The magic of Season’s Cove in Second Life

Season's Cove; Inara Pey, April 2019, on FlickrSeason’s Cove – click any image for full size

One type of region we’ve always enjoyed visiting is the type that feels TARDIS-like; that is, when exploring it, it feels much larger than its individual map tile / 256m-on-a-side would suggest. There are many such regions scattered across Second Life, but one of the most imaginative we’ve recently visited is that of Season’s Cove.

Designed by Muira Mingann (Angelique Vanness) with assistance from Takoda Mingann (Mingann), this full region design ticks a lot of boxes for the avid Second Life photographer. The design is rural / coastal with a strong twist of fantasy, hints of magic; a place where wizardly towers overlook tumbledown dance halls, beaches sit above undersea gardens and tunnels with multiple rooms vie with surprise portals to carry you to places in the sky that further extend the feeling of being in a place that’s much bigger that its physical constraints should allow.

Season's Cove; Inara Pey, April 2019, on FlickrSeason’s Cove – click any image for full size

A visit begins innocently enough: a large terrace towards the centre of the region, cliffs to its back, water below its stone walls. It is home to a little café, a carousel and the first hint of the more mystic elements: a fortune teller’s tent. Two wharves sit below the terrace, each offering a way down the water’s edge – and one allowing visitors to travel much further.

Multiple paths lead away from this terrace. Some go around the plateau that sits above it, running south then west. Others point north and then east, promising to perhaps circle the land and meet with their brethren further around the region. Some climb the shoulders of rock to reach the plateau above, others dip down to the water’s edge and promise another means to circumnavigate the island, or to pass by bridge and track to its eastern lowlands, where beaches face the sea, water cuts a winding channel from the large inlet below the landing point terrace to a small pond, all watched over by the ruins of another tower.

Season's Cove; Inara Pey, April 2019, on FlickrSeason’s Cove

A further path leads inwards, under the high table of rock, to where a labyrinth of tunnels connect rooms one to another as water drips from arched stone ceilings and stone cisterns sit with backs to the walls, offering the weary a chance to drink the water purified by its travel though the sandstone. The rooms within these tunnels offer a mix of interior settings, from small bathing pool to rooms clearly intended for more adult pursuits.

The terrace facing entrance is not the only route into or out of these tunnels: wander far enough around the island or within them, and you will find others. One of these is a wooden walkway that spirals up an open hole on the region’s north-west side. At its top lay numerous further paths waiting to be followed, including one running up to the remains of the old dance hall / theatre which, despite its decrepitude, still offers a place for music to be enjoyed within, complete with tables set for romantic dinners for two.

Season's Cove; Inara Pey, April 2019, on FlickrSeason’s Cove

This is another aspect of the delight found within this region: around every corner, at the end of every path is something new and perhaps unexpected to find. Take, for example, the ruins of a Catholic / Orthodox church, complete with confessional, sitting within the low woodlands, or the quaint traveller’s caravan tucked into the lee of the main plateau and looking west to where a tall, rugged island is home to another ancient tower, more ruins lying below it.

Nor is exploration limited to using your feet. It you have a wearable Bento or Animesh horse, you can wear that and take to the paths and trails whilst exploring – most of the routes through the region avoid stairs and steps (although there are some steps and stairs scattered around, to be sure).

And when it comes to horses – keep your eyes open for pointers to the riding trail. They show the way to what initially appear to be paths passing through rocky arches. They are in fact teleport portals leading to points in the sky – in this case, either the “Season’s Cove Stables” or a riding trail in the sky (just be aware the latter including a giant tree house that is a private residence). Several such portals exist within the region; we found two more (one to a lover’s tryst, another to a “BDSM Dungeon), but there could be others that we might have missed!

Season's Cove; Inara Pey, April 2019, on FlickrSeason’s Cove

Using the portals to connect with these skyboxes will require accepting the region’s experience on the first attempt – but thereafter they should be automatic unless or until you revoke the experience. Be warned, as well, that finding your way back to ground level might take a little work, as some return portals are intentionally hidden. Also, some of the return portals may rotate your direction, with the result yo might step back into the ground-level portal as you try to move clear on landing.

Another element of Season’s Cove that makes a visit a pleasure, is the care with which the design is curated. There is a lot going on the ground, in the air and underwater (look for the steps near the landing point terrace for a way down to the underwater gardens and their delights), neither Caitlyn nor I found our computers under any strain from the load. Yes, fps for me with shadows enabled did drop to the low 20s / high teens, but this can happen elsewhere, and certainly didn’t spoil the visit.

