Thu >> Aug 3, 2006

"Project Details" - The Bridge

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Second Life has its own scripting language, called LSL, which is based on C++. Scripting an object can really make it a functional tool as opposed to just an inert (although decorative) item. Scripting is also the key to adding interactivity to the things you create. So, hopefully, scripted items will also be a fun part of aloft Island as well.

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Makaio is currently working on the scripting for the bridge, and I asked him to explain a little bit about this project-within-a-project:

"Im making a timed sensor cube that scans the area around the bridge. It detects if boats and/or people are present, then passes that data to the bridge itself. The bridge is going to have a tiered priority system based on its current status and the data, ie: if boats are present and no people are and its closed, it will open. If its already open, it will remain open if boats AND people are present. It will stay open if its already open for the boats, or if its closed, it'll stay closed until the people are gone."

One of the issues he ran into initially was programming the bridge to tell the difference between a regular walking avatar on the bridge, and an avatar in a boat underneath the bridge.

"Well, i didn't take into account that the scanner is going to scan the people driving the boats - so basically, its seeing a person and a boat, and not opening because of that. So what I have to do is make the scanner read agent data, and see if that person it sees is sitting on anything. And if they are, have it (the script) verify what they're sitting on is their boat, and if it is, it nulls them out of its people scan and detects them with the boat instead."

After surpassing that problem, he hit success and the bridge now functions correctly, depending on if you're simply walking over it, or trying to motor under it on your boat.

Posted by Cory Edo at 7:41 AM in Project Details | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0) |

Mon >> Jul 31, 2006

Reassessing the Build

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During our weekly conference call with ElectricArtists and the aloft team at Starwood, we discussed incorporating more suburban or urban elements that will give the island the feel of a seaside town. As aloft will be a brand that you'll be able to find in almost any environment, we wanted to make the surrounding areas on the island a more approachable, familiar feel.

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We've planned out a few key changes:

- Adding "The Strand", a boardwalk/biking area that will go around the perimeter of the island. There will be lifeguard towers on the beach, sand barriers to seperate the beach from the walkway, and other props such as sun tents, minibars, etc.

- Adding a garden-style landscaped area between the strand and the harbor inlet. We're also going to be utilizing the storefronts in this area as well as the boardwalk.

- Scripting a walkway bridge to join The Strand together above the harbor entrance.

Another aspect that we're currently brainstorming on is activities (or interactivity) that will give visitors something to do while visiting the aloft island. The potential for a live music event is a frontrunner right now, but as we fill out the island, more opportunies and ideas will pop up.

Finally, the basic texturing for the outside of the hotel has been completed. I usually will do at least a first texture pass on a project, then go back once more elements have been added to add depth with shadowing, more finely detailed textures, etc.

So far, so good!

Posted by Cory Edo at 7:40 AM in | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) |

Sun >> Jul 30, 2006

Creating the Outside Hotel Structure

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Today Makaio jumped into the project with both feet and quickly built up the exterior build for the aloft hotel itself. Our one guide so far as been an artist's concept drawing of the exterior of the hotel, so we had to make a number of assumptions in order to lay the SL build out. Makaio approximated the height in meters of each floor, allowed space in between for floor/ceiling pieces, made an educated guess as to the width of each "panel" (a window with left and right wall sections), and from there worked up some numbers to build by. The hotel stands at 28.5 meters tall for 5 stories total, and about 111 meters wide.

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This is a good place to mention space as it relates to your avatar - your inworld representation - in Second Life. The default view of yourself and your surroundings is not from eye level, but rather from up and behind your avatar, so as you move inworld, you're constantly looking down at the back of yourself. This "camera view" is one that people are comfortable with from video games, but it creates interesting scale problems when designing architecture for Second Life. Real life builds will usually have ceilings that are 7-9 feet tall, or about 2.1 to 2.9 meters. This height is far too small for your avatar to be able to walk through, considering your POV is actually much higher and further back than your avatar.

The other height factor is the fact that your avatar, in general, is MUCH taller than a normal human would be. This is due to a lot of factors, but probably the biggest one is the "slider system" that you use to create your avatar shape and size. There isn't any reference for exactly how tall you're creating yourself, so most people go with what looks proportionally correct - which generally ends up being about 7 to 9 feet tall. Couple that with the fact that you're interacting with objects and other avatars that also match that oversized scale, and you end up existing in an oversized world (compared to real life measurements), but you never really notice it.

