A Highland Retreat on Second Life

Highland Retreat, January 2023 – click any image for full size

Clifton Howlett, often working in collaboration with friends, is a region designer who always produces something very special to visit and appreciate. Over the years, I’ve written about the various regions designs he has produced / co-produced, from those celebrating Walter Moers’ Zamonia series, which I wrote about in 2020 and again in 2021, and his “hidden” regions (Hidden Lake and Hidden Bottle, which I covered in May and October 2021) and onward. So it was a good deal of delight that I headed off to visit his latest Homestead region design, Highland Retreat.

Built with the support of Coralile Resident, the region is described as:

An idyllic Scottish island perfect for relaxation. With picturesque landscapes, cosy cottage and hidden secrets, it offers a peaceful escape from daily life. Ideal for nature lovers and tranquillity seekers.

– Highland Retreat About Land

Highland Retreat, January 2023

Which is actually saying the very least about this rural, almost pastoral setting; a place rich in inspiration and with a rugged and natural beauty which draws visitor in and invites them to stay.

Visits start on a small isle to the north-west of the region, linked to the larger isle by a small bridge as it spans the narrow channel between the two. A track meanders gently over the undulations of the main island from this bridge, pointing the way generally south-east and passing between and open-air events space using what might the flagstones of an otherwise demolished building or the stones taken from the older walls of the building across the track from it or for the dance floor area.

Highland Retreat, January 2023

The building from which these stones may have come sits on a shoulder of rock, looking over the track and event space to the island’s eastern coastline. The track itself twists around the rocky side of this bluff-like hill to reach the entrance to the building, branching a couple of times as it does so.

To say this it is quite magnificent in design would be an understatement; it is one of the more unique structures I’ve come across in Second Life just for its mix of architectural sensibilities and clear sense of age and semi-organic growth. Called the No Cottage Bizar CM Build, it is by Marcthur Goosson, and while I’ve seen several of his buildings used in public regions across SL, this is the first time I’ve encountered this particular design. It suggests a fortified manor house of the kind common to the north of England and to Scotland, which had been naturally extended during its long occupation, prior to falling into ruin and abandoned (leading to the re-use of old stone for the dance area mentioned above?), only to be given a new lease of life courtesy of modern building materials and engineering techniques.

Highland Retreat, January 2023

Sitting on the island’s highest point and overlooking the channel separating the landing point from the rest of the region, this building has a lot to offer visitors and is highly photogenic in its own right, indoors and out – more, in fact, than might first be apparent. A boardwalk runs outward from the small garden on its west side, connecting it with a large deck built out over the cliffs of the channel. Also on this side of the building, and a little further south from the garden, is a smaller ruin. Built from bricks and mortar, it appears to have been constructed much more recently in the island’s history – but not so recent that it also fell into disuse at some point, the single surviving window suggesting it might once have been a little chapel.

These chapel remnants overlook the sweeping curve of one arm of the track as it passes around a rocky outcrop to reach a small meadow. This is home to a series of standing stones, suggesting the island has been occupied from the earliest times, the stones roughly hewn and lacking the more regular finish associated with more famous henges. A long, altar-like slab of rock sits within them, its top carved, its base wrapped in a low-lying mist. a swirl of wind sweeping a spiral of blackened petals up into the air, sparking the imagination to think of sacrifice and burning…

Highland Retreat, January 2023

To the east of this, the land slopes gently down to the south-eastern coastline, the grass connected to another arm of the island’s track by a further boardwalk. From this headland, complete with bench seat, it is possible to look back along the curving eastern shore and the shallow arc of its bay to where a dock sits out over the water, a motor launch tied-up alongside. The southern coastline can also be partially seen from here, birch trees obscuring some of the view, as it sweeps back west and then north, a little camp site and fishing raft just visible, encouraging visitors to walk to them.

