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July 28, 2006

Starting the Project


The aloft island sim was purchased and delivered yesterday, so last night and this morning I popped over to take a look and start terraforming the land (raising/lowering land levels, applying ground textures, etc).

An island (or a "sim", for simulator) is a big square block of virtual land, about 64 acres worth. If you purchase your own island, you have the choice of setting it out alone in the middle of the virtual ocean, or attaching it to other islands, so people can travel from one to the other, creating a contiguous landmass. aloft island is attached to the northern tip of the Electric Sheep Company's island mass, a total of 9 sims. Its approachable from the south, across a void sim (an area of blank water). Right now its closed for the workers only, but people can sit right outside it in the void sim of Argali and watch us work - I already had a random visitor at about 4 this morning drop by and ask what was being built.

Terraforming is one of those jobs where you love it or hate it. I personally like it - it's time consuming, but really cool to watch the earth rise and fall to your whim. Its also the basis for any island construction job. You can go back and put in details later, but you have to get the general elevation, rivers, slopes, plateaus, etc. in before you can start any building.

Terraforming is important for a project like aloft as well, because one of our goals is to integrate the aloft hotel structure with the surrounding area of the sim so it all feels unified. We *could* drop the hotel right in the middle of the sim and have done with it, but where's the fun in that?

During our initial conference call with aloft, we learned that the aloft chain will eventually be able to be found in all environments - urban and suburban, all across the globe. The first hotel is planned for early 2008. Essentially, its a brand that will be found in many different settings and locations. That gave us a pretty wide selection in terms of how to frame the build. We decided to go with a resort theme, for three reasons:

- from a technical standpoint, an island makes the hotel easier to place as the focal point, and makes it easier to find for visitors - we're positioning the hotel in the center of the island on top of a large plateau, rather than hide it among auxillery buildings. Also, the streaming nature of SL means that the less objects a visitor has to download, the faster what actually IS there will appear - we call it "lag", and it can make or break an experience. Very few people stick around to load a laggy sim, no matter how wonderful it may be. The correlation is a webpage - if you don't optimize it to load as fast as possible, people won't stick around to see the fantastic content you have.

- the materials, colors, lines, feel, etc of the aloft hotel lends itself very well to a modern feel.

- SL, for a lot of people, is about escapism. The most popular and expensive virtual property is island land, or waterfront land - places that most people would like to live in real life, but can't. Making a top-notch island destination in SL almost invariably ensures interest from SL residents and lots of traffic, making aloft island a popular attraction.


So with that concept in mind, I started the basic terraforming of the island. This included:

- a southern harbor and beach area. Flyover traffic would be coming across the void sim in the south, so a welcoming harbor for boats would add to the immersiveness effect. The main beach area makes for a great hangout spot to greet new visitors.

- the aloft hotel plateau. Since the hotel build will be the focal point of the island, we wanted it to be immediately visible and have perfect 360 degree views of the entire island. Its the tallest point of the island, the height of which adds to the variety of the land layout.

- infinity pools and patio area to the north of the plateau. Hey, its an island, and people love beautifully landscaped pools and outdoor settings in SL as much as they do in real life.

- the main walkway and gardens, which lead up from the harbor to the aloft plateau.

- boardwalks and a nature walk (along the northern edge) to fill out the rest of the space.

To get in the tropical mood - and to help set a sense of scale - I went and purchased three beautifully made boats (designed by the talented Jacqueline Trudeau) and set them in the harbor. These actually work with the SL wind and physics system, so you can take them for a cruise, but I won't have a lot of time to go sailing in the next few weeks - there's a lot of work to do.


Posted by Cory Edo at 10:15 AM in 3D Modeling | TrackBack (0) |