Stark has made full use of the 3 dimensions presented by a region.

Given their involvement in Insilico and love of role-play, Cailin and Stark have brought a wealth of experience to Yhorm, so those wishing to join in with activities are liable to find things engaging and involved. For my part, I cannot get over the region build; “stunning” doesn’t adequately describe it. Yhorm is one of the most involved, intricate and spectacular designs for a role-play environment I’ve seen in a very long time – all the more so when you consider it is neatly packed into a single region. For the last three days I’ve been back and forth, exploring, climbing and looking, and remain utterly bewitched by its form and feel.

If only I were a capable role-player!

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My thanks to Cailin and Stark for their time, and to Shakespeare for the pointer. As noted in the article, Yhorm is on a “soft” opening now, with visitors welcome – but please note some things my be in a state of flux. An official opening is expected in January, please refer to the website for details.

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Saturation in Second Life

Saturation
Saturation

“I’ve chosen to play on the definition of the word “saturation” to encapsulate two of my favourite recurring themes: colour and water,” Freyja Merryman says of her exhibition, Saturation, now open at the Paris METRO Art Gallery.

“I often find myself using the allegorical and transportive nature of water to reflect emotion. In a similar way, with the use of colour I hope to be able to convey, perhaps, an emotional and physical reaction. A visceral way to experience  the stories I try to tell. I hope you enjoy them.”

Saturation
Saturation

Within the gallery, which has been decorated to resemble a watery environment – both above and below the waves, given the colour scheme and overall setting – Freyja offers 14 avatar studies, all of which have been photographed in Second Life, then painted and finished in GIMP. All are striking, with all but two featuring water in some degree, and several incorporating that saturation of colour she mentions in her introduction.

But there is more here as well. Freyja notes that since entering Second Life in 2008, she’s become fascinated trying to recreate the enchanting symbolism of the myths and fairy story illustrations which have been an influence in her life since her childhood. Sometimes this has given rise to dark pieces, other times sensual, romantic or erotic pieces, all of which reflect Freyja’s Second life in some way.

Saturation
Saturation

Given this, it is hardly surprising that each of these 14 images carries within it a strong sense of narrative – far more than a single tale, but the feeling that were we to step into any one of them, we would find ourselves within an entire folk tale or legend. There is a sense of wonder with each of them which draws the observer to each in turn, even with Drowned I and Drowned II, which also seem to be experiments in light, colour and angle, whilst Drowned III, completing the trilogy, offers perhaps the most open door into the tale being told within them.

Facing these across the gallery space are three nude studies which I can only describe as utterly bewitching, whilst the magic continues upstairs with eight further pieces – and I challenge anyone not to be captivated by The Reflecting Pool.  A superb exhibition, and one not to be missed.

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Engadget and VentureBeat visit Sansar

The new Sansar logo (courtesy of Linden Lab)
The new Sansar logo (courtesy of Linden Lab)

There have been a couple of articles on Sansar in December, each of which touch upon Second Life. While both retread ground already familiar to those of us who have been following Sansar’s development. However, hidden within them are some interesting little nuggets.

Appearing in the December 17th edition of VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi’s Linden Lab’s Sansar will take virtual worlds far beyond Second Life, caused umbrage with at least one pundit, leading as it did with the statement “Second Life is by far the most successful virtual world ever created”, resulting in some kind of kindergarten like comparison of “who has the most”.

Dean Takahashi, lead writer, GamesBeat
Dean Takahashi, lead writer for VentureBeat’s, GamesBeat

Yes, there are other virtual / game environments out their with a larger cache of active users; but then, do any of them present the kinds of opportunity  for revenue generation on a scale achieved by Second Life? Does it really matter which has the most of what?

No, not really. Of far more interest to me is what Takahashi has to say about Second Life – the fact that it is still going strong – and about Sansar.

Foremost in this – although easily unnoticed – is the reference the Sansar opening its gates to the public at large in “early” 2017.

Over the last few months the Lab has talked in terms of “Q1 2017” as the time frame for Sansar’s opening out. It’s a precise time frame, indicating a period between the start of January and the end of March. “Early 2017” is somewhat less precise, and while Takahashi may be using the phrase as a different means of stating “Q1 2017”, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps his wording is indicative that the Lab is now looking a little beyond Q1 2017 for opening Sansar to the public.

If so, it wouldn’t be surprising. Slippages happen with big projects, and shouldn’t be unexpected or seen as sign that something is “wrong”; it’s simply the nature of the beast. And we have already seen it at least once with Sansar, when the opening of the Creator Preview slipped from the target of June 2016 to August 2016.

