( This article appeared in the Computer Society of India’s magazine communications in the March 2008 issue)
Building and Creating in Second Life :
“Second Life is an online, 3D virtual world imagined and created by its residents.” – from the main page at www.secondlife.com.
Creation lies at the heart of Second Life like all open and user created virtual worlds. To enable us to be world creators, virtual Gods of this new Universe called the Metaverse we need our world creation tools or build tools. Linden Lab has provided a set of built in tools to create content in Second Life. From building the spectacular structures seen here to creating clothes and the landscapes; Second Life offers its world creators all the tools necessary and a thriving economy to sell those creations.
Content Creation in Second Life can be broadly classified broadly into:
- Architectural or Structural Builds:
Architecture in Second Life spawns many genres from the purely functional and utilitarian to the fantastic and bizarre. Even though real life physical laws don’t apply to virtual worlds the structures tend to resemble Real Life as residents seems unable to shed their preconceived notions of Architecture. These structures are created for the users of Second life for residential or commercial purposes. These can be used to replicate existing properties or to showcase properties not built yet.Many Real Life real estate companies like Coldwell Banker are using Second Life as a virtual simulation to directly market their real life properties and sell virtual land to residents in Second Life as well.
- Clothing , skin , hair and accessories:
Content creation in Second Life is not limited to buildings only. There is a thriving commercial market for all kinds of virtual clothing and skins!Every avatar in Second Life has a skin by default, however if you want to make it more realistic or customize it to your taste , you would have to buy or find user created skins. Skins are jpeg images mapped on to the digital skeleton ( the avatar’s skeleton) . There are many skin creators and shops in Second Life. Skins take a lot of skill to create. They are almost akin to clothing as avatars can change them as easily as clothes in Real life.
Similar to skins avatars are also ‘born’ with default hair when they first enter Second Life, however, the hair styles and the finish are not very realistic. To get that you have to usually pay and buy custom created hair from hair creators.
Second Life has many famous fashion brands like Eros Designs, Paper Couture Insolence and Pixel Dolls. Fashion is so deeply embedded in the Second Lifestyle that there are many fashion magazines devoted solely to the Fashion industry in Second Life like Second Style etc.
3D Art and Miscellaneous Creations: Second Life offers tremendous opportunities for artists to take their art work to a new frontier. Being devoid of physical constraints artists are free to create their art in 3 Dimensions in ways unimaginable in Real life.
There are many moving art installations as well as static sculptures in Second Life. Every year the Burning Life festival is organized by Linden Lab to celebrate this artistic culture in SL by showcasing many artists and different genres of artwork for a limited amount of time , free of cost, on
Just like fashion, Second Life has a growing art market as well with many famous artists like Starax etc.
How to build :
Second Life build tools are easy to use and learn. However, just like any other discipline it takes atleast a few months to start building well. The variations are infinite and only limited by your imagination. A certain pre-knowledge of 3D modeling software like 3D Studio Max, Maya, Blender etc. helps, but is not a pre-requisite. The basic building blocks in Second Life are primitives or simply ‘prims’, these are free to create as long as you have a space to build on. In addition to prims which are the basic building blocks , there are textures which transform the shells into discernible buildings. These are jpegs created outside Second Life on normal photo-editing software like Photoshop etc. and then uploaded to the Second Life server for 10 linden ( about Rs. 1.5) per texture.
The trick to building well in Second Life is to realize the limitations of the medium before undertaking a project. Being an online world it is rendered and updated live and comes with its own set of challenges. Each texture can’t be higher than 72 ppi ( 1024×1024 ) in resolution. This limits the amount of detailing possible. The other challenge is that each server can hold only 15,000 prims which means that builders need to conserve prims and try to use textures instead to create the finish needed. That said there is some amazing amount of realism and finish that can be achieved in the given constraints as demonstrated in the pictures here. As virtual worlds, hardware and broad band technologies advance these building tools and services will continue to get better.
Where to start :
Regular classes are held in Second Life to teach people basic , as well as advanced building. There are both free and paid classes offered by in-world universities like the NCI etc. Many free tutorials and walk through are also available in Second Life at places like the Ivory Towers. Tons of dedicated websites ,blogs and wikis also provide information on all kinds of content creation.
Problems and threats :
As the commercial market for content creation grows in Second life so too the risk of content piracy. There have been many instances of content or texture theft and it is a major cause of financial and creative worry for content creators in Second Life.
In late 2006 a program called copybot which could copy all prims and texture shapes in its view created major havoc and panic in the Second Life content creation market. Although , Linden Lab subsequently claimed to block the loop used by copybot to copy original content and upload it as the property of the copybot user, even today content piracy continues. This however, is not just a problem unique to Second Life but to the whole of the Internet. Any content which is rendered live over the Internet runs the risk of being pirated.
This the class of content created using other content inside the virtual worlds. Machinima is a prime example of content derivatives. Machinima (machine + cinema) are films shot inside any virtual world/game and not just Second Life. SL machinimas are shot using content created inside SL like avatar, clothing, houses etc. Machinimas have a rather large market both inside Second Life and in Real life. Although in Second Life they are largely used for news reporting and entertainment purposes, their Real Life uses span from corporate training to disaster orientation, besides entertainment.
Machinimas being faster and cheaper to make than full scaled offline animation films are fast gaining popularity amongst corporates who are using it to train their staff and introduce them to the concept of virtual worlds and working inside them.
Second Life cannot survive without the vast amount of time spent by its inhabitants creating content for pleasure or profit. Content creation is the engine which drives the growth of these virtual worlds. As virtual worlds expand and become a part of the mainstream Internet, content creation in and for virtual worlds will become a major industry. Already many Metaverse Development Companies like Indusgeeks in