Second Life Preview

This game is like The Sims Online but in 3D and with user creation built in and central to the gameplay.

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Second Life is nothing if not an experiment. Second Life, developed by novice studio Linden Lab, is a massively multiplayer online game most akin on the surface to the upcoming The Sims Online. On the outside, Second Life is a fully 3D game where, as in The Sims, you control an in-game avatar, which you use to interact with the world. But the comparison really only provides a starting point to look at a game that is wholly different structurally.

You'll craft your own world and persona in Second Life.
You'll craft your own world and persona in Second Life.

Though Second Life is like an RPG in that you control a character, the goals and aims of the game are very different. Instead of having overarching goals or a predefined purpose, you are given free rein to do whatever you want in an expansive, modern, 3D world built largely by the players themselves. You start with a certain amount of money and a customizable house and are allowed to go anywhere you want from there. Some may choose to pursue social interaction. Others might prefer to trade items and goods. Still others might decide to create the very items that are traded and gawked at. Second Life aims to create a world where you can truly leave your mark.

One way Second Life accomplishes this individuality is by allowing a mind-numbing amount of character personalization. Each facet of your in-game avatar can be tweaked. For example, there are 30 sliders adjusting your character's hair in different ways, and each slider has 100 unique positions. There are six different sliders for shoes. On top of this, not only can a character's look be changed, but so can the character's body type and structure, and it can all be done on the fly. But perhaps what's most interesting is that you can upload your own textures for your character, which lets you truly and creatively add to the gameworld.

Central to Second Life's uniqueness is that the entire game is streamed off the Internet in real time; nearly nothing is stored locally on your machine. Opened with only an 8-megabyte executable, all game content--from the world and the architecture, to the character models, textures, and sounds--is streamed from the server to your computer as you play over a broadband connection. The servers themselves are arrayed in something like a peer-to-peer network most commonly used by programs and networks like Kazaa. The effect accomplished is similar: If you would like to contribute to the world, you can, because your unique content can be uploaded and shared with everyone.

Nothing--not even your house--is stored on your hard drive. Instead, the entire game is streamed off of the Net.
Nothing--not even your house--is stored on your hard drive. Instead, the entire game is streamed off of the Net.

Possibly Second Life's biggest calling card is its built-in user-creation system. Instead of creating a game and letting fans modify it by creating mods like Counter-Strike or Day of Defeat, the developers of Second Life have created what is essentially an ever-evolving mod world. Almost nothing in the game will be set or defined, and instead you can manipulate and create, just as the mod-makers do, but now in the context of a game experience.

Linden Labs is betting on the innate lust of players to learn the tools to create complex content. The tools built into Second Life seem almost as powerful as the tools used by the fans that created mods like Counter-Strike, and they also seem just as complex. Using the built-in tools, you can construct items in-game by sculpting polygons and by carving and combining shapes just like professional mod-makers. When we saw Second Life, we watched as a player created a chain in-game by cutting and shaping polygons. Once items are shaped, you can apply scripts that control how the item acts and functions. Similarly, custom textures can be uploaded and applied to give the item a wholly unique look.

Please Buy My Items

For example, you can scan in a coin, build the coin in-game in 3D, apply the texture, and then be able to pick out even the most minute dings and scratches because Second Life has no cap on texture detail. Or, you can build your own custom chair in full 3D. Or with various scripts you can program your own transportation vehicle, because the game runs streamed in real time on a full physics engine. You could even make yourself a pair of sunglasses, which, like everything else, fit into the world and in this case can be worn for effect.

You'll need a working knowledge of 3D modeling in order to create your own houses and other objects.
You'll need a working knowledge of 3D modeling in order to create your own houses and other objects.

Consignment stores are places where you can sell the unique items you've created or peruse those created by fellow players. If you buy an item, you are automatically paying the item's creator, just as in an art show. If you are a creator, as you manufacture popular items, you can gain sizable amounts of money from other players.

As it stands, if you're interested in taking advantage of the core building aspect of Second Life, you need to know almost as much about game design as mod-makers do. You need to know how scripts work, what polygons are, and how it all comes together to create 3D models.

You're also allowed to create your own recreation and minigames inside the game. One event we were shown was a dance club, where some players danced while another worked as the DJ, competing to be voted the best DJ around. Like in The Sims Online, the DJ is rated by the dancers. In Second Life, you can vote "hot" or "not," and the more players who vote "hot," the higher the DJ's score. If the DJ gets high enough on the score listing, he might be granted access to an exclusive lounge, for example. Similar minigames can also be constructed by players.

As with most user-creation aspects of Second Life, you can take these minigames to a new level by adding your own components. For example, you can upload your own sound samples for use as a DJ. Since the sounds are all streamed in real time to the other players, everyone is sure to hear your custom sounds and music. Working as an in-game DJ provides a structure and catalyst for players to contribute something of their own. Of course, you still need to know how to create your own music samples to be able to take advantage of any of these features.

Combat also plays a role in Second Life. Weapons can be created, just like everything else, by constructing the item in 3D, applying textures, and then scripting the weapon to act as you'd like it to. All objects have an inherent energy, and the key to the creation of weapons is keeping the item energy efficient. One weapon we saw was a rocket launcher, which someone had built and scripted in-game.

Like most online RPGs, Second Life will have combat.
Like most online RPGs, Second Life will have combat.

Combat takes place in walled, "health-enabled" areas where you can take damage. In these areas, you compete for control of towers, much like in the capture-the-flag mode common in many action games. You cannot fly in these combat zones, as you can in the rest of the game, so you'll want to construct vehicles, weapons, and other items, like jetpacks, that might prove useful.

With its 3D streaming gameworld and built-in user-creation system, Second Life seems geared mainly toward astute Sims players who want to mold and create the world in which they play. Second Life caters to the mod-making complex that drives legions of fans to create custom adventures for games like Neverwinter Nights and even custom content for games like The Sims. Even though Second Life is still very early in development, Linden Lab is already accepting applications for its current beta test. A full public beta test is planned for sometime in the spring, with the game expected to launch in the summer of 2003.

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