Inside the Horizons Experience in Second Life

Horizons Experience
Horizons Experience

Update, November 19th: some users on TPVs may find the gun used gun in Quest 3 of Horizons Experience doesn’t work with their viewer. The Lab is aware of the issues, and is investigating options for a fix. For the moment, those affected will need to swap to the official viewer, but  only for Quest 3. Full details can be found in llTakeControl issue and the Horizons Experience.

On Tuesday, November 15th, Linden Lab announced a new Mainland community initiative called Horizons. First hinted at during the Meet the Lindens talks at SL13B in June 2016, it became the subject of widespread speculation when two testing environments related to it appeared on the Second Life world map in October, with Patch Linden further stirring up interest by posting some teaser images to his Profile feed.

Picking up on the SL13B hints, I contacted the Lab with the idea of covering Horizons. Patch and his team were very receptive to the idea, and as result, I had the opportunity to tour the regions ahead of the opening, and learn more about Horizons from Patch Linden and Naughty Mole of the Linden Department of Public Works (LDPW).

In short, Horizons is a new themed Mainland residential community built around a central, 6-region gaming environment called Horizons Experience. As I’ve covered the community aspects at length in New Horizons in Second Life, this article focuses solely on the new six-region gaming experience.

Looking down on one of the Horizons Experience quest regions
Looking down on one of the Horizons Experience quest regions

Horizons Experience essentially builds on the Lab’s work with PaleoQuest, the dinosaur themed adventure which opened in July 2015 (see Experiencing PaleoQuest, the Lab’s latest adventure in Second Life). As with PaleoQuest, players are tasked with completing a number of quests and multiple tasks in order to come to the rescue of Magellan Linden’s assistant, Tyrah, who is in deadly peril at the paws of the nefarious Doctor Talpa. Note that the game is on Adult rated regions, but this is not reflective of the games content.

“PaleoQuest was our most recent gaming project that we had put out at scale,” Patch said as we discussed the game ahead of our tour. “We took from that a lot of the game mechanics which people really enjoyed and liked, and we’re including them and a lot of new elements within the Horizons Experience.

“For example, one of the big new features is the ability to participate either as a player in the game or as an ‘explorer’ – someone who is not active in the game, but who can travel through the regions and observe as a bystander. With our other gaming experiences, you’re either in the regions with the intent to play, or you wouldn’t go. As Horizons is part of the Mainland, we felt it was important that people be able to drop in without disrupting the game-play.”

“We’re using different coloured indicator above people’s heads in the game regions to indicate whether they are a player or an explorer,” Naughty Mole added. “If they have a blue ball floating above them, they are an explorer. If they have an orange ball, they are a player. That way, the people in the game know who is who. Obviously, you can’t complete any of the quests as an explorer, nor can you receive any prizes; but you can walk or fly around and watch players (who can’t fly). Oh, and you can still be killed by any of the quest hazards!”

Part of the Horizons Experience start region, showing the Portal Room where returning players can jump to their last point of progress
Part of the Horizons Experience start region, showing the Portal Room where returning players can jump to their last point of progress

Given that Horizons Experience is sitting in the middle of a residential area where flying vehicles are permitted, I wondered if there was a risk of aircraft interfering with the game. “Flying vehicles can pass over the gaming regions,” Naughty Mole answered, “but they must keep above a certain height. If they are too low, they will get a warning, and if they don’t increase their height, they will be auto-returned and those on board will be transferred to a resurrection hub inside the gaming areas as explorers.”

“The six regions of the experience are all uniquely themed,” Patch resumed, “The first region you go into is the starting region, where residents are introduced to the quest and receive their game HUD. While there they can watch an in-depth tutorial video and background story video, see the payout stations or follow links to the Horizons Experience wiki page for more information. Beyond all this are the five gaming regions, which are linear, like PaleoQuest. Each must be completed before you progress to the next one.”

Horizons Experience can be accessed in a number of ways. Anyone in the Horizons regions can fly to the central gaming regions, or they can use the teleport portals located at the Horizons info hubs and community centres, and  which are scattered across the residential regions. Direct teleport via the map is possible, and there is also a Horizons Experience gateway at the Portal Parks.

