One Year On


Hard to believe that the BlakOpal region and its lonely island of Reachra recently celebrated one year on the Second Life grid. In that time, BlakOpal and I have had a lot of fun playing with different ideas and trying to make it a great place to explore as well as serve as the backdrop for the Main Store. Click here to check out a gallery of pictures from the island’s earlier days, and then click here to take a look at a series of 32 pictures I snapped this afternoon.

The photographs not only reflect changes (and hopefully improvements) in the build, but in the Second Life Viewer as well. In the newer photographs, I opted to make use of the new (and still experimental) shadow support for the Mac viewer. Shadows have been around for a while on the PC side (tucked away in the debug settings for those daring residents with higher end nVidia graphics cards), but for Mac users with nVidia graphics they only arrived in the last month with the release of Viewer 2.3. As of this post there are still a few issues to fix (eyelashes don’t render properly, and there are some odd/unexpected issues with prims that use shiny/bumpiness), but overall I believe the effect of dynamic shadows is amazing. Take a look for yourself in the photos - other than adding a slight vignette effect to the shots in Photoshop, the images are as they came from the Viewer.




New Music In Rotation

Believe it or not, the music you hear at the Main Store, Caledon Oxbridge, and New Babbage locations is from me. And a short while ago, I added a new mix into rotation. The set is a bit of a throwback for me, what I'd call a 'needle-drop' mix. While other mixes are beat-matched and feature lots of additional loops and other elements, this one has none of that. Everything lies in track selection and timing, just like in the early days.

I cut my teeth as a DJ with vinyl, eventually moved to CD's, and a couple years back went to a digital workflow (using laptop and other bits of hardware), which lets me blur the lines a bit as I remix and perform tracks during a set.
Going 'old school' was not only an exercise in basic skills, but allowed me to knock it out quickly for BlakOpal. She loves the band Muse as much as I do, and I thought it'd be nice to have something to listen to that included some of our favorite album tracks, singles, and rarities... and to share some of the music we love so much with you. If you aren't familiar with the band, we hope this gives you an opportunity to discover a wonderful band. If you do know them, we hope you enjoy the mix as much as we do, and get the chance to hear something you may not have heard before. :-)

Marching Forth

Despite us being relatively low key in the new release department in the month of February, it was quite a busy month. Starting with getting things established on Avatars United, we had a couple of our best-ever days in the shoppe, appeared in the Modavia Fashion Directory XIV, and even made our first appearance in the Second Life Destination Guide! I also spent quite a bit of time doing some software testing, ranging from projects I can’t talk about to Snowglobe 1.3 and then towards the end of the month with the SL Viewer. There were a few other bits and bobs in-world, but a lot of time was also spent with upgrades here in our RL studio. I’m happy to report that BlakOpal’s machine is running beautifully and exceeding all our expectations, plus my redesign of our wired and wireless networking, and backup strategy seems to both be running well and ready for the next steps.

In getting ready for those next steps, I think it’s time to pull a few things off the fire. Linden Lab will be retiring the Battery Street Irregulars (viewer testing group), and the time seems ideal to back away from a few other testing programs as well. There are a couple I’m very interested in, and will not only continue with but likely become more involved with them. And I’ll likely continue to fumble my way through the Viewer 2.0 Open Beta, wrapping my head around its features and functions. But involvement in too many projects starts to stretch me thin, and worse it seems to invite some people to treat me like a personal tech support department or target me as a person to sound off on when they feel the need to vent regarding something LL does or says (and believe me, there have been some doozies). I’m happy to participate in technical group chat conversations from time to time, but that’s about the extent of it. Except for Miss BlakOpal, of course, as I do happen to be her IT department :-)

That said, I’m very excited indeed about the next steps ahead. BlakOpal’s first machinima video on her new machine came out looking great, and I’m looking forward to seeing more videos from her soon. Additionally, we’re both bubbling with excitement over ideas for outfits and builds, and I’m looking forwards to some big improvements in computing/rendering power on our next system upgrade (once certain hardware is released and we’ve saved enough lindens). There will hopefully be a couple new shoppe locations in there as well. It’s going to be an exciting month - I’m excited.