Elsewhere in his piece, Takahashi pulls out the WordPress analogy. This is something we’re all probably tired of hearing, given it’s been raised in just about every interview / report on Sansar during the course of 2016. However, that doesn’t make it any the less important, because it is one of the central reasons why Sansar could reach a much, much broader audience than Second Life has managed to achieve, and Takahashi observes:

Rather than one continuous world, Sansar is a set of virtual spaces that will be a lot more accessible than Second Life. You could, for instance, share the link to your virtual space on social media and invite people to visit it that way. With Second Life, you typically visit the site, download the client, create your avatar, and then join it.

Second Life users looking unfavourably on Sansar has made much of this lack of it being a “continuous world”. but while we, as Second Life users are undoubtedly conditioned by the presence of the map, the same isn’t automatically true for a broader audience of the kind Sansar is being aimed towards. They’re liable to be far more interested in finding and accessing the experiences they want to enjoy and then having the means to possibly jump to other points of interest, regardless of whether or not they are in any way “geographically defined” one to another – perhaps via teleporting, something Ebbe Altberg hinted might be the case when talking to Occipital’s Mark Piszczor back in June.

Nick Summers, associate editor, Engagdet UK
Nick Summers, associate editor, Engagdet UK

In writing Second Life’s creator is building a ‘WordPress for social VR’ for Endgadget on December 21st,  Nick Summers also examines how people will move between Sansar experiences, referencing the use of an “Atlas” search directory (something we’ve also previously seen demonstrated). This appears to be akin to the SL Destination Guide, presenting a means for Sansar users to hop between connected experiences much as we hop around Second Life.

A further point of interest between the two pieces – which cover a lot of common ground in terms of what the reports are shown within Sanasar – is the manner in which the one article raises a question and the other answers it.

Take object manipulation. Up until now, the vast majority of object manipulation in Sansar has been sown in the Edit Mode, although it has been indicated that some basic manipulation will be possible in the run-time environment (and we’ll certainly need to interact with objects in the run-time environment if we are to sit on them, drive them, fly them, etc). However, Takahashi refers to moving a palm tree around and bouncing rubber balls about. So is object manipulation not more accessible in the run-time space?

Summers’ article suggests not, noting that manipulation in the run-time environment is still “limited”, and referencing the edit more more directly when discussing moving and placing things.  Both offer interesting tidbits which perhaps also help people who may not quite see the “point” or “audience” for Sansar.

Ebbe Altberg moving virtual furniture around in Sansar, demonstrating some of the platform's capabilities at the WSJ.D Live conference, October 24th-26th
So far, object manipulation in Sansar has only been shown in the platform’s edit mode, such as when being demonstrated at events like the WSJ.D Live conference, October 24th-26th. How much of this might be possible in the runtime environment? How will personal object manipulation be handled within spaces you don’t necessarily own, such as a role-play environment where you are a “player”?

Takahashi, for example, references Altberg’s comments that Sansar offers the kind of defined, manageable environment in which a school or architectural might comfortably develop (and have hosted) an immersive educational or design experience without the need to necessarily being in external design talent or partake of an entire MMO / virtual world experience.

Elsewhere, Summers shines a little bit more light on the potential for revenue generation through Sansar for both the Lab and content creators:

It’s unclear how much Sansar will cost for people who want to design their own VR world. Linden Lab envisions a low, monthly fee that will grant creators access to a virtual plot of land. They can build whatever they want on top, and then choose whether to charge an entry fee for visitors. Designers will, of course, also have the option to sell their individual items on the in-game marketplace. Sansar is therefore like a canvas. Linden Lab will provide some basic paintbrushes, but the hope is that artists will bring their own. They’ll pay the company to store and display their work — similar to an art gallery — and then earn some cash when someone requests a viewing or permission to rework it as part of something new.

Taken together, both of these articles complement one another nicely. Yes, they do re-tread familiar ground, but they also – possibly – give us a few new pointers and insights into Sansar which raise the interest level a notch or two.

Silvermoon’s snowy magic in Second Life

50 Words For Snow
50 Words For Snow

Note: I understand from Silvermoon that A Painter’s Link (and with it 50 Words for Snow) might be closing some time shortly after January 6th, 2017.

On December 26th, I wrote about Silvermoon Fairey’s A Painter’s Link, noting the over it she has created a seasonal setting, 50 Words For Snow. The latter is actually one of two wintry designs Silvermoon is offering visitors, the other being December Will Be Magic Again. While separated by teleport, both of these settings in many ways complement one another, giving the appearance of being different parts of the same countryside.

Visitors arriving at, or teleporting to, 50 Words For Snow arrive atop a rocky plateau over which trees denuded of their leaves raise bare branches to the sky, as if trying to ward off the falling snow. Foxes, raccoons and deer wander among the tree trunks, while a path meanders idly through the woodland, enticing the traveller to follow its winding course. However, the keen-eyed may also spot a path close to hand, switchbacking its way down to lower ground.

