Space Sunday: Mars, Starship and a meteor that flattened a city

September 10th, 2021: after successfully gather two samples from the rock dubbed “Rochette” (seen in the foreground, the bore holes clearly visible), the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance paused for a “selfie” using the WATSON imager mounted on the robot arm turret. Credit: NASA/JPL

It’s getting interesting on Mars. Jezero Crater, the home of the Mars 2020 mission is going through a change in seasons, bringing with it a drop in atmospheric density that is proving challenging for the Ingenuity helicopter, which recently completed its 13th flight.

The little drone was designed to fly in an atmosphere density around 1.2-1.5% that of Earth, but with the seasonal change, the average afternoon atmospheric density within the crater – the afternoon being the most stable period of the day for Ingenuity to take flight – has now dropped to around 1% that of Earth. This potentially leaves the helicopter unable to generate enough lift through its rotors to remain airborne.

The solution for this is to increase the rate of spin within rotors to something in excess of their nominal speed of around 2,500-2,550 rpm. However, this is not without risk: higher rpm runs the risk of a significant increase in vibrations through the helicopter that could adversely affect its science and flight systems. Also, depending on the wind, it could result in the propeller blades exceeding 80% of the Martian speed of sound. Sound this happen, the rotor would pick up enough drag to counter their ability to generate lift, leading to a mid-flight stall and crash.

To better evaluate handling and flight characteristics, therefore, the flight team are going back to basics an re-treading the steps taken to prepare Ingenuity for flight. This will see the propellers spun to 2,800 rpm with the helicopter remaining on the ground. Data gathered from this test will be used to make an initial assessment of blade speed required to get Ingenuity off the ground – believed to be somewhere between 2,700 and 2,800 rpm, and make an initial assessment of vibration passing through the helicopter’s frame. After this, it is planned to carry out a very simple flight: rise to no more than 5 metres, translate to horizontal flight for no more that a few metres, then land. Data from this flight – if successful – will then be used in an attempt to determine the best operating parameters for Ingenuity going forward.

The power of Perseverance’s camera: The lower image shows a true colour view of a feature dubbed “Delta Scarp”, captured by the rover’s MastCam Z system from a distance of 2.25 km. The upper picture shows details of the feature, as captured from the same distance, using the rover’s SuperCam instrument.. Credit: NASA/JPL

In the meantime, the Perseverance rover is continuing its work. Following the successful gathering of its first ample, the rover has been further revealing the power of its imaging systems, Mastcam Z and SuperCam, the two camera system mounted on its main mast.

Designed for different tasks, the two systems nevertheless work well together to provide contextual and up-close images of features the rover spies from distances in excess of 2 km away, allowing science teams to carry out detailed assessments before sending the rover to take a closer look. Also, in the wake of the sample gather exercise at the rock dubbed “Rochette”, NASA have provided a general introduction to two more of the rover’s instruments, which are mounted on the turret at the end of the rover’s robot arm. Catch the video below for more.

At the same time, and half a world away, the InSight mission Lander, despite suffering a severe degrading of its power capabilities as dust continues to accumulate on its circular solar arrays, has detected a  powerful Marsquake less than a month after detecting two equally powerful quakes originating at two different point under the planet’s surface.

All three were the latest in a long like of Marsquakes – also called “tumblors” – that have revealed much about the planet’s interior in the almost three years since InSight placed its seismometer on the planet’s surface, including the fact its core is larger than had been believed. The vast majority of the tumblors thus far detected have originated in the  Cerberus Fossae region of Mars, some 1,600 km from the lander. However, on August 25th, a quake measuring 4.1 magnitude was recorded with an epicentre just 925 km from the lander whilst marking it as the most powerful tremblor Insight had recorded (the previous record holder measure 3.7 – five times less powerful).

Captured in July 2021, this image shows InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument dome on the surface of Mars. This is the instrument that has been recording tremblors on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL

But then on the same day, a second quake was detected, hitting 4.2 magnitude, marking it particularly powerful, given its epicentre was calculated to be 8,600 km from the lander, and possibly focused within Vallis Marineris, the “Grand Canyon of Mars. This was matched on September 18th by a further 4.2 magnitude quake – epicentre currently unknown. But what made this tremblor remarkable was its duration – almost 90 minutes! (By comparison, the longest recorded duration of an quake on Earth is under 5 minutes.) Exactly why and how such an event should or could last so long is unknown, and has the InSight science teams scratching their heads.