Looking Forward

It’s that time of year again, when people look back at the calendar year that’s drawing to a close and then look forward to the new one that’s about to begin. While I’m not really one for default world holidays and traditions, I’m all for a good celebration and changes and improvements.

The time’s been flying by, it seems. A year ago, we had just opened our first satellite location (Winterfell), and were about to open our second flagship store (Caledon Oxbridge Village). Actually I believe that by New Year’s Eve the shoppe itself was done and stocked, but the region had not yet had its grand/official opening. It has been an amazing year. We’ve met some truly wonderful people, opened a number of locations (some were fleeting, while others established themselves quite nicely), participated in some remarkable shows and events, opened up our first full region, had incredible amounts of fun designing/building/creating, and received some incredibly flattering reviews and praise along the way. BlakOpal and I have also had our fair share of RL adventures that’s left us grinning from ear to ear. As with every year it’s filled with ups and downs, but I prefer to get over the bad stuff, move on, and stay focused on the positive.

And there is a lot to be positive about in 2010. In RL we’re improving and upgrading our studio space and planning some wonderful adventures (London!). I’ve got a bunch of exciting music projects sitting on the back burner (stuff that got pushed to the side because I was having so much fun in SL in 2009). In Second Life we’re overflowing with ideas and projects that we’re excited about, including the growth and expansion of Reachra. I’m also planning to revise and expand the web site a bit, adding more in the way of tips and tricks and tutorials. You’ll probably also see us in Avatar Reality’s Blue Mars in one form or another. We gave the platform quite a bit of time and consideration in 2009, and if all goes well we’ll have some specifics to talk about sometime in the first half of 2010. Don’t get me wrong, we have no intention of leaving Second Life anytime soon. I think there’s plenty of room for both platforms to be successful, and I think Linden Lab has some exciting stuff on the horizon.

Slowly But Surely

Slowly but surely, things are taking shape. The builds are taking longer than I would like (ideally they’d be finished instantly, as soon as I think of them), but I’m really pleased with the results so far.

The plan - a short string of row shops, with apartment spaces up above. Drawing from a mix of Dublin’s Temple Bar district as well as the ‘urban’ area of many old towns and villages, I wanted things to be slightly off-kilter and have a little flavor. From the 18th century and continuing into the 20th century, these dual purpose buildings were extremely popular - retail/commercial space on the first floor, with residential space upstairs. In the days before modern transportation methods, it was an important and affordable way to cut down on commute time. While that’s not really an issue in Second Life, I wanted to create something that had the right kind of feel.

There aren’t any doors yet, and I’m still trying to sort out how I want to approach it. Generally speaking I’m opposed to having doors in public spaces in-world. During peak usage or laggy moments it seems people are always bumping into doors, missing a click, or otherwise having some silly issue - so I make it a design choice to keep public spaces as wide open as possible.

I’ve already had a number of inquiries regarding space rentals, and to answer that I can only say “not at this time.” First and foremost I want to think of the experience for visitors & explorers, and to that end I have been paying close attention to region performance over the last few weeks. I wouldn’t want busy times in our shoppe to take away from other residents’ experiences, or vice versa. It may well be that I don’t get around to having rental spaces until a second region comes online.

Many thanks to all those who’ve said kind words about the new space, and thank you to all who’ve visited and explored.

Working on the basic structures in the skies above.

Working on the second story

Stairwells and collision prims

Work continues at ground level

Reachra’s taking shape!

Sorting out signage

Bookshop window display

Outside looking in

BlakOpal and her curiosities

Turning Point

The last few weeks have had me filled with anxiety - about getting the place built, about the opening, about the reception, about how the business might be affected. A million details, a million concerns, a million considerations. Fortunately, it appears we’ve reached the point where I can relax and breathe a sigh of relief.

Friday marked a turning point at the new Main Store. It was a minor measurement, but a major milestone. For the first time, traffic at Reachra surpassed the traffic at the old main store in New Babbage. That, combined with strong sales from the start and some truly wonderful compliments from friends and visitors, have sent me all the signals I needed - we did the right thing, and everything is going to be all right.

