The array of building tools we have in SL is, for all practical purposes, pretty much unlimited. In real terms however, what we’re able to construct and create is very much limited by a number of constraints. To begin with, there’s our own capabilities and skills to take into account: If our building ability is limited to employing the inworld build tools, then the results are going to reflect that. That’s not to say you can’t achieve some quite sophisticated results just by throwing prims together, but there are definite limitations.
However, increased design and build functionality requires a corresponding increase in technical ability. Once we begin to model using applications external to SL, the investment in time, learning and effort is exponential, especially if we want to do things well. It can be costly too – whilst there’s a number of free 3D modelling tools and graphics programmes available, serious, professional applications, like Maya and Photoshop are going to set you back a few thousand. There’s a fair bit of hidden cost too, every texture, animation and mesh model you upload is going to eat into your bank balance, and it’s terrifying how the cost of even the simplest creation can stack up.
As a result, there’s almost a creativity gap in SL. Serious designers tend to be high profile, prolific and will often have a team of support staff working with them. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the jobbing builders, those who’ll happily knock out the odd house or new outfit for themselves, and perhaps run a small commercial concern on the side, however there’s not many who fit in between those extremes with any real degree of success.
Unfortunately, I feel this can work against us. The lone, backyard builder will happily churn out creations that they feel like making, according to their own timescales and whims. Their work isn’t targeted at the mass market and is likely to be purely for fun, in between popping to the club for a dance and hanging out with friends having adventures. The professional, on the other hand, has to cater for the wider market, coming up with creations having mass appeal – they’re looking at high turnover, for the least investment in resources. Out go bespoke, highly individual items in favour of popularity, bulk and universal application. The effect of this is that the more individual and unique items in SL tend to be of lower quality, whilst those with wider markets are inevitably better made and take advantage of the most up to date advances in technology.
This is particularly noticeable within the preserve of buildings and structures in SL. There was a time, before the days of mesh and even pre-dating the advent of sculpties, when pretty much everybody constructed houses, stores, factories, workshops, clubs, malls and just about any edifice you care to mention, all lovingly crafted from prims. In the absence of any other means to build, and forced to employ the same raw materials, tools and techniques, builders knew that there were physical and practical limitations to what could be achieved – it was an eminently attainable and realistic standard that even novice builders, with some practice, could hope to achieve in a relatively short space of time. Consequently, builders and buildings of every type and description proliferated and a great many of them were shining examples of what could be achieved with the limited resources available inworld.
Of course, once you’d reached the standard of proficiency that everybody else had also attained, you started to look for new challenges, and so ever more complicated and esoteric builds began to appear – visionary and imaginative in their scope, whilst others sought to replicate the great architecture of RL in virtual form. This was the age of iconic inworld structures, painstakingly assembled to mirror as exactly as possible their real world equivalents… The Golden Gate Bridge; The Great Wall of China; The Champs-Élysées and Moulin Rouge; Venice in all its glory; The Forum and Colosseum; The Houses of Parliament.
Sadly, a great many of these places have vanished from the Grid, lost forever and – even more sadly – are unlikely to make a return. The reason is simple: These iconic buildings and places, challenging but certainly not impossible to create using good old-fashioned prims and techniques simply do not cut the mustard any more in comparison to their mesh, materials enabled modern day competitors. Primwork, no matter how impressive or well made, tends to look just a little shabby and naff when compared to the latest tin shack created in mesh, and that combined with the cost in time and land resources that large builds can command, simply means that great builds are most unlikely to be prim builds any more. And that’s bad news, because those creators most experienced in mesh are also those who are least likely to invest their time and energy in re-creating a real world icon that will be prohibitively expensive to the average resident and which is never going to attract the interest that a more commercially astute build will achieve. Mesh builders will create whatever is likely to attract the most interest on a commercial footing, which is why for example that so many stores you visit inworld all bear a remarkable resemblance to each other – they’re cheap and high quality.
I think this is a great loss to SL – there are still some iconic landmarks to be found inworld, and a few buildings, lovingly crafted by enthusiasts, that are as iconic and important in the virtual world as in the real one, but they really are few and far between.
That’s partly why I’ve chosen my latest project – a building that no longer exists in physical form in RL, but its spirit lives on in the memories of the people who were fortunate enough to experience its uniqueness. It was somewhere that occupied a unique niche in popular social history, and it deserves to be remembered.
It’s going to be a challenging task: I’ll mainly be working from very scarce, mostly monochrome photographs and some very old architect’s plans, along with the recollections of some of the people who encountered it first hand, and I’m going to make it in the old-fashioned way: Prims, just because I can! It will probably take me a good few weeks to build.
As for what this iconic place might be… Well, you’ll just have to wait for the big unveiling!
Empty shell of what used to be
Shadows of my life hangin’ over me
Timebox – Beggin’