July 20, 2008

Fabb Ion: A house comes together

So, every time I dial up the Grid's total "draw distance" here at home on my Mac Mini, so that I can get some decent images, my computer keeps crashing, keeping me perpetually frustrated by it all; but rest assured that I've been getting a ton of work done this week there on Fabb's first house for sale, the half-house/gazebo "Ion." In fact, here above you're seeing the house pretty much complete; all that's left, in fact, is some stuff you can't tell is missing just from still photos, like a couple of animation scripts that still need added, as well as to link the whole thing together and to figure out my new "Rez-Foo" house-rezzing system, which I specifically bought so to make the Fabb "unboxing" procedure as painless as possible*.

As I mentioned last time, the Ion will be the smallest of the first homes for sale through Fabb; it has a total footprint of only 10 by 10 meters, in fact, a total height of only 16 meters, specifically for people not only on a beginner's 512-square-meter plot, but those who want to use as much of that lot as possible for landscaping, a vehicle, or simply enjoying the view and not feeling crowded. As I've mentioned here before, when thinking of why most individual private players (i.e. non-business-owners) wish to own land within the Grid, it's helpful to think of the environment as the most kickass chatroom ever invented; a place where not only you and your online friends can gather together to "gab" (text) in real time, but using a 3D, walkable, "real-space" interface, where not only the avatars of the speakers but the very room itself can be customized from literally a blank slate if one wants.

As such, then, most private landowners will never have outside of five to ten people gathering on their land at once; when owning just a small plot of land, many of these people find it necessary only to have one large central, private space in order to host get-togethers, parties, chat sessions, etc. That's exactly what Ion provides, at a price I think pretty reasonable (6 dollars/4 euros/3 pounds); here above, for example, is the main room in question, decorated in a way that might be pretty typical for a new player in the Grid. (Don't forget, none of the furniture seen here is actually included with the home, nor the Jackson Pollack print seen on the front porch/telehub. I purchased most of this from a great store called Maximum Minimus (er, I think that was the name); I'm pretty sure, in fact, that everything you see here can be yours for less than twenty bucks, and take up as many prims as the house itself.)

And then here as we make our way up the narrow stairs to the second-floor loft, we get a better view of the approximately 10 x 8 meter floorplan of the main room. Don't forget, it's insanely easy to swap furniture in and out of a room in Second Life, and even to automate the process through a professional rezzing system; in a pinch (i.e. owning a beginner plot), this room can be easily remade into a dancefloor, a spa, the most Scandinavian Modernist sex dungeon in existence, etc. And since Fabb homes are completely copyable and modifiable, the home you're looking at can be "modded" to fit whatever specific needs a homeowner might need; the windows and doors removed to make this a true garden gazebo, the stairs removed if you prefer flying.

And now here we are on the second floor, which technically isn't large enough to be considered a practical room unto itself; you don't get practical second-floor rooms with only a 10 x 10 footprint, which is why I specifically call Ion a half-house or gazebo. As you can see, the second floor is instead a four-meter-deep overhang (two meters outside, two inside), just perfect for having a private conversation during a party, or maybe an intimate chat with a friend during a particularly spectacular sunset. It's my allowance for a sense of elegance, something I want to build at least partially into every home Fabb sells; that yes, technically this is only a low-prim gazebo, something designed only to provide one main room, but I might as well built a half-floor upstairs since I can, as well as trick the eye so that it looks from the outside like a big giant cube on top of a squat area, while inside the bottom squat area looks like the main part.

And now here I am back at the house a little later in the evening, all gussied up and ready to host a little pre-clubbing get-together at my place on a Saturday evening; and this gives me the perfect excuse to snap off some photos of the Ion at sunset and midnight, and especially how natural it looks within the upper-class neighborhood of "Linden's Vineyard" where the Fabb store will eventually be located. As these photos hopefully show, the Ion really is about as small as you get and still be called a cool home; and this is part of the point I'm always making within Second Life, frankly, is that there's actually a lot of extremely cool things that one can do with a nice little inexpensive small space in the Grid. Most of those other buildings you're seeing above, after all, are fellow private homes, just blown up into gargantuan size because of inefficiency, requiring an amount of land that is costing that homeowner several hundred dollars a year (and I mean real-life, American dollars). All modesty aside, I think Fabb's cute little Ion is just as much a nice little living space as any of the other monstrosities seen in those images; and since it can fit on only half a beginner's 512-m2 parcel, it means the land needed to maintain it is essentially free, after your one-time cost of actually purchasing it from someone else**.