I have been making some progress on the island, with an additional building starting to take shape, and the gazebo in the picture above being placed this morning. I’ve also been toying with the foundations for some of the additional structures, and will hopefully start to get a few of those in place soon.

I’ve also made good progress on winter-izing our place in New Babbage. While the current state of the city-state leaves an awful lot to be desired, I intend to make the most of it. The picture below was snapped a few days ago, since then snowdrifts and additional texturing has been done. I still have a few more things I’d like to, and will hopefully get to that sometime this week.

Discovering Reachra

Over the past six months or so, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about trade routes. As you can probably imagine, supplying a string of shoppes scattered across the grid is no small undertaking. It was during the many expeditions into the desert to establish the Eridu Society’s Airship Outpost that I started to study the maps and think about establishing ourselves in a place that catered to trade.

I began studying the maps and charts, searching for an island. Not just any island, but one that could serve as a port for ships of the air and sea. I pored through countless documents and found dozens, if not hundreds, of towns and villages that had great potential. So I packed my gear and decided to go exploring.

Each week seemed to bring new leads, and off I’d go to see if the town might suit my purpose. But each week I returned in disappointment. Incredible sea ports. Amazing ports of the sky. But never, it seemed, in the same place. I have to admit, I very nearly gave up on the idea. Naturally, it was at that low moment, as I was drowning my frustrations in drink, that I first heard about Reachra.

I was into my fourth or fifth round with the publican and two of his friends, and we were sharing stories of the places we’d been, and one of the gents started talking about a place he used to go. Airships and sailing ships, there was always work and good drink to be found. At first I thought he was spinning a yarn, then my friend behind the bar nodded in agreement. He’d lived there as a younger man, but moved on after the airships left.

Despite having had a bit to drink, I suddenly felt quite sober and excited. This place wasn’t on any map I was familiar with, yet it sounded like a dream. But why did the airships leave, I wondered. I didn’t wonder for very long, as my friends knew Reachra’s history well. It seems there was a bustling airship outpost, with a great mast made from the biggest and strongest of trees from the mainland. I cringed upon hearing it, for I knew how the story would end. Any builder worth his salt knows you don’t build an airship mast out of wood. Not these days, anyways. Sure, you could use a strong wood for a sightseeing balloon, but for ships of any consequence you need iron or steel. But a great ship or a great storm would snap a wooden mast, and that is exactly what happened.

Apparently, way back in the great storm of ’42 (one the locals still refer to as ’the storm of the century’), a pair of merchant vessels were tethered to the old wooden mast. The pilots had been waiting for a boat coming in with some cargo or another, and thought they’d be able to get out before the storm came in. They’d been wrong, disastrously so, and in one cold dark night both airships as well as the tower had been destroyed. Without an airship tower, the boats stopped coming, and the town was all but abandoned.

While it was a tragic tale, I don’t think I could have been more excited. The very next day I stocked up and set out for Reachra. With fair seas and the wind at my back, I made it in a few days’ time. Exercising great caution (the name Reachra translates in gaelic to ‘place of many shipwrecks’), I approached and attempted to make land.

The eastern shore is a rocky, craggy mess - I can see where the place got its name. But the western shores were gentle, and a sheltered cove to the North where a great pier had been built. An old, run-down warehouse stood in a terrible state on the western side of the island. Still, it looked to be of solid construction, and the building looked quite salvageable. In fact, the whole place seemed rather perfect for my needs. Sure, it would all need quite a bit of work, but that’s never frightened me off.

I conducted a bit of a site survey, then did my best to make a map and update my chart with the island’s location, and then sought out the owner of the place. As I’d suspected, the owner had died some years ago. The loss of the airship outpost had all but destroyed him financially, which is why no attempt had ever been made to rebuild. His wife and son had survived him, but they wanted nothing to do with the place. Indeed, his widow had been getting on in years, and her loving son had been providing her care. We met over tea and then several dinners, it seems both were quite amenable to selling me the place. My offer was accepted, and before I knew it construction had begun.

