Please note, this is an article about a region open only to members of the [Valium] group (membership fee: L$395, with rezzing rights) for the foreseeable future. The group can be joined in-world by visiting Seiiki (ValiumSL 1, rated Moderate), or through region holder Vally’s (Valium Lavender) profile.
Vally (Valium Lavender) recently extended an invitation for me to visit the latest Valium SL region design, Fresh Air, as it was in the process of opening for group members. It took me a few days to get to the point of being able to take her up on the offer, but as usual, found my visit more than worth the effort.
At a time when many regions across Second Life are decorated for Halloween, Vally has decided to jump past that temptation and land directly on a winter setting – and it is good to see her once again laying out her own designs. It sites surrounded by snowy mountains, apparently rising from a frozen lake on a low island; or perhaps it is simply a humpback hill pushing itself above snow-covered grasslands that flow through the mountains from prairies on either side – although the presence of a rowing boat filled with blankets does perhaps suggest water may be present when the temperature isn’t so low and the snow not blanketing the ground.
But, whichever is the case, the setting presents a gentle, circular rise of land topped by blocks of rock and a number of cabins, out-houses and other structures sitting among fir trees. The buildings vie with the frosted rocks and places where the snow can gather above the surrounding lands. Within this setting, the landing point sits towards the north-east corner, just outside of a cabin converted into a little coffee house.
With cold skies overhead, the snow and the sound of a steady wind, the coffee house with its warm fireplace can easily become an immediate port of call. However, it sits at the end of an icy track that also invites people to walk along and visit the nearby cabins or cross to the large ice rink gazebo that sits nearby. Exactly where you opt to wander, however, is entirely up to you, as the region is easy to explore on foot or – if you prefer, by adding a wearable horse, should you have one in your inventory and prefer that method of transport.
I’m not going to go into a long description of the region and what is waiting to be found; suffice it to say it is a charming winter – *not* Christmas – setting, with a lot a lot of detail both indoors and out. The cabins are all nicely furnished and give a feeling of home, there are swings and benches and more scattered about than encourage sitting outside. This is also a place popular with both dogs and reindeer while birds can be heard in the trees.
Given all that is set out and the fact that rezzing is permitted to group members, there are plenty of opportunities for photography – although in places the mesh snow that is falling can make placing items awkward, together with sitting on some of the various items that may be under the falling snow region, so careful camming can be required when trying to place items or sit. However, this doesn’t detract from the overall genteel beauty of the region or prevent it from being a worthwhile visit.
Please remember, region access requires group membership (L$395).
Cube Republic (of the landscape brand fame), pointed me towards a fabulous build entitled Alexandreia Rhakotis, advising me it was a impressive build. As such, I took the first opportunity to hop over and take a look for myself.
Designed by Kleopatra T. Philopator (Kleopatra Alpha) and Elio Donat, the build is modelled after ancient Egyptian city of Alexandra, towards the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty’s rule over Egypt. It sits within a 3-region setting held by Kleopatra (2 regions) and one by Ellen of Sparta (ellenharriet) that offer a range of period destinations set within the 43-42 BC time frame, although for this article I will be focusing purely on Alexandreia Rhakotis itself.
Also accessible via an airborne landing point that provides access to all of the setting within the estate, the city has been designed to represent how ancient Alexandria may have appeared during the reign of Cleopatra VII Philopator (69 BC – 10 August 30 BC), the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Her life and rule are probably most well known as being bound up with Julius Caesar (a relationship which produced a son, Caesarion, who would become the last Pharaoh of ancient Egypt), and her later affair with Mark Anthony, who came to rely on her for funding and military support during his invasions of the Parthian Empire and the Kingdom of Armenia, and with whom she distributed lands held by Rome and Parthia amongst her children (including Caesarion).
The setting is very much a labour of love for Kleopatra, who described something of its origins and development to me.