50 Words For Snow
50 Words For Snow

Those who follow this route may find their way through fir trees and snow to a large house lit from without and within, where kitties rule the roost and wood fires burn bright in hearth and stove. Sitting diagonally opposite the house, in the north-east corner of the region sits a smaller lodge, also under gently falling snow, and with a frozen pond close to hand. Between these two lie opportunities for walking or sitting beside another ice-sheathed pond, a vista of snow-covered land and blanketed hills stretching to the horizon and caught in the soft glow of a lowering Sun.

A lowering sun is also a feature of December Will Be Magic Again, and while brighter and more visible than at 50 Words For Snow, it is nevertheless one of the elements which gives a sense of connectedness between the two. A much flatter place than 50 Words, December Will Be Magic Again is also blanketed by snow which falls gently from the sky, covering track and grass alike, and hiding the frozen waters of a stream from view, leaving its location marked only by rock and bridge.

December Will Be Magic Again
December Will Be Magic Again

Across this flat setting, ringed by trees and low hills, lie two houses and what might be a cottage farm. Smoke rises from the chimneys of two, but all are bereft of furnishings. Outside, and casting long shadows to match those of the houses and trees, horses meander and pick at the grass that has managed to poke its way up through the snow. From across the frozen expanse of a pond, keeping to the edge of the tree line, a handful of deer watch all the comings and goings.

There is a serenity about both December Will Be Magic Again and 50 Words For snow which invites a side-by-side visit to both. Each is also the perfect accompaniment when visiting either It’s A New Dawn or A Painter’s Link down, over which they respectively sit. However, as Silvermoon has indicated to me she may actually relinquish A Painter’s Link (and with it, 50 Words For Snow) in the near future, I would strong suggest you plan a visit to either of these two sooner rather than later.

December Will Be Magic Again
December Will Be Magic Again

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50 Words for Snow and A Painters Link are located on Salomon Beach, rated: Moderate.

December Will Be Magic Again and It’s a New Dawn are located on Leon Beach, rated:  General.

A year end recommendation for three art installations in Second Life

EVRE by Tahiti Rae - closing December 31st
EVRE by Tahiti Rae – closes December 31st

Second Life is an outstanding medium for presenting art, and 2016 has again seen a huge range of 3D, 3D and immersive art exhibitions and experiences presented to users, many of which I’ve been unable t include in these pages – my apologies to all of those I’ve missed.

While it may seem a little unfair given there is such a wealth of art available in Second Life, I’m taking this opportunity to point to three installations in particular which have caught my attention during the year. I’m doing so in particular with two because they will be closing on December 31st, having reached the natural end of their time in-world. However, all three are more than worth the time taken in visiting them, and so if you haven’t done so already, or if you did visit earlier in the year, I’d like to again offer them as destinations for your in-world time this holiday period.

Invictus
Invictus by Storm Septimus – closes December 31st, 2016

The first of these personal choices is Invictus by Storm Septimus, This is a stunning  visual interpretation of William Ernest Henley’s famous 1875 poem of the same name – although it was initially untitled for around the first 25 years of its existence. It is a stirring statement of our innate determination to overcome the adversities we face in life, no matter how dark, and that even with the portal of death awaiting us, we alone determine our fate.

As I note in my review, Storms design leads the visitor through scenes evoked by the words of Henley’s poem, guided by the verses themselves. The imagery throughout is powerful, reflecting not only the theme of the poem, but also a sense of Storm’s own experiences, which themselves add to the sense of immersion we experience. Across a wild stretch of water, reached via rowing boat (symbolic of the fact we are captains of our souls) sits the serene setting of a ruined cathedral. While outside of the poem itself, it is not out-of-place within Storm’s installation, providing as it does a place for contemplation and reflection, complete with symbolism reflective of the poem’s heart.

Preiddeu Annwn, designed and built by Hypatia Pickens, a professor of English at the University of Rochester,  New York, and her students, is a fabulous visualisation of the famous gnomic / philosophical Middle Welsh poem, Preiddeu Annwn (or Preiddeu Annwfn, “The Spoils of Annwfn“). As I noted in July 2016, its function is to provide an interactive means by which the poem and its themes can be explored and better understood, both within itself and with regards to broader medieval Welsh mythology and medieval literature. It is also an extraordinary piece of scholarly art.

The installation allows visitors to explore the poem through and open cycle of paths beautifully laid out in an underwater environment which presents a sense of entering the Otherworld of the poem. For those who follow the route through to the point of “following the waves” can visit a medieval studies library containing holding in all aspects of medieval literature, history, art and theology.

Preiddeu Annwn
Preiddeu Annwn

My final recommendation is another installation due to close on December 31st, having also reached the end of its allotted time within Second Life. It is Tahiti Rae’s EVRE, which opened in September, and formed the subject of an article in this blog shortly thereafter.