The hilltop was perfect for an airship tower, and I soon found that the one I’d recently designed could easily be adapted for this place. An iron and steel framework, covered in brasswork, providing both form and function for the task at hand. Getting up the hill was another matter, but soon the rickety wooden steps had been replaced with stonework. The docks were in better shape than I’d imagined, but still took quite a bit of effort to bring up to snuff.

The warehouse would be a perfect place to base centralized operations - I’d be able to dispatch goods to any of our shoppes from there by sea or by air, as well as use the place to bring in raw materials and assorted supplies. Of course it made sense to open a shoppe here as well, a grande showcase of our latest and greatest works.

While I had given some consideration to the idea of designing a completely new building, those thoughts quickly vanished. Our tried and true shoppe would suit the place perfectly, and besides I would have my hands quite full tending to all the other tasks at hand. In what seemed like no time at all the island was habitable and functional again, and ships have been coming by air and by sea. While there is still a lot of work left to do, I’m proud of what has been accomplished in so short a time. A new trade route, a new shoppe, a new place to call home.

Soft Opening of BlakOpal

At the end of another long day. Today, however, I am very pleased to report that the doors to the new shoppe are actually open and the proverbial cat is out of the bag. A lot of the island is still unfinished, but I think that we have enough done that it’s safe to let people come and have a look.

Our goal is to create a space that is more than simply a main store on its own island. BlakOpal and I have been working intensely on the background and the art theme and build concepts over the last few weeks, with the goal that in addition to having a space to house our growing business we’ll have a fun and interesting place to explore.

The shoppe itself should look familiar - it’s an iconic build, and one of my favorite projects in Second Life. We didn’t want to just drop the building anywhere, so the challenge became to create an environment that the building would fit. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Early on, I began to center around the idea of a trading post. I’d just spend a couple months working on an airship outpost for Burning Life, and the idea of taking that further excited me. During the golden age of piracy, there were a number of island outposts where the law-abiding folks peacefully co-existed with those outside the law, and you’d get a mix of prim & proper and rough-around-the-edges types walking the streets. I wanted something like that, but not just another tropical island. In doing some research, I’d learned that there were port cities in the north that had exactly this sort of thing going on, with residents doing business with all sorts of privateers and questionable types.

North worked better for me. Nothing against the tropics, it just didn’t seem to fit the shoppe building as well. Not too far north, as neither of us are fans of winter weather. And it needed to be different - there are already a number of wonderful builds and communities in Second Life, we certainly didn’t want to duplicate one of the existing communities we love. New Babbage always struck me as being based on victorian London (though Mr. Tenk has suggested a coastal town in Poland in a post on the New Babbage Ning), where Caledon is more English countryside. And Steelhead wonderfully captures the pacific northwestern United States. Each done extremely well in their way.

Looking back, you’d think it was planned from the start, but it was actually a matter of all the pieces falling together at exactly the right time. Ireland. The timing couldn’t have been better, and the trip wound up serving as an opportunity for field research. And research led me to believe that while inspired by Dublin and by Ireland, it should be something slightly different. The coastal islands caught my attention - sort of like Ireland, but on a more manageable scale. As we were making our approach to Dublin, the plane circled near Lambay Island (see below), which I took as a sign.

On the other end of the spectrum from the brautiful island wilderness is the city of Dublin, and specifically the Temple Bar, Grafton Street, and surrounding areas. From that point, everything started to click and I went from scratching my head and thinking about things hypothetically and wondering if there’d be enough to fill a space and make it work to chomping at the bit and wondering if there will be enough space to do all the things I want to try and do.

The first couple buildings are in place - the shoppe and the giant warehouse across the street. The docks on the north shore are done, and I’ve gotten the shipping office building built (though the insides need a lot of work). The Airship Outpost sits atop the hill, though as of this writing the stairs leading up to it have yet to be built. But I think it’s enough to get things started, and so today the doors opened softly. Expect something grand in the near future. Come see BlakOpal.