book review second life virtual worlds

Book Review: The Making of Second Life

Greetings (true believers :P),

I thought I would include some book reviews of things I have been reading related to technical interests, I try and read a book a week, although sometimes they are more fluff then tech. Somewhere in-between is The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World by Wagner James Au. The book is an anecdotal approach to the world of Second Life, often giving stories of the more interesting players (those who play as a group in a nursing home, those who make a steady income as in-game Second Life designers, and a lot of talk about furies as well).

I would have preferred a more technical approach to the subject (like how to manage some of the user generated content/customization), but the book does deal with some aspects of 3D worlds that are trying to be replicated in many other projects, namely what kind/how much user customization should be included?. The book does focus on some of the aspects when given complete customization control (like the red-light districts or unusual character customizations) and there is a definite trend towards more 3D virtual world interaction/customization in many projects. Some of those similar (yet different) besides the obvious Sims include JustLeapIn, Hangout.Net and parts of the Google Lively experiment.

While the book does not specifically tackle the issue of how much customization is enough (or too much), it does state that the game is based around this model. Second Life provides options for downloading and modifying textures through skin templates, modeling buildings and setting up new animation, as seen in their Creation Portal. Some of the Second Life players in face can make their entire income through in-game design (and potentially through in-game trading as well).

This book did raise a few concepts I have been thinking about personally as well, such as the industry trend of more levels of user customization. It is difficult (from a developers perspective) to draw a line at how much technical artist expertise is expected of the users… do players really want to modify vertices and set blend weights on their character? If so what players would be willing to spend the time doing this, and would they want to use in game tools, or a third party (professional or freeware) package they are already familiar with? With this growing trend and the impressive technological results of a game like Spore it could only be a matter of time before we see games ambitious enough to try and recreate Maya, XSI or 3DsMax in the browser. While such a feat would be quite interesting, unless it was specifically a game centered around creativity, I would find that level of control would be likely wasted on all but the smallest minority of players (likely the same percentage that are already familiar with other tools).

All-in-all the book was an interesting read, perhaps designated more to those readers interested in the history of Second Life and some more of the odd characters, than those interested in the technical challenges of creating such a virtual world.

Bye for now,
Michael Hubbard

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