Down in the mines
Down in the mines

Naughty added, “When people first arrive, they are given the choice of being a player or an explorer. If they selected ‘player’ they are registered for the game and receive a HUD. If they remove their HUD, they become an explorer. If players leave the game regions, their HUDs are automatically removed. However, all progress up to the point where they removed their HUD is saved.

“Returning players arriving at the start area can use the Portal Room to jump directly to any quest they have previously completed, or go to the Quest they were on when they left the game. So, if someone left while trying the third quest, they can use the Portal Room to get to quests one, two or three, but they will not be able to jump to quests 4 or 5.

“Also, there are HUD kiosks throughout the quest regions, so any player who removed their HUD can get a replacement, and they will be asked if they would like to teleport to their last point of progress. Explorers who have never played the game can also use these kiosks to obtain a HUD, and they will be asked if they would like to teleport to the start of the first quest.”

Continue reading “Inside the Horizons Experience in Second Life”

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Returning to The Well in Second Life

The Well: Infirmos
The Well: Infirmos

In 2012, Loki Eliot created The Well, a horror themed mystery adventure about attempts to rescue a little boy who had fallen down an old well and into the labyrinth of tunnels and caverns which lay beneath it. In 2013, he followed this with The Well: Sollicitus. Set a year later, it set players the challenge of discovering what had happened to a science team that vanished while exploring the labyrinth.

Now, in 2015, comes the third instalment of this unfolding story: The Well Infirmos. Set some time after the events of 2013, it places the player in a mental hospital. how they got there, they have no idea – but perhaps it was a result of their experiences beneath the well. But there is something strange out this hospital: the staff and other patients have vanished, and while the wisest move would be to simply get out of there, the only way to do so is by investigating what has happened; something which means an eventual return to the well and its caverns.

The Well: Infirmos
The Well: Infirmos

The Well is an Experience based game, requiring the payment of a one-time fee of L$100 to the vendor at the landing point, which registers you to play the game as often as you like. Once paid, press the Start button on the vendor to receive the game HUD, which will auto attach to the bottom of your screen, and will self-destruct on leaving the game area. Should you return another time to play again, simply click the Start button on the vendor to receive a new HUD.

Once you have the HUD attached, approach the Well to view a brief introduction to the game before you arrive in the day care room of the hospital. Here you must explore the various rooms and offices – door will open as you reach them, and your camera will auto-focus on items of interest. You will need local sounds enabled, and make sure you have the volume turned up.

The Well: Infirmos
The Well: Infirmos

I don’t want to give too much away, other than to say the child’s drawing you find around the hospital are of import. However, you’ll know you’re on the right track when you emerge from the Security Office after seeing / hearing everything you need, to find the hospital strangely altered and the day care room is now dominated by a huge hole which offers you the only way forward.

And so you return to the tunnels beneath the well, and you must find your way through them using the teleporters, which may either carry you forward or backwards, and avoid the child-like Shadows. A direct encounter with this will affect your sanity, as shown on your HUD, and if this drops to zero, you will be returned to the landing point and have to start over. You’ll also be returned to the mouth of the well when you have successfully reached the end of the game – and receive a little prize as a memento.

The Well: Infirmos
The Well: Infirmos

Those who have played previous iterations of The Well will find this latest version familiar – which doesn’t make it any the less interesting. The major change is to the start of the game when your are in the hospital, but “down below” in the caverns has also been given a few new wrinkles. If I’m honest, moving around some of the hospital rooms can leave your camera on the wrong side of a wall and it can also be a little tricky getting close enough to some of the drawing to auto-focus on them, but not to the extent that the game is spoiled.

Overall, The Well: Infirmos is an engrossing third instalment to the story, which I enjoyed as a returning player, and Jodi and Andi, who took to the caverns as first timers, reported they had a great time  playing. And if you have an Oculus Rift, make sure you use it when playing – The Well is fully suited to complete VR immersion.

SLurl Details

The Well Infirmos, Escapades Island (Rated: General)

Going down The Well

Loki Eliot is renowned for his scripting and building abilities in Second Life – and rightly so. His ideas, designs and builds stand at the forefront of what can be achieved in-world in terms of games and immersive activities, and he is always quick to embrace new platform capabilities and opportunities.

In The Well: Sollicitius, he brings all of these talents and abilities together to present an immersive and engaging experience, complete with a special guest star.