Okay, so what's next? Well, first, to link it all up and add the final animation scripts for the doors; then to figure out this Rez-Foo system and make sure I can box these homes up in a nice easy way; then to duplicate Ion in the other four color/texture combinations I've picked out for Fabb, to coincide with various environments within the Grid that are popular ones in which to live (sky, urban, forest, desert/beach, water). Then get my vendor kiosk ready; then get the Fabb store ready; then get my online account at SLExchange set up. And then...and then I think I'll be ready to actually start accepting orders! Hallelujah!

As always, more updates as they're warranted; here's hoping it won't take me as long next time as it did this time.

*Not a Second Lifer yourself, and don't know what the hell I'm talking about when I refer to "rezzing?" Basically, all players in the Grid carry around an infinitely large suitcase, known as their "inventory;" and when I say infinitely large, I mean you can carry a hundred homes inside of it with no problem, a hundred vehicles, ten thousand pieces of clothing, and still never run out of room. To actually see or use one of these items within the Grid itself, then, one needs to pull it out of one's inventory, and place it on land where one has permission to place items on the land; within the Grid this is known by the slang term "rezzing," cribbed from the early-'80s movie Tron. Since most homes are too large to be linked together all as one big piece, it's of crucial importance to home-sellers like myself to get a reputable "rezzing system;" it's a series of scripts, basically, that will take the contents of a box (say, the three or four pieces that make up a prefab home), and automagically put it together for the customer simply by them removing the pieces from the box. (This is opposed, say, to the customer manually lining the pieces up themselves, a tedious process that's never done exactly right, which is why customers tend to avoid prefab companies like the plague unless they use a good rezzing system, like the commercial "Rez Foo" system made by yet another SL entrepreneur and simply purchased by me earlier this week.) Whew!

**Why is it so difficult to talk about land in Second Life to people not familiar with the Grid? Well, because there are actually two costs -- the initial cost of actually buying the land from someone else, either another citizen or Linden Lab (owners of Second Life); and then a monthly "virtual property tax," or many times called a "tier fee" or just "tier," basically a flat rate per month based mathematically on how much land you own, as a way to pay for the electricity and bandwidth costs you're incurring on that particular server by owning land that particular server hosts. This is in fact the only difference between free players of Second Life and paying members; the latter are allowed to own land, the former not. So once you pay your fee to be an advanced player, then (something like $80 a year, actually a lot less than one of their competitors like "World of Warcraft"), you're actually allowed to own one of these beginner 512-square-meter lots for no monthly tax at all, simply a benefit to becoming an advanced player to begin with; and that's why there is such a plethora of landowners within the Grid with only 512-m2 plots, and why there are giant "virtual suburbs" there just full of hundreds and hundreds of these tiny plots on an unending grid, and why the prefab-housing market within Second Life is so focused on such homes, because once you're an advanced-enough player to own more land, you're usually advanced enough to know how to build your own house too.

Double whew! Sheesh, sometimes I really hate talking about Second Life online at a blog; I always feel the need to cover basic info in every single entry, just in case that's the first time that particular reader has ever heard of SL or any of its endless series of slang terms and tech items.