Did a Cosmic Event Give Rise to the Biblical Legend of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Tall el-Hammam was – up until 3,600 years ago – a thriving centre of life and commerce for an estimated 8,000 people. Located close to the Dead Sea in what is now modern day Jordan, the valley it occupied lay some  22 km west of the city of Jericho and was one of the most productive agricultural lands in the region before being practically deserted for some 500-700 years, the soil inundated with salts to the extent nothing would grow.

The location of the city has been subject to archaeological study since 2005, and researchers there have been struck by the curious nature of what little remains of the city: foundations with melted mud brick fragments, melted pottery, ash, charcoal, charred seeds, and burned textiles, all intermixed with pulverised mud brick and minerals that can only be produced under extremes of temperature and / or pressure. The more the city’s ruins were uncovered, the more the evidence pointed to some terrible calamity having befallen Tall el-Hammam and its surroundings, prompting the archaeologists to call in experts from the field of astronomy, geology, and physics. Their research has lead to the conclusion that the city was practically at the epicentre of a “cosmic airburst”.

Moment of detonation: an artist’s (rather mild) interpretation of the moment a 50m diameter chunk of rock travelling at 61,000 km/h detonated in the skies above Tall el-Hammam, Jordan, 3,600 years ago in a 15 megaton blast that obliterated the city in seconds. Credit: Allen West and Jennifer Rice, CC BY-ND

In short, 3,600 years ago, a piece of rock probably 50 metres across slammed into the atmosphere at 61,000 km/h. It survived the initial entry and fell to an altitude of approximately 4km above Tall el-Hammam before air resistance finally overcame its integrity. The result was a  15 megaton explosion that instant drove air temperatures to around 2,000ºC, enough to instantly flash-burn textiles, wood and flesh, and melt everything from swords and bronze tools to pottery and mud brick.

Seconds later, the shockwave from the explosion struck the city. Travelling at 1,200 km/h, it utterly pulverised what was not already aflame. Roughly a minute after the explosion, that same shockwave rolled over the city of Jericho, probably demolishing a good portion of its defensive wall and the buildings within it. That same shockwave also impacted the Dead Sea, potentially lifting vast amounts of salt water into the air, which rained back down over the valley, rendering it infertile for the next few hundred years, until rainfall could wash the salts out of the top soils.

The evidence for the cataclysm comes in multiple forms, from the melted pottery and mud brick through the clear evidence the city was pulverised in a manner that left a clearly defined “destruction layer” within the ruins, to the fact that within those ruins are deposits of shocked quartz, which are only formed when grains of sand are compressed with of force of 725,000 psi, and microscopic diamondoids, produced when carbon materials (e.g. plants, wood, etc.), are simultaneously exposed to massive extremes of temperature and pressure, and are a hallmark of ancient impact sites around the world.

A satellite image of the Middle East, showing the location of Tall el-Hammam on the northern coastal area of the Dead Sea. Satellite image via NASA

The ruins bring home the very real risk posed by near-Earth objects as they zap around the Sun, crossing and re-crossing Earth’s orbit. That a cosmic object also brought about the destruction of a small city and its 8,00 inhabitants raises the question of whether someone witnessed the event (obviously from many kilometres away) or its aftermath, and the telling and re-telling of the tale of destruction eventually morphed into the Biblical tale Sodom and Gomorrah, the two “cities of the plains” of the Dead Sea (and therefore potentially close to the site of Tall el-Hammam), supposedly destroyed by God in a rain of fire and rock falling from the sky.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Mars, Starship and a meteor that flattened a city”

Second Life Multi-Factor Authentication: the what and how

via Linden Lab

Linden Lab has announced the initial introduction of Multi-Factor Authentication for Second Life accounts, and has done so in request to numerous requests for increased account security from users to protect personal data.

Traditional user name and password requirements (referred to as single factor authentication) have long be regarded as vulnerable to hacking – up to and including “long” passwords involving alpha-numeric combinations, as the recent publishing by hackers of a 100GB text file of 8.4 billion passwords demonstrated. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) adds an additional layer of protection when accessing personal or protected information on-line, and does so by using a combination of elements.