I started this work in 2016 with half a region. I’ve always loved Egypt and I developed a passion for the Ptolemaic time. Moreover, this time of Egypt is not well known and it’s a shame because Alexandria was an exceptional city. I have been also very lucky to meet a man who has passion for building, he is a genius! Even so, researching has been difficult, because the city has been the victim of sackings, tsunami and earthquakes that have left much of it underwater, and the rest built over. We used a lot of resources: ancient writings, the work of Jean-Yves Empereur and Franck Goddio and so on.
– Kleopatra T. Philopator, discussing Alexandreia Rhakotis with me
Of course, regions being what they are, compromises have had to be made in the presentation of the city. For example, the island of Pharos, home to the famous lighthouse of the same name, and a part of the natural protection of the city’s Great Harbour, is absent, leaving only a foreshortened version of the Heptastadion causeway, which leads directly to the lighthouse. However, given the Heptastadion alone was said to be 1.2 km long and 200 metres wide, and so would require 5 regions in its own right to be fully reproduced, a lack of Pharos is hardly surprising – and completely understandable. Nevertheless, this is still a simply stunning build: as Cube remarked to me, it is like stepping into one of the models you might find under glass with a museum and walking through it.
Central to the city – as with its inspiration – is the Canopic Way, the principal east-west thoroughfare (although here it runs north to south) that ran through it. In its time, the Canopic Way was home to the majority of the Ptolemaic and Roman monuments, and many of the city’s major buildings and temples, and this is again reflected in Kleopatra and Elio’s build.
These include the Serapeum of Alexandria, the temple to the Graeco-Egyptian deity Serapis, protector of the city, built on the orders of Ptolemy III Euergetes. There is also the Great Library, centre of learning for the kingdom and a centre of learning for the world around Alexandria. This faces the the Caesareum of Alexandria, built under the orders of Cleopatra VII herself to honour Julius Caesar, and believed to have once had the obelisks we today call Cleopatra’s Needles flanking its entrance; whilst just inside the city’s inner gates lies the tomb of Alexander the Great, who established and gave his name to the city, whilst throughout are statues to the likes of Ptolemy, and Hermanubis, a god combining Hermes from the Greeks and Anubis from the Egyptians.
At the end of the Way lies a great palace with laid out gardens, shaded walks, throne room and private chambers. It bookends the core of the Canopic Way by sitting at one end, whilst the homes and places of business for the ordinary populace, set at the other, the latter offered in a stark contrast to the Ptolemaic-Romano grandeur of the main city setting.
To the east can be found the Heptastadion and the Pharos lighthouse, whilst a part of the dockyards of the Great Harbour also sits to the east side of the city, complete with ships berthed at the wharf and under construction on the shoreline. Throughout the city can be found large gold chalices mounted on marble plinths. These are information givers that will provide further note cards on the structures they stand beside / within, and provided in a choice of languages (English, French, Italian and Arabic). Further information can be obtained on a range of subject from the lecterns within the Great Library.
A further point to note with Alexandreia Rhakotis is that it is living place. Not just as a result of it being a place for role-play, but because Kleopatra and Elio are constantly tweaking and improving, building and adding. Some of this is actually noted by the fact there are signs of construction to be found within the city walls (building work was much a part of Alexandria right the way through to Emperor Hadrian). In this, I’d also point out that the vast majority of the structures and elements found within the city have all be uniquely designed and built by Elio, and are not offered for sale, further marking the uniqueness of the city and the setting in general.
While the position of various structures along the Canopic Way might be open to debate (there is some difference between the position of the Great Library here and where it appears on a drawing representing Alexandria in the time of Hypatia (roughly 400 years after Cleopatra VII), for example), this doesn’t actually matter. This is because it is the presentation of the whole, rather than the positioning of the individual parts that makes Alexandreia Rhakotis such an immersive and – dare I say it – educational setting, as well as a play for role-play and other activities, a fact that further adds to the regions being an absolute “must see”.
As noted, this is one of a number of locations within a three region estate that represent the period 43-42 BC; I’ll be covering the rest in a follow-up article.
So, I’ve probably mentioned I’m really not one for the whole “Halloween season” thing, but a couple of years ago I dropped into Miskatonic County, the themed Full region held by Tobiath Tendaze, and tried their Halloween / horror first-person adventure / shoot-’em-up. As it has been a couple of years since that visit, I decided to drop back and see what has changed with the new adventure, Tales of Miskatonic County: Dragon Rising.