Anyway, back to the build. Once the measurements were worked out - each floor has 6 meter high walls, which is roomy enough for avatars to walk through - the actual construction of the outside went very fast. The repeating elements were created and then duplicated and moved into place. During his construction, I was sitting at the camera position taking photos of the hotel going up. Normally I've been taking photos every 30 minutes as I work on the island itself, but since this went so fast I found myself staying put and grabbing photos every 1-5 minutes, so we can create a smooth looking progression animation.

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The photography went smooth, but I'm a little nervous about subsequent photo shoots - Second Life will be undergoing a program update tomorrow, and there are going to be some major changes to the photograph interface. I'm glad I got these done before that happens.

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Afterwards, some detail elements were added - a 3D Aloft logo, the sloping rooftop section - and initial color coding for texture work was put in. As it stands, the build is ready for texturing, besides some detail work which we'll crank out as the texture work is finalized.

As for myself, I laid down some more (non-textured) groundwork for the harbor, stairs and garden walkway. I'm looking forward to starting in on the Splash pool along the back patio tomorrow.

Posted by Cory Edo at 2:35 PM in 3D Modeling | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) |

Fri >> Jul 28, 2006

Starting the Project

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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.

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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.

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

Tue >> Jul 25, 2006

Going from 2D to 3D

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Being that the first aloft hotel won't open in North America until 2008, we've begun building the virtual aloft in Second Life using a single exterior rendering as our guide. I've posted the image above. As the Electric Sheep team begins their 3-D modeling, we're all excited to see how they take the 2D image and turn it into a three dimensional experience. It's an interesting process that requires both skill to get the textures and sizing as close as possible to the rendering, but at the same time, making some educated guesses about what elements that aren't in the drawing (most notably the back of the building and the pool).

.... Marc, ElectricArtists

Posted by at 10:12 AM in 3D Modeling, Featured | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0) |

Mon >> Jul 24, 2006

Welcome to "aloft in Second Life - a Developer's Report"!

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Throughout the course of the "aloft in SL" project, this blog will be the documentation of how a project like this is conceived, planned, and executed within Second Life.

But first, some quick introductions.

My name is Sara Van Gorden, and I work for The Electric Sheep Company, a Washington DC based development firm that specializes in project implementation in virtual worlds for "real-world" companies. The platform for the Aloft project is an online virtual world called Second Life, developed by San Francisco-based Linden Lab.

For those of you that haven't heard of Second Life, it may be hard to summarize briefly, but I'll give it a shot. Second Life (or "SL" for short) is, precisely, a virtual world, where you can create literally anything you can imagine. SL has a built-in 3D modeling engine, the ability to upload textures to apply to your 3D creations, a scripting language heavily based on C++ to make your creations functional...and is unique in the fact that the intellectual property rights to your creations are yours and yours alone, not the game company's.

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Where this differs from more traditional modeling programs is the fact that SL also functions as a societal engine as well. Users can interact in real time, exploring the vast virtual world together, collaborate on building, customizing their avatars (your inworld representation), or just hanging out. This adds a huge level of depth to the creation experience that you can't get from a CAD program. If you'd like to read more about Second Life before going further in this blog - and there's a lot more to discover - check these links out.

http://technology.guardian.co.uk/opinion/story/0,,1824034,00.html
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_18/b3982001.htm
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1816270,00.html

If you're interested in some of the press that real-life companies are getting about their forays into virtual space, there's some great articles here.

http://www.trendwatching.com/trends/youniversalBranding.htm
http://nmc.org/sl/

The goal of the "aloft in SL" project is to create a virtual aloft hotel within Second Life. Throughout this project, I'll be blogging about the creation process - how we start a project, what issues we run into, how we implement concepts, and how it all comes together at the end to create a functional and beautiful space that not only achieves the goals of the client, but delights and inspires those that visit it as well.

As for myself, I'm a builder and texture artist for ESC. I discovered SL almost two years ago and fell in love with the freedom and creativity the platform allowed for. I helped co-found a small development company in Second Life in November of 2005, did some projects for the BBC (among others), and my business partner Matthew Sallee and I joined Electric Sheep in February of 2006. My previous work experience is heavily graphics-related, but I've discovered a new love for 3D building as well in SL. Matthew has excellent CAD and scripting experience, and we end up being project partners quite a bit in ESC, as we are on the aloft project. However, since I'm the gabby one, you'll probably be hearing from me on this blog most often.

But enough about us - onto the aloft project! Thanks for joining us for the ride! If you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at sara@electricsheepcompany.com, leave a comment on the blog, or look me up in Second Life, if you have an account - my avatar name is Cory Edo.

Posted by Cory Edo at 10:01 AM in Project Overview | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0) |