The Well: continuing the story
The Well: continuing the story

Given the time of year, The Well is a little bit of a horror story mixed into a mystery you must solve. It actually expands on an experience Loki created last year,  which he has now enhanced to include more twists in the story and which makes use of recent SL innovations such as materials processing.

This does mean that the game is best experienced with Advanced Lighting Model active, and preferably with Sun/Moon + Projectors enabled. Loki has placed the entire experience as high up in the sky over his region as he can in order to minimise lag and the performance hit running with shadows enabled can create, so if you have a moderately good graphics cards, it’s worth giving Sun/Moon + Projectors a go if you can. If you still find yourself struggling, try disabling that option, but leaving ALM active. Also, do make sure you have sounds on, they are very much a part of the experience.

The backstory to The Well is that a young boy fell down a well, and he and the rescue team which descended to recover him vanished without a trace. Now, a year later, you have arrived at the scene to join a scientific team sent down to the cavern and caves beneath the well in an attempt to understand what they are and discover what happened to the ill-fated young boy and the rescue team.

Except that, by the time you arrive, the science team has also vanished…

The Well: Yes, he's talking about you being late. Now he and the rest of the team have vanished...
The Well: Yes, he’s talking about you being late. Now he and the rest of the team have vanished…

The Well is a HUD-driven experience, and as such makes for very immersive game play in that there is no need to click on anything in-world once you’ve started; as you move around, the HUD responds to your position and offer-up choices and information – and a few other things as well :). All you have to do is click when a choice is required, or click to clear any message. The HUD cots L$100, and can be purchased from the vendor at the start of the experience.

Note that once started, removal of the HUD means you’ll have to return to the start and begin again. So if you want to enjoy The Well to the fullest, set aside about an hour of your time.

Once worn, the HUD  unlocks access to the experience and presents the opening credits before setting the scene for you. This is very imaginatively done through a BBC News 24-style bulletin.  Once the titles have rolled and you’ve cleared the instructions, you’ll be teleported down into the cavern beneath the well, where your adventure begins.

The Well: Can you help him...?
The Well: Can you help him…?

I don’t want to give too much away in terms of what to expect – that would spoil the fun! Suffice it to say, the main rules are, walk around the opening scenes carefully. There are clues and aides to be found which will help you along the way. The Well make use of SL’s experience permissions, so teleports are prompted as a part of the game’s progression, again making the moves between scenes as seamless as they might be, allowing for the necessary permissions being granted.

As the instructions note, you have a Sanity Meter. This starts off in the green, but will drop down and eventually arrive in the red if you let the Shadows get to you too much. If the meter  reaches zero, you’ll be teleported back to the start. I’m not going to say too much about the shadows, other than they tend to travel in pairs, so if you see one, keep an eye out for the other when dodging! Oh – and you really should have the sound on ready for when they do grab you :D.

The Well: Beware the shadows ... if you can see them ...
The Well: Beware the shadows … if you can see them …

The name of the game in The Well is choices. As you progress through the tunnels, you’ll come across additional caverns where you’ll be given choices. Some may lead you onwards, some may set you back to an earlier part of the game, some might simply put you back where you started just before reaching them. Hence why you need to set aside a reasonable amount of time to complete your explorations.

Those that do find their way to the end face one final choice. To go left or to go right. It sounds simple, but given the nature of the one offering the choice, don’t expect things to perhaps be as straightforward as you might think. Once you have completed the experience, you will be returned to the starting point and offered your reward.

To call The Well a game isn’t really doing it justice, per se. It really is an experience, and an enjoyable one at that. It combines some of the genuine strengths of the platform with some of its latest features to present an entertaining and engaging means of spending a portion of your time in-world. Sure, it can be subject to the vagaries of the platform at times, but there is nothing that really impacts the experience to the point of distraction, and it is clear from the way the various “levels” have been spread around Loki’s region, coupled with the height at which he has placed them, that Loki has worked hard to minimise as many causes of lag which may otherwise occur as possible.

