“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Pete Davison, GrE
Second Life, one of the most long-running and successful massively-multiplayer “virtual worlds” — and one of the earliest implementations of “free-to-play” — is coming to Steam “in the next month or so,” according to developer Linden Lab.
Second Life is an unusual product in that it is not really a game as such. Instead, users create a completely customizable avatar and immerse themselves in a virtual world which is almost entirely constructed by other players. Anyone can build things using a system of simple “primitive” shapes, which can be stuck together, deformed, textured and then scripted using an internal programming language to exhibit certain behaviors. The world offers everything from multiplayer games to virtual hangouts and even, yes, the opportunity to get virtually laid if you want. (Guess which part the media typically fixates on?)
Alongside the Steam release is a separate — but possibly related — announcement from Linden Lab that it is supporting an open source project to improve Second Life’s graphical performance with normal, specular and diffuse mapping, bringing the world’s visuals more in line with what “gamers” traditionally expect. Wagner James Au, game designer and prominent commentator on happenings in the virtual world, conjectures that the move to Steam and the improvement in graphics is a specific move to make the virtual world more appealing to “hardcore gamers” — particularly those interested in the modding scene.
“DayZ, the zombie survival MMO, is one of the most popular games on Steam right now, but here’s the interesting thing: it’s actually a mod of Arma II, an older game few actually played,” writes Au. “In the same way, a multiplayer game built within [Second Life] using the new game-centric tools and launched totally apart from the usual first-time user experience, could find a new audience, whether they give a damn about Second Life or not. And the thing is, there are already successful mini-MMOs like Bloodlines in [Second Life], even without the new tools.”
In other words, Au is suggesting that the launch of Second Life on Steam is not necessarily to get more people chatting, dancing and bumping virtual uglies, but instead to reposition the virtual world as a platform upon which other things can be built — an interesting possibility, for sure, despite the fact that Second Life’s interface is historically more than a bit clunky and not particularly well-optimized for fast-paced gaming.
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