In my last post I considered SLife in the fourth dimension – a prospect that holds no real appeal for me and one which makes me feel a little queasy, if I’m honest. However, they do say there’s more than one way to skin a kettle, and what with all the uncertainty about what, where and who all these extra dimensions might be, I think there is at least some room for conjecture. Which is why I fully intend to contradict what I said previously regarding time.
Perhaps, as most people would suggest, time is in fact a strong candidate for being dimension number 4, and thankfully it’s also a concept that few of us have any difficulty in either understanding or dealing with. Few, if any of us, would argue that time cannot be plotted as a axis: It has a negative value – the past, and a positive value – the future; and where those two points meet, we have a nice big, fat zero – the here and now, or ‘present’, to give it the appropriate scientific term. The only major difference between our X, Y and Z axes is that when we plot a point against those, our coordinates remain constant, whereas the coordinates for any static point plotted against our time axis must be variables, since our point remains static, relative to the axis which is already travelling forwards, meaning that our coordinates suggest our point is, perversely, travelling backwards! Introduce a moving point and things become even more complicated, since both the axis and coordinates will be increasing at different rates, (and our point, relatively speaking, will be travelling into the past), unless we’re travelling at the same rate as time, in which case, everything is constant! Since travelling faster than time, or backwards through time is impossible, I’m not even going to go there! Simple.
So, yes, time can certainly be considered to be the fourth Dimension, even if it is a teeny bit bonkers.
Unlike spatial dimensions, with which computers have no problem but people can struggle, computers aren’t so happy when it comes to time, whereas people have no problem with it, (unless the trains aren’t running on time). Computers – as opposed to commuters, who quite definitely do understand the nuances of time, especially when their trains are running late – really don’t understand time at all, they have no concept of the passing of time – as can be evidenced by them being completely unphased by messages that send us into a cold sweat, like ‘Transferring files: 1 year, 8 months remaining’. For a computer to even cope with time, it has to first convert it into something mathematical – once it’s done that, it’s perfectly happy to tick away the microseconds until the end of time itself, but it’s rarely that simple. To begin with, we have to tell a computer what the time is, and explain to it how time works – ‘when the big hand is on the 2, and the little hand is on the 12, it’s time to make a cup of tea’. However, we have to cater for the built-in stupidity that every microprocessor is born with, if we miss something we end up with ridiculous situations like the world ending at the turn of the millennium, planes falling out of the sky because there’s too many zeroes in the date, and iPhone owners getting emails from 1970.
Despite these difficulties, computers have been handling time fairly happily since well before the first glowing red Casio LED watches appeared on people’s wrists in the early ’70s, (presumably those able to afford one sent emails to their friends’ iPhones to brag about it, albeit delivery was a bit delayed), and marking the passage of time in a virtual environment is nothing new. Starting with simple timers against which gamers would frenetically punch buttons, desperate to finish a level before the dreaded ‘Game Over’ legend appeared, and gradually progressing to those more sophisticated methods marking the passage of time. I was for a while completely addicted to Zoo Tycoon – one of the few things ever made by Micro$oft that I’d pay money for – what appealed most to me was the way that the passage of time was marked in a (fairly) authentic manner. Over time, animals would give birth and become overcrowded, fences would decay and fail, enclosures would require maintenance and poop would build up to monumental levels. It felt real, and that made it extremely compelling.
I can’t help feeling that SL should include similar environmental functionality – something that could be turned on or off and managed under estate tools perhaps. I think it could be quite fun to have buildings that weathered and decayed over time, roads that developed potholes with age, and plants and animals that flourish naturally (without the need to talk to them, feed or otherwise lavish large sums on them to stop them pining) – essentially a 4-dimensional environment, moving through time in a natural progression.
What would be equally awesome would be to have the ability to accelerate, slow down, or stop the inworld progression of time; save at your favourite point and have the facility to return to that state at will. Just think, you could build a castle from which to rule your virtual domain, age it a thousand years, and then explore the ruins, before reverting back to the way it was before, just in time for the night’s big feast. Alternatively, you might want to let your creations age naturally, gaining the patina of time and that hint of realism that is so often missing from from the things we build.
Maybe you disagree, but I think it could be fun, although it’s unlikely to ever happen… Yet, surely all it would take is a few clever algorithms, maybe a bit of scripting and perhaps a time-enabled viewer, and bingo! Four dimensional SL – awesome!
I have to roam, I’ve got no home
My mind is blown the truth is unknown
Time has come, time has come today
Angry Samoans – Time Has Come Today