July 14, 2008

Introducing "Ion," Fabb's first and tiniest home for sale

Yes, yes, I know, I've been terrible this summer at keeping up with my Second Life promises; I keep sporadically jumping on here to announce that things are back in swing, just to never update again for another month or two, just to announce yet again that things are back in swing. But seriously, things are back in swing again! For real this time! And that's because, unfortunately, my other Mac here at home finally fatally crashed; not my main Mini I use every day, but my old G3, which unfortunately was the only computer I had with Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, Flash Professional, etc), so losing all that software means me having to shut down my arts center's proposed new publishing program and virtual photography gallery, for now at least, which were the projects mainly stealing my time away from Fabb here, my proposed Second Life prefabricated housing company. So anyway, my promise to myself this week is to get enough work done in SL each day to at least justify a new blog entry here, so I can start building up an audience again here, i.e. a potential customer base, and start heavily promoting the upcoming line of Fabb homes that will soon (I promise!) be for sale.

I've been spending the year so far futzing around on various housing designs and ideas, but never getting any finally finished and ready to sell; so recently I decided screw it, that pointedly for the purpose of finally starting to generate some revenue, I'd tackle the very most basic, simple, cheap idea for a prefab home I have, something designed specifically for tiny starter plots that owners wish to heavily landscape. It's called the "Ion," and you're seeing just the roughest beginning version of it in the photos above and below; as you can see, it's not much more than a gazebo with walls and a roof, its footprint the same 10 by 10 meters that is the largest a single prim can be stretched within the Grid, so that I can save on as many prims as possible when actually constructing it.

After all, if you're just some individual beginning player of Second Life, not a business owner or club manager or anything even close to the sort, the only thing you need on your land to be truly happy is at least one central meeting space with the option to provide total privacy if you want (to lock the doors and dim the windows to black, that is, as well as have a roof and four walls). In fact, you can very much think of owning a beginner's 512-square-meter plot of land in the Grid just like owning a profile page at Facebook or MySpace; how it is a central gathering place for yourself of course, while you're actually there doing work, as well as a place where you and your friends can live-chat while you're all online, not to mention a place you can customize/decorate, to show to the world a little bit of yourself. The Ion provides exactly one central meeting space like I'm talking about, seen above, plus an ingenious second-story half-loft space that opens onto a grand outdoor vista (stairway coming); given that furniture is virtual and can be swapped at a moment's notice, that space you're currently looking at can be dolled up as a cozy living room, a dancefloor, an IKEA sex dungeon, an indoor/outdoor pool/spa, a one-person freelance office building, etc etc etc. That's exactly what the Ion is, nothing else and nothing more, offers no more than that, and will cost an inexpensive amount that reflects this (6 dollars/3 pounds/4 euros).

So why put up a tiny little half-house like this in the first place, you might be thinking (the Ion, for those who don't know, takes up only about half the space of a beginner's 512-m2 plot), when you could instead construct an entire house containing one separate room for each of the purposes just mentioned? Well, let's just take my long-owned space in the Grid, for example, seen here above, on the eastern side of the southern continent, inside a massive cove full of upper-class residences I like to call Linden's Vineyard. This is one of the massive temptations behind the Grid, and a big motivation behind owning land there, is to have your own permanent little slice of view like the above, to be able to build on that space and decorate it any way you want, to really feel like a "citizen" of that massive virtual world there. (In fact, if I can be digressive for a moment....All that water you see off in the distance? That's all part of a responsive, persistent environment; if I was on a decent home gaming computer, I could literally log in one night, rez up a sailboat, go sailing off into that nighttime water in the distance, sightsee and meander and hit rapids for two hours straight, and literally reach the north continent at the end, just like the persistent 3D "real" environment the Grid is. It's why Second Life is often called the "middle-ager's Grand Theft Auto," meant usually as an insult when said but I think quite reflective of what's so nice about a place like the Grid, and why so many people want to own permanent virtual land there. Okay, digression over!)

My point is -- if you happened to own a beginner's 512-m2 plot here in Linden's Vineyard, overlooking the scene we're seeing above, you might be tempted as many are to use as much of that small space as possible for maybe some underwater landscaping or merely some breathing room, and to use the extra prim allowance of a tiny building to be able to rez up a sailboat whenever you want (for example). A lot of people find this a much nicer idea than simply trying to enjoy the above view from essentially a big brick, taking up every square inch of their 512 plot and allowing only the roof for a sense of space. I'm willing to bet that for the price, there are a lot of beginning players of Second Life that will be interested in something like the Ion, especially once I have it constructed and for sale in the five different color/texture combos I've come up with (matching the various common environments within the Grid -- beach, sky, water, urban, and forest).