Rather than relying just on something you know (your user name and password), MFA requires a combination of something you know, together with at least one of something you have (such as a electronic token /device capable of generating such a token, something inherent to you (e.g. a fingerprint, your voice, etc), or where you are (e.g. using a specific network connection or via GPS location).

Of these, Linden Lab is implementing MFA based on something you know – your user name and password – and something you have, in this case an authentication token in the form of (preferably) a 6-digit code that can be generated via a user’s smartphone or tablet from a unique QR code from Linden Lab.

With the introduction of MFA, it is important to stress – as noted in the official documentation – that:

  • It is entirely opt-in: you decide if you want to use it or not.
  • It is currently only being applied to the sensitive account information accessed via Account drop-down menu on the left of your Second Life dashboard (so the options relating to account password change, payment method change, transaction information, e-mail settings, etc.).
    • It does not currently impact or change how you log-in to Second Life using any viewer / client.
    • It will be extended across further Second Life web properties (e.g. the Marketplace, etc), in time, and eventually to the viewer as well.
  • E-mail authentication is being developed.
  • Information and initial instructions for setting-up MFA can be found here.
  • Even with MFA enabled, you should still routinely change your Second Life password, using strong and unique options in accordance with best practice.

Setting-Up MFA

Setting-Up MFA is actually relatively straight-forward, and is carried out from your account dashboard via Account → Multi-Factor Authentication.

Selecting this option will display an initial page outlining the process, together with a Get Started button at the bottom.

Accessing the MFA set-up page, and the QR Code / set-up key page (see below)

To complete the process, proceed as follows:

  1. Install a suitable MFA app on a device with a camera (if using the QR code approach). I opted to use Google Authenticator.
  2. Read the introduction notes via Account → Multi-Factor Authentication (above left) and click the Get Started button.
  3. A page will be displayed on your screen with a unique QR code and set-up key.
    • Make sure you make a note of the set-up key – you may need this to help unlock your account should you be unable to use your authenticator of choice.
    • If you are using the set-up key alone, skip to step 6.
  4. Launch your authenticator app and select the option to scan a QR code, then:
    • Point the camera to the QR code on your screen so it is centred within the frame / cross hairs.
    • When positioned correctly, the  authenticator app should automatically capture an image of the QR code (or if a button is available to tap, tap that.
  5. The app will update to show a page that displays your Second Life account name and a 6-digit account token (2 groups of 3 numbers separated by a space).
    • Note this code will update every 30 seconds.
  6. Click Continue on the MFA set-up page. It will update to prompt you to enter two tokens into two fields on the page (see below).
    • If you are using the 6-digit token generated by the QR code, type the displayed code (including the space) into the first field.
    • Wait for the display yo update with a new 6-digit token, then enter the second code into the second token field.
    • If you are using the set-up key, enter this into each field.
  7. Click Activate MFA.
  8. Providing you have done everything correctly, you’ll be informed MFA is now successfully active on your account.
Entering the tokens generated by your MFA app: one unique token per field, as generated by the authenticator app. If you are using the set-up key given on the MFA page, enter that.

How it Works

When MFA is active on your account, clicking any option in the Account drop-down menu to which it has been applied will display an MFA Challenge page.

The account options that – at the time of writing – will present the MFA challenge page. Use your MFA app to obtain a 6-digit code

The MFA Challenge page requires you enter one new token, as generated via your MFA app (or use of the set-up key). Just open the app, select your Second Life account (if using MFA on more than one account – if you are using MFA on just a single account, it will be displayed be default), and then enter a fresh 6-digit code as generated by the app.

Removing MFA

As the official documentation notes, you can disable MFA at any time using Account → Multi-Factor Authentication, entering a code from your app OR enter your set-up key and then click on the Remove MFA button.

Official MFA Links

Mojo Linden, the Lab’s new Engineering VP discusses SL at TPVD meeting

Andrew Kertesz

Linden Lab’s new Vice President of Engineering, Mojo Linden (aka Andrew Kertesz) dropped into the Third party Viewer Developer meeting on Friday, September 17th, both to say a few words and field some questions. These notes offer a summary of his  comments, together with some audio extracts.

When reading / listening to the following please note:

  • The bullet points within the topics are designed to help provide context to the audio.
  • Unlike my usual approach, I have not attempted to group comments by topic per se, but have ordered things as they were discussed through the TPVD meeting, so that the notes and audio extracts here do parallel the video recording of the TPV meeting, which is embedded at the end of this piece.
  • The audio extracts have been edited to remove pauses, repetitions, etc., and to remove break-in comments from others at the meeting. However, in doing this, every attempt has been made to maintain the actual context and meaning of Mojo’s comments.

