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4/24/2007
07:30 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Building In Second Life, With Links To Web Info

I spent a pleasant hour or so last night acquainting myself with building in Second Life. I created a simple platform that floats at an altitude of 100 meters above my land. Building in Second Life is actually fairly simple in concept, and simple once you get the hang of it, but in the middle there's lots of fiddly little options to select and buttons to push and it's easy to make mistakes.

I spent a pleasant hour or so last night acquainting myself with building in Second Life. I created a simple platform that floats at an altitude of 100 meters above my land. Building in Second Life is actually fairly simple in concept, and simple once you get the hang of it, but in the middle there's lots of fiddly little options to select and buttons to push and it's easy to make mistakes.

This was actually not the first thing I built in Second Life. The first thing was a few weeks ago. It's a rectangle, a meter high, a half-meter wide, and 0.01 meters thick, that displays the InformationWeek cover. It contains a script so that, when you click it, your Web browser opens to http://www.informationweek.com. I call it the Completely Useless Object.

Building in Second Life is very visual. It's all done with geometric-shaped building blocks, called "prims," which are short for "primitives." Everything in Second Life is built using prims.

Building is a very mainstream activity in Second Life. On the Web, far fewer than 10% of users ever create anything, but in Second Life, two thirds of users are building things. Linden Lab says everything in Second Life is built by users. I suspect that's an exaggeration, but only a very small exaggeration; I expect well more than 99% of Second Life is user-built.

Most of the tools you need to build in Second Life are built right into the SL client that everyone uses.

The first thing you do, when building, is go someplace where you're allowed to build. This can be your own land, or land owned by a group you're a member of, or any of a variety of public "sandboxes."

You cause a prim to materialize. You can select from a variety of shapes: Cubes, spheres, toroids, cylinders, etc.

Then, you change the size and location of the prim. You twist it, mash it down, stretch it, or move it around. You'll want to change the color of the surface -- the default surface appearance looks, whimsically, like plywood. You change the prim to a uniform color by using the building tool that's part of the Second Life client. Or you can apply an image, called a "texture," to the surface. It's easy to find textures that look like wood-grain, or stone, or tile, or other popular surfaces. People building streetscapes in Second Life will often apply photos of real-life buildings to the facades of prims to make them look like buildings in Second Life.

If you're building a large or complex object, you'll need to link together many prims, which is very easy to do.

You can alter the physics of the object, to determine what happens if you let go of it in mid-air: Does it fall to the ground, or does it remain where it is (like my sky-platform)? Another handy property: You can set the object to "phantom," which allows avatars to walk through it.

So, to create my sky-platform, I created -- or "rezzed," as we say in Second Life -- a cube, mashed it flat, stretched it, and set its position until it was high up in the air.

My first attempt at a sky-platform was unsuccessful. I tried levitating it to 400 meters in the air, and found I was unable to either fly or teleport to it. Whoops!

Before going on, I wanted to delete my error. Normally, I just right-click on an object I want to delete from the surroundings and select "take." Problem in this case was that I couldn't see the object, so I couldn't right-click it. But I hunted around on the land menu until I found a control that let me delete my objects from my land.

My reason for deleting the object wasn't just because I wanted to be a good citizen. There's a quota to the number of objects you can have on a given tract of land. I didn't want to get dinged for that.

Second try: I built the platform, levitated it to 100 meters, and teleported myself up to it. It worked great.

I wanted a big platform, and had trouble getting it as big as I wanted. I did some Googling around and discovered that there's a 10-meter limit on the size of prims. The way you build something larger, or more complex, is to link multiple prims together. My second sky-platform was actually two flat prims linked together.

Next project: Create a stone platform, with low walls. This will involve finding stone textures to apply to the prims. There's plenty of textures available in-world, for free and for sale, and if I can't find anything I like, well, I have a digital camera and the real world at my disposal.

Here are some of the best building resources I've found on the Web so far:

My Second Life: Building, by IBM's Bob Sutor
Good tips and links for building and textures in Second Life, including in-world locations for finding new textures.

How to create a teleport link in Second Life
This is actually one of SL's most impressive, and useful, effects. If a user clicks on an object, the user is teleported off to another location in SL. Looks almost trivially easy to create. Neat!

Second Life: Knowledge Base | How do I build objects?
The official help document from Linden Lab.

Texture Tools - Second Life Wiki

How to edit land in Second Life
Landscaping is a whole 'nother thing in Second Life. You can grade your land with the stroke of a mouse, and add trees and shrubs and other foliage. Rissa Maidstone is a great landscaper. She's insanely busy now helping to organize the Life 2.0 conference, which is next week, but I'll hit her up for pointers after the conference is over and she's had a chance to recover.

I have some ideas for what I'd ultimately like to do with my land. I'd like to landscape it pretty densely with foliage, and add outdoor furniture and stone walls. Also, a fountain or other water feature.

Got any building tips for me? What are the best resources for building in Second Life?

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