In the shadows and back alleys of Miskatonic, evil has returned. Cultists have raised portals and called forth horrors from the abyssal plains to attack the city. Their goal is to restore the reign of the Great Old Ones. This Halloween, a titan will rise!
– Introduction to Tales of Miskatonic County: Dragon Rising
Visitors to the region are delivered to a landing point where the essentials can be picked up – a HUD and a revolver. Both of which are available via boards on the walls of the landing point.
When obtaining the HUD, may be asked to join the region’s Experience. This is a necessary part of the activity, so you should click on the Yes button. Don’t worry about the control permissions being granted over your avatar – these are necessary to the game and will be revoked when you leave the region (those who have previously accepted the Miskatonic experience need only touch the board to receive a fresh HUD).
Once the Experience has been accepted, the game HUD will automatically attach to your screen, and – unseen – a character sheet is created for you, if one does not already exist. This records and saves your progress, and allows you to leave the experience at any time (removing the HUD), and then re-join it at a later time, your progress being automatically uploaded to the new HUD. If you wish to delete all of your progress and start over, click the red cube at the landing point.
I’m not going to explain the HUD in all its glory here, as it includes an option to receive an explanatory note card, so I’ll leave you with a quick image-based overview (right). Do note that the three numbered elements of the HUD can be moved independently around your screen.
Once the HUD is attached, click the Pistol sign on the wall to obtain what looks to be a Colt Python .357 Magnum. While this may not be “the most powerful handgun in the world” (as a certain cinematic cop might say through gritted teeth), you will need it to blast the various nasties you’ll be encountering, preferably before they do you a serious mischief.
To find said nasties, take the teleport portal just outside the landing point down to the ground level and the edge of the town of Miskatonic. On arrival, you’ll need to switch to Mouselook to aim and fire your gun (left mouse-click). The nasties themselves may be wandering the various locations, others might be spawned via a “gateway” and others may burst forth in front of (or behind) you unexpectedly. When they attack you, they will cause damage to your health, shields and armour – so shooting sooner rather than later is advised. Such damage will recover over time, but should your health reach “zero”, you’ll be teleported to the town’s care centre where you can use a hospital bed to recover.
You can also help recover your health in several ways: by consuming the food and drinks that might be found within some of the buildings (which you can move around in 3rd person view as the nasties do not enter them), or by collecting any first aid kits you might find, or by using the energy vials some of the nasties might leave behind when “killed”. In all three cases, left-click the object in question to “add” it to a slot in the HUD’s inventory, then click the slot itself to “consume” the item it contains.
It is possible to simply run around blasting nasties, using the teleport portals (tunnels and covered bridges) to move between the town’s different locations to locate them. However, there is also at least one story awaiting discovery by touching various books, etc., and then reading the contents via the HUD.
However, there are also NPCs – non-player characters – awaiting discovery. Touching one will open a “dialogue” conducted via the HUD that will both provide information (possibly via more than one touch or by clicking the HUD info panel), and one or more quest options, including a list of possible quests which you can opt to complete. (you can select up to 5 quests at a time, opening opportunities for varied game play).
Quests vary in content from continuing the shoot-the-nasty format through to performing rescuing or finding items. Again a note card available through the Help options in the HUD will provide information on the various quests that many be available.
All of which adds up to the opportunity for first-person entertainment. As with 2019, I found that while the instructions on using the HUD, following quests, etc., to be very detailed, the broader brush-strokes of the main story seem to be poorly presented. What is the coming “titan”? What role does it play in the actual activities within the region? Perhaps this is only discovered by completing all quests, etc., which admittedly I have not done. I will say that I found the shoot-’em-up aspect oddly addictive – as I did in 2019 -, although this was tempered by the fact that the game HUD seemed exceptionally slow to respond / update, even when I was the only person in the region.
Nevertheless, if adventure games / hunts are your thing, Dragon Rising may well be worth the time poking at.