Just as this part of the coast starts to turn northwards, so to does the land rise, forming a grass-covered shoulder to protect the standing stones from sea-spray. Rocky, sloping cliffs drop to the water from here, partially masking the island’s secret: a set of drowned steps sitting above a great archway carved from the living rock, a shimmering blue portal within its span forming a gateway to a hidden cavern – which I will leave to you to visit.

Highland Retreat, January 2023

Set under a suitably dour sky mindful of the weather in Scotland, Highland Retreat offers itself to many EEP settings (I took the liberty of taking some of the photos here under my preferred “travelling” EEP settings), and offers multiple places to sit for those who wish to tarry within its borders either on their own or with someone close to them. Needless to say, opportunities for photography abound, and the entire setting is rich with a sense of place which makes visiting a joy.

In this latter regard, wandering across the grass, poking at the ruins and standing stones, I felt mindful of places along the north coast of Scotland, notably close to the coastlands of Caithness and also, conversely, parts of England’s Northumberland coast (a part of the country I deeply love and have spent a lot of time exploring). In this, Highland Retreat continues the tradition of all of Clifton’s designs in setting free the imagination and letting it roam through the landscapes he and his creative collaborators provide.

Highland Retreat, January 2023

Definitely one to catch while it is available.

SLurl Details

2023 SL SUG meetings week #4 summary

Otter Lake, November 2022 – blog post

The following notes were taken from the Tuesday, January 24th, 2023 Simulator User Group (SUG) meeting. They form a summary of the items discussed and is not intended to be a full transcript. A video of the entire meeting is embedded at the end of the article for those wishing to review the meeting in full – my thanks to Pantera for recording it.

Server Deployments

  • On Tuesday, January 24th 2023, the simhosts on the Main SLS channel were updated with simulator release 577628, comprising an update for HTTP_CUSTOM_HEADER usage in llHTTPRequest(). Previously, a maximum of 8 custom headers were allowed, and each header had a hardcoded limit of 253 bytes. With this update, both of these limits
  • On Wednesday, January 25th, 2023: the RC simhosts should be updated with simulator release 577734, comprising both the HTTP custom headers update described above andthe updates previously deployed to BlueSteel and Le Tigre in week #3), comprising: stability improvements, fixes for a number of bugs, including the one preventing 30-second sound loops from being played back, and introduces new functions to the LSL API to allow for sound playback across any prim in a linkset. The new LSL functions include:

Week #5 should see the deployment of a fresh simulator RC. It will have a fix for key sorting in LSD Find Keys. llVerifyRSA and llSignRSA and llHMAC. A region_rating for llGetEnv and a few more stats in llGetSimStats.

Available Official Viewers

This list reflects the current status of available official viewers on January 24th, 2023:

  • Release viewer: Maintenance P (Preferences, Position and Paste) RC viewer version Monday, December 12, 2022 – No change.
  • Release channel cohorts (please see my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself).
    • Maintenance R RC viewer, version, released January 19 – translation updates and the return of slam bits.
    • Maintenance (Q)uality RC viewer, version, January 18, 2023.
    • Performance Floater / Auto-FPS RC viewer, version, January 4, 2023.
  • Project viewers:
    • PBR Materials project viewer, version, January 19, 2023.
      • This viewer will only function on the following Aditi (beta grid) regions: Materials1; Materials Adult and Rumpus Room 1 through 4.
    • Puppetry project viewer, version, December 8, 2022.

In Brief

  • BUG-233107 “Objects failing to render is happening more frequently of late” – is rising slowly up the priority list, however, from the discussion at the meeting:
    • There may actually be two issues at work, with some conflating them into a single problem, and / or there is an issue impacting both the viewer and the simulator.
    • Both issues may additionally be cause a race condition with messaging, leading to rendering / rezzing problems.
    • It is suggested, pending an actual fix, alt-camming out a good distance, waiting several seconds and then ESC-ing the camera back to its default position can fix both issues by forcing the viewer to call for a complete scene update.
    • One of the problems is most persistent on either initially logging-in or following teleporting into a region; it rarely happens on crossing between regions via foot or vehicle.
  • Please refer to the video below for further discussions at the meeting.