Friday, March 16, 2012

Skyrim-Inspired Sim and Builder Merceal Smythe

A few months ago, the computer game Skyrim was a big hit. With it's popularity came parody Youtubes and online comic references. It was probably inevitable someone would try to duplicate it in Second Life. And someone has been doing just that.

MistressBubbles Bondar, or just "Bubbles" to her friends, recently came back to Second LIfe after taking a break. After a while, she got the idea of doing a sim based on the world of the Skyrim game. She wasn't alone. She managed to get some talented help from sim builder Merceal Smythe.

After some work, Bubbles invited me over to see what she had. Yours truly hasn't played the game. But it's been in the media so much, the sim was recognizable as the setting. Rustic wooden buildings with a Norse feel to them in a snow covered winter area. "The whole sim is still very much a work in progress," the elven lady told me, "but I figured I'd show off what we have done so far. The castle is Merceal's work. Well most everything here is. My job is to find the materials so he can build (laughter)."

She offered to show me around, and we walked through some scenery, across a bridge and into a fortification structure, "This is one of my fave places so far aside from the castle. We hope to have battle scenarios through here." We walked further, and came to a cabin, "And here's my little cottage (smile). This is the biggest one of the batch. I have two more smaller ones I'm going to make to place around the sim. … I had fun with making a close to period timber frame house. … Still have a few things to fit properly. Like I said we are still building things (chuckle). So there will be snow drifts and more structures and a farm or two. … We will have a small port as well."

Getting to the riverbank, she teleported across and sent me one, "makes it easier untill we have a boat set up to ferry is across." Going to a settlement, she showed me an incomplete marketplace, and a windmill which would later be moved to a farm yet to be set up. She then offered to show me the castle, "it's not finished yet, but it's still really cool. It's pretty close to Dragonsreach, but with enough difference's to be on the safe side. (laughter)"

Going inside, there were still some things yet to be placed such as no throne on the platform yet. There was an upstairs with a good view, "and for sniper archers (big grin)." She thought when finished, the castle would be 300-350 prims, "not bad when you look at the size of the structure."

"The sim is not officially open yet, and we are looking at doing a soft open with personal invites going out to help us 'Beta test' the story lines and systems we are working on. We are starting out as a text base or freeform role-play. But we do also plan to bring on a simple combat meter to help us keep track of stats for full on battles."

Bubbles wanted to make two things clean, one that the sim wasn't really her effort, bringing up Merceal Smythe, "He's the main builder and the one in charge of this project." She also pointed out, "Just remember it's not a Skyrim sim,"it's loosely inspired by Skyrim. (Giggle) We don't want to get into any legal issues with the game's makers."

As it turned out, Merceal was soon available to chat to. He appeared before us, clasping his hands together, "So! yes, I'm the developer and renderer for the sim. the concepts were inspired from several points of interests, but primarily historical and mythical Lore. ... my main sources of inspiration are Viking, Gaelic, and Norse Mythology, as well as their corresponding cultures. What helps is that recent popular game releases, such as Skyrim, are based of like histories and lorries. So the storylines wont be too far off from one another." "And there is a lot of interest out there for a role play world of this kind," Bubbles added, "because of the said popularity of those games."

Merceal went on, "I've tried to make a name for myself in reguards to an understanding and respect in the art of role-play, and understanding of the need of an immersive environment to correlate with it. The problem is Second Life is capable of so much, but due to its... engine and server designs, limits its own potential. So the trick, is creating such worlds and stories in this 3D environment, without the world itself taking up too many resources. A single avatar, if designed improperly, can lag a viewer. Viewers, rely not just on the data being received from the Asset servers, but the performance of the computers themselves. if the Viewer takes up the majority of the systems resources alone, and suddenly has new avatars appearing in and out, it'll overload the RAM and create a lot of problems.. so like i said, the trick is keeping the surrounding environment... simple, yet detailed and immersive. This is from my experience and observations over the course of over four years."

Bubbles commented, "Merceal is a bit of a master at things like prim management and efficient use of textures. He's worked on a number of sims in the past. Most of them Star Wars related I believe." Merceal replied, "So far, I have a vast amount of experience in it. And even when my other associates are offered free building services, they come to me, because I create the worlds the right way. I take pride in my work, and if I'm not happy with something, I wont call it complete, and will even start over. (And) yes, most of my sim projects have revolved around sci-fi roleplay sims, namely, Star Wars and sci-fi RP."