Tucked into the mouth of the river Esk on Yorkshire’s rugged coast is the town of Whitby. It’s a place that many from outside of Great Britain might not have heard of, yet it is a place steeped in history and literature. It was, for example, the place from which Captain James Cook learned the ropes (literally and figuratively) as a merchant navy seaman. In fact, the ship on which he completed his first great voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1768-1771), HMS Endeavour, was originally a Whitby “Cat” collier (called the Earl of Pembroke). It is a town overlooked by the ruins of a once great Abbey that, in 664, hosted a synod called by King Oswiu of Northumbria, in order to set fast the rule that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome.
In terms of writing and literature, Whitby was the home to the first known Anglo Saxon monk, Cædmon, who resided at the Abbey during the abbacy of St Hilda (657–680). It was also visited by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, whilst the likes of Elizabeth Gaskell, Lewis Carroll and G.P. Taylor all used it within works of fiction and short stories. And most famously of all, in terms of literature, it was in part the inspiration of, and setting for, Bram Stroker’s masterpiece of Gothic fiction (although arguably, it is far more than that): Dracula.
All of which acts as a long way of introducing the latest public build by Hera (zee9): Whitby: Birth of Dracula, opened as a part of the Halloween season in Second Life, and which is reached via her “Neverland X” landing point, sharing the space with the teleport to Drune Gotham, which I wrote about in September 2021. Now, given I am a huge fan of Hera’s work (and oft wish my photographs could do it real justice), when I say this is yet another superb build, some might opt to see my words as fangirl fussing. However, as one explores Whitby: Birth of Dracula, slowing peeling open its layers of composition, then it becomes obvious that it really has been cleverly brought into being.
The first thing to note about the setting is that it is not intended as a representation of Whitby past or present. Nor is it entirely the Whitby glimpsed through the pages of Stoker’s novel. Rather, it is a rich melding of elements, from the actual locations that feature in the story and are present in Whitby to this day, to representations of the things that are said to have influenced his ideas for the story and elements of Victorian life with which he would have been familiar, through to interpretations as to how Stoker might have imagined scenes from his story as he walked through Whitby’s streets, attempting to thresh out the tale he’d been working on since well before taking a family holiday to the town.
Thus it is that visitors arriving in the setting (DO make sure you have your viewer set to Use Shared Environment via World → Environment) find themselves on the east bank of the river Esk, a stylised version of Whitby’s waterfront hugging the feet of the coastal hills behind. Caught in a brooding night, these streets offer clever little points of interest for those who walk them. There is the bookshop, for example, displaying a large volume on Vlad the Impaler, a touch that evokes both the idea (now regarded by scholars as mistaken), that the character of Dracula was inspired by the infamous Wallachian prince, and the reality that Stoker first came across the name “Dracula” whilst perusing Whitby’s library. Across the street sits a tavern – pubs being very common in Whitby, it being a sailor’s town – that both suggests a place with Stoker himself might have partaken the odd tipple and a place where, within the novel, rumours of night terrors might be softly spoken by frightened townsfolk.
Further along the streets visitor will come across the place of business of Madame Blavatsky, offering both funeral services and occult / spiritual services. It offers a clever linking of many of the underpinning themes within Stoker’s novel on matters of religion, life, death, and afterlife with the life and work of Madame Helen Blavatsky. Whist Stoker may not have met her, her thinking did much to elevate matters of the occult, spiritualism and life and death amongst Victorians, which may also have influenced his writing.
Then there are the famous Whitby steps. While the ones within this setting may not count 199, they do wind up to the headland where sits Hera’s interpretation of both St. Mary’s Church and the ruins of the Abbey that formed such a backdrop to Stoker’s tale. The church, carefully aligned east-to-west, as one would expect, is furnished within and sits with gravestones without. The real St. Mary’s offered further inspiration for Stoker; whilst walking through the graveyard, he came upon a headstone bearing the name “Swales”, which in turn became the name of Dracula’s first victim, after he came ashore at Whitby thanks to the ship he was travelling board ran aground close to the town’s East Cliffs.