The Well: The caves will lead to a number of mysterious caverns, each with its own look and feel, and also with its own ... perhaps you should find that out for yourself...
The Well: The caves will lead to a number of mysterious caverns, each with its own look and feel, and also with its own … perhaps you should find that out for yourself…

This is the kind of experience which would be ideal for the Oculus Rift. As everything is proximity-based in terms of the in-world interactions, and HUD- based in terms of actual interactions via the mouse, The Well would seem to naturally lend itself to a fully immersive first-person experience. Loki and I briefly discussed this idea after my “rite of passage” through The Well. Sadly, he’s a little hampered in terms of Rifting the experience, as a “Rift-ready” version of the viewer with basic UI support has yet to appear for the Mac. However, the potential is there, and while I’m unlikely to opt for a Rift headset myself in the foreseeable future, The Well has left me intrigued as to exactly how Loki will be working with the headset in the future.

In the meantime, I highly recommend The Well if you’ve not already tried it. It is more than worth the time taken to visit, explore and experience.

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Dranopia 2: Revolt of the Forgotten

Dranopia, the breedable dragons system developed by Timmi Allen, Leni Galli and Ciaran Maktoum, has added a new chapter to the ongoing saga of Dranopia: The Quest.

In Revolt of the Forgotten, the story is picked-up shortly after the groms have been defeated and the lost souls of the Dranopia ancestors rescued. But a new cataclysm  has engulfed the resting-place of the ancestors’ souls: a great flood has occurred, sweeping away everything before it, leaving only a vortex of swirling water, and the openings to long-forgotten tunnels leading deep into the walls of the gorge, tunnels revealed as earth and stone collapsed under the force of the swirling water below…

Dranopia after the great flood

Revolt takes the mechanics of the original Quest and moves them into a labyrinth of underground tunnels which must be explored while once again flying upon a dragon (either your own or one obtained from the start-point for the quest), and attempting to obtain a range of items along the way.

The essential game system remains the same, but presents significantly more to do. From the start point / rezzing area, you take your dragon (and a game HUD available from the free vendors) and fly through the arch and out over the water. Your goal is to collect as many coins and keys as you can in the game time. Along the way, you can also obtain additional game-play time and restore the health and vitality of your dragon – and you must also avoid various threats and obstacles.

The start area

Moving the game into a tunnel systems adds a new dimension in flying your dragon; the confines of the tunnels mean that camera angles and views are much tighter. Those familiar with operating in the first person (Mouselook) in SL might be at something of an advantage here; as the tunnels twist and turn, rise and fall, seeing what lies ahead is not always easy in third person; adjusting your camera offsets might also help.

Speed is also something to watch, as it is easy to find yourself hitting walls and floors, costing you time and possibly points, or missing branches and turns where the tunnels split and twist.

Down in the depths

The labyrinth comprises a number of distinct forms, each separated from the other via a door. Each contains a key to be found as well as coins, green health hearts and red hearts for bonus time. Both of the latter are of equal importance: the green hearts help restore your dragon’s vitality and handling – if the dragon’s strength drops to zero, then your game is over; you’ll be dropped to the ground and your dragon will vanish. Red hearts help extend you game time, allowing you to collect more coins and keys; you can gain up to 600 seconds at any one time.

Points are awarded for coins, etc., obtained – but are also deducted should you have an encounter with whatever lurks in the passages and tunnels – of which I cannot say more here, you’ll have to discover things for yourself 🙂 – but that fact the points can be lost is another reason for watching your speed. Coins start at 5 points for the blue glass coins, rising to 100 points for the gold coins. Treasure chests can be opened by obtaining the required keys (each of which will gain you 50 additional points).

Game HUD

Given all these elements – coins, keys, treasure, bonus time, health – the game HUD is somewhat more complex that the original, but well-presented and easy to understand. By default it attaches to the top centre of your screen – and that’s probably the best place for it, as it is easy to reference it without blocking your in-world view.

High scores are recorded on scoreboards located at the start area – but you’ll need to have media-on-a-prim (MOAP) running in order to see the scoreboard displays.

I would advise playing the game without running anything else that might be processor-intensive on your computer; I had my anti-virus software start a scan during my time in the tunnels and my ability to fly my dragon in the confines of the passageways completely fell through the floor…

All-in-all, Revolt of the Forgotten builds nicely on the game-play from the original Quest, adding additional elements that should help attract those who played the original game, while providing a nice gaming experience for those who haven’t yet tried the system. There are seven dragons available at the start-point for those that don’t have a Dranopia dragon of their own to rez, and each again has its own characteristics.

Why not hop over to Dranopia and give things a try for yourself?

Dranopia: Revolt of the Forgotten is available on the Virtual Services Sculptie Experiments region.