Mojo’s Background

  • Mojo started his career at Microsoft, spending over 16 years working on a variety of products and services: Visual Studio, the DirectX API, XBox development (technology and game development). This also saw him help establish the Forza Motorsport Studio and work on a lot of the major Microsoft games like Halo.
  • Joined a former CTO for XBox at IGT (International Game Technology), a company producing slot machines, where he worked in a highly regulated software environment.
  • Moved on to Double Down, another gambling / gaming group, where he worked on mobile apps.
  • Thereafter moved to Level Ex, a company specialising in making games specifically aimed helping doctors face the chellenges of modern medical practice.
  • Developed a significant interest in virtual worlds and virtual spaces, which led him to join Linden Lab.

On performance and General Improvements

Mojo Linden

Following his comments about working on DirectX APIs, Mojo was asked if enhancing the viewer’s rendering capabilities would be a focus for him in terms of determining projects at the Lab, and also responding to comments about the value of working to fix issues and properly polish features and capabilities, rather than trying to push “big” new features.

  • As he was unclear on all the the Lab’s preferences regarding mentioning specific projects and times lines, was understandably cautious about talking in detail about specific projects.
  • Having had exposure to graphics APIs has an interest in improving rendering in Second Life.
  • However, has a broader interest in improving overall performance, which he sees as much a part of the platform’s feature set as any new features.
  • Agrees with the view that many users would prefer to see fixes and improvements to current capabilities rather than a massive push for new shiny features, and notes that the Lab is looking to “delight” its user community.
  • Acknowledges the point-of-view that functionality isn’t always delivered in a manner users were expecting it to work and that capabilities can be delivered / added, but then fail to receive the degree of polish that would make them more fully usable.
  • Indicated that LL have been discussing different lighting models  – and in doing so mentioned he has been made fully aware of the expectation among many users that whatever is introduced does not “break” existing content, etc.
  • Recognises that SL has a lot of users with a deep understanding of the platform, and is already thinking on ways that could be leveraged to help expand the platform and give practical improvements.
  • In this latter regard, he realises that TPVs have done a lot of work in the area of performance for themselves, and is keen to explore how this work can be better leveraged.

About Avatars, Complexity and Performance

  • Recognises that unbounded avatars with high complexity are not good for performance.
  • Questioned whether it is better to throw controls and options at users for them to deal with performance issues they hit, or whether it would be better for the viewer to deal with matters more inherently, based on the user’s system.
    • An example of this might be the viewer being able to more intuitive handle very complex avatars though automated imposter, etc., based on the capabilities of the system being used to run the viewer, etc.
  • During the discussion, Vir gave a brief recap on project ARCTan (the work to realign complexity calculations, starting with avatars), and Mojo questioned whether the user community is offering potential solutions (Beq Janus and Elizabeth Jarvinen (polysail) have been looking extensively at the question of avatar meshes – see my CCUG / TVPD meeting notes for more on this).
  • Is aware of the issues of avatar customisation, and is open to hearing back from those who directly face the issues new users have with their avatar looks, etc., on what might be done to improve things.

(My apologies for the sound balance in the extract below – the recording software went slightly wonky during the mid-point of recording the meeting, and attempts to re-balance after the fact didn’t exactly work…)

On Making Changes and Bringing New Users to the Platform

  • (Alexa Linden pointed out that Mojo has been through the avatar selection / customisation and experiencing its pinch-points, and since joining the Lab has been spending time in-world exploring.)
  • In terms of changes and improvements, Mojo is very aware that users can be resistant to change, particularly around things like the UI, where muscle memory plays a big role and people are simply unwilling to learn how to do things differently.
    • Alexa noted that Lindens are not immune to this, and the push-to-talk change in the current RC viewer has resulted in much internal grumbling about having to change behaviour.
  • He is very aware that the viewer has to address (broadly speaking at least) two different audiences: those who simply want to come aboard Second Life and grip to grips with the basics, and those who are more experienced in using the platform and want to carry out more advanced activities.
  • In this, he (again) recognises the value of TPVs and the commitment of the user base as a whole to Second Life and its growth, and so is interested in exploring opportunities for his own engagement with assorted parties via meetings and other possible forums of exchange / engagement. As such, he intends to drop into things like the TPVD meetings as often as he can – particularly if there is specific news to announce.