The wrecking of Dracula’s ship within the novel actually draws upon a piece of local legend from Stoker’s time: the beaching of the Russian vessel Dmitri. Within Whitby: birth of Dracula, Hera directly references Dracula’s arrival, a sailing vessel lying aground just off the headland, bloody bodies of her crew on her decks, victims of his insatiable appetite, and her precious (to Dracula, at least) cargo still in her hold.
Up on the headland is a further building, representing the manor house said to have been erected in the 1500s part part using stone from the ruins of the Abbey (which fell to the Danes in a series of raids along the coast between 867-870). Here, the building is offered as a combination of potential settings from the book. The hearse and gargoyles to the front suggest it is the place of shelter for Dracula, as do some of the pictures on the walls inside. However, the interior with its large, uncurtained conservatory, mirrored washrooms and comfortable bedrooms, perhaps also suggest it to be the house in which Mrs. Westenra, her daughter Lucy and Lucy’s friend Mina stay whilst holidaying in Whitby; whilst the placement of certain items on tables and within carry cases suggest it might also represent the living quarters for Dr. John Seward at his asylum, the place from which he, Harker and others used to execute their hunting of the vampire under the guidance of Professor Abraham Van Helsing.
To the rear of this house is a garden that extends out to a crypt. This offers further echoes of Dracula, although the glass coffin within the tomb itself is perhaps suggestive of the resting place for fair Lucy, after her being turned, but before her final fate befell her after death. Or, perhaps, it is presented as a place for Mina, once her fate is sealed (unless Dracula is first killed).
And therein lies the magic of Whitby: birth of Dracula. Just is the novel has no singular protagonist, but is instead presented as an epistolary novel, speaking with multiple voices, so does Hera’s setting speak in many voices, each whispering a different interpretation of the places we come across whilst visiting, with some telling the story in their own words and those telling a broader tale of Stoker’s relationship with the town. Different they may be, but together they nevertheless offer the harmony of a setting that perfectly encapsulates the atmospheric essence of Stoker’s novel whilst living our imaginations free to call forth all of the characters within its pages – and even Stoker himself as he vacated in the quiet town of Whitby in the 1980s.
Enjoy the luscious fields, magic forests, bridges over the abyss, horses, cows, and rabbits; take a pause in our tropical greenhouse or relax on the dock; and last but not least, enjoy our rustic mill right by the water. Photography encouraged.
So reads the introduction to Elysium, the Homestead region designed by Wassilian and Amelie (Amelie9 Sautereau), a setting I was recently encouraged to visit – although it has taken me a while to make a visit to it.
Coming at the time of year when many public regions are rich in the colours of autumn and/or heavy with the trappings of Halloween, my visit found Elysium a refreshing place that is still sitting within that period when late summer is considering allowing autumn to take its place on the the seasonal stage.
Comprising a large western island and three smaller island to the east, this is very much a pastoral setting, the large island home to an extensive farm which in turn is the location of the region’s landing point. The northern end of the island offers a highland area on which the farmhouse sits, complete with large greenhouse that has been converted to other uses – be sure to say hello to the two main occupants, Sophie and Levi. This greenhouse sits bracketed between a garden and orchard to one side and the farmhouse itself, open woodland falling away down the northern slope to a open deck. A further copse, leaves turning golden brown as the change of the season approaches, sits before the farmhouse, the garden paths winding between the trees as they form a natural screen between the farmhouse and its view to the east.
This entire corner of the region is a setting unto itself, but it is just a start. To the south, the land drops to fields and barns. The fields look ready for harvest, a scarecrow standing guard to keep birds away – although it has failed to keep the farm’s horses from wandering among the crops and taken the odd snack or two. These lowlands are also home to a comfortable inlet of water from the channels separating the islands, a home to swans and the water mill mentioned in the region’s About Land description.
To the east, two of the islands are connected one to the other by means of a bridge, with a further bridge linking them back to the highland gardens and woodlands of the farm.
Thus, by following one of the winding paths from the farmhouse over the first bridge and along the trail that offers a relaxing journey under the spreading boughs of the trees that top the island and then on to where a tower-like cottage sits. Along the way, the path runs past several places to sit and relax, while those who reach the tower cottage may find one of the farm’s cows has braved the bridges to get there first!