EVRE has been very much a living installation, host to numerous events and discussions since it opened, all of which have been reflective of the philosophical core of the installation: are we everywhere at all times?

As I noted at the time, Tahiti is one of the more thought-provoking, consistently engaging and visually aware immersive artists in Second Life, and this is amply demonstrated within the 13 environments present within EVRE, which conduct us through a study of consciousness, connectedness and time. Rich in content and ideas, it fully deserves exploration and consideration; if you haven’t done so already, I strong urge you to find time to visit it before the year’s end and immerse yourself – Just as I do with both Preiddeu Annwn and Invictus.

EVRE by Tahiti Rae - closes December 31st
EVRE by Tahiti Rae – closes December 31st

SLurls and Links

A Painter’s Link in Second Life

A Painter's Link, Salomon Beach; Inara Pey, December 2016, on Flickr A Painter’s Link, Salomon Beach – click any image for full size

Note: I understand from Silvermoon that A Painter’s Link (and with it 50 Words for Snow, located overhead) might be closing some time shortly after January 6th, 2017.

I’ve always enjoyed Silvermoon Fairey’s region designs in Second Life since I first visited  Dawn of Radiance 2013 (see here, here, and here for some past visits). So I was a little surprised to find an LM sitting in inventory for A Painter’s Link, another of her creations, passed on to me by Silvana Casini but which has been languishing without attention – my apologies to both Silvana and Silvermoon for the oversight.

When blogging about Second Life rural scenes, it’s easy to turn to the term “pastoral” as a description, when there is actually little sign of grazing by cattle or sheep or anything else. However, with A Painter’s Link, the word is appropriate: sheep do indeed safely graze under the watchful eye of a shepherd, while further afield in the gently undulating landscape, horses can be found grazing on the grasslands.

A Painter's Link, Salomon Beach; Inara Pey, December 2016, on Flickr A Painter’s Link, Salomon Beach

That said, attempts to describe the region is words are unlikely to do A Painter’s Link justice; this is a place which should be visited to be truly appreciated. Caught in a mix of  Spring’s warm greens and Autumn’s gold and red, the region presents a world of rustic cottages, old ruins, rolling fields, and country folk of a seemingly bygone era going about their work. Only the presence of a bicycle, an upright telephone and a gramophone, with its great horned speaker indicate the era is likely more recent than the clothing worn by the locals might otherwise suggest.

Wonderfully woven into a whole by a meandering stream and rutted tracks, with pools of water fed by low falls, rugged edges to the hills around them, A Painter’s Link carries within it echoes of the great landscape paintings. There is a certain sense of homage within it towards the likes of John Constable – it is hard not to escape thoughts of The Haywain when seeing the cart and horses in the water, with the cottage close to hand. similarly, aspects of another of the cottages brought to mind The Valley Farm.

A Painter's Link, Salomon Beach; Inara Pey, December 2016, on Flickr A Painter’s Link, Salomon Beach

These echoes and suggestions add immeasurably to the appeal of the region. Together with Silvermoon’s eye for detail and composition, they make A Painter’s Link wonderfully photogenic – although I’m sure better eyes and talent than might have brought this fact to the fore far better than I might. And while the default windlight is ideal for photography, this is very much a place which lends itself fully to a range of lighting environments and experimentation.

Nor is that all; A Painter’s Link is equally as welcome to those simply seeking to enjoy the landscapes of Second Life. There are paths to wander, views to be enjoyed and plenty  of opportunities to sit and appreciate all that is on offer, whether it’s on the little wooden deck, watching the cart and horses, under the shade of a tree and looking up towards one of the thatched cottages or cuddling on the blanket spread with fruits and drink within the garden of a cottage.

A Painter's Link, Salomon Beach; Inara Pey, December 2016, on Flickr A Painter’s Link, Salomon Beach

There is also a wonderful sense of life about the region – not only in terms of the horses, sheep and wildlife, but also in the presence of the locals: the shepherd, the farmer and his wife, the little girl with her goose, the cartsman, and the boy with his kite (who is perhaps placed to suggest he should actually be watching over the horses). All of them bring A Painter’s Link more to life and present it as a series of marvellous vignettes waiting to be caught forever in photographs and paintings.

When visiting, check the sign at the landing point for a folder, and be sure to visit 50 Words for Snow, which is located up in the sky – I’ll have more on it myself next time around.

Note: following the publication of this article, Silvermoon contacted me to let me know she may be letting the region go in the new year – so if you plan to visit, please do so sooner rather than later, and do please consider making a contribution towards Silvermoon’s work, which may help maintain this region, or go towards the upkeep of It’s A New Dawn.

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