For completeness, here’s the video of the TPVD Developer meeting with Mojo’s input:

In the press: Second Life, Tilia Pay & the Metaverse

Friday, September 3rd saw an article by VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi – no stranger to Linden Lab, Second Life and LL – doing the rounds, entitled Will the metaverse bring the second coming of Second Life? While I personally find the term “the metaverse” to be one of the must frequently over-hyped / over-used terms in recent years, Takahashi’s article makes for an interesting read on a number of levels.

The first is that VentureBeat is a well-regarded tech news and events on-line magazine that includes the supplement GamesBeat that focuses on the world of computer, mobile and video games. Between them, they draw down some 6 million unique visitors a month and 12 million page views. That’s potentially a lot of exposure for articles within the publication, and Takahashi’s article was a headline piece for GamesBeat’s front page (although it has since slipped down the ranking somewhat).

Dean Takahashi, lead writer, GamesBeat

The initial part of the article is something of a re-tread of Second Life’s history for those of us familiar with the platform. While the ground covered may well be familiar (and the quoted numbers possibly subject to quibbling in some quarters), this re-treading nevertheless frames SL for those not familiar with it or were unaware it is still around and doing moderately well for itself.

This part of the article also helps frame Linden Lab as an “elder statesman” (so to speak) of the user-generated content frontier, having long since tackled many of the issues and hurdles that those attempting to now define and provide “the metaverse” are just starting to tackle. All of which makes for good reading and certainly helps carry the message that in this day of Facebook, Microsoft, et al trying to foist their visions of what “the metaverse” should be, Linden Lab has the right to say, “been there, done that – and still doing it!”.

However, it’s the latter part of the article that drew my focus, with its referencing of both Tilia Pay and recent moves on the part of the Lab to develop “partnerships” to try to “grow” SL. Both of these are also parts of the article I’ve witnessed as causing some negative gnashing of teeth in some circles, which has also framed my thinking in writing this piece.

In particular, Takahashi’s revelation that Tilia Pay has cost Linden Lab $30 million has raised eyebrows and some grumblings about what this might mean for Second Life’s future.

via the Tilia Pay website

This needs a little context. While LL has spent what seems like a huge amount of money on Tilia, as Takahashi notes, it has been over a 7-year period, starting not long after Ebbe Altberg joined Linden Lab as CEO, and the initial expenditure was required; as Takahashi goes on to point out, for a company like LL to be able to make pay-outs to users (and generally handle fiat money on behalf of its users) it must comply with a range of US federal, state, and international regulations.

In terms of US requirements, this has meant LL had to become a licensed money transmitter at both the federal and state levels – a move more easily achieved by ring-fencing the services that handle all payment processing / transfer into an entity of their own. Had it not do so, then LL would have hit a wall in its ability to make pay-outs. Beyond this, Tilia Pay’s regulated services benefit Second Life in a number of other ways (allowing the use of credit / debit cards within services such as the Marketplace through to assisting with overall user account management and security, for example).

Obviously given a large amount has been sunk into Tilia Pay, it is natural for the Lab’s new owners to want to leverage this expenditure. But this doesn’t mean Tilia Pay and Second Life are, or will become, an “either / or” proposition for the Lab’s future direction.

Rather if Tilia can be made a success, it would mean that Linden Lab – after more than a decade of trying – has gained a second revenue stream it can utilise to help it remain viable moving into the future. Further, it’s long been the philosophy at LL that as long as SL has users enough to ensure it remains a healthy generator of revenue / income, there is little reason to shut it down / sell it, and I’d question this philosophy being radically altered by the success of a second product within the company’s portfolio.

At the end of the piece, Takahashi brings in the subject of Zenescope, and LL’s focus on “partner collaborations”. This appears to be part of what has been referred to as the drive to grow the user base.

It’s not necessarily a bad idea – working with organisations that have established audiences of their own and which could leverage Second Life to add a new dimension of engagement for those audiences. However, it is one that has some significant hurdles to clear: attractions have to be built-out, events need to be organised and run at a tempo that keeps an incoming audience engaged and coming back at a reasonable cadence to make the effort worthwhile, and their must be a path to a practical return on the investment made (time, effort money), and so on; to say nothing of getting people into the experience and comfortable with the viewer UI.