As it turned out however, many of those roleplays were ruined by internal drama, "However, due to the struggles and ill management of that RP community, i can no longer role-play or do deep association with a lot of the ... sim owners, because their interests lie in personal gain, rather than community development and immersive roleplaying. My sims were always top mark, mostly prim, to save on latency. And in addition, individuals from several RP environments came to the sim. During nearly every sim opening, the sim capped on the limit of players that could enter the sim. The last sim we did came out great. And it's pretty popular as far as a Star Wars role-play sim can be at present. I always enjoy seeing individuals enjoy an immersive world. I just wish I had more trade skills in the scripting and mesh field to offer more creations. However, due to my ... real-life conditions, I'm limited on such resources, but I still provide the best i can with what I have."

Bubbles commented, "But Star Wars roleplay is dying for the very reasons Merc mentioned." Merceal agreed, "Yeah... sadly too many people want control, as in, they want to dictate the every action of each individual RP'er, and they don't like losing. The thing about RP, is no one can control the flow. The stories write themselves in the environments they cake place in. The stories are written by the events, not whoever screams 'I own this sim and RP group' the loudest, and throws the most money at it. Sadly, that isn't understood by a lot of sim and group owners. They feel because they front the money, they get to decide everything in such an environment. The most anyone can do is 'guide' the flow of events. But there is no control over human will and spirit." Bubbles added, "It was hard walking away from Star Wars roleplay. But we are looking ahead to a bright new future with this place."

"Where there is one group of people with the desire to create such a world, there is another, with a different personality, and different approach and vision to it all. Its just a matter of knowing the individual, and when they'll be around, if they aren't already. For example this sim. I don't own it. A friend of mine owns it, as I wish all those I associate with to be. However, I place most of the prims, and do the work, and we work together. Bubbles has been a huge help in reguards to research and locating materials needed and necessary for the sims development. The team work and chain of roles has been very beneficial to its development, considering I just started this new sim design yesterday (laughter)."

Bubbles responded to the complements by blushing, "I like to hunt stuff down and find the best deals. It's a lot of fun watching how the tools I find are used and come to life. Besides, I am also learning how to build better along side of everything else. … compare my little cottage to the ones I made a year ago."

Merceal went on, "I just wish it was easier. I don't think people realize how to price what they've made that makes economic sense. … personality characteristics that show signs of greed, but i cant say for sure (grin). I made this sim for free, and when i do need lindens for more projects I charge very little if anything. The other thing is if i have the time and patients for these projects (laughter). Sometimes sim owners who hire me for work tend to want things done yesterday, when I started the project 3 days ago, and I have at least 4-6 months to work on it (laughter). However, I normally complete my projects take normally half the time."

Bubbles noted, "I remember one of our projects that was like that. You were working on it for a week straight, getting a lot done. We projected it would take a month and the client comes up and dumps another three months of work on top of it and asks if it can be done in half the time. (grin)" Merceal responded, "That is the WORST situation I come across. We come in agreement of a verbal contract of how the sim will be built or designed. And suddenly, out of no where, they redesign the whole thing, no warning, and expect me to scrap the whole sim. That is, rather frustrating. Not to mention the projects are normally three times larger, and require more supplies than I posses. I mean, my inventory is HUGE with primarily building supplies, like sculpts, textures, and meshes. sounds, scripts... etc."

Merceal went on, "But I build in all sorts of themes, and make little to no lindens... so when my generosity and flexibility of work is taken advantage of beyond the original concepts, demanding more work and resources from me, and disrespecting me because they decided to be a pain and change things? Just indecent and rude... I've sadly had to drop at least half the projects i've taken on due to things like that. just flat indecency and inconsiderate actions." "It's shocking how often that happens too," Bubbles added.

"Of course, I get a bad rap for doing nothing wrong but the right thing," Merceal commented, "so I can make myself available for another client who is A, more respectful, and B, more deserving and willing to create worlds for RP and living this 3D reality. It's hard to put a price on a way of life, and I try to avoid that (grin).

Of the Skyrim inspired sim, Merceal spoke, "I'm hoping things go well here. I also am crossing my fingers that drama-proned individuals will not repeat unfavorable habits while here (grin). i plan to write broad but fair guidelines and regulations to make this environment enjoyable for all, mainly in the approach of the storyline and sim lore itself." Bubbles nodded, "we are looking to build this place up with the goals of offering a clean, low lag sim that allows the freedom of roleplay without personal agendas to mar the way."

Oh his plans, Merceal stated, "my goal is to lead in project developments that 'enhance' the role-play experience, and do not get in the way and make over all performance degraded by the new addition of aids and features. I wish it was easier to add scripts into the viewer itself as a type of add on feature. But the SL viewer's.... normal performance is far below capable of even achieving it at the moment (grin)."

The talk soon drifted to Bubbles thinking of getting her old friend Aiko Swashbuckler to work on the trees, and we ended up talking some about our days in Woodlin. Eventually, we went our separate ways. And it was goodbye for the moment to this tribute to Skyrim with a promising future.

Bixyl Shuftan

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