Who it is developed by?
Second Life is developed by Linden Labs. They are a San Francisco based developer founded in 1999 with about 230 employees. Their main development portfolio includes the released Second Life and Blocksworld and currently in development Project Sansar. Although Linden Labs is still a large company they have been in steady decline due to economic issues. They saw their peak around 2009. But they hope to make a comeback with Project Sansar, a Virtual Reality Headset based environment.
Second Life was launched in June 23, 2003 where it has since been developed into smoother more interactive world. This has happen as technology has developed too that can cope with upgrades to the technology. Second Life has seen a huge amount of change due to policy changes and new developments to keep up with the copyright laws. The virtual environment has also seen changes by that Linden Labs to stop bots and hacks.
The Second Life code isn’t open source unlike Opensim, Second Life’s main competitor, and this is likely to never change.
What functionality it provides?
Second Life allows thousands of users to play simultaneously within the world. The record amount of users playing at once happened in the first quarter of 2009 with just over 88,000 avatars logged in at once. A user when they log in are shown as a avatar.
This avatar can be modified to the users needs. For example the user can play as a human, dog, cat, ork or whatever avatar shape they choose. They can also dress the avatar how ever they please.
Users play within a world. The Second Life map is made up of many “islands”. These islands are owned or shared owned with other users. In Second Life users buy land using the in game currency. Users can only place (rez) an item/object on land that they own or on land that they have been allowed to. Land has limits to the amount of items that are allowed to be rezed in it, this is to limit server lag for the whole world.
There are a limited number of shapes that can be rezed but these can be interacted with and merged together to form almost any shape the user wants. This leads to an endless creativity that is only limited to they number of objects the user can rez.
There are of course some other limits like planning buildings to reduce game lag and max object sizes so they stay within the user’s land.
How it is used?
- Role play
- One of the main aspects of Second Life is role playing. Users have built special landscapes, sculptures and structures on their land to role play with other users. There are a large number of communities that are based around role playing.
- Many role playing scenarios take place at events. A user or a community will host an event that other users can join and role play in. These events range from discos, where the user’s dress up and dance, which sometimes is to live music, to battles between avatars or real life role playing.
- The user normally builds their avatar around a certain vibe and image (character) that they want to portray. They then will only act how that character should in the game.
- There are also users that have their avatars in a relationship with another avatar and adult only roling playing areas. But these are have many permissions and are heavily restricted.
- Second life allows users to create and build their own structures in game using the viewers in built features. They do this by combining and manipulating a limited number of objects (prims) together to form the structure.
- Users can then change the textures, color, glow and a number of other things of the prims to detail their structure.
- On top of that these prims can be scripted. This means that using the Second Life programming language, Linden Scripting Language, code can be written so make the prims interactive. There thousands of ways to control a prim or structure with a script. For example you can make a fire have a flickering flame, a door open when you get near it or a hot air balloon fly around the island when a user sits in it.
- User don’t have to use the ingame building tools. There are a number of programs and add ons that allow extra control over a build. Users can also create a specific shaped prim in a 3D development program, like Blender, and then import it into Second Life at a cost.
- One very well known use of Second Life is it use in education. A few uses have been to teach students about virtual environments, medical students, language students and so on.
- It is used because it allows student to not have to be the same campus as the other students or even the teacher.
- The lessons can be set up with props that wouldn’t be cost effective or viable to repeat in the real world. For example medical student can learn on a virtual patient and perform operations that do not endanger anyone’s life.
- This is a major part of Second Life. It has its own currency, the Linden Dollar. The Linden Dollar has a USD equivalent which at the moment is at 245 Linden Dollars to 1 USD.
- This currency is used in a number of different ways. The main is to buy and sell clothes/skin that the avatars can wear. Users can also use the currency to buy or Rent Land, Structures and Goods from shops.
- Users can buy and sell in game uses scripted stores or online on the Second Life marketplace.
- Real World business have built stores in Second Life to sell their goods to avatars as another way to make money.
- One user became a millionaire by buying and selling/renting out land in Second Life and then converting the Linden Dollar to USD.
How well it runs?
The gameplay experience depends a lot on the computer specs. The better the computer the higher graphical and physics settings that can be achieved. In Second Life everything is made up using a mesh. This mesh created the world by combining millions of tiny flat triangle surfaces to build the prims. The higher the specs the more complex the mesh can be.
This also depends a huge amount on the connection speed of the user’s computer to the Second Life servers. This is because all the mesh, scripts and sounds need to be downloaded to be able to be displayed to the user.
For the best experience a good internet connection as well as a good computer is needed.
This is also why Linden Labs have limited the number of prims allowed by a user to help reduce lag. This is because the servers that run Second Life have to store all the Prims that are placed in world. If one user had 100,000 prims all textured and scripted in one area and an avatar entered the area then the servers have to give all that to that user which will slow the world down for all users in world.
How it compares to others?
Second Life is one of the biggest MUVE’s available. Its main follower group is very dedicated to the game and spend many hours in game. Due to Second Life being release in 2003 its users are very diverse in age group too.
It is a very different playing style to lets say minecraft but similar to Opensim which was built to almost mimic Second Life. It different to Opensim because Opensim is an open source game where Second Life is not. Second Life is “governed” by a business model from Linden Labs which has its benefits and disadvantages.
Second Life has one very prominent feature and that it is a Single World. Although it is very large everyone plays and interacts is the same world. Opensim allows users to host their own local Opensim World and choose who can access it. It also means a spread of resources and no land buying or renting.
What your impressions of it are?
I enjoy playing in Second Life. I found at the start it was slightly unintuitive. This doesn’t have to be down to Second Life exactly but the viewer I was using. But once started it was relatively easy to learn. I found that there is a big learning curve, especially with scripting.
Saying that though there is lots of information online about the all aspects of Second Life. There is also information in game at different locations around the world. For example the particle labs has a lot on how to script particle effects. I find that Second Life is quite old fashioned but this is to be expected with a release date in 2003.
I have taken quite a likening to the simple building features that even though appear simple allow for almost endless possibilities. Scripting then adds another level to this.