Zenescope Metaverse a new partnership endeavour involving Linden Lab opened in August 2021, but failed to capture the imagination for me See: The Zenescope Metaverse In Second Life

There’s also the question that, even if successful in bringing an audience to Second Life, just how well such partnerships might actually convert members of the audience into engaged Second Life users – something that will be an important measure of success by the current user base, if not necessarily to LL or their partners, who will likely use other criteria to measure the success of these ventures.

In mentioning such partnerships, Takahashi’s piece open the door to broader thinking around where LL might potentially go with this idea in the wake of of the move to AWS.

For example, it’s already been hinted that at some point, LL might look to offer an “on-demand” product. Doing so could potentially be advantageous to potential partners, in they it present a way for them to offer their users experiences in Second Life at a more advantageous price that a 24/7 product that might only be used once or twice a week. Beyond this, there is the question of whether LL might consider entirely private grids for dedicated partners / clients / markets, and even white-labelling such a capability if they did so (thus essentially providing a Second Life Enterprise style of product in a manner and cost that would be far more appealing that that endeavour).

However, given these thoughts do go beyond the article, I’ll put them to one side for now, and just say that if you haven’t already done so, I do recommend giving Will the metaverse bring the second coming of Second Life? a read.

A closer look at the Linden Fantasy Homes and their sub-continent

Linden Homes Fantasy Theme

The Sub-continent of the new Fantasy theme of Premium Membership Linden Homes started coming on-stream on Thursday, August 12th, with an initial three regions being release, those with more being made available from the 13th onwards.

These new Homes have generated a lot of interest since there initial unveiling at the SL18B event in June, 2021. As indicated during Patch Linden’s Meet the Lindens session, these homes not only have their own styling, they are set within regions that have very different landscaping to the rest of Bellisseria, together with a custom ambient environment across all of the regions, which includes seasonal variations to go with the passage of the year.

All of this being the case, the decision was made to keep the Fantasy homes to their own sub-continent, separate from, but still a part of (in terms of naming and location) Bellisseria. As such, the new regions ley south of the Bellisseria extension that initially housed the Log Home theme, and eastwards of the Victoria Homes extension that allowed Bellisseria (with the aid of additional houseboat regions) to connect to Jeogeot. This position gives a fair amount of room for southward expansion, should it be required.

The new sub-continent, nestled south and east of Bellisseria “proper”, and east of Jeogeot

The theme encompasses four primary styles of home which, as I’ve previously described, are:

  • Amberbrooke: a large, open-plan central room with stairs to the upper level and front and rear access, flanked by two additional rooms. Upstairs are three rooms, with the central room featuring a balcony overlooking the rear of the property.
  • Mistbrooke: a large, single-level house with central entrance hall flanked by two rooms on either side, the two rearmost of which each provide access to a small terrace / patio sitting between the wings of the house.
  • Rosebrooke: central entrance hall, flanked by a large room to the right with access to the rear of the property, and a smaller room to the left. Stairs from the hall provide access to a landing with a room to either side, each with skylights.
  • Stonebrooke: a turreted entranceway provides access to a large main room with access to the rear of the property and further access to an inner hall / room that in turn leads to three further rooms.
The new Linden Homes Fantasy Theme – Amberbrooke

At the time I wrote about these style, I speculated whether these might also be offered in open plan variants as well, as happened with the Chalet Homes – and this was confirmed by Patch. Whilst the initial release will be of the the styles noted above, their equivalent open-plan variants will, I believe be:

  • Angelspell: a variant of the Amberbrooke, which combines the large central room with one of the two flanking rooms to provide a large ground-floor space with a second room to one side. Upstairs, a wall has been removed to provide a large landing / open room  with balcony access, whilst retaining the rooms on either side of it.
  • Moonspell: a version of the Mistbrooke, with a single large L-shaped room, and a single separate room in one of the rear wings.
  • Ragespell: a variant of the Rosebrooke, presenting a large open-plan ground floor room with stairs and access to the rear aspect, a single ground-floor side room, and upstairs a single large room accessed directly from the stairs, and a smaller side room.
  • Steepell: a version of the Stornebrooke, again with a single large room off of the turreted entrance, and a smaller front room.
Linden Homes Fantasy Theme: the interior of the Moonspell, the open-plan variant of the Mistbrooke

In my original piece on this theme, I critiqued it for being a little too “English Cotswolds meets Lord of the Rings”. in form, and felt that – accepting the unique ambient environment (that tends to make itself felt more at night) – this theme was more tinkering at the edge of fantasy ideas rather than embracing them. In response to that comment, a couple of people noted that as they are, these homes occupy a comfortable middle-ground. Their general styling and environment means they are likely to appeal to Fantasy lovers whilst being reserved enough so that those seeking somewhere that is comfortably “different” and which does not belabour the “fantasy” element might also find appealing – and that’s a fair point to make.