The remaining island in the group can only be reached from the southern farmlands, where a wooden bridge crosses the water to become a board walk that snakes along the side of the remaining island become snaking its way over an inlet to reach the second house in the region, which sits on a legs that allow it to reach over open waters, its decks offering uninterrupted views over the sea.
Elysium is a setting rich in wildlife as well as domesticated animals. Deer are to be found among the trees, whilst waterfowl can be found in or near the waters while rabbits also skip and play. For those who wait, the waters might offer further surprises in the form of a pair of orca swim through the channels separating the islands and from time to time, a humpback whale might be seen breaching off the coast or even within the channels, as it sometimes will follow the orca between the islands.
With tumbling waterfalls, the sounds of cows mooing and birds calling in time with the bleating of sheep, Elysium is a place that feels very much alive (visitors can even try a spot of farming with the tractor – but do take care!). Highly photogenic and welcoming, this is a region charming in its setting and facilities.
Shawn Shakespeare recently poked me concerning Hidden Bottle, the Full region (complete with additional LI bonus) designed by Num Bing-Howlett (Num Bing) and Clifton Howlett, and which originally opened back in May 2021. In particular, Shawn wanted to let me know the region’s design has been updated, making it especially worth while paying a further visit.
Hearing things has changed both piqued my curiosity and my concern. As I noted back in May, Hidden Bottle offered a unique tropical setting of islands linked by cable car, with walks winding through them leading to event spaces and other points of interest. As such, I was leery of that design having been replaced – but my unease was unwarranted: Hidden Bottle retains much of its original iteration, whilst offering something new and different to explore.
Also still to be found are the setting’s two islands and its popular cable car system that provides a primary means of transport. Both of the islands are are both somewhat smaller than they were previously, leaving much more space for water and boats and swimming – although the shallows between the island are prone to being used by sharks for a little bit of paddling around – so swimmers be warned!
From the landing point – located on a deck extending over the water from the smaller, eastern island – it is possible to start explorations on foot, either up into into the rocky honeycomb of the east island, or via footbridge that rises by way of a single spire of rock to reach larger, western island. Or, for those that like to wait for a few minutes before setting out to wander, the deck serves as a station for the region’s cable cars as they sway their way around the eastern island and thence over open waters to the west island before dropping back to the deck.
Two other land masses rise from the water: a northern sandbar that is little more than a ripple rising above the waves, but which is nevertheless home to a quiet retreat; and a southern nub of rock that is home to a lighthouse warning of the shallows and rocks between it and the western island – although the wreck of a fishing boat on the edge of the shallows offers equal warning to their danger during daylight hours.
Of the two islands, the larger is perhaps the more natural in form, rising from its southern extreme to high cliffs at the north end, its flat centre forming a natural path with equally natural stone steps climbing down over its shoulders and slopes to connect highlands with lowlands and little nooks and places to sit – including one within a stone ring. At the northernmost end of the island sits a small beach from which two rocky pillars rise, one the home to the region’s bar and deck, only accessible via the cable car.
The smaller island is stranger in form – and potentially the more interesting to explore as a result. I used the term “honeycomb” above to describe it, and that is how it is; pillars of rock rising from the sands at the island’s base to support great slabs of rock that sit like table tops, the hollows beneath them offering more places that await discovery, their tops home to further places to sit in the open or under shade, bridges strung between them while wooden deck extending out into the air over blue waters.
One of the secrets of this eastern island comes in the form of a portal. Find it, and you can make your way to Zamonia, the other setting created by Numb and Clifton, and the gallery there (both of which you can read about here). Similarly, portals from that region and the gallery will drop you at the eastern island of Hidden Bottle.
Also – and if you can find your way into them – there’s a series of tunnels and caverns to be found winding under the west island. These offer further places to be discovered – including the pirates’ hidden still area referenced in the region About Land description. To make your way into them, look for the pool beneath the south hull’s ribs.
Perfect for photographing under a range of EEP setting and finished with a rich soundscape, Hidden Bottle remains an engaging visit.