Anyway, so more and more each day on what you've just seen, with hopefully a daily new update here at the Fabb blog concerning the latest; and maybe in just a week from now, Ion actually finished and starting to be sold? That's the whole idea; try to actually start bringing in real revenue as soon as possible. Sheesh, I need a new computer! That's why I want to get on the ball finally about all this, so I can finally start bringing in some income and maybe finally get a decent gaming computer into my house.

Okay, see you tomorrow, hopefully!

February 17, 2008

Lights in Second Life: They're not as hard as you think

Okay, so I finally sat down this weekend and taught myself the basics of artificial lighting in Second Life; and it turns out, in fact, that the subject is not that difficult to understand, with there basically being some very basic controls that work very intuitively that make all artificial lights in SL work. In fact, about the only basic thing to be aware of at the start of the process is what you're seeing above; that flipping on a prim's "full bright" option is a different thing than turning on its "lights," with the first just making the object itself look like it's glowing but the second actually providing the glow. Other than that, though, it's just a basic menu in the "more" section of any prim; once there, you'll see a series of controls for such things as light color, intensity, falloff distance and more.

Just like a lot of things in Second Life, then, the truly complicated part of artificial lighting is in the finessing of the numbers and colors, to achieve the exact right look you want for that exact right space. Here above, for example, is the same light seen from the same angle in two scenarios, one with its intensity at maximum and the other at minimum.

As you can see, then, after stumbling across an appropriate texture in some back folder of my inventory, in literally thirty seconds I was able to make a pretty decent-looking simple Asian lantern; this is the exact same kind of lamp you see selling all over the Grid for usually around a quarter or so, something that's just ridiculously easy to put together yourself on a Saturday afternoon.

As you can see above, then, when I gave myself just a little more time (around 20 minutes in this case), I was able to crank out a pretty nice little floor lamp, the same kind you see sold elsewhere for 50 cents or a dollar or whatever. Dedicate an entire Saturday to something like this, then, and you can easily put together a whole house full of basic furniture, stuff that will never sell for much money on their own but that continually adds to the "long tail" of your operation, an absolute must for making money within an economy of virtual merchandise like the Grid.

In just another twenty or so minutes, then, I was also able to whip together a pretty nice little chandelier thingie for this particular home's main aerie; and this is with each lamp only using two prims, too. Granted, this is a fairly simple look, and a lot more can be done regarding the subject; considering, though, that I was able to do this in twenty minutes on my very first day of learning about lights, I think is a pretty impressive thing about the ease of the light system there.

As you can see here, then, the layout of this particular house means that such a chandelier ends up providing the majority of lighting the homeowner needs for a nighttime situation, requiring only a few floor lamps and candles to finish it all. This essentially gives a homeowner most of the lighting they need using as few prims as possible, something I'm always trying to keep in mind with Fabb's starter homes.

By the way, it's not just "lamps" that can have lighting effects added to them; any prim, in fact, can have its lighting effects turned on at any time. Check out here, for example, my Jackson Pollock print that generates its own lighting; pretty cool.

Anyway, hope this entry has been of some help to those who have been a little intimidated by the idea of artificial lights in the Grid and how to properly create them; as you can see, the basics of the subject really are a lot simpler than you'd expect. By the way, I got a lot of other stuff done this weekend as well, including finally teaching myself how to create my own waterfalls (versus using commercial ones I've purchased in the past, like I've been doing so far); it means that with a little work, I should finally have my first fully-finished house finished up sometime this week, and will be ready to start making the versions for all the other color schemes available. (For those who don't know, all Fabb buildings will eventually come in a variety of color and texture schemes, inspired by the different environments found int the Grid; Urban, Forest, Noir, Sky, Sand, and more.) See you later!