When previewing the theme, Patch Linden indicated that some means needed to be found to allow passage between the rest of Bellisseria and the Fantasy sub-continent without actually physically adjoining the regions. At the time he suggested that some form of mystical teleport portals or similar might be used to waft people from one to the other. Placed within the community areas of the various Bellisseria themes, something like this would actually work. Currently, however, the selected method of reaching the new continent without using a direct teleport is on or over the water – a channel has been set-up linking Rigamarole to the new sub-continent. From here, one can either fly, or use the rezzing point if they wish to use a suitable vehicle to make the trip.

Linden Homes Fantasy ThemeBut route is not all plain sailing / flying: head away from the Log Theme coast and the shy darkens, particle clouds pepper the air, lightning arcs and rolling waves churn (well, as effectively as they can in SL!) whilst flotsam and jetsam float on the water and sharks await the unwary. It is all very The Fantastic Journey-ish, but it also works, as beyond the storm, you emerge into glowing skies and “calm waters”, with the fantasy realm sitting before you (although the bay in which you arrive could perhaps do with some TLC). I didn’t note any similar passages on the west side of the sub-continent, but I’m assuming they may come in time, together with a community centre for the new theme, which a certain Garden Mole whispered to me would also be coming…

It will be interesting to see what kind of take-up there is for these homes. At the time of writing, pockets of 15-20 avatars were popping up on various regions within the sub-continent. I suspect those who enjoy home-hopping and like to try out the new styles as they arrive will be keen to try things out. I’m also curious as to how many who have thus far resisted a move from the current Linden Home might be swayed by this environment – or indeed, how many might be persuaded to take a newer-style of Linden Home in general, now another Theme has arrived. Certainly, I understand that things have now reached a point where there are now sufficient Linden Homes to ensure that supply of most styles can in general keep pace with the demand.

The Linden Home Fantasy Theme

Anyway. The Fantasy Theme is here, and the layout of the regions strongly suggests more are to come (and the sub-continent will hopefully get a coastline over time). So if you’re interested, go take a look. Or even if you’re not, you can still look at the Map and play, “spot the franchise / series / mythology” with the region names 😀 .

Links and SLurls

The Zenescope Metaverse in Second Life

Zenescope Metaverse – now open in Second Life (image unretouched)

I was one of many who received an invitation to preview the latest partnership activity Linden Lab has entered into as then seek to encourage new audiences into Second Life. Officially opened from 08:00 on Wednesday, August 4th, 2021, The Zenescope Metaverse is the second such experience to open within Second Life recently,  the other having been the (relatively low-key) opening of Film Threat, details of which are available within the Destination Guide.

Zenescope Metaverse has been developed in partnership with Zenescope Entertainment Inc.,  a comic book and graphic novel publisher perhaps best known for series such as Grimm Fairy Tales and its off-shoots, which recount classic fairy tales and gives them a modern twist; the Wonderland series (off-shoots of Lewis Carroll’s books); novels focused on the likes of Van Helsing (which inspired the TV series of the same name), and others, and a range of comics / graphic novels spun-off from a range of film and TV series such as Final Destination, Se7en, Charmed, and Vikings, and more.

All of which would suggest there’s some potentially tasty meat in which fingers, claws, mandibles, etc., can be dug, to provide a tasty filling of fun and Second Life. Or so you’d think – but let’s come back to that in a moment.

Zenescope Meataverse: Jabberwocky (lightly post-processed)

As with the Film Threat experience, the requested way for people to get to the Zenescope Metaverse region(s – there are four at present, plus a fifth the appears reserved for “VIPs”) is via a dedicated Zenescope Portal (In fact the two portal areas are practically clones of one another).  I’ve no idea if Zenescope themselves will be providing a gateway into Second Life from their own website (or at least to the dedicated SL Landing Page, but the portal area includes a couple of video stations that will play Strawberry Linden’s How to Get Started in Second Life video. These bracket the main experience portal, which visitors are invited to walk through to be delivered to one of the Metaverse Experience regions proper.

These regions are – as you would expect – all identical to one another. They are built around a central plaza space, which at the time of my visit was set out for what I assume might be some kind of opening event. Flanking this one two sides are Zenescope merchandise stores offering a mixed of clothing, character outfits, branded t-shirts, avatar accessories  and décor items in a pair of shops (duplicated on either side of the square). Beyond the square, through an archway is a large mansion that appears to hold promise, but outside of “hiding” a quest token, is actually “for another time”.

The quest itself is HUD-based, with the Hub close to the landing point providing the basics and the HUD itself. The idea here is to gather token that will allow your to continue on through to “Chapter 2” of the experience – this region being “Chapter 1”. Around the rest of the region are locations apparently lifted from various Zenescope series  – such as a ruined temple, Rockman’s Fast Food joint, an animated Jabberwocky, etc., which are included in the quest, together with a game of miniature golf and a trip through a maze.

Zenescope Metaverse: a not-so-subtle hint to touch the bunnehs!

There are also freebies to be had for those that mouse around – some obvious, some not so (e.g. the duck you “follow” through the maze, and which sits on the far side. There’s also at least one diversion to another setting, and a couple of points that – like the mansion – are apparently “for future use”, with the Zenescope folk promising “tons of new stuff over the next few months”. And it is with this that I had some problems.

A promise of things to come is always good – but it is the here and now that most people are concerned with; and in this regard, I have to say that exploring the environment as it currently is, left me entirely underwhelmed. OK, so I’m a long-term SL user, so something like this is bound to have a “been there, done that” feel to it. But even trying to put myself in the mindset of an incoming new user familiar with Zenescope and attracted by something “new” to the brand, what is presented here feels empty, and far from the promise of the promo video (embedded at the end of this piece).

Zenescope Metaverse: did I drink from the bottle, or slip into fee-fih-foh-fum land?

Zenescope  clearly has a richness of narrative that could so easily be mined: Grimm, Van Helsing, et al. But outside of the merchandise and a handful of static places in the region, it’s not unfair to say next to none of this is present here. Even the quest comes over as a damp squib: gather you tokens, find the portal to “Chapter 2”, and then discover its promise is – wait for it – “Coming Soon”. Bleah.

And while there is a “reward” for gathering all the tokens, the fact that it is a folder of very mildly amusing signs an avatar can hold isn’t really that rewarding – or really related to anything Zenescope (although they could obviously find use elsewhere). But why not a Zenescope t-shirt or some other trinket of merchandise as well?

Now, in fairness, the set-up could be the result of constraints placed on LL by Zenescope Entertainment. In which case, they are more the fools; because in trying to wear the hat of a Zenescope reader, I have to say that were I entering a 3D world that promises the chance to explore the places I’ve read about, experience becoming a character I love – then frankly, this experience really doesn’t cut it at present. Even the region’s EEP settings (apparently chosen so as not to over-tax incoming users’ machines) is, frankly, bland. Why not something just slightly darker or unusual?

Zenescope Metaverse: the (largely) “for another time” mansion

Of course, some of this may come with “Chapter 2” and beyond. Again, fair enough; but while hanging everything with comments that it is “for another time” and “Coming Soon” might well be a way for Zenescope to test the water, it also runs the risk of invoking a “meh” reaction in their readers and – equally importantly – if they want to attract established SL users to their brand, then that “meh” reaction risks being repeated – as a non-Zenescope reader, I admit I was hardly rushing to find out more about them. Which perhaps isn’t the best of results, either way.

This is made all the more unfortunate, because elsewhere LL have gone the extra mile: there is the dedicated Zenescope Second Life Landing Page mentioned earlier, supported by a dedicated Welcome to the Zenescope Metatverse Second Life community page that is clearly geared towards those coming into SL for the first time. All of which might come to be an under-utilised effort.

But that is just my view; and God knows, I’ve been wrong before! 🙂 . In the meantime, the Zenescope Metaverse is now open, so you can drop in and take a look for yourself, and I’ll just leave you with the promo video.

Related Links