With places to sit and  / or dance throughout, dozens of opportunities for photography and the chance to really explore a quite unique and details setting, Season’s Cove present a genuinely worthwhile and engrossing visit. Should you enjoy your visit as much as well did, do please consider a donation towards the region’s continued presence as a public space.

Season's Cove; Inara Pey, April 2019, on FlickrSeason’s Cove – click any image for full size

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Sansar Product Meetings week #15: custom avatars and contest

Felsenmeer – Silas Merlin – blog post

The following notes were taken from my recording of the Sansar Product Meeting held on Thursday, April 11th intended to be on the subjects of custom avatars, upcoming changes to the Sansar Discord channel, and moderation capabilities in Sansar.

Custom Avatars

First Time Avatar Selection for New Users

  • With the March Jumping and Questing release, new users can select from a range of (user-created) custom avatars via a new carousel (or opt to create their own look using the system avatars via the Customise button).
  • Stats show that around 50% of new user avatar selections are now custom avatars.
  • Custom avatars are currently selected on the basis of:
    • How good it looks in the Lab’s eyes, particularly to gamers.
    • How appealing the avatar is to all allowed age groups. – including whether the avatar is fully clothed (allowing new users to go directly “in-world” to experiences without having to go to the Look Book to customise their look.
    • Whether the avatar can be easily dressed using Marvelous Designer clothing.
    • Whether the avatar is offered for free in the Sansar Store.
  • The selection of custom avatars will continued to be curated and updated.
A sample of the custom (user-created) avatars on the avatar carousel and available at the time of writing to new Sansar users on signing-up

Avatar Contest: New User Carousel Edition

  • To encourage creators to make custom avatars suitable for presentation to new users through the carousel, Linden Lab have launched the Avatar Contest: New User Carousel Edition.
  • Full details are available in the official blog post. However, in brief:
    • Creators are invited to present custom avatars suitable for use on the new user avatar carousel.
    • Avatars must meet the requirements outlined above, and additionally must have properly rigged hands and mouths.
    • Creators may submit up to five entries (but can only win one of the prizes).
    • Five avatars will be selected from entries, and the designers awards S$27,500 each.
    • The onus is on humanoid avatars, or human anthropomorphic avatars.
    • Avatars can be submitted through until 17:00 PDT on Thursday, May 9th, 2019.
  • If the contest proves popular, it may be run again in the future.

Discord Changes

These are due to come into effect from Monday, April 15th, 2019.

  • Those who wish to keep their view of Discord as it is will be able to do so. All of the changes / new features will be on an opt-in basis.
  • A new public channel (or channels) is to be introduced (most likely on Monday, April 15th) alongside the current “user” channels,.
    • This is specifically aimed at those who might hear about Sansar and who want to check the community, etc., before opting to install the client and sign-up.
    • Existing users are encouraged to join the public channel and participate in discussions there, answer questions, etc.
  • The existing “user” channels will remain only accessible for interaction to those with a Sansar account (which will continue to be the point of entry to them).
    • However, the content of the channels will be available for anyone on the public Sansar Discord channel to read.
  • If the public channel aspect doesn’t work as anticipated, it might be rolled back in the future.

Moderation

This was more of a general discussion / feedback session, rather than an announcement of new features or changes to the current moderation / blocking capabilities. Key points from the discussion are summarised below:

  • The current set of moderation tools with their focus on avatar / avatar blocking have been developed from the perspective of helping new users deal with unwanted situations. It is acknowledged that a broader toolset is required,
  • At present, users can block one another’s avatars – useful if someone is being a particular nuisance, but the experience owner isn’t around to intervene, or if they are just being a very specific annoyance for another user. However:
    • There has been feedback that the current blocking is insufficient, as it doesn’t include removing their text comments from local chat.
    • There is no personal block list, so it is difficult for some to determine whom they might have blocked (possibly accidentally) without the subject of their block actually being present in an experience with them (but being invisible to them).
    • How to unblock also lacks clarity.
  • A lack of ability for experience creators to quickly ban troublemakers from causing issues within an experience being enjoyed by others – such as a single-click eject (back to the user’s Home Space?) / ban capability.
    • Avatar blocking doesn’t work in this situation, as it is purely avatar-to-avatar, so the nuisance can still go on to bother others in an event game, and can also be disruptive as they can continue to interact with elements in the scene.
    • Having to record an avatar’s name, then go to Create > Build Experiences > My Experiences > Publish > Publishing Options > Ban List and then add a name is (rightly) seen as too long-winded.
    • This is something the Lab has considered alongside the current moderation tools and are planning to provide. However, it is also something that hasn’t as yet been prioritised.
    • However, the Lab have looked upon such capabilities as being more event-driven (e.g. large-scale events that require specific moderation  / some form of moderator role which would include the required capabilities.
    • The problem with the Lab’s approach is that potentially, without a broader, more accessible set of moderation capabilities available to them, experience creators already in Sansar are reluctant to hold major events of their own, simply because of the overhead involved in taking action against a troublemaker (or worse, a group of troublemakers) with the current capabilities.
  • Part of the Lab’s approach to moderation is to provide tools that allow users to be both pro-active and to consider the options at their disposal in accordance with a situation (does someone’s behaviour actually warrant blocking, or is muting sufficient? Should they be banned for an experience  – where banning is an option – or should they be reported? Should they be banned and reported? etc).
  • As it is, blocking / muting in VR is not that intuitive. The Lab is aware of this and looking to improve things.

Awesome Fallen at the Itakos Project in Second Life

Itakos Project: Simply Dreaming

In 2017, Akim Alonzo launched the Itakos Project as a Linden Endowment for the Arts installation with the aim of presenting the work of SL photographers who, through their images, engage upon story-telling or presenting the ideas of stories, or who seek to present beauty and emotion through their study of the avatar and the worlds around it (see The Itakos Project in Second Life). However, I confess I lost track of the gallery after its 6-month LEA run came to an end. So an invitation to view a new exhibition at the gallery – now in its own location – offered the perfect reason to resume my acquaintance with it.

Simply Dreaming is a remarkable selection of pieces by Awesome Fallen, an SL artist whose work I’ve always been drawn to for her richness of narrative and opening of the imagination. With this exhibit, she presents twelve images on the subject of dreams and dreaming, located in the gallery’s entrance level Grey Pavilion. Surreal, marked by the use of heavy and dark colours and tones, these are perhaps images of the darker side of dreams and dreaming.

Itakos Project: Simply Dreaming

Each is  – and I use this term deliberately, despite the dark tones and subject presented – a beautiful representation of an instance of a dream; the moment of recollection we can all have when awakening from a period of REM sleep, a single frame of our dreaming thought processes captured in the lens or the mind, or which is retained and held subconsciously and returns to us at the first moment of waking in the morning.

In this, the surrealist nature of the images is entirely fitting on at least two levels. The first is that dreams are always linear or logical; as the brain processes its way through our sleep, cataloguing, filing, recalling – or doing whatever really is going on in our dream state – we can become observers to those processes without really being aware of what if going on or why. Thus the mental images that we regard as dreams can be both vivid and ethereal; images lying one over the other, some clear and fresh or vibrant in their emotion (if not necessarily in their colour), others faded and faint. Within their mixing we oft encounter surreal views and disjointed images or flashes of thought that are sharded and broken or at least confused.

Itakos Project: Simply Dreaming

So it is with this images that were are presented with contrasts and juxtapositions: faces split; images that offer a clear view of a subject and a shadowed reflection in the darkness; figures of menace; faces lost; scenes that might be from the day’s activities but turned by the churn of mental processes into scenes that aren’t quite right; negative thoughts and feeling that have become personified. A tumult  of emotions and thoughts given form to become surreal stories without clear narrative except the emotional response they create.

The surrealism approach is also fitting when one considers the origins of this form of art – that of developing painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. The surrealist movement embraced Freud’s work with free association, dream analysis, and the unconscious. Thus, by presenting these images in a surrealist form, Awesome not only maintains the movement’s idealism, she actually offers a visual treatise on the nature of the movement itself, literally taking the art back to its roots through the presentation of dreams as scenes.

Itakos Project: Simply Dreaming

There is more layering to be found within these images. Take for example the stanza-like line repeated in each of them: On the canvas of your soul, with the tips of my fingers, drawing smiles with the colour of my feelings… Not only does this provide a thread that draws all twelve images into a tapestry; it also suggests that through these images Awesome is offering us windows into her dreams – and into our own. In this latter regard, it is perhaps tempting to see these images as perhaps autobiographical, the capturing of personal dreams; this may be the intent, but equally all twelve pieces speak to our own psyches, offering a means for our subconscious to respond. Hence why, perhaps, on seeing these works we might all feel an odd sense of familiarity and recognition as we look upon them.

A fascinating